Let's just get this out in the open now: I like The Killing. Yes, it's had its share of problems—particularly near the end of Season 1, and the Season 2 finale was a bit of a mess—but I think the larger backlash against the show was driven by comparisons to its source material, Forbrydelsen (which I have not seen), and a disconnect between expectations created by marketing ("Who Killed Rosie Larsen?") and what the show wanted to be about.
I say this because I never felt like The Killing was all that concerned with who killed Rosie, and that was generally fine with me. In terms of genre satisfaction, yes, it was going to have to reveal the killer sooner or later, but for me, Rosie's murder wasn't a question of "Who?" and "Why?" but one of "What's its effect?" That's why we spent so much time with the grieving Larsens, saw how the case threw lots of wrenches into the Richmond campaign, and, most importantly, stood witness as it drove Linden to a(nother) breaking point.
Certain plot points never really worked—ugh, that terrorism subplot/red herring in Season 1—and perhaps the show was overly ambitious in its desire to offer a wide-ranging look at the ripple effects of a young girl's murder. The show was at its best when it centered on Linden and Holder ("Missing" from Season 1 continues to be a series highlight). Mismatched buddy cops are trope, but Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman were just so dynamic and complementary to one another's characters that even when the show around them wasn't always clicking, they were... and they kept the show afloat as a result.
When Season 2 first ended, I had a couple of thoughts about what a possible third season might be. My immediate thought was that The Killing would take on a new case in a new city, with a new set of cops—then it'd become sort of a police procedural anthology series, as it were. My other idea was a prequel series that explored the case Linden was obsessed with before the Larsen murder. Season 3 is somewhat of riff on the second idea, but it's more of a sequel instead.
Already, after just two episodes, this season feels a bit more streamlined than Season 1, operating more in the vein of Season 2, with a stronger emphasis on the series' police procedural aspect. It helps that the season's non-police elements still feed into the main story in clear ways (for now, at least). While both the Larsen family and the Richmond campaign were connected to the murder of Rosie in Seasons 1 and 2, they often felt like parts of different shows all stitched together, with sometimes ugly seams.
Season 3 appears primed to avoid that problem, as its primary plot points—Holder's investigation into a string of murders of teenage girls (why'd it have to be teenage girls?), Ray Seward (an already fantastic Peter Sarsgaard) on death row, and the homeless youths of Seattle—are all better connected than the earlier seasons' arcs. They may not all be equal in terms of quality or interest—the homeless kids will likely be the most difficult aspect to get right—but at least the two-episode premiere provided a sense of what to expect this season.
The Killing was always going to have make a contrivance to pull Linden back into the show after the way Season 2 ended, but the confluence of Seward's impending execution and the homeless girl being murdered in the same fashion as Seward's wife was easily the best and most motivated way to do that. It's something that Linden would react to, something that would bring her out of her new life as a ferry worker to return to what she'd left behind. Her rattling-off of responses to to the case file that Holder "forgot" demonstrated just how deeply ingrained her investigative mentality is, and how little it takes to get it going again. In much the same way that it feels like The Killing is rebooting itself, Linden is also being rebooted, for better or for worse.
These first two episodes were mostly set up, and that's fine. They not only needed to show Linden getting back into detective work, but to illustrate her influence on Holder as a cop, establish Seward and his life in the cell, and lay the groundwork for the lives of the Bullet, Kallie, Lyric, and Twitch (these names!). I'm glad that they aired as pair, though, as "The Jungle" was a touch underwhelming due to all the ground it had to cover; "That You Fear Most" had a bit more going for it, including Linden's visit to the lake at the end of the episode, and the wonderful echo of the last time she was forced to visit the place.
– I almost didn't recognize Gregg Henry as Holder's layabout partner, Carl. He's clearly having a ball with the character, but it's telling that I had an easier time identifying him as a washed-up surfer dude on Bunheads. I think the lack of hair and the stooped posture made all the difference.
– "Serenity. Sounds like a stripper's name." I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE, SHOW.
– The Killing continues to hire old Battlestar Galactica hands with Aaron Douglas as one of Seward's guards.
– Music choice for the review writing? The music of Philip Glass.
What'd you think of the return of The Killing?