So few shows have been given as many chances as The Killing; so few shows have managed to be cancelled three times. Airing exclusively on Netflix, the final season of the series ran for six hour-long and uncensored episodes. In short, it lived as The Killing and died as The Killing. For better or for worse.

Deciding to watch the show is a decision to go down with the ship, and even through this abbreviated season, everything that made the show both good and bad was still on display, only now magnified. Linden (Mireille Enos) and Holder (Joel Kinnaman) are placed in jeopardy one final time, and substantial work is done to make sure both are deeply unlikeable by the final episode. After Linden’s understandable execution of her serial killer boss/boyfriend from last season (long story), she and Holder hid his body, and have to deal with the repercussions of that, as well as a new case: the murder of an entire family, save for the only son, who survived but just barely.

Linden was never exactly clear-headed or selfless, and seeing her repeatedly let her son down, insult everyone who tried to help her, and then make an honest attempt at running down a teenage girl for asking too many questions really pushed this too far. From season 2 on it was getting harder and harder to invest in Linden from an empathetic level—she was not someone we felt deserved a happy ending. It wasn’t a kneejerk reaction to a strong woman exercising her power because those were the best parts of the series — particularly this season when she dropped an F-bomb on Detective Reddick (Gregg Henry). It’s Linden never acknowledging she was ever wrong. It’s also worth wondering in her final confrontation with the killer if Linden was really going to let him go or if she was using it as a circuitous means of getting him to confess. The answer is unclear, and it’s better that way.

For its many flaws, The Killing was always good at creating the germ of an idea. Each season featured great ideas but poor execution, and as heavy handed as the show was — especially in these last six episodes — with its themes, there was always an undeniable sense they were trying. The ideas, tried and true — here, an all-boys military academy with dark secrets — may have been done to death in every genre and every permutation. Yet, there was something fresh in the familiarity of these sociopathic boys torturing each other mentally, physically and sexually. The ones that we get to know — played expertly by Tyler Ross, Sterling Beaumon and Levi Meaden — are all damaged beyond repair and rarely worth our sympathy. Ross’s Kyle is the exception out of necessity, and even as the hard truths are revealed, it’s difficult not to feel a little bad because all of this might have been avoided.

That said, in order to create an air of mystery, the cadets and Colonel Rayne (Joan Allen) spoke too much in vagaries and then often did things that made no sense in hindsight once the case was broken open. Why would Knopf (Beaumon) and Fielding (Meaden) continually traumatize Kyle and jog his memory knowing that he’s murderous? Why was Fielding helping Kyle for a while when it turns out he was on Knopf’s side the entire time? Why didn’t Colonel Rayne intervene in Kyle’s life beforehand? And why would she shoot the two boys even though Kyle had obviously gotten away?

Other notes also rang false — Holder’s latest relapse, the sudden reappearance of Regi (Annie Corley) that led to nothing, and the sudden appearance of Linden’s absentee mother, which also led to nothing. While the mother plot was long brewing, to bring it up now and to give it only two episodes was rushed and felt incomplete. The emotions weren’t quite there, and its existence borders between forced thematic ties and script padding. On the same side as padding is the nature of the investigation itself. Linden drove out to the St. George academy a dozen times, causing a scene and demanding answers from Kyle and Colonel Rayne but the conversations were repetitive. As great as it is seeing Joan Allen and Mireille Enos spar, only a few of those scenes ended up mattering.

Like any season of The Killing, as frustrating as many of its decisions were, there were plenty that were done right. The nods to the prior seasons, the unrelenting atmosphere, the gallows humor, the sense of paranoia, were all well executed. Reddick was expanded this season, continuing from season 3. He was introduced to be a cop cliché — surly, gruff, a bit of an aged frat boy mentality — yet Henry imbued him with sleepy eyes and a weathered gait, and he and the writers made him so much more complex. He was still all of these things, but he was good police and had a very complex sense of honor. He also had the best line of the season: “Good hair is wasted on the young.” Well, good drugs are wasted on the old, so I guess it’s even now.

Atmospherically, The Killing didn’t disappoint. When needed, it was still able to conjure suspense from its lighting, music and storytelling, particularly from the initial crime scene discovery, to the creeper’s wall of photos (what caused the noise that made Linden go up there, we’ll never know) and the final recreation/revelation of the crime itself were all high points, not only of the season, but of the show entire.

Clever visual cues were included too. Watching Linden look on as a car is drawn from a lake holding a dead body is a nice nod to the pilot, offering a cyclical idea that bookends the series’ first and last cases together beautifully. The epilogue which saw Linden driving through Seattle reminiscent of the opening credits — only this time the weather wasn’t as awful — was indicative of her new mindset which was notably healthier.

Of course, on the acting side, the show never slouched. As always, Enos and Kinnaman played above their scripts — particularly Enos, who played Linden’s growing instability and sleeplessness with an air of truth. Her scenes with Colonel Rayne were admittedly redundant but also had at least a few volleys of verbal grenades being lobbed back and forth and were always fun to see. A special reference should be made for Linden’s scene with her son Jack (Liam James). It’s their final one in the car, as she’s dropping him off at their airport. Linden has a monologue that is as well written as it is acted and covers the history of both their characters that tracks from both their childhoods. It creates not only a sense of finality, but as an apology too, and beats with the idea of generational mistakes that a parent makes with a child, and that child passes down to their own. Linden wants to stop that cycle and may have actually succeeded.

The epilogue, which utilizes a time jump similar to the final scene of Damages, wraps up the arcs of Linden and Holder, and finds them becoming a couple. Frankly, I’m sick of every single male/female cop duo becoming involved with each other by the series’ end, especially here where the romantic theme was never really explored — they really don’t make sense as a couple — and only seemed viable to the show’s shipper fan base. At the same time, the decision doesn’t exactly rankle the way it should, likely because it was a (rare) happy ending and at least somewhat earned over the course of the series.

If pressed, I’d say The Killing was a show with great ideas and poor execution. There are few payoffs, meandering plot and character threads, and new viewers will likely see this as a plodding slog. For established fans, these final six episodes are as smart and as dumb as the rest of the series, a microcosm of what did and didn’t work and how little changed from the pilot to the final episode.

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