The clock ran out for death row inmate Ray Seward on tonight’s standout episode of AMC’s “The Killing,” and the devastating storyline provided memorable showcases for Peter Sarsgaard and Mireille Enos.
More than that, “Six Minutes,” was a solid example of the once much-maligned show’s season-long transformation into a tighter, sturdier and more effective crime and character drama. While AMC has yet to announce a formal decision about whether or not “The Killing” will return for Season 4, the series’ creative upswing is quietly making its case for renewal.
We don’t yet know if Seward was guilty of murdering his wife — the crime he was executed for — but logic and narrative momentum suggest he wasn’t. And yet there’s no question he was a criminal capable of severe brutality and terrible acts. No attempt was made to soft-pedal these aspects of his character and the overall arc was all the stronger for it.
Even in his final episode, Seward vacillated between arrogant, bitter, vulnerable and defiant, often serving as his own worst enemy as Detective Linden (Enos) struggled to find a way to keep him alive. Their riveting conversations (scripted by showrunner Veena Sud) peeled back the layers to reveal two broken souls tortured by parental guilt and intimate knowledge of humanity’s darkside.
In a bold and timely stroke of inspired storytelling, Sud’s script confidently conveys that no matter how “bad” Seward is, his execution is an indefensible tragedy. It’s a clear-eyed, humanist stance that cuts through the fear, paranoia and hatred familiar to anyone who’s paid attention to recent cable or online news.
Seward’s complicated nature fits with the show’s overall approach to character: everyone has flaws (sometimes to a near-comical extreme). Both Linden and her partner, Holder (Joel Kinnaman), are social outcasts — she’s a “deadbeat” mother and he’s a recovering junkie. Key supporting players include a prison guard (Hugh Dillon) who harasses the inmates and has a dysfunctional family life, a single mother (Amy Seimetz) who kicked her teenage daughter out of the house the night the girl went missing and several street kids who routinely engage in illegal activity to survive. (One reason we’re worried next week’s finale might reveal Elias Koteas’ Captain Skinner was involved with the murder of Seward’s wife — which feels like a lazy and disappointing twist — is that he’s relatively conflict-free so far.)
But “The Killing” does something unusual for television with its rogues gallery of an ensemble. They’re not heroes or anti-heroes, not glamorized or demonized, not condescended to or pitied, they’re treated seriously and tenderly with compassion and understanding. And the actors routinely respond with outstanding performances. Sarsgaard and Seimetz have been especially invaluable additions to the show this season, while Kinnaman and Enos continue to find new nuances as the narrative anchors.
There’s still room for improvement in the show’s procedural-inspired writing and portentous tone, but Season 3 has demonstrated better than ever before what kind of show “The Killing” could be. It would have been inconceivable back in the days of “Who killed Rosie Larsen?,” but episodes like “Six Minutes” make us eager to see what the future might bring.