All images: Carole Segal/AMC
AMC's murder mystery series The Killing enters its third season on June 2 with a patchy history. The show, which was inspired by a Danish police procedural called Forbrydelsen, delivered impressive ratings when it premiered in 2011. Yet, by the end of the first season many viewers were feeling that same sense of anticlimax that will be familiar to some fans of Lost — they did not get the answers they were hoping for. AMC and Fox, the network behind the series, paid for that error because when the show came back for a second year, too much of the audience didn't.
Given the disappointing ratings and underwhelming critical appraisal of The Killing's second season, AMC sentenced it to death. Like some would-be victims in murder mysteries, though, The Killing has clung to life. Spurred by the belief that the show might still realize its full potential if the audience gets the payoff they want, AMC and Fox reversed the cancellation and have brought the series back partly thanks to the involvement of Netflix.
Season 3's two-hour, two-part premiere, "The Jungle"/"That You Fear The Most," kicks off with the murder of a 14-year-old prostitute by a killer who seems to be copying a prisoner now on death row. Even though the condemned man (Peter Sarsgaard) clearly also has psychotic tendencies, his own guilt is called into question by the investigation.
The pace at which events unfold makes the premiere the very definition of a slow burner: there are lingering shots of characters thinking, long scenes with limited dialogue, and lots of mist and rain. The result is suitably moody but, for the first 20 minutes or so, excessively ponderous. It only really picks up pace in the second hour once the principal characters — Detective Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) and his former colleague Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) — stop dancing around each other and start making investigative progress.
Yet, while the episode conveys a realism that is gritty and at times even grim, it is notably devoid of explicit violence. The script doesn't resort to the obvious either. Its characters are flawed but not assholes, it doesn't indulge in trite action sequences and it manages to be disturbing without bludgeoning the audience with cheap shocks. The performances from the leads and a string of familiar faces in the supporting cast, including Sarsgaard, Elias Koteas, Aaron Douglas (Battlestar Galactica) Jewel Staite (Firefly, Stargate Atlantis) and Canadian favorite Hugh Dillon (Flashpoint), are excellent, too.
Together these qualities sustain the start of The Killing's third season through its meandering introduction and allow the premiere to build to an unsettling climax that is compelling and frustrating. That's just the kind of thing serialized mysteries need to make viewers come back. Given this promising beginning, it is reassuring that AMC's President and General Manager, Charlie Collier, has assured viewers that they won't be left hanging when the season reaches its end. Only time will tell if the twists and turns to come deliver on that.