By Lanford Beard
August 05, 2013 at 06:27 PM EDT
Carole Segal/AMC
  • TV Show

If last night’s two-hour season finale of The Killing put fans through the wringer, it shredded the very fabric of Detective Sarah Linden’s being. Mireille Enos, who’s garnered Emmy and Golden Globe nominations playing the stoic yet fragile Linden, had her work cut out for her as Linden was faced with a spirit-crushing revelation about the identity of the Pied Piper serial killer. By episode’s end, Linden was at a crossroads that surprised even Enos. Below, she discusses how she found her way into Linden’s mind during the tense episode.

SPOILER ALERT, Killing fans who haven’t caught up on DVR yet: Do not read any further!

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I can imagine the revelation of Skinner as the Piper — and Linden’s ultimate choice to kill him — would be something that might change your performance if you knew it in advance. How far ahead of shooting the finale did you learn where the season would end?

MIREILLE ENOS: We get the scripts about five to seven days before we start shooting the episode, and that was when I found out. I had a hunch when I read episode 11 — when Sarah was running and then gets home and Skinner’s sitting on the porch — I got chills. I texted Veena [Sud, our showrunner] to ask, “Is it Skinner?!” She actually texted back, like, “Do you want to know now or do you want to wait?” I told her, “I want to know now!” [Laughs]

Even knowing what was coming, how did you respond the first time you read the finale script?

It’s so powerful and intense — and such a surprising twist for TV, to have her kill him. I was definitely surprised but ultimately I’m like, “What other choice [did she have], considering everything that she’s been through?” Veena referred to this season as Sarah’s Inferno. Considering everything that she had been through, and that he had been the catalyst for that — her greatest potential for love was also the one who had not only done all these heinous crimes but allowed [Seward] to go to death, allowed her to go to this hospital and think that she was crazy, allowed her to be put in a situation where Joe Mills beat her up … he was responsible for all of these horrifying things. Ultimately I don’t know what other choice Sarah would have made.

That car drive to the lake house was fascinating and infuriating. You could see how he had constructed this delusion, how he’d turned everything on her. Throughout his confessions and accusations, she vacillates between being utterly broken and fighting for her life, and for Adrian’s life. How did you strike a balance as an actor?

I think, instead of it being about balance, it was actually about two extremes and about allowing myself to not edit and just go between those very extreme emotions without any regard for the other. When she’s crazy, she’s crazy; when she’s resolved, she’s resolved. I think we let ourselves do that with people we know that intimately — we let ourselves change on a dime. I was really fascinated by the fact that they do know each other so well and do love each other. Even after she knows everything, when she’s sitting on the side of the road crying, she still lets him touch her arm. There’s still simpleness and closeness between them, which I think is fascinating.

Linden has this surface reason for getting in Skinner’s car — to save Adrian’s life — but it also seemed like she hoped that if Skinner could explain himself to her, she’d be able to understand not only why he did what he did but also why she didn’t see it.

Adrian was important, obviously, but I think in some ways he was the excuse to give herself permission to get in that car. Those few hours would be the last few hours she would ever have with Skinner, whatever the outcome (even if she didn’t kill him, he would go to jail). So I think she wanted to give herself those last few hours with this person that she has such strong feelings for — no matter what that meant in terms of pain or anything. It was too hard to just walk away from it.

Maybe Linden held herself responsible in some way?

Absolutely. I think she does hold herself responsible in a lot of ways.

And a lot of your job was simply reacting to Elias Koteas, who plays Skinner.

Wasn’t he remarkable? He’s just a wonderful person, so it was really exciting knowing that I got to spend all that time with him. I think he’s just so talented.

Did you discuss with Veena what was going on under the surface? Did you talk with Elias about how the scenes would play out?

Elias and I sat down with the director Dan Attias and Veena and the writers. We had a wonderful little rehearsal where we just read through the scenes together and discussed all the emotional possibilities, the thinking. Elias wanted to really get a handle on Veena’s understanding of Skinner’s mind, how he was able to compartmentalize these events. We had this wonderful, two-hour discussion, and then we just found it once the cameras were rolling. All of the car scenes were shot in the studio with these huge projection screens, so it bought us an amazing amount of time. It was very intimate — we didn’t have to worry about actual traffic and tow vehicles and all of that — so we had tons of time to find it while we were shooting it.

Was this one of the hardest scenes of the season for you? Obviously last week, all your interactions with Peter Sarsgaard were very emotional. Where did this sequence fall for you in the season?

Episode 10 ultimately was the hardest episode for me, personally — because Seward was an innocent man. All the issues about the death penalty and all that … that was the hardest. But this was definitely way up there.

You mentioned that Seward’s innocent. There was a lot of consideration given to the moral and emotional toll of killing the innocent this season — and, for that matter, what innocence even means. Still, in the end, Linden sacrificed her own innocence. How do you see that playing out for her, and what do you think drove her to that point?

At the moment of doing it, I don’t know that there was any clear thinking around it. After the fact, she’ll be able to say things like [how she wanted to] bring him to justice, but I actually think it was a stranger moment than that. Earlier in the episode, when she’s asking Skinner, “How can you do something like that?” and he’s actually trying to explain it to her — this idea that, once you get past the pain and fear, there’s nothing like it in the world. This idea of getting to the most pure human truth — where a person fits right before they die and that kind of connection [you have with them] — that was what he was going after over and over again, that human connection. And I actually think that that’s where Sarah was in the moment she pulled the trigger. She felt so powerless, especially over this man, she was seeking that kind of power and the knowledge of what he had been talking about — the ecstasy that comes after you make a choice like that.

You can see how that idea of not being able to turn back once you cross that line. Linden’s been teetering on the brink of the abyss throughout the show’s first three seasons. Now that she’s crossed that line, will she be able to come back?

It’s a very good question. I don’t know the answer. Knowing Veena, my instinct is to say yes, because Veena loves Sarah so much, she must have a pathway laid out in her mind where Sarah can make her way back. But I don’t know what that path is.

And then there was that final look at Linden’s face after she shot Skinner. I can imagine you could ask 10 different people, and they’d read her expression 10 different ways. Did you talk to Veena about what you were hoping to express?

No, we didn’t. I actually didn’t know what was going to happen. I wanted to arrive in that moment and be surprised myself, because I didn’t know how pulling that trigger was going to feel. What I discovered after pulling the trigger was this kind of relief, this altered state, and this curiosity about “I just did that, and now what am I feeling?” Sarah is examining herself, she’s examining her own emotional state and finding that she’s less contained than she might have thought.

Moving forward, the person most likely to be affected by Sarah’s decision is Holder. They had finally gotten to a comfortable place in their relationship, and now she’s put him in a really tough position. Do you have any idea how this will impact their partnership?

I can only imagine it will be very hard on the relationship. There are really only two options: They call the cops, and, if they tell the truth of what happened, Sarah does time because Skinner was clearly unarmed and it was murder. Or they cover it up. I think there’s nothing more toxic than a secret. If they cover it up together and have this shared secret, I imagine it would drive a major wedge in their friendship.

You filmed the finale a while ago, but now you’re having to relive this emotionally charged moment as a performer. What are you doing now? Taking a lot of showers?

[Laughs] The other episodes, for whatever reason, I didn’t watch in real time. I would watch them the next day or whatever. But last night I made a point to watch it in real time. It was really exciting and fun. I felt proud of it, so I actually feel great today.

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