One thing you can definitely say about Low Winter Sun is that it has an incredibly consistent tone. These are grim characters doing grim work in a city with a rather grim economic forecast. But just two episodes in, all that grimness is already overbearing; there’s yet to be a moment of deliberate levity to demonstrate the series has a gear other than interminable bleakness – though Lennie James quoting scripture to his cigarette-pilfering mother and Sprague Grayden’s unremitting, almost fawning support of James Ransone’s entry-level criminal ambitions provide a lightness of the unintentional kind.
Now granted, ‘The Goat Rodeo’ picks up very shortly after the events of the series premiere, so there’s little time for Mark Strong’s Frank Agnew to push past the tonal monotony. After all, he has a long day of looking at headless corpses, attending the autopsies of the man he helped murder and coming up with crackpot theories as to how boat traffic might have resulted in a dead man’s arm breaking. That’s a full day by anyone’s standards, and considering the hits he takes throughout out the episode – e.g., finding out the “perfect murder” he took part in was amateur at best; realizing he was duped into committing the murder by a cop possibly more crooked than the one he killed; and being informed that the lady love he’d previously thought hacked to pieces was actually last seen (willfully) getting into some dude’s car in Ontario, it’s understandable that Frank hasn’t found it within himself to crack wise, let alone the faintest hint of a smile.
Yes, ‘The Goat Rodeo’ is a lengthy hour of exposition that works primarily to undo everything about Detectives Agnew and Geddes that was suggested in the pilot. Scene after scene seems determined to break down any preconceived ideas we have for the characters, and while it is clumsy at times and can be more than a little ham-fisted with the morality talk, there is something about watching rats cling to a sinking ship that may wind up becoming interesting. But will it? And if so, when?
If you were turned off by the familiarity of everything you saw in the series premiere, I can’t imagine episode 2 has much to offer you. But, for what it’s worth, the episode does manage to open things up a little and get characters to visit locations beyond a grimy restaurant kitchen or the precinct’s bathroom, so Agnew can stare longingly at a necklace before remanding it to the same place his lunch went just minutes prior.
Sure, those locations consist of a corner grocer run by an angry guy (what else?) of Middle Eastern descent who just so happens to find he’s talking to the one Detroit detective who can chase him around the language barrier he’s hiding behind. Otherwise, we’re dropping in at the backyard barbecue of a local drug kingpin who happens to be the only person within a 20-mile radius of the Motor City capable of turning that frown upside down. These areas exist as though the writers know they could be interesting; they just haven’t quite worked out how yet. But at least there’s a hint of a world outside the very small, claustrophobic space that is Frank Agnew’s brilliantly bald head that comprised nearly all of the premiere.
But Frank’s our protagonist, so it’s worth it to check in with him from time to time. We want to know more about him, something beyond the gold-tinted flashbacks of a prostitute once thought dead and the anxiety of thinking David Costabile will piece together his involvement in McCann’s death with the same unyielding exactitude Gale Boetticher put into making a cup of coffee. Sadly, as far as things are concerned here, what the audience is left with are two cops who severely bungled the one thing they should have a pretty good idea how to pull off.
To a certain extent, it’s understandable that neither Agnew nor Geddes might think McCann’s death would be scrutinized to the degree it has been, but that’s just trading laziness for ineptitude. Either way, both characters come across looking like inept criminals that can be easily bested by a tightly wound IA investigator or a local hood with the entrepreneurial spirit.
If anything, the surface-deep approach that’s been offered so far is a sure sign that handpicking the desired tonal characteristics of other shows without clearly demonstrating there’s something more behind such a stylistic approach can lead to a storytelling deficit. As it is now, I’m on board with Low Winter Sun because of a fondness for Strong and James, and while it’s easy to appreciate a consistency in execution, it probably wouldn’t hurt if the proceedings didn’t feel like we’re all on our way to an execution.
Low Winter Sun continues next Sunday with ‘No Rounds’ @10pm on AMC.