POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Aug 1, 2014
LAST UPDATED: 2:01 a.m. HST, Aug 1, 2014
"The Killing" returns Friday for one last somber season, a six-episode coda on Netflix. The snakebit show was canceled twice by its original channel, AMC, the second time after a cliffhanger third-season finale in which the Seattle police detective Sarah Linden killed her lover — a fellow cop — when she figured out he was a pedophilic serial killer. Thanks to Netflix, we get to find out what happens to Linden and her partner, Stephen Holder, in the aftermath.
Based on the Danish drama "Forbrydelsen," "The Killing" will always be best known for something that had nothing to do with whether it was a good show. When AMC failed to make it clear the initial murdered-girl story arc would not be wrapped up in one season, the series became the prime example of the new power of audience outrage. Critics who had praised the show through its first season suddenly started finding reasons to dislike it, and the producers of subsequent serialized crime series took pains to announce that their mysteries would be solved by the season finale.
The reputation of "The Killing" never recovered from the brouhaha. But the show nonetheless continued, in its second and third seasons, to be one of the better cable dramas around. Its complicated but smart plotting was mislabeled as confusing (which is what happens when you're not really watching), and its stark, singular tone and style were dismissed as grim.
Above all, "The Killing" was steadily one of the best-acted shows on television. Enos and, particularly, Joel Kinnaman as Holder have been superb, and they've been matched by Michelle Forbes and Brent Sexton as the grieving parents in the first two seasons and by Bex Taylor-Klaus as the street kid Bullet in Season 3.
Available Friday on Netflix
That quality carries over into the final season: Enos and Kinnaman are reliably good; Gregg Henry reprises his restrained, credible portrayal of the veteran Detective Reddick; and Joan Allen joins the cast as the tightly wound but compassionate commander of a military boarding school, a uniformed analog to the slightly inhuman Linden.
In other ways, the Netflix season, through four episodes, is a letdown. The style is intact, but the story, in which Linden and Holder's efforts to cover up her execution of the bad cop run in parallel to a case involving a family slaughtered, execution-style, at home, feels routine and thin. It's as if the writers, worried about shoehorning in both a new mystery and a sense of closure, overcompensated.
Instead of a dark, intriguing puzzle, we get familiar elements — the creepy guy with the wall of photos, the endangered witness unable to reach Linden — popping up in predictable fashion. A deliberate quotation, a moment in the fourth episode that mirrors a famous scene in the show's pilot, doesn't have the effect such coup de theatre did in the past.
And the charge of unredeemed bleakness is now partly true. Having pushed Linden and Holder to the edge in Season 3, the writers, now forced into a quick denouement, take them to even greater extremes of despair, sometimes in ways that don't make sense for their characters.
Which is all reason to be glad that "The Killing" is now a Netflix show. The entire season is available Friday morning, and, in one sitting, you can cruise through the so-so story and find out before lunch what the future holds for Linden and Holder. Happily ever after wouldn't seem to be on the table, but with everything they and their show have been through, we can at least root for survival.
Review by Mike Hale, New York Times