Saying, “It had to be done” is a lot like any other empty phrase that’s intended to put a band-aid a wound caused by a character feeling pangs of guilt or concern over what he or she has just done. It’s certainly the tune of Low Winter Sun, a show that’s incredibly eager to present its characters as a group of hard-nosed individuals constantly getting their hands dirty and making the kinds of tough life choices that one does when he or she is involved in the sort of pursuits that bring with them certain life and death stakes.
The thing is, though, it just comes off as lazy. Having characters saying things like “It had to be done” and “It’s what we do” isn’t a sufficient indicator on why they made the choice that they did, or how they feel about their actions. Typically, what makes for good drama is presenting the character with a choice and then watching as they follow through with it – which is something Low Winter Sun started out doing, but seemingly forgot how to follow through with it. But it’s also important that the characters know why they’re making the choice, and for it to be more substantial than an uninformed decision brought forth by some presupposed distinction of hard or difficult (or illegal and immoral) tasks that have to be accomplished. Saying “It had to be done” might as well be the characters blaming their actions on an imaginary figure, or saying the idea came to them in a vision, for all the good it does in developing a plausible and compelling understanding of who they are and why they did what they did.
There’s a great deal of this going around in ‘The Way Things Are,’ an episode that seems determined to justify every character’s actions with a phrase that suggests there’s no point in understanding why a person would murder a fellow cop, or steal drugs from his crime boss employer, or allow his best friend to die in the backseat of a car; these are just things that have to be done, this is just the way things are. It’s not so much a harsh truth being spread around by folks like Joe Geddes, or Damon Callis, or even Reverend Lowdown, as much as it is a reason to have characters engage in activities that perfunctorily keep the plot moving.
Dani sleeps with a drunk and dejected Frank because she seems to like him, but also because of the underlying excuse handed out by Joe that “it’s what we do.” The same thing goes for Damon and his crew, who seem to be making all of their choices based on the credo of “it had to be done.” Nick kills Poppa T because it had to be done, Damon makes amends to Skelos and winds up losing both his Blind Pig and The International because it had to be done, and so on and so forth. In the end, it’s just action and reaction without any real meaning behind any of it.
Maybe this is the reason why it’s been so hard to connect with of these characters: their actions are responsible for whatever drama is unfolding, but there’s little in the way to suggest they understand the reasons behind them any more than the audience does.
Low Winter Sun continues next Sunday with ‘There Was a Girl’ @10pm on AMC.