After watching 2011's series premiere of “The Killing,” it seemed like everyone was a suspect in the death of Rosie Larsen.
But after viewing Sunday’s two-hour Season 3 premiere, it seems like nobody is a suspect in the new case.
Some things have changed as the once-canceled AMC show returns: Most of the characters from the first two seasons spent trying to track down Larsen's killer are gone. And where that investigation reached the top-floor halls of power in Seattle, this season stalks the seedy depths of that city’s social strata.
Other things have stayed the same: The acting, led by the returning Mireille Enos as former police detective Sarah Linden and Joel Kinnaman as her still active ex-partner Stephen Holder, is strong. The atmosphere, heavy and gray and damp, is a character unto itself. And the writing ... well, it appears to still have too many hey-wait-a-minute moments.
There’s a serial killer at work -- 17 victims and counting, the ads say -- but our detectives don’t know that as the first part of the premiere, “The Jungle,” opens.
We see rain falling on a windshield at night, taillights blurring in the drops as the wipers work. Apparently homeless teens lean against graffiti-covered walls. An underage girl approaches. We see her fingers bear a number of rings; she wears a necklace. She gets in the car. We never see its exterior, or the driver.
Then it’s day, and Holder and his crude, older new partner Carl Reddick (Gregg Henry, “Payback”) are arriving at a crime scene. Inside a decrepit factory, the corpse of the girl who got into the car lies under pink plastic, nearly decapitated, jewelry gone. She’s later identified as Ashley Kwon, age 14. We learn from the medical examiner that the killer most likely raped her but left no genetic material, and that the perp is physically strong.
Although at Reddick’s insistence they trade the case off to another detective, it’s clear Holder isn’t going to let it go. His partner seems more concerned with their case clearance rate and avoiding complex investigations, but Linden has rubbed off on Holder -- his focus is exclusively on the victim. Noting similarities to a case Linden had worked before -- a prostitute nearly decapitated -- Holder takes a trip to see her.
Linden is living quietly on nearby Vashon Island, working as an officer at a ferry landing and dating a younger man (Holder will jokingly ask her if the guy is one of her teenage son Jack’s friends). The first sign that things are about to change is the arrival of an envelope from the Department of Corrections, which she doesn’t open.
She plays at being happy as Holder visits, but her smile quickly retracts as he brings up her old case (mentioning the victim’s “Picasso kid who did that drawing”), saying that he’d like to look at that case file but it’s missing. Linden tells him that her victim’s killer is in prison, and Holder mentions that the convict is due to be executed (hence the D.O.C. letter).
As she sees her old partner to the door, Linden uncharacteristically says, “Hey, Holder, not every victim’s worth it. You know, you start caring -- you’ll end up like me, working minimum wage on a ferry.”
“Never thought the day’d come when I’d hear that from you,” he responds. Which may be what Linden wanted to hear.
Holder has surreptitiously left his new case file for her, knowing she’ll take the bait. It’s unclear whether he really believes that the cases are connected, or whether he’s just trying to draw Linden back into her calling, that he wants to work with a kindred spirit again. In any case, he’s probably correctly guessed that the obsessive Linden -- who’s landed in a psychiatric ward before -- has that old file.
Three years before, Linden and her then-partner, James Skinner (Elias Koteas, “Shutter Island”), now the leader of the Seattle Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit, worked the murder of 30-year-old prostitute Tricia Ann Seward, whose young son Adrian was in an apartment with her corpse for six days and repeatedly drew a wooded scene.
It’s a picture viewers saw way back in the series premiere and that reappeared in Season 2, when someone broke into Linden's and Jack’s hotel room and put it on the fridge, frightening her enough so that they quickly moved out.
The man convicted for that murder is the woman’s husband and the child’s father, Ray Seward, a manipulative psychopath played to chilling effect by Peter Sarsgaard (“An Education”). He doesn’t speak when we first see him, as he’s told he’s to be executed in 30 days. He doesn’t speak as he’s transported to death row. He doesn’t speak until he’s being uncuffed in his new cell, whispering to the prison guards’ commanding officer, Francis Becker (Hugh Dillon), that he wants to see the chaplain. But before he speaks, we see his brain at work, looking for the weak link among the guards.
Seward tricks the chaplain into coming too close and then grabs the man’s shirt, yanking and ramming his head into the bars repeatedly (we don’t know if the chaplain has survived). The lasting image from the premiere is Seward smirking and nodding with the chaplain’s blood on his face.
Further, he tells his lawyer to request that his execution not be by lethal injection, but by hanging. And he coerces a soft guard he spotted earlier into letting him place a phone call, which we later learn was to Skinner to invite him to the big going-away event. Seward even appears to enjoy Becker’s taunting reading of the state’s manual on hanging.
Holder, looking for people who knew his victim, meets street-surviving, tight-knit teens Kallie (Cate Sproule) and Bullet (Bex Taylor-Klaus), a tough-guy-acting girl who gives him attitude. He gets nothing from them, but shows Bullet some toughness back. The young friends go for food and shelter at a place called Beacon, run by Pastor Mike. We also meet Bullet’s crush, Lyric (Julia Sarah Stone), who’s already involved with Twitch (Max Fowler), a would-be model/actor.
There’s a lottery for bunks at Beacon, including the missing Ashley’s. Bullet wins but offers her ticket to Kallie, who lies in declining, saying she can stay with her mother, Danette (Amy Seimetz, “Upstream Color”). That night, Kallie gets into a stranger’s car. The next morning, Bullet can’t find her and goes on a frantic search, ending with a disturbing sexual assault at knifepoint by a guy she earlier argued with.
In what may be this season’s first red-herring moment, Holder and Reddick, who have the case back, ask Pastor Mike about Ashley, with Holder spying the tattoo on the guy’s arm – a crown of thorns over “Ephesians 1:7” (“In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” -- make of that what you will).
Oh, in case there was any doubt that Linden is getting her old fire back, she returns to where she’d seen a dying cow, this time with a gun, and puts it out of its misery.
The erstwhile detective inspects the Kwon crime scene, takes that case file back to Holder and effectively joins the investigation.
She visits Seward in prison, unnerving him by asking what he did with his wife’s ring and showing him Adrian’s drawing. Seward averts his eyes and says, “I don’t have a son.”
On a visit to Adrian’s current home, Linden sees a drawing of the old wooded scene, but now with a new detail -- two squat buildings behind the trees.
Somehow, she finds that location and, at the end of a walk through thick fog, makes a grisly discovery in the shallow water: more than a dozen sets of human remains, each draped in pink plastic, just like Ashley Kwon.
Who’s even a contestant? Maybe the unseen Joe the cab driver, whom Kallie spots early on and hides from. But it seems unlikely she’d get in the car with him. Almost certainly not Pastor Mike -- there’s no look of recognition on Ashley or Kallie’s face. Skinner? That’d make Linden look terrible.
How, even with the new clue, does Linden suddenly find the location shown in Adrian’s pictures? (And, going back to Season 2, who left one on her hotel room fridge?)
Seward is not innocent, but is he not guilty of killing his wife?
After talking about his son earlier, why does Seward tell Linden he doesn’t have one?
From Mrs. Skinner’s warning to Linden -- “Stay away from us. I’ve forgiven him but don’t ever want to see you again.” -- and Reddick’s demeaning comment to Holder about partnering with her, are we to gather that she and Skinner had an affair?
How much time did the premiere cover? Where the previous two seasons clearly said how many days into the investigation each episode took place, the timeline here seems hazy.
“Twin Peaks” has sometimes been mentioned in talk about “The Killing” -- there’s a surface similarity in each’s search for the killer of a teenage girl. In the premiere’s second part, “That You Fear the Most,” Grace Zabriskie, who played the late Laura Palmer’s mother on that David Lynch series, appears as a motel manager.
Hey, Holder has a girlfriend! Caroline is played by “Firefly” actress Jewel Staite, and there’s a joke for fans of that Joss Whedon series: In their scene of playful domesticity, she tugs on Holder’s undershirt to reveal a chest tattoo. “Serenity,” she reads, “sounds like a stripper’s name.” But when he mentions the possibility of having it removed, she advises him to keep it. Shiny.
Any early thoughts on Season 3? Any guesses on a perp? See you next week after “Seventeen.”