Many would agree that we are in the golden age of television, where the pedigree of the television drama has never been equaled in talent or scope of the stories we are seeing projected on our television sets night after night. As these stories have gotten bigger and bigger with every following year and season, it would also seem that drama TV has also fallen into its grimmest time. Not to mean that there is anything wrong with seeing these tales of survival like The Walking Dead or rooting for the ultimate anti-hero like Walter White. But as these shows continue to churn out, it’s impossible to not notice how bleak it has all become, and Low Winter Sun just may be as bleak as it gets.
The opening episode gets things started as Detective Frank Agnew (Mark Strong) and Detective Joe Geddes (Lennie James) work together in killing a dirty cop. Together they attempt to pull off the perfect crime and have it appear to be nothing more than a suicide, but nothing is that easy. When the cop’s body is found inside his car in the river, things get messier when the trunk of the car is opened and reveals a second corpse that has been hacked to pieces. Fearing the worst and the negative press this suicide/homicide may cause, the commander of the homicide division puts Agnew on the case.
Running parallel is the story line that follows Damon (James Ransone) who is nothing more than a thug who is trying to make a name for himself. Trying to make a business for himself Damon steals a large quantity of drugs and in the process kills a man who was holding the drugs. Damon is trying to separate himself from being under the thumb of Greek crime boss, Alexander Skelos (Alon Moni Aboutboul).
It takes some time, but as these two crimes begin to intersect, everyone seems to want to do whatever it takes in the same of self-preservation to not just stay out of jail but to stay alive.
Set in the city of Detroit, the series does very little to make this an appealing place to visit and instead makes Detroit appear to be nothing more than a broken shell of its former glory. Crime is rampant, everyone struggling to make ends meet, while the city is rotting into shambles, or for the luckier areas simply being torn down. It’s a city that seems to only thrive on corruption and a place where everyone wants to escape. Basically this is not the show Michigan’s tourist board wants you to be watching.
The one reprieve the show seems to want to give Detective Agnew is the hope that his girlfriend, Russian prostitute Katia (Mickey Sumner) has only run away and is not dead. His obsession with finding Katia takes him beyond the street corners of Detroit and down into the dark and unspoken underworld of the sex trade that simply is horrifying to accept that these places do exist in the US. Is his pursuit for her love or merely an obsession? It’s hard to tell, but you can only hope that his intentions towards Katia are honorable.
I was unaware that this was an Americanized version of a two-part miniseries out of the UK that again starred Mark Strong in the role of Detective Frank Agnew. This is a character that should be considered a career-defining achievement for Strong. His struggle to toe the line as a cop-killer and a good cop is for me personally a performance I hold in high regard up there with other classic cop roles like Vic Mackey (The Shield) and James McNulty (The Wire).
For a crime show that delves into such dark areas, there is surprising very little violence throughout the series, though when things do go down it tends to be vicious and fast: a scene with a character getting their hand in a fryer and another character flung off a balcony. When the violence occurs, it hits you as a viewer and always furthers the story without ever being gratuitous.
It’s sad to see a show so well-crafted and executed can’t have further seasons with AMC. Yes, this is a bleak drama, and I can understand how the subject matter can simply be too grim for many to watch, but this is still excellent television. Had the show taken a safe route and given us characters with a clean conscience, too afraid to take chances, then Low Winter Sun would not be the black sheep of cesspool drama that it is. Shows like The Wire and The Shield are not meant for everyone; those are shows I rank in my top five series of all time right up there with Breaking Bad. Sadly, had Low Winter Sun been given a chance to stretch its proverbial legs for a couple seasons, I believe there were great things that could have come from this show.