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'The Killing' wants you back

The captivating mystery series ignited a firestorm with a finale that raised more questions than it answered. Can the new season bring frustrated fans back into the fold?

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Det. Sarah Linden is about to get a clue. A clue that could finally finger the fiend responsible for wrecking and ending the life of a beautiful, artsy, secret-keeping Seattle teen. A clue that could bring closure to television’s most compelling and controversial murder mystery. But first: Breakfast burrito, anyone?

We are on the Vancouver set of AMC’s The Killing, where the murder of Rosie Larsen remains unsolved and the mysteries are still multiplying. Linden (Mireille Enos) and her surly son, Jack (Liam James), have spent the night in the cluttered apartment of her (dirty cop?) partner, Det. Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), who is whipping up some morning eats as Linden emerges from his bedroom looking rested after an evening spent in his bed. (”I told you Posturepedic is the shiznit,” Holder says.) The camaraderie turns chilly when Linden leafs through a book and sees the clue that stops her cold — a picture of great significance in her obsessive quest to catch Rosie Larsen’s killer. After taking a phone call that causes Holder to shoot her a couple of nervous glances, Linden announces to Jack that they’re leaving ASAP — and Holder informs her she’s welcome to spend the night anytime she wants.

Explanations? Alas, the stars refuse to squeal, though Enos is willing to make this clarification: Linden and Holder are most definitely not romantically involved. ”I can’t imagine these two human beings in a relationship,” laughs the actress, flashing a bright smile rarely seen on Linden’s face. Still, Enos admits she herself was curious enough to ask showrunner Veena Sud if Linden (a single mom with a haunted past) and Holder (a former junkie) might one day become more than just partners with a spark. ”She just smiled and said, ‘I don’t know.”’

The Killing sure likes to play the tease — for better or worse. Based on the Danish series Forbrydelsen, it immediately won praise following its April 2011 debut for the strong performances by Enos (who copped an Emmy nod) and Kinnaman (whose breakout year recently earned him the lead in MGM’s Robocop remake) and its bluesy realism, best expressed by the commitment to chronicling the messy despair of Rosie’s parents (Brent Sexton and Emmy nominee Michelle Forbes). But the show began to vex as the season wore on. The producers doted heavily and pretentiously on the plight of falsely accused Bennet Ahmed (Brandon Jay McLaren), a quasi-creepy teacher and suspected Muslim terrorist who turned out to be one of the good guys. Also frustrating: bait-and-switch storytelling that would dangle the promise of a major breakthrough at the end of one episode, then quickly retract it at the beginning of the next. And the season finale was shocking for all the wrong reasons. The episode seemed to resolve the question of Rosie’s murderer…until it didn’t. Viewers, who were expecting that the mystery would be solved, were apoplectic and took to Twitter to kiss off The Killing, vowing never to watch it again. AMC and Sud protested that they’d never promised an answer — but then again, they never exactly told fans they wouldn’t be getting one, either. Indeed, the network aggressively promoted The Killing as follow-the-clues whodunit fun for armchair detectives. Its memorable ”Who Killed Rosie Larsen?” ad campaign and website features encouraged viewers to post theories and vote for their prime suspect each week. ”It was absolutely never our intention to mislead anybody, and certainly not to betray our fans,” says Sud, whose show closely follows the pacing of the Danish original, which didn’t catch its killer until late in a 20-episode first season. But AMC execs believe they should have better managed audience expectations. ”I understand why people felt [the mystery] was going to end. We never thought for one minute: ‘What’s wrong with these people? Why can’t they see what we see?”’ says Joel Stillerman, AMC’s senior vice president of programming and production. ”It’s something we deeply, deeply regret, and we’ve learned a lot from it.”

Still, Sud and her cast are fiercely proud of the first season. ”I loved the season finale. Loved it,” says Enos. ”Having read the first seven episodes of the second season, it’s clear there is so much more story to be told. If we had tried to wrap it all up in the last few episodes, it would have felt oversimplified. I am sure audiences will be grateful for another 13 episodes with these characters and unpacking their mysteries.” Billy Campbell — who plays mayoral candidate/prime suspect Darren Richmond — compares the first season to a first date: ”I could understand people thought they were going to get answers in the first season. But did you like the story? Did you like the show? Stick around for the second date. That’s all I have to say.”

In other words: Consummation looms. ”Season 1 was all about questions,” Sud says. ”Season 2 is about answers.” To recap: After a meandering investigation that took them into every gritty nook and grungy cranny of a fictitious Seattle — from Islamic mosques to Indian casinos, city hall to inner-city community centers — Linden and Holder arrested Richmond for Rosie’s murder. The new season picks up minutes after the finale left off. A quick refresher: Rosie’s vengeance-seeking family friend Belko Royce (Brendan Sexton III) was approaching Richmond with a gun, while Linden and Jack were bound for Sonoma, Calif., to be with her fiancé. (The bogus season-long tension of Linden’s potential move away from Seattle was another much-reviled story line.) Sud is reluctant to dish too much, but she will say the premiere includes a major event that will rock the lives of several characters, especially the Larsens. As the season progresses, viewers will follow Mitch (Forbes) as she embarks on a me-time road trip (destination: mystery) and meets a young woman who reminds her of Rosie. Sud says every character has more secrets to be exhumed and explored, perhaps none more so than Holder. The closing moments of the season 1 finale implied that the recovering addict had framed Richmond with fabricated evidence produced by unseen collaborators. Look for Holder’s many bad choices of the past to haunt him anew. And Sud says, with cross-my-fingers-and-hope-to-die sincerity, that she will finally reveal Rosie’s killer…at the very end of season 2. The finale will also introduce a new mystery, which will drive the third season, should The Killing earn one. ”Viewers should know that this isn’t an example of writers not knowing what they’re doing. They know exactly where they’re going,” says Kinnaman. ”There were times in the first season where we were finding our way, and maybe there were too many red herrings. Coming into the second season, the writing is getting smarter, and the threads introduced in the first season are tying together.”

It seems somewhat unlikely that anyone who was truly invested in The Killing‘s first season wouldn’t at least give the season 2 premiere a chance. And while no one will say it, the truth is that last year’s vitriol is this year’s publicity opportunity. ”On the whole, I would say I’m cautiously optimistic,” says AMC’s Stillerman. ”My hope is that even if you were frustrated, you still enjoyed the storytelling, and now that you know some closure is coming, you’ll reengage.” Among the heartening indicators: the fact that The Killing‘s viewership (the show averaged 2.2 million, including DVR replay) remained steady all season long. Asked if she feels any pressure to win back fans, Sud — assured though not arrogant, defiant yet not ungracious — says: ”I don’t know if we do…. You always feel pressure. My intention is to deliver the best story I can, and hopefully people feel it’s compelling.” Pressed to reveal just one creative lesson she learned from a season she regards as an ”experiment” (and a largely successful one at that), Sud thinks and then offers a Mona Lisa smile. ”Apparently the rain was not appreciated,” she quips. ”We’re trying to modulate those downpours.” Perhaps other kinds of blustery deluges can be avoided this year too.

Catching up on The Killing

The Detectives
Engaged single mom Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) put a move to California on hold so she could hunt Rosie Larsen’s killer. Fearful she might become dangerously obsessed (as she had with another case involving a young girl earlier in her career), Linden’s fiancé begged her to leave Seattle. Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) — a former undercover narcotics cop who got hooked on drugs himself — was transferred to homicide and eventually partnered with Linden. But he may have been secretly managing the investigation on behalf of a shadowy conspiracy that wanted councilman Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell) framed for the murder.

The Campaign
Mayoral candidate Richmond — a widower and possible sex addict with a penchant for escorts and sleeping with campaign workers — became a prime suspect after Linden and Holder placed him near Rosie hours before her death. Richmond’s top aides, Gwen (Kristin Lehman) and Jamie (Eric Ladin), pushed him to fight dirty against his shady opponent, Mayor Adams (Tom Butler), and to seek support from sleazy entrepreneur Tom Drexler (Patrick Gilmore).

The Family
Rosie’s ex-mobster father, Stan (Brent Sexton), was arrested for nearly beating to death one of Rosie’s teachers (Brandon Jay McLaren), a former prime suspect. Rosie’s mother, Mitch (Michelle Forbes), left her family for parts unknown to seek healing for her grief. Rosie’s aunt Terry (Jamie Anne Allman) was revealed to be an escort with knowledge of Rosie’s secret life, and in the finale, family friend Belko Royce (Brendan Sexton III) was seen heading toward Richmond with a gun.