TV Review: Low Winter Sun
AMCâ€™s newest show, Low Winter Sun, based on the British miniseries of the same name, opens on the head of Detective Frank Agnew (Mark Strong). The camera stays tight as it pans around, and only his face is revealed, the space dimly lit behind him. His gaze is down, then rises to meet ours as a single tear escapes from his eye to his cheek. The shot lasts a minute, a long shot, especially long compared to the quick cuts and jagged hand-held camera movements that emerge later in Low Winter Sun, but it is in this one opening shot that we see the expertise of AMC. The close up tells the audience that this is our man, this is who will guide us through the story, and when he looks into our eyes, that this is a man we can trust.
In the eight minutes that follow, Frank will proceed to murder a fellow cop and dispose of the body, but Strong still has you by the time the soul singer wails in the opening credits music. Would you expect anything less from the network that brought you Walter White and Don Draper? These guys are experts at making you feel invested in the very characters you should hate.
With the opening credits, however, comes a new, and perhaps more fascinating element to the story; its location. Low Winter Sun is shot on location in the bankrupt city of Detroit.
It is Detective Joe Geddes (Lennie James, Morgan in The Walking Dead) who convinces Frank to help murder fellow cop Brendan McCann (Michael McGrady). According to Joe, McCann murdered Frank’s lover, beheaded her even. So, Joe and Frank commit the perfect murder, finishing it off with McCann handcuffed to his car as it careens into the river. In it, he sinks to the bottom, just like the city where he was born and raised. It was the downturn of the automobile industry that killed Detroit, and cars are keeping McCann down too.
As Frank sorts through the police corruption and deals with the issues of his own morality, the city acts as more than a backdrop, as a constant reminder and foreshadower of the characters’ emotions. Frank lives in a nice house, but as he leaves for work the morning after he becomes a murderer, he cleans up an empty liquor bottle thrown into his yard, and pulling out of his driveway, the camera pans to the other side of his street, to vacant dilapidated houses. Too much trash for one man to clean up.
Vacant spaces are throughout the show, giving an almost post-apocalyptic feeling to the lives of the characters outside of the precinct. They could be sharing sets with The Walking Dead. Unfortunately, so far these characters are vacant as well. A budding crime lord played by James Ransone of The Wire and his crew have little to do in the first episode but fret over their murdered business partner, McCann.
The city is the true main character of Low Winter Sun. Beyond the startling first shot, we are only made to care about Frank through cutaways to him and his presumed dead lover, which comes as little surprise since the show is written and executive produced by network crime procedural veteran Chris Mundy (Criminal Minds, Cold Case). They lay in bed as wind blows sheets and curtains and sunlight streams across their faces. It feels cheap, forced and Iâ€™m already annoyed with this plotline. Mundy sinks back into the habits of procedurals again by finishing the episode with a montage of every character staring thoughtfully just off screen.
If Mundy can break these habits and embrace the tortured metaphor of Detroit, there will be plenty to play with to spin Low Winter Sun into more than another gritty crime drama, but a story of what happens when the American dream hasnâ€™t just died, but has been forgotten.