October 7, 2013

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Low Winter Sun”


LOW WINTER SUN just kept going around in circles.  The most characteristic hour of its season may have been its penultimate one, which aired as the first half of a 2-hour season (very possibly series) finale.  (Hour 1 was written by Co-Executive Producer Rolin Jones and directed by Anthony Hemingway; the final hour was written by US series creator Chris Mundy and directed by Sam Miller.)  In it, Detroit Police Detective Frank Agnew (Mark Strong), who had been manipulated into killing a fellow detective by his supposed friend Joe Geddes (Lennie James), tried frantically to accomplish something before leaving the scene in one way or another.  He made calls to the relatives of murder victims who had been lied to and told their loved ones were suicides; he went to the house of a dead drug dealer’s mother to inform her who the real killer was; he tried to fly to Frankfurt, but suffered a heart or anxiety attack in the airport parking lot and missed his flight; he mailed all his money to his ex-wife (guest star Jennifer Ehle), who never even opened the packages; he violated a restraining order by showing up at the ex’s house, where he learned that when she’d said she didn’t want a baby, she just didn’t want one with him (“You’re death, Frank,” she says); and he threatened to, but didn’t, commit suicide.  In the end, he could barely even get himself arrested, and that didn’t last long either.  It was an accomplished, well-executed hour, because director Hemingway was able to infuse Frank’s struggles with more urgency than most of the series had, and because Strong and Ehle got everything possible out of their one lengthy scene together, but it moved the substance of Low Winter Sun forward by barely an inch.

Hopelessness and defeat were the reigning–often it seemed the only–themes of Low Winter Sun, and perhaps that’s an appropriate response to the current state of Detroit, an analogy the show often pressed.  Even more than most contemporary, ambitious police dramas, Sun dreamed of being The Wire, with its overlapping stories of cops and criminals in a fading American metropolis.  But The Wire had genuine heroes–deeply flawed ones, to be sure, but people who were trying against all the odds to do the right thing and make a difference.  Aside from junior detective Dani Kahil (Athena Karkanis)–Frank tells her she should pack up and get out while she can at the end of the season–everyone in Low Winter Sun was a moral blight.  That kind of unrelieved depression, the gloom described by the title, just wasn’t very interesting to watch.  Perhaps it worked in the original British 3-hour version of the story, but as a 10-hour series, the show was monotonously gray.

In the end, one depressing twist piled on another.  In the previous episode, Frank’s prostitute love Katia (Mickey Sumner), whose life had initially been spared by Geddes, was thrown by him off a hotel balcony to her death.  Frank’s only friend, the ex-cop turned homeless crack addict Sean Foster (Trevor Long) turned himself in for all the murders, even though he hadn’t committed any of them, and although he presumably did it in part to save Frank, he made sure Frank didn’t feel good about it.  Ambitious gangster Damon Callis (James Ransome), whose wife Maya (Sprague Grayden) was Sean’s ex (even on a show that often didn’t make much sense, Maya was the most incoherent character of all), successfully murdered Skelos (Alon Moni Aboutboul), the head of the local Greek underworld, only to be promptly gunned down himself by Reverend Lowdown (Ron Cephas Jones), the town’s leading black druglord.  Internal Affairs Lieutenant Boyd (David Constabile), having failed to convince the brass that Frank and Geddes were the real killers, had an embarrassing meltdown and was left sitting in his underwear, obsessively watching the tape that wasn’t quite a smoking gun of the truth.

With just one color in its palette, Low Winter Sun was often dull, wasting fine performances by Strong, James, Karkanis, Constabile, Ruben Santiago-Hudson as the squad captain, and the rest of the cast.  It was so insistent on its grimness (even the police interrogation room looked like a crack den) that it practically drove viewers away.  The ratings were wretched, losing 80-85% of its huge Breaking Bad lead-in every week (more than 90% on the night of the finale), and it’s hard to imagine AMC bringing the show back–but AMC is the network that kept The Killing alive for 3 seasons, so never say never.  If Sun does return, it needs to remake itself in a big way, because 10 more hours of non-stop futility and defeat will be far too many.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."