A review of tonight's "The Killing" coming up just as soon as I explain that Salisbury steak is not steak...

"Six Minutes" was largely an illustration of the things that "The Killing" can do very well, given both its structure and the personnel on-hand. But it was also at times a reminder of the limitations of this particular creative team.

As an acting duet between Mireille Enos and Peter Sarsgaard, this was marvelous, and the sort of thing this show can do because of its design. Because the plot is spread out over 13 hours, Veena Sud and company have the luxury to take something of a break from story and just let the characters interact as people, while allowing the impressive collection of actors on hand to do their work. This was definitely more plot-related than the season 1 episode where Linden and Holder drove around looking for her son, but the basic idea was the same, and the end result was perhaps even better. Sarsgaard has been exceptional throughout this arc, but particularly in the recent episodes where Seward has come to grips with his impending death and the very poor choice he made out of bravado when he asked to be hanged. His physical work here, particularly starting with the moment when the guards wouldn't let Ray see his son, all the way through when the bag went over his head(*), was incredible. And the sound of the man strangling slowly because, as he had feared, the fall didn't break his neck, was chilling.

(*) And here's another example of the power of this format: I haven't necessarily loved all the business with the Death Row guards, despite being a fan of both Hugh Dillon and Aaron Douglas, but the bit where the swaggering Becker froze at his big moment and Henderson had to step up for him was the sort of thing that's effective specifically because we've spent so much time with these guys.

The one part of the episode (which also had Holder falling off the wagon in the wake of Bullet's death, even though his drug of choice here was beer rather than meth) that didn't click was emblematic of a larger "Killing" problem: that the characters in general and Linden in particular greet each new piece of information with absolute credulity, no matter what comes before or since. That character trait makes the show's fondness for red herrings work more easily — if Linden acts convinced that Bennet Ahmed, the minister, Darren Richmond or any other potential suspect is the real killer, then the audience may become convinced as well — but it ultimately makes both her and the show seem dumb. Linden rarely double-checks information she's given — as several of you noted last week, she didn't bother actually finding out that Mills had a storage unit the first time he was in custody, nor did she bother investigating the story about his trip to Alaska — and it's all in the name of artificially dragging the story out. So when Adrian mentions that his father was in the apartment that night, Linden immediately decides that Ray really was the killer, and would've driven away from the prison if Holder hadn't stopped her. It's not a horrible moment in and of itself, but when you add it to the long list of our hero and heroine jumping to false conclusions, it's not so good.

Again, the show really hasn't gotten that much better plot-wise. But it's doing a vastly better job of exploring its characters, with the street kids (Bullet in particular) a big leap over the Larsons (even though I loved both those performances) and the prison stuff so much more compelling than anything to do with the election. We've got two hours to go in the season (next week's a two-hour finale). With Seward dead, that almost certainly means the remaining time will be filled with us finding out that Mills wasn't the killer (or wasn't the only killer). Given the strengths and weaknesses of the new season, I'm not expecting Sud to stick the landing any better than in season 2. But I also won't feel as irked if that happens, because season 3 has given me other things that have made watching it worth my time.

AMC's not sending the last few episodes out in advance, and I'm going to be at press tour for the next few weeks, so it may be a while til I see (and can write about) the season's conclusion. But after these last two episodes, what does everybody else think of the season so far?