Four episodes into the Veena Sud show The Killing's third season has only proven that its favorite things to do are what the viewing audience regards as mistakes. Because there's nothing about sour pusses, bad cops, and sexism that hasn't been done before on a crime procedural. But we've already told you that. The only thing that sets it apart are those ubiquitous bulky sweaters and the series' newest addition: Peter Sarsgaard.
And how lucky that the show has Sarsgaard at all, as he's the only interesting and unique character that breaks any sort of mold on this dusty procedural with aspirations (delusions?) of grandeur. When I'm not pretending that Sarsgaard's character is actually just what happened to Mark from Garden State after a few years of ne'erdowelling, I'm intrigued by this Ray Seward character. Because so far, he's The Killing's sole redeeming quality: a complicated man who's most likely innocent of the murder charge against him, but probably guilty of a bad thing or two.
But we need way more Sarsgaard if we're going to be sated. There's only 30 days until he's on his way to die, after all. Tonight's episode, "Head Shots," provided a small glimpse into Seward's mind, but not nearly enough.
Because we need Seward to be more than what he is so far. Tonight's episode taught us a few things: namely that Seward's daddy hit him, he's had a few physical run-ins with some mafia types, and is able to make a friend even in the dimmest of circumstances (fellow death row inmate, Hill). All well and good. But listen: just because tropes and archetypes exist doesn't meant they should be used, all at once, and in a mishmash fashion. The bad, bad dude beaten down by life with nothing left to lose can be quite the compelling character, but the details of his existence have to be way less cobbled together and cliché.
Seward is a man with some deep and interesting insights, exhibited in the scene tonight where he explained to Hill that "hope and faith are the biggest killers." Cool, calm, and deviously dark, Seward's demeanor makes you scared of him but also unable to look away. He has the potential to be exactly the shot in the arm the series needed.
Tonight's episode exhibited tiny glimpses of this: he is steadfast in his refusal to take some curious pills (no way those are antibiotics, right?), his openness to discussing his past with Hill; he even goes against his own convictions in the name of saving that friend's life. You can see the outline of a potentially dynamic, interesting, human character in the moments when Seward chooses to take the pills rather than watch another second of unnecessary police brutality against the one person who's been nice to him. It was particularly telling, and sets up an internal conflict within the viewers itself. Until Sarsgaard gets a more fleshed-out, less-hokey backstory — less of a series of tropes or a foil for other people's shitty actions (I'm looking at you, Voldemort The Security Guard) — though, The Killing's going to find itself DOA. Again.
Image: Frank Ockenfels/AMC