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Against all odds, "The Killing" lives.
This AMC whodunit, which solved a tangled murder case - Who killed Rosie Larsen? - during two often gripping, sometimes exasperating seasons, then was canceled last July for low ratings, will rise from the dead for a welcome third season on June 2.
With this new lease on life, it's preserving one of TV's most delicious acting duos - co-stars Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman - while also restoring the faith of Kinnaman, who, in an interview last June, when the future of the series seemed dim, declared he was planning to come back for another season even if he had to "go up there and shoot it myself."
That won't be necessary. Veena Sud, who developed the series and has served as an executive producer, is back in charge, armed with a troubling new case for Stephen Holder, the glib, gangly Seattle homicide detective played so splendidly by Kinnaman.
It's a year later, and a year after homicide detective Sarah Linden, Holder's glowering, pint-sized ex-partner, had left the force. Her nerves and dedication were shattered by the Larsen case, a gruesome drowning murder of a local teen. Linden is now a ferry worker, waving vehicles on and off the ferry at its Vashon Island landing on Puget Sound.
But a serial killer she helped put away a couple of years before is nearing his execution date - even as similarly grisly murders have resumed in Seattle. Holder worries that the wrong man may have been convicted for those earlier crimes.
Initially, Linden scoffs at Holder's efforts at belated justice.
"Not every victim's worth it," she tells him glumly. "You start caring, you'll end up like me, working minimum wage on a ferry."
What she isn't saying (not yet, anyway): She, too, has been tormented by doubts that she collared the right man. How deeply will she be drawn into Holder's frantic make-good probe as time is running out for the convicted culprit?
Meanwhile: How, if at all, is psycho-inmate Tom Seward (played chillingly by Peter Sarsgaard) linked to the rash of new murders of runaway teen girls?
Serial murder isn't the freshest idea for a TV crime drama (just in the past few months "The Following" and "Hannibal" have joined the fray). And by the way, why does "The Killing" keep killing teenage girls?
Never mind. Judging from the two-hour premiere, "The Killing" could snag its audience's interest as the mystery unfolds. The premiere plants its share of provocative clues, including a grove of trees that keeps appearing in a child's crayon drawings.
And it reintroduces the irresistible Holder, a lovably skeezy ex-narc and recovering addict who radiates a blend of hip-hop-spiked elan and fidgety insolence. These days, he seems to have it made: less scruffy than when last seen, preparing for the sergeant's exam, with a perfect closure rate for his cases the past year and a cool girlfriend. Aglow with success, is he bucking for a setback? Will this case trigger it?
In any case, Kinnaman steals every scene he's in, and, teamed with Enos' prickly, pushy Linden, they still crackle with the chemistry of siblings who bring out the best in each other, whatever the friction between them.
That much hasn't changed about the series.
At the same time, past viewers of "The Killing" should know the show has undergone some noticeable tweaking.
Its original format - drawn from the original Danish series that inspired it - called for tracking 12 consecutive days of the investigation, with each episode covering each successive day. That structure has been scrapped.
Another change: The mystery, though it will surely reach in unexpected directions, doesn't seem likely to swamp the entire Seattle community, as the Rosie Larsen case did. (The mystery of who killed Rosie shed suspicion on at least two dozen characters, including a popular candidate for mayor.) And most of the sizable original cast, which played characters tied intrinsically to the Larsen case, is unsurprisingly gone. In the premiere, the only hold-overs are Annie Corley as Linden's friend Regi and Liam James as her teenage son, who make brief appearances.
The gloomy mood that prevailed for the first two seasons has been lifted, if ever so slightly. The show's palette seems a teensy bit brighter. And the rain that seemed to soak every scene so atmospherically before has been scaled back. Indeed, the premiere is one-third over before the action is pounded by a full-out thunderstorm.
One final note: To avert a repeat of the misunderstanding when season 1 ended not with the awaited Big Reveal, but instead a cliffhanger that had viewers howling, the show pledges to solve this new case by the season's 12th and final episode.
Between now and then, the more "The Killing" keeps Holder and Linden in the picture and in the same frame - grasping for the truth and pushing each other's buttons - the more fun this never-say-die show is likely to be.