After last week, I was ready to give up on Low Winter Sun. It was just spinning its wheels and dwelling on things that didn't further the overall story. I'm just not interested in watching Mark Strong sob while getting handjobs from Canadian hookers. But due to some undiagnosed mental illness, I wanted to at least reach the halfway mark of the season before abandoning ship. So I dutifully sat down to watch this week's episode, "Cake on the Way," when lo and behold, about halfway through the show everything suddenly gelled and I was watching an exciting show with complex characters and surprising plot twists. It didn't last, but I was intrigued by this glimpse of what the show could be.
A quick check of the credits had me a little more intrigued. The writers, Damione Macedon and Raphael Jackson Jr. are pretty limited in their scripting experience. Macedon is credited on IMDB mainly as a production assistant and a post-production coordinator (I'm not really sure what that even means), and Jackson was on the production staff for a couple of Criminal Minds episodes. But both are involved as writers for the upcoming pirate series Crossbones – with John Malkovich as Blackbeard (!!!). But it was the name Sam Miller as director that suddenly made sense.
Miller is the UK director responsible for episodes of MI-5, the 2005 remake of the Quatermass Experiment, and most importantly, nearly every episode of the brilliant Idris Elba showcase, Luther. Strangely enough, he's currently working on a different upcoming pirate TV series, Black Sails.
Anyway, I think it's a combination of Miller's sure hand and the hard work of the actors that helped elevate the hit-or-miss script into something that held my attention and had me looking forward to next week. I still have no faith that the story will stop zig-zagging in quality, especially as the criminal side-plot suddenly switched into high gear this week and it looks like war is coming. At the same time, Frank and Joe (Lennie James) seem to have figured out how to tie up their murder investigation without implementing themselves. Their plan inches the two plotlines toward collision and again provided the high points (although the silence by Damon (James Ransone) and Maya (Sprague Grayden) as their friend dies in their backseat was a good example of what could be, being reminiscent of — and superior to — a similar scene in the widely over-praised The Americans).
Whenever the show shifts gears and focuses on two or three characters alone in a room interacting, you can trust in the skills of the performers to make it work. The centerpiece of "Cake on the Way" is watching Strong and James play off of each other as they construct their case to present to the Mayor. It's not seamless, and it only comes together once they agree to jettison the official line that Brendon was a hero cop and implement him the other murder that kicked off the series (that was actually committed by Damon – See? Things are lining up).
Technically, the scripting of the scene is effective, sprinkled with character insights and only the occasional clunker of a line, but it's really the work of Strong and James that brings it all together more than even the direction. Similarly, over in the other plot, it's the work of Ransone and Grayden that serves to elevate the cliché material and provide glimmers of hope – for the show, not the characters. I'm pretty sure these folks are doomed.
If only the overall show could figure out how to keep from stumbling and actually focus on what made the original mini-series work. Of course, that was all about Frank and Joe dealing with their crime and eventually paying for it. If AMC intends to keep this going as an ongoing series (provided people were actually watching, which they aren't) that's gotta be side-stepped somehow and some new focus would have to come into play soon.
At this point it's probably all moot. It looks like the only reason to keep watching Low Winter Sun is to enjoy the performances despite the plot, unless there's verification that there won't be a second season and the creators decided to go for broke in the final episodes. That would be a game-changer.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi televisi
on. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.