It seems to have slipped under the radar for most viewers, but the third season of The Killing has been airing on Wednesday nights for the past few weeks (SoHo, 8.30pm - a few days behind the USA). Yes, I said third season. You didn't misread that.
I'm as surprised as anyone that the show is back on the air. The Killing suffered veritable public relations disaster in the wake of its second season finale last year. Viewers were already disappointed by a first season that ended on a cliffhanger despite promising a resolution, and ratings dropped for Season 2.
In the second season finale, Rosie Larsen's death was revealed to be the result of so many misunderstandings, coincidences and conspiracies it would make The X Files blush, and the few remaining viewers were furious. Critics slammed the show. AMC cancelled it, and for a few months The Killing passed out of all knowledge.
But something happened then that The Killing did not intend: AMC renewed it for a third season.
I should say upfront that I didn't like the second season. I didn't like the way it ended. It felt like the case should have been resolved at the end of the first season, given the number of red herrings presented as essential story elements. Superfluous characters (like Billy Campbell's politician Darren Richmond) were kept around longer than they should have been, while stronger characters (like Michelle Forbes' grieving mother Mitch) were missing altogether.
In spite of my disappointment in the show, I came into the third season with an open mind. Showrunner Veena Sud is still in charge, but this is as close to a clean slate as her show will ever get. And it does feel as though Sud listened to some of the criticisms, while retaining a few of the things that worked.
The cast is stronger. The working relationship between detectives Linden and Holder, played by Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman, was one of the best parts of the first two seasons, and they are back for round three. They're joined by a raft of new cast members: Elias Koteas, Hugh Dillon and Jewel Staite are all welcome faces. Peter Sarsgaard joins the cast too; he was fantastic in drama film An Education.
The case of the season is reasonably interesting and appropriately creepy. It doesn't appear to be too deep, and it's clear that Sud took a few hints from former SoHo show Durham County. Season 3 is darker in tone, often going the downright creepy route. Even the case Linden and Holder are investigating is more disturbing, with Linden and Holder investigating a serial killer with 17 kills under his belt who preys on homeless teenage girls.
Yet, I can't help but feel as though something is missing. As disappointing as Season 2 was, the first season of The Killing was actually pretty great, let down only by the absence of a true conclusion to both the case and the season itself. And one of the reasons it succeeded was that it had heart.
If you recall, that first season split time evenly between the investigation into Rosie Larsen's murder, and the grieving process her family was going through - and it was those emotional family moments that gave The Killing a point of difference from other crime dramas. One reason the second season failed was that those moments became less and less important to the show. And now, in Season 3, they're missing entirely.
Sure, the writers have made improvements in other areas, but that heart is missing. There isn't an emotional arc to latch on to, no characters you can really feel sorry for and form an attachment to. And though it didn't capitalise on that properly through its first two seasons, I at least admired that it strove to that kind of personal drama.
As I say, this is a better show in many ways, and I'm going to keep watching. But, without that heart, The Killing is just a series-long episode of any procedural you'd care to name. It should be better than that.
Are you watching The Killing in its third season? What do you think?