'The Killing' recap: Welcome back to 'The Jungle'

After watching 2011's series premiere of “The Killing,” it seemed like everyone was a suspect in the death of Rosie Larsen.

But after viewing Sunday’s two-hour Season 3 premiere, it seems like nobody is a suspect in the new case.

Some things have changed as the once-canceled AMC show returns: Most of the characters from the first two seasons spent trying to track down Larsen's killer are gone. And where that investigation reached the top-floor halls of power in Seattle, this season stalks the seedy depths of that city’s social strata.

Other things have stayed the same: The acting, led by the returning Mireille Enos as former police detective Sarah Linden and Joel Kinnaman as her still active ex-partner Stephen Holder, is strong. The atmosphere, heavy and gray and damp, is a character unto itself. And the writing ... well, it appears to still have too many hey-wait-a-minute moments.

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There’s a serial killer at work -- 17 victims and counting, the ads say -- but our detectives don’t know that as the first part of the premiere, “The Jungle,” opens.

We see rain falling on a windshield at night, taillights blurring in the drops as the wipers work. Apparently homeless teens lean against graffiti-covered walls. An underage girl approaches. We see her fingers bear a number of rings; she wears a necklace. She gets in the car. We never see its exterior, or the driver.

Then it’s day, and Holder and his crude, older new partner Carl Reddick (Gregg Henry, “Payback”) are arriving at a crime scene. Inside a decrepit factory, the corpse of the girl who got into the car lies under pink plastic, nearly decapitated, jewelry gone. She’s later identified as Ashley Kwon, age 14. We learn from the medical examiner that the killer most likely raped her but left no genetic material, and that the perp is physically strong.

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Although at Reddick’s insistence they trade the case off to another detective, it’s clear Holder isn’t going to let it go. His partner seems more concerned with their case clearance rate and avoiding complex investigations, but Linden has rubbed off on Holder -- his focus is exclusively on the victim. Noting similarities to a case Linden had worked before -- a prostitute nearly decapitated -- Holder takes a trip to see her.

Linden is living quietly on nearby Vashon Island, working as an officer at a ferry landing and dating a younger man (Holder will jokingly ask her if the guy is one of her teenage son Jack’s friends). The first sign that things are about to change is the arrival of an envelope from the Department of Corrections, which she doesn’t open.

She plays at being happy as Holder visits, but her smile quickly retracts as he brings up her old case (mentioning the victim’s “Picasso kid who did that drawing”), saying that he’d like to look at that case file but it’s missing. Linden tells him that her victim’s killer is in prison, and Holder mentions that the convict is due to be executed (hence the D.O.C. letter).

As she sees her old partner to the door, Linden uncharacteristically says, “Hey, Holder, not every victim’s worth it. You know, you start caring -- you’ll end up like me, working minimum wage on a ferry.”

“Never thought the day’d come when I’d hear that from you,” he responds. Which may be what Linden wanted to hear.

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Holder has surreptitiously left his new case file for her, knowing she’ll take the bait. It’s unclear whether he really believes that the cases are connected, or whether he’s just trying to draw Linden back into her calling, that he wants to work with a kindred spirit again. In any case, he’s probably correctly guessed that the obsessive Linden -- who’s landed in a psychiatric ward before -- has that old file.

Three years before, Linden and her then-partner, James Skinner (Elias Koteas, “Shutter Island”), now the leader of the Seattle Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit, worked the murder of 30-year-old prostitute Tricia Ann Seward, whose young son Adrian was in an apartment with her corpse for six days and repeatedly drew a wooded scene.

It’s a picture viewers saw way back in the series premiere and that reappeared in Season 2, when someone broke into Linden's and Jack’s hotel room and put it on the fridge, frightening her enough so that they quickly moved out.

The man convicted for that murder is the woman’s husband and the child’s father, Ray Seward, a manipulative psychopath played to chilling effect by Peter Sarsgaard (“An Education”). He doesn’t speak when we first see him, as he’s told he’s to be executed in 30 days. He doesn’t speak as he’s transported to death row. He doesn’t speak until he’s being uncuffed in his new cell, whispering to the prison guards’ commanding officer, Francis Becker (Hugh Dillon), that he wants to see the chaplain. But before he speaks, we see his brain at work, looking for the weak link among the guards.

Seward tricks the chaplain into coming too close and then grabs the man’s shirt, yanking and ramming his head into the bars repeatedly (we don’t know if the chaplain has survived). The lasting image from the premiere is Seward smirking and nodding with the chaplain’s blood on his face.