Cop dramas have a long and storied history with television viewers, and for good reason. Though sometimes it can feel like there’s money in the national budget that's set aside to ensure a cop show is always on the air, police officers represent the line between good and evil, right and wrong. They are a relatable entity at the center of a moral fight, at once enforcers of societal values and real-life manifestations of the sort of figures on the front lines defending ethical standards in some of our greatest fairy tales. Not literal knights, mind you, but in storytelling terms, it makes sense that cops get so much screen time. A pre-established genre works both for and against AMC’s new Low Winter Sun, an adaptation of a two-part British miniseries of the same name. Familiarity with the world of precincts, internal affairs, busts, chiefs, and crime lords means there's already a certain shorthand for viewers, but it also means that any new show has to justify itself against everything that’s come before it. (Well, it doesn’t have-to have to, but it’s always nice when things are somewhat new without being derivative.) While not a completely original take, the pilot of Low Winter Sun effectively promised a rich world that we think we know, built at its own pace.
In the interest of establishing all the moving parts to this carousel of suspense, intrigue, and detective fiction, the plot is pretty simple: Homicide detectives Frank Agnew (Mark Strong, reprising his role from the original miniseries) and Joe Geddes (Lennie James of The Walking Dead and Hung) get pumped and drunk in the back room of a restaurant as they plot the murder of allegedly shifty cop Brennan McCann. Both actors are excellent opposite one another and immediately establish a chemistry normally found six or seven episodes in. Through dribs and drabs, their motive becomes clear, or so we think: The cop—who happens to be Geddes’ partner, killed and dismembered a recent love of Agnew’s named Katia. Not a whole lot is revealed about this mystery woman, but there’s a wedding photo in Agnew’s home, and later on, lady detective Dani Kahlil (Athena Karkanis) referred to this relation as following a three-year-old romance, so they'd either divorced or he's a widower. That details like this trickle out in natural conversation is evidence that Low Winter Sun respects an attentive audience, leaving viewers to play private eye as the various stories unfold.
Also murky is whether Geddes knew that Internal Affairs, headed by Simon Boyd (David Costabile, Breaking Bad’s Gale) would be arriving to investigate the fallen cop as part of a corruption case the following day. Is Geddes protecting a secret? Will Dani’s interest in Agnew make her see something no one else can? Will Lieutenant Charles Dawson (Ruben Santiago-Hudson) mess with the truth in order to avoid going down? Is Boyd working an angle, or just observing whatever he can? So begins the many layered games of cat and mouse that fuel Low Winter Sun.
On other side of McCann’s death is criminal go-getter Damon Callis (James Ransone), who bought out the cop in exchange for bringing down a reigning kingpin known as the "Old Man." Ransone’s got a hunger in his eyes, and his murderous snap judgements seem authentic. In the wake of McCann's disappearance, Callis and his wife Maya (Sprague Grayden, who proved her chops early on in Six Feet Under) are left to wonder whether someone knows about their dealings. Either way, this committed duo garners sympathy in a Bonnie and Clyde sort of way, and it will be interesting to see their romance tested as things heat up. There was a mention in the premiere of Damon wishing he’d put a bullet in the Old Man’s head when he was 12 years old, so this series might also involve a revenge story on the other side of the law. Should this be the case, the crime couple seems to be building their ranks in ex-soldier Nick Paflas (Billy Lush), a kid from back in the day who frequents the Callis bar. Fair enough: If the cops of Low Winter Sun are allowed to break the law to take matters into their own hands, criminals doing the same thing in their own system will present a welcome discussion of "justice" outside of societal governance.
By the time McCann’s car was recovered with a male body missing its head, hands, and feet in the trunk—just like Geddes said happened to Katia—it'd become clear that this is going to be a focused story with dubious players competing for personal gain. Early on, when Geddes declared that rather than being black and white, morality was "a goddamn strobe," the comparison to these colors called to mind early films in the noir genre where the definition of moral character was similarly ambiguous. But as far as Low Winter Sun goes, one things certain: We’re off to a good start.
– Did you enjoy the series premiere?
– What themes jumped out at you?
– So far, what are the main pros and cons about Low Winter Sun, do you think?
– Did you know the pilot was directed by Ernest R. Dickerson of The Wire and Dexter fame?
– What other shows does Low Winter Sun remind you of?
– Is there a place for this show on television?
AIRED ON 10/6/2013
Season 1 : Episode 10