AMC’s crime drama The Killing has had an unfortunate history. It began as a promising entrant into a television field that was feeling exceptionally clogged by male anti-heroes, marked by a particularly strong performance by Mireille Enos. But that promise seemed short-lived. The show failed to resolve its season-long mystery in the first season finale, and it seemed to descend into lurid genre cliches. By the time it was cancelled at the end of its second season, the decision seemed justified. But after speculation that The Killing might be revived by a streaming service like Netflix, AMC brought the show back. And this weekend, you’ll have the option of deciding whether or not you should come back, too.
This year, Holder (Joel Kinnaman) is still working for the Seattle Police Department, and moving up the ranks in prestige, wardrobe, and girlfriend (Whedonverse alum Jewel Staite). Sara Linden (Enos), however, has burned out, moved to Vashon Island where she’s working a low-wage job, dating a nice, placid guy, and appears to have significantly relinquished her son to the custody of his father. When he catches a body, however, Holder goes looking for his former partner because of the killing’s similarity to a case Linden solved some time ago, putting Ray Seward (Peter Sarsgaard) on death row, where he’s manipulating guards, and generally causing trouble. And in Seattle, Bullet (Bex Taylor-Klaus), a young lesbian living on the streets, tries to keep her friends safe, but gets increasingly anxious when her friend Kallie (Cate Sproule) disappears.
Whether you want to keep watching may depend on your tolerance for watching violence against women. The Killing is a lovely show, but it has to lavish technical ability on a gash in a dead girl’s throat, or a bog full of women’s bodies wrapped in pink plastic. The show wants to demonstrate the real dangers that street kids face in Seattle, but I couldn’t help feeling, watching the first two episodes of the new season, that The Killing chose that population because of its propensity for dramatically interesting danger. It’s hard to invest in a character like Rebel, who has enough attitude to order Holden off the block she sees as her own, when it seems inevitable that she’ll land where she does early in the season, with a man holding her down, telling her “You think you’re hard. You think you’re a man. You’re just a little bitch that needs to be broke like the rest.”
And it’s difficult to see Linden broken, telling Holder “Not every victim’s worth it. You start caring. You end up like me, working minimum wage on a ferry,” her voice cracking during a toast to a lesbian couple who are getting married, brutally informing her nice, fellow ferry-operator boyfriend, that he doesn’t know anything about her at all. To a certain extent, Linden’s reaction is the rational one—and it mirrors one that I think many viewers at home are experiencing, feeling that they can’t make emotional commitments to characters who will end up brutalized, or maybe that, like Linden, maybe we need to walk away entirely. But at the same time, there’s something curdled about The Killing‘s idea that crime has driven Linden mad, as if she’s too delicate and empathetic to stay sane. That characterization is a bit of a piece with shows like Bones and the forthcoming FX series The Bridge, both of which feature female cops who are somewhere on, or within distance of, the autism spectrum, as if their problems feeling keep them from falling apart under the weight of persistent, violent death. The Killing isn’t a bad show in its third season. But it’s a long way from being the distinct contribution to anti-hero drama, or to the representation of women in the genre, it once seemed like it could be.