And we’re back. With the rain that never stops falling. And the alternative teenagers who just can’t stop running. And the wool sweaters that, while cozy, seem slightly impractical given how much time the woman who wears them spends in the perennially damp outdoors.
It’s hard to know exactly how to approach this. Should this episode be evaluated based on its own merit or do I factor in what came before? Because taken on its own, I enjoyed it as much as I did the early episodes of The Killing’s first season, before everything — and the use of that word only gestures at how all encompassing the eventual destruction was — went wrong. But it’s impossible not to remember how bad things got, especially since this premiere was still mostly a collection of questions that have yet to be answered. And it’s in the problem-solving area that this show has always fumbled the “what’s your biggest weakness” part of the job interview. For anyone who has ever gotten back with an ex, you know it takes a while to trust them again (hey, Selena Gomez, who is obviously reading this while waiting for Justin to text that winking emoji with its tongue out to indicate his love, can I get an amen?). Every time in this episode where Linden stopped mid-conversation to stare into space, I got a flash of her in the mental hospital last season and thought, Maybe just too much has been said and done to make this work. I’m not saying I’m not willing to give this season a fair shot. It’s just that until I get a transcript of the meeting that took place between Veena Sud and AMC where they all agreed to bring this sucker back to life on the condition that she promised no more red herrings, to speak to at least one real-life teenager, and to invest in a smartphone, we’re going to have to proceed with caution here at first.
This season starts off a little more than a year after where we last left off. Linden and Holder haven’t seen other much in that time, long enough to not realize the other has quit smoking. Linden’s still living in Seattle but working for the Coast Guard now. The son she neglected all last season in favor of aiding the neglected child of strangers now lives in Chicago with his dad. He wants her to move there, too, but when he asks why she won’t, she gets that worrisome, faraway look I mentioned earlier and then says she has to take him to the airport, which if you’ll remember was their favorite mother-son activity to do together last season. She’s sleeping with a co-worker who I didn’t think seemed all that much younger until Holder started making cracks about his age. For all her heavy sweater, runner leggings, and puffy coat wearing, I can definitely understand why Linden’s never single unless she wants to be. She’s just got the whole vulnerable yet emotionally inaccessible thing down. By the end of the episode, Linden will have broken up with him, a situation that shows us what The Killing both has learned and hasn’t. She breaks up with him for the same reason she dumped her former fiancée — because she’s become obsessed with a case — but instead of dragging this inevitable plot turn out for two seasons, this time the show gets it over with right away. I appreciated the haste. The repeated arc, accelerated or not, of a carefree Linden once again laughing and practically ripping her dude’s clothes off in the kitchen followed by her realizing that she can’t be in a relationship or happy or really ever even smile again once she becomes consumed with an investigation, I did not.
Holder has a new girlfriend, too, whose casting, I have to say, totally baffled me. Didn’t she seem so square compared to him? I mean, I get that she’s supposed to represent his trying to be more of a respectable grown-up, but they went too far, and also, that’s not why we liked him in the first place. She’s never going to be as interesting to watch as Linden, which is a shame because what this show needs more than anything is a wide array of characters we’re invested in so that the burden of having to just focus on solving the case is lifted. Holder’s new partner isn’t going to get us anywhere, either. He’s a gruff cop robot who's been programmed to act all “Oh ferchristsakes!” whenever Holder wants to work hard at solving a case.
The good news is that the other new additions are really pretty solid. There’s a tough cross-dressing teen named Bullet who lives on the streets with her best friend, Callie, and who pines for a (mostly?) straight girl named Lyric. That all probably doesn’t read great, but the kids cast play their parts well, especially Bullet, who I realized was a girl at the same moment Holder did, many moments into the episode. (Props to this show for handling the gender stuff elegantly. And also for including a lesbian couple whose sexual preferences are just a fact instead of a plot point.) Lyric’s sleeping with another homeless teen, an aspiring model who has dreams of moving to Hollywood if he can just scrape enough cash together after investing in the world’s priciest, most time-consuming at-home hair dye.
And then there’s Peter Sarsgaard, lending an air of legitimacy to the whole endeavor. Watching him, I realized he’s made enough smart career decisions for his presence to elevate my hopes for this series instead of the opposite, where the show lowers my faith in a good actor. And I say this even after knowing that he plays one of the most potentially cliché character types of all time, a convicted murderer bad guy with nothing to lose who’s all about the mind games. I mean, even when that kind of character is done well, like with Anthony Hopkins, it sets your career down a path of getting sent a whole lot of scripts with the villain parts highlighted, and so I just have to believe that Peter Sarsgaard knew what he was doing by signing on. Either that or he just really likes to hang out with Joel Kinnaman, to which I say, more power to him. I’ve certainly made choices based on much weaker reasons than that.
Sarsgaard plays Ray Seward, the dad/husband who was found guilty of killing the woman whom Linden was obsessed with before we met her. The mother of the son who was stuck in the apartment’s closet for six days while her dead body was in the kitchen. He either didn’t see who did it or he blocked it out; I’m sure they told us last season but I can’t remember (that kid isn’t the only one suffering from a Killing-induced trauma). Plus, they’re going to tell it to us again since it looks like that’s the crime that the season is going to be dedicated to solving. Holder and his partner are investigating a dead girl they found whose head was nearly cut off, just like the woman in Linden’s case. As Linden points out, it might just be a coincidence since that’s the only thing the two victims have in common. The new victim is a teenage girl who was killed in a warehouse or something four years after the first woman, who was older and murdered in her home. It does seem like a stretch. Oh, but wait, it seems that even after Beautiful Mind–ing the original crime-scene photos for a year, Linden still didn’t notice the first woman’s finger was broken and her ring was missing, just like, as Holder points out, the second girl now. And it’s just that kind of shoddy police work coming from Linden, whose serious face conveys a level of capability that she has so often failed to demonstrate, that makes me stressed out all over again. In other words, it’s hard to start off with a blank slate when the other side of the paper has a child’s traumatized crayon drawing of a lake that’s apparently right down the bend from where the detective who lost her sanity trying to solve that same child’s case goes on her daily run but has failed to identify until now.
After following around Bullet’s best friend Callie for a chunk of the episode while she looks for a place to crash, it ends with her going missing. Her mom is worse in the nurturing parental department than first season Mitch but still probably less neglectful than second season Mitch. She won’t let Callie sleep at the house because her boyfriend, whose truck her daughter once insulted, is coming over. Callie loses out on a bed to Bullet at the group home where they sometimes find shelter, led by a benevolent seeming pastor who will likely reveal himself to be rotten unless we get more characters going, but maybe not. Off-camera she gets kicked out of the rundown motel (managed by Laura Palmer’s mom) where the homeless kids hole up when they have nowhere else to go. We see her get into a car that is probably a cab we saw tooling around in the daytime earlier in the episode and is also the same car, it seems, that Holder’s missing girl got into in the opening minutes. While searching for her, Bullet finds himself in the lair of a local enemy, a dude whose main character trait thus far seems to be that he’s the only one with a gun and so is able to bully the homeless kids into doing what he wants. He pins Bullet down in his bed and appears to be about to rape her. While this makes him an extremely unlikable dude, it probably rules him out from being the killer.
After paying a visit to her ex-partner/affair haver, Linden goes to visit Seward in jail and then drops in on his son, the Tree Drawing Whisperer. Seward is being sentenced to death in 30 days, giving the show a timeline with stakes under which the rightful killer must be found. So far Seward is all about being a prick, like when he bashes in the head of the gentle priest who was just trying to be nice to him, which is weird and suspicious behavior coming from a man who just has to turn out to be innocent. I’m sure the show will eventually give him a monologue where he explains why he acted like this, but I’m pretty convinced they just think it’s more compelling to write him this way. His son has been drawing again ever since he heard about his dad’s execution. He’s now 9, presumably old enough to have the vocabulary to explain what the tree drawing is all about and considering that that same drawing is tacked up on his bedroom wall amid an array of other colorful pictures, it appears that he’s able to go to sleep every night while looking at it. Maybe enough time has passed for Linden to, I don’t know, ask him again what it means. He’s right downstairs, playing soccer in the backyard. Even his foster mom thinks it’s a good idea for Linden to talk with him, but instead Linden says, a bit creepily, that no, she just came to look. Well, okay, sigh, then maybe next time. Ten episodes to go. Ten steps on some staircases. Coincidence? Hardly.