The sun still doesn't shine in The Killing, figuratively or literally. As its third season begins, Sarah Linden (Mirielle Enos) is settled into a mundane existence as a transit cop for the Vashon Island ferry, while her ex-partner, Holder (Joel Kinnaman), begins work on a case involving a dead runaway, found raped and decapitated in an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of Seattle. Certain elements of the crime—the nature of the decapitation, some stolen jewelry, a broken ring finger—tie it to a case Linden closed three years ago, the outcome of which was a death penalty handed down to the deranged Ray Seward (Peter Sarsgaard), the victim's husband. Of course, by the end of the second episode, Linden is already beginning to obsessively pore over physical evidence, photos, reports, and drawings from Seward's case file. So much for R&R.
Just as Linden feels revitalized by her own uncertainty regarding the Seward case, The Killing, unexpectedly saved from cancellation, feels unburdened and genuinely mysterious in its gloomy environs for the first time since the tail end of season one. Where the second season was arduous in its fixation on the thorniness of the Larsen clan's haunted past and present, to say nothing of the bland intrigue of cutthroat Seattle politics, season three displays more focused and fascinating ambitions. Holder's investigation leads him face to face with Emerald City's homeless youth, and the series takes a familiar yet rousing interest in the networking and quotidian tasks of these discarded teens. Meanwhile, Linden questions her former partner ex-lover, James Skinner (Elias Koteas), about the Seward case in his suburban home. Skinner's assuredness in their case work makes Linden even more speculative and leads her to visit and question the menacing Seward in prison, but it's clear the crimson-haired cop's self-doubt has as much to do with her new life as it does her old one.
Despite the more fleet and nuanced sense of storytelling, both visually and narratively, there's a nagging suspicion that, just as Rosie Larsen's murder became borderline irrelevant by the beginning of season two, the nuances of Linden and Holder's new case could start to play second fiddle to a mire of tired dramatic subplots. This threat is evident in a scene that teases Holder's domesticized romance with his new girlfriend, complete with microwave popcorn and shark documentaries on the DVR, and the brutal, pseudo-macho posturings of the imprisoned Seward, but the characters are more sharply written than their predicaments, which prove to be of an overall more complex variety than what one might find on Law & Order: SVU. The cast, which also includes Cate Sproule and Bex Taylor-Klaus as runaway besties Kallie and Bullet, and Amy Seimetz as the alcoholic mother of the former, brings liveliness and an unexpected sense of personal detail to the broad swath of lost souls that wander Seattle's rainy streets.
Up until this point in the series, The Killing has felt like Twin Peaks sans David Lynch's unbound eccentricity, but season three feels leaner and meaner, quickly recuperating from its needlessly extended and convoluted former storyline. The great Lodge Kerrigan, who's made two recent notable forays into television by helming episodes of Homeland and the underrated Longmire, directed the second episode, "That You Fear the Most," and his grim visual poetry gives a potent kick to the events, especially the haunting final sequence. It's effective, finely realized genre work from a notoriously dark and idiosyncratic director and it speaks directly to the show's reenergized interest in exuding its own distinct personality.