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'Good For AMC' Is Still Pretty Great

The Killing earned its third season.

It's hard to be a good show on AMC. And by "good," I mean "not as a sensational as Breaking Bad, not as exciting as Mad Men, and not as popular as The Walking Dead, but still...you know...good."

To put it another way: the third season of The Killing was a billion times better than seasons one and two, earning its post-cancellation resurrection with an emotionally sophisticated story and a wonderful ensemble of actors. Still, it wasn't nearly as good as AMC's triple crown.

If it had been on NBC, the show might have landed on the cover of Entertainment Weekly with a breathless headline about the return of sophistication to network TV. But next to the intricate structure of Walter White's moral descent, the plotholes in this season of The Killing looked awfully large. Next to Don Draper and his carefully mapped dissolution, Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) looked like one shrieking breakdown after another. Hell...next to the nasty-yet-alluring madness of The Walking Dead's Governor, James Skinner (Elias Koteas) made the most boring serial killer of all time.

So let's acknowledge that. Yes, it was irritating how the hunt for a murderer kept leading Linden and Holder (Joel Kinnaman) to red herrings. Anyone familiar with gotcha screenwriting could have deduced that Skinner was the doer, if only because he was the only new character with an emotional connection to Linden. Obviously, a show that obsessively remarks on her isolation is going to complicate her only non-Holder friendship, so why waste our time pretending the Hipster Pastor is a suspect?

Meanwhile, could Linden and Holder maybe stop being the world's worst detectives? Escape my half-assed surveillance once, shame on me. Escape it six times, shame on the writers.

But once we get past its failures as a procedural drama, we can celebrate The Killing as a unique and potent rumination on grief, loss, and loneliness.

Take Ray Seward (Peter Sarsgaard). Wrongfully hanged for a murder that we eventually learn Skinner committed, Seward was less a part of the mystery than a sideshow about a terrible man uncovering his last shreds of humanity before he dies. His final episode, where he and Linden share their hearts before he stumbles to the gallows, underscores that The Killing is as good as any series in recent memory at defining the weight of cruelty, both manmade and cosmic.

That doesn't end with Seward. We never see Danette (Amy Seimetz) once she learns her daughter has died, but we can imagine how she's going to feel. We get a final glimpse of the corrections officers who put Seward to death, but we never learn what happens when they realize he was innocent. We don't even see the aftermath of Skinner's death. We just see Linden shoot him after he tells her that she has to kill him because she loves him. We're left to consider these people in suspended animation, just moments before their reckonings, and that's a rich, dark place to leave an audience.

Those are the moments, in fact, that make The Killing a very good show. And while it will never have the best-in-class brilliance of other AMC dramas, its still deserves to be seen and appreciated. When you're in a class full of Einsteins and Mozarts, being the fourth-best student is still pretty great.

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