[This is a review of The Killing season 4, episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
Now in its fourth and final season – after being ostensibly rescued for a second time by Netflix – The Killing began life back during those halcyon days when AMC was still riding high off the success of both Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Back then (Rubicon's one-and-done season aside), the network had established a reputation for being television's newest hit maker, the home of the kind of programming that could rival HBO's vaunted status as the reigning king of prestige television.
For what it was worth, an American adaptation of the dark Scandinavian murder drama Forbrydelsen was in keeping with a network that seemed to specialize in producing dense, moody dramas that relied considerably on serialization. After all, at the time, AMC was still the network whose motto was "Story Matters Here," as opposed to the less specific, shrug-worthy branding of "Something More." And for the first few episodes, audiences seemed intrigued with this stylish vision of a homicide investigation unfolding in a preposterously rain-soaked Seattle, as the whodunit factor that was such a predominant part of the season's marketing campaign briefly became a weekly guessing game.
Of course, a great deal of the audience fell away after the first season was met with so much criticism and scorn, when the primary mystery was allowed to go unsolved. As such, The Killing became known more for showrunner Venna Sud's episodic red herrings and other cop show contrivances, than for delivering the next step in AMC's evolution.
Still, the show clung to life, and followed a shaky second season with a third that was briefly going to be a Netflix exclusive. Season 3 introduced an entirely new case revolving around murdered teenage girls, and it even brought along notable actors like Peter Sarsgaard, as an inmate on death row, and Elias Koteas, as James Skinner, a detective with whom Linden had a previous romantic entanglement. In many ways, the season was a step up for The Killing. Despite its continued dependence on red herrings and false leads to drum up dramatic tension, the season managed to do more of what it had done reasonably well from the beginning: showcase the talents of its actors – especially Enos and Sarsgaard.
With all the dramatic possibilities at the show's disposal, season 3 ultimately took the killer cop route, revealing Skinner to be behind the deaths of the young girls, and then hastily having him wind up on the business end of Linden's service weapon. And so, for better or worse, The Killing is back for six final episodes, to try and wrap up what's left of the Linden and Holder's story, as they presumably try to get away with murder, while investigating a new one.
The shift to Netflix means that all six episodes are available right now. It also means that, aside from a few instances where Joel Kinnaman's language is saltier (in the first episode, anyway) than his already over-seasoned language on the three previous seasons, there are few differences between The Killing, as it was on AMC, and as it is now on Netflix.
The cast, however, remains top-notch. Mireille Enos still manages to be compelling even as her character seems on the verge of being swallowed by her own somberness and those lumpy wool sweaters she's so fond of wearing. Kinnaman, meanwhile is at his best playing scabby, unwashed types, rather than a shiny, mechanical overseer of justice. Kinnaman's Det. Holder wields his appropriated cultural affectation like it's an extension of his uniform. His mannerisms and playful exaggerations may as well have been handed to him along with his service weapon and badge for all the use he puts them to. But despite the artifice of his personality, Holder, like his partner, comes across as sincere, a character the audience can actually root for and/or be emotionally invested in, which is likely the reason this series has managed to stay afloat for four (okay, three and a half) seasons.
Added to the mix this time around is veteran character actor Joan Allen, who, as Col. Margaret O'Neal, is an unexpected but welcome addition to the season's A-plot revolving around the slaying of a prominent Seattle family, the Stansburys. Kyle (Tyler Ross), the prototypical black sheep of the Stansbury clan, is the only survivor and therefore the only likely suspect. Kyle is also a cadet at the St. Georges Military Academy that Col. O'Neal presides over, and appears to have a strange relationship with her young, ostracized cadet, who conveniently has no recollection of the murder he was either a witness to or the perpetrator of.
With the contrived complexities of the Stansbury murder taking center stage (the cop who was first on the scene actually says, "I've never seen anything like it"), Linden and Holder are free to bungle their conspiracy to cover-up Skinner's death, which, as Holder explains, could not possibly be seen as justifiable, and would likely result in jail time for them both. And so, with the deaths of all the young girls Skinner murdered hanging over her head, Linden refuses to dispose of the murder weapon, as per her agreement with Holder, and she winds up losing one of the shell casings before being inundated with the cries of Skinner's daughter, who mistakenly believes her father is hiding out at his lover's house.
There's so much content stemming from Linden's wrathful murder of Skinner that's just waiting to be unpacked, it's difficult to justify the addition of an entirely new murder investigation. The Stansbury case not only feels superfluous and like a major plot sink, it continues the series' disconcerting obsession with troubled Seattle teens who bear absolutely no resemblance to actual teenagers whatsoever. Joan Allen makes for an interesting presence, but Kyle and his fellow cadets – especially one-note bully Lincoln Knopf (Sterling Beaumon) – read more like extras from School Ties than intriguing pieces of a larger puzzle.
As usual, the smaller moments of the show are the ones that stand out. Kinnaman and Jewel Staite share a nice scene together where Holder sees his girlfriend's unexpected pregnancy as an opportunity to prove that he's a good man. And while it again demonstrates one of The Killing's bad habits – that of filling silences with unnecessary dialogue, and refusing to let any emotion or thought go unexplained – there's authenticity in both performances that helps mellow out the overwrought nature of it all. At the very least it's better than Linden's scene with Kyle where he explains to her the meaning of East of Eden in a way that's supposed to sum up both his and Sarah's troubles with fitting in.
Still, even with two sizeable plots happening simultaneously, six episodes may prove to be the magic number for The Killing. With less time for redundant plot twists, season 4 could send the series off on a brighter note, keeping the show from forever being remembered as the soggy murder series that refused to die.
All episodes of The Killing season 4 are available on Netflix. Screen Rant will have a review of season 4 finale shortly.
Photos: Carole Segal/Netflix