By Caryn James | James on Screens July 28, 2014 at 8:59AM
Plenty of us have made bad choices in men, but it would be hard to match Sarah Linden's. At the end of Season Three of "The Killing" (the statute of limitations has passed, but spoiler alert anyway) she discovered that her boss and sometime lover, Detective Skinner, was worse than your typical skulking-around married guy. He was the "Pied Piper" serial killer, preying on lost young women, the very person Linden and her funky ever-faithful partner Holder had been searching for all season.
Lured to his lake house, Linden was pointing her gun at him when Holder arrived and begged her not ruin her life by killing him. She paused, and ruined her life. Although "The Killing" may never recover from the bad press and viewers' sense of betrayal after the Season 1 finale didn't reveal its murderer, the show runners learned something. Season 3 – that was a fantastic.
As Season 4 begins, Linden is in the shower washing off the blood from her own personal killing. And in this intense, electrifying final season, Sarah joins the ranks of Walter White and other murderers we root for. Along with Holder, now implicated in her crime's cover-up, we witnessed her anguish and shock, her cold-blooded decision. And while viewers might find it hard to blame her, she has multiple reasons to hate herself. The show's grim, rainy Seattle atmosphere has never reflected the characters' inner lives more. (Dropped by AMC, "The Killing" was rescued for this last 6-episode season by Netflix, which will make it available for binging on August 1.)
The season also offers a new murder case for Linden and Holder: a couple and two of their three children were shot in their upscale home. Their teenaged son, who survived a gunshot in the attack, is the first of many suspects. When he recovers, he returns to his military school, run by Joan Allen in a role so blatantly stern and sinister you have to guess she's a red herring.
That plot is a distraction for Linden and Holder, but less diverting for us. The potent draw of Season 4 comes from watching Linden and Holder try to protect their lethal secret, while Holder's former partner (Gregg Henry) begins to wonder why no one has heard from Skinner. Their relationship becomes a fierce, sometimes antagonistic back-and-forth, with one of them ready to fall apart at any moment. Holder sounds calm when he warns, "Just got to keep our stories straight, Linden," until it's her turn to yell at him, "Keep your shit together!"
Mireille Enos falls apart with controlled agony; it's a terrific performance, portraying a woman who will never be happy again. Holder has more layers than ever this season, which continues his relationship with Caroline, the lawyer who likes his scruffiness and sees through his defensive front. Joel Kinnaman makes it seem effortless, as Holder veers wildly up and down. It helps that he always has the best lines.
"What do you think?" Linden asks after they've questioned a creepy, agoraphobic artist.
"Think Boo Radley over there is one sunny day away from cutting his ear off," says Holder.
There are small touches to notice, good and bad. In Episode 1, watch for a small hospital scene with Patti Smith (yes, the musician-writer), gray hair in a bun, playing a doctor.
But another detail, revealed last season, is as nonsensical as ever. Someone notices that an unusual ring Skinner's daughter wears looks exactly like the ring in a photograph of one of the Pied Piper's victims. A similar regifting of a victim's jewelry by the killer to his daughter features in "The Fall," suggesting an unsettling but unexplored father-daughter dynamic. In both series, it's hard to guess who's more careless, the killers or the series' writers.
Because Netflix did not send links to the final two episodes, I don't know the outcome. What's already clear is that "The Killing" has returned with its strongest, most original season yet. Anything can happen in a series finale. Going to prison would be a high price for Linden to pay for choosing a really bad guy.