Low Winter Sun was aired on AMC in the slot immediately following Breaking Bad’s final episodes. Talk about a tough gig. Taking the template of your standard crime drama, Chris Mundy’s contemporary, American drama (starring two Brits in the lead roles) would seem to be the perfect companion to AMC’s crowning glory.
Bleak, shady and unsettlingly tense, Season One Low Winter Sun starts as it means to go on. Opening with the meticulous planning and execution of a cop killing, it does not rest until the viewer is uncertain of their own morals, allegiances and guilt, let alone anyone else’s.
Mark Strong stars as Frank Agnew, a quiet, tough detective (not a stretch for Strong, who perfected a threatening silence years ago) who believes his girlfriend was brutally murdered by a fellow cop; the corrupt, drunken and cruel Brendan McCan. Taking the law into his own hands – along with McCan’s long suffering partner, Joe Geddes (Lennie James, as collected and reassuring as ever), Agnew cleverly murders McCan in revenge and that’s that. Except, obviously, it’s not.
The next day, it becomes clear that a local gang of criminals (led by an attractively ruthless James Ransone) were relying on McCan to help them out with a bigger fish, and Internal Affairs show up (in the form of Breaking Bad’s David Costabile, nonetheless). Costabile is as perfect an I.A. agent as he ever was a respectful chemist; he’s polite, blunt without being rude and terrifyingly sharp. Disliked by many and trusted by even less, he unwittingly puts the scarers on Agnew and Geddes. All players soon discover that all actions – especially murdering a corrupt, possibly homicidal homicide detective – have consequences.
Strong and James’ performances are solid, but no stretch for either of them. Sturdy, with dead-eyed cop-stares and just enough humanity to give them credibility, both falter slightly with noticeable accent changes, particularly when surrounded by Americans. Their parts are written well, though, keeping our interest without choosing sides.
By the end of episode one, Agnew is already doubting Geddes’ allegiances and Geddes’ is already doubting Agnew’s resolve. A fellow detective, played by Athena Karkanis, doubts both of them entirely. With the series focusing on Agnew, now feeling alone and uncertain, Geddes’ feelings remain shrouded; his alliance is constantly questionable. Dealing out one shocking revelation after another, coupled with a few groan-inducingly vicious scenes, Low Winter Sun becomes more than a standard cop drama, using just enough stereotypes to coax us into comfort – before deciding to throw us in the opposite direction. This is a mysterious, visceral drama that thrives in a moral grey area; preying on the mistrust, assumptions and gut-instinct of both its characters and its viewers.
Maybe not such a tough gig after all.
Low Winter Sun is available on DVD from Amazon in the UK – or you can watch it online on blinkbox.