‘The Killing’ Season 3: Did We Just Witness a Perfect Season of Television?

The Killing Season 3 Episode 11 and 12 From Up Here;The Road to Hamelin (5)

I’m a big fan of television critic Alan Sepinwall, and at his old blog he would invoke what he called the Dayenu rule when he watched an episode of a series that was so good that he could do nothing but offer thanks for its awesomeness. I’ve felt that way about singular episodes before, but it’s far rarer for an entire season to leave me feeling completely overwhelmed by its quality and the truth in its emotional journey. But The Killing season three did both of those things, and maybe even a little more.

At no point in The Killing‘s three seasons have I not been a fan of the series, but the Larsen case wasn’t perfectly constructed. There were a few too many twists, and while watching Linden and Holder’s arc unfold was worth any number of red herrings for me personally, I could understand the push back from the audience at large. By comparison, season three never ambled along aimlessly, it propelled us forward with Linden and Holder as they descended straight into the heart of darkness that is the back alleys of Seattle where the lost children struggle to survive, into the prison system to face the men on both sides of the bars and within themselves to face their darkest fears. It was an unflinching, brutal season that snatched away every glimmer of hope we had, but two: Lyric and Twitch crawled their way out of the abyss. At least for the moment, at least for now. And Adrian lived.

If the finale had not given us a glimpse of these three kids finding a way to break the cycle, I would proclaim the season the most desolate one I’ve ever seen. Yet, it still would have been a perfect season of television. Tying this season’s murder back to the case that first pushed Linden over the edge was a stroke of genius. By necessity it made the journey to the killer a personal one for Linden, a character, who has emerged as one of the most complex and beautifully rendered female characters on television thanks to both her portrayer, Mireille Enos, and headwriter Veena Sud, who never flinches away from exposing Linden’s wounds or her strength. It seems obvious now that the killer would be Skinner. Who else could push Linden over the edge? Who else could strip away her last shred of faith besides the man she worked side by side with when Ray Seward first entered her life? Besides the man she loved?

Season three was the deconstruction of Sarah Linden. It took everything we knew about her–that she was stubborn, a runner, obsessive, determined, a good cop and a lost thing herself–and magnified those qualities until we could see their point of origin. This was most true in “Six Minutes,” an episode that left my heart heavy and shot straight to the top of my best television episodes of 2013 list. We watched her sit with a man she mistakenly condemned to death on his last day, and we watched them connect as we saw the points where their lives intersected. Every time Ray tried to convince Linden (and himself) that he deserved his fate, she pushed back. “I’ve seen monsters,” she told him. “And you’re not one of them.” In the moments when he tried to push her away and pushed too far (“Then why did you just break my heart?”), he begged for her to stay. In the end she gave him a moment of solace to focus on, two trees in the distance and his son at the window, but it didn’t make his death any less painful or her conscience any cleaner.

I have purposely avoided reading any other reviews of the finale because I have a feeling I know what they’ll say: we’ve seen this done before. It’s true, we have seen female cops realize the monster was in their own beds, but Linden isn’t your stereotypical Hollywood idea of what a woman who chooses to be a cop should be. She’s not always good. She’s volatile. And when faced with the choice of shooting an unarmed man–even if he was a monstrous one–she pulled the trigger. If that ending didn’t rip your heart out as much as it did Holder’s I don’t know what to tell you. She allowed herself to become a killer. The question is where can she go from there?

I’ve focused on Sarah here because she’s our centerpiece, but it’s not just the mystery winding its way back to her that made this season a taut, intense and devastating ride. Peter Sarsgaard gets much of the credit for bringing Ray Seward with all of his many, many layers of complexity to life, and newcomer Bex-Taylor Klaus was revelatory as the tough shepherd to the street kids. Her death and the way it was revealed was one of the many dark twists I never saw coming. Then there’s Reddick, who Gregg Henry infused with just enough creepiness to throw us off Skinner’s trail from time to time, but in the end proved to be one of the truly good ones–albeit with a penchant for making awful jokes.

Finally, there’s Holder, played by the always brilliant Joel Kinnamen, who is the other half of The Killing‘s central partnership and the guiding force in Linden’s life. Season three referenced back to season two when it was Linden who had to rescue her partner from self-destructing, which she did again after Bullet’s death, but he has become her rock. The one person she can’t run from. Season three stripped him bare too, but it also gave Holder true forward momentum. It made him figure out the kind of cop and man he wanted to be. He decided that he would let go of the idea that he was nothing more than a junkie and allow himself to embrace a bit of the serenity he tattooed across his chest. His maturation meant he stopped Linden from running away from Ray and it brought her back to the job because they both know she is in her heart always going to be a cop, no matter how painful the work is. The only thing he couldn’t do for her was stop her from pulling that trigger.

No one knows yet if The Killing, which has already risen from the dead once, will live to see a fourth season. I know that I want it to, but even if it ends in that forest with our hero crossing the point of no return, the ride will be worth it. Because the one thing The Killing has always done better than any other show on TV it particularly excelled at this year: it made the victims heroes and monsters human, reminding us that the mystery should never be the point of a story. The people should be the point. It found humanity in horror and light in dark places, and even if the ending was bleak, it felt true. I may want a happier conclusion for Holder and Linden, but in the noir, “forget it Jake, it’s Seattle” world of The Killing, the darkness always finds a way of creeping back in.

Now it’s your turn: did you think season three was perfect? Were you satisfied with the ending? Head to the comments and share your thoughts on the season– favorite episodes, least favorite moments, I want to hear it all.

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