The second installment of Low Winter Sun doesn't do a lot to push the boundaries of television drama and following Breaking Bad doesn't help it look any better, but Ernest R. Dickerson directs the hell out this episode and the acting team of Mark Strong and Lennie James do all of the heavy lifting. Which isn't to say that the supporting actors aren't up to snuff, but their characters are effectively shorthand outlines. Most of them are getting brief opportunities to shine, but there's only so much that can be done in most cases.
As far as the other police officers go, Athena Karkanis is getting the spotlight and making it her own as Detective Dani Khalil, but everybody else in the room is either underdeveloped or just given nothing interesting to do. The criminal element is given a little more attention by the creators, but the script by series developer Chris Mundy still falls short.
One of the problems is that Low Winter Sun wants to be The Wire so badly that it's copping the moves and storytelling structure, but is lacking the interesting characters that made The Wire into the classic show it was. Which isn't to say that they can't develop into interesting characters. The groundwork is there and the situations are ripe for allowing these actors to grow into the roles and for the roles to grow into something special.
And while James Ransone and Sprague Grayden are charismatic, the first two episodes of the show haven't given them enough time to really show much more than some basic criminal proclivities and aspirations for criminal greatness. There's a certain grounded realism to their plans (opening a whorehouse) and there are interesting tensions arising between the members of their crew and the local crime bosses whose waters they're negotiating, so again, the possibilities are there.
The question is, when events begin amping up, will we care enough to be invested in their storyline? So far, they're not really a strong focus – at times even becoming a little distracting – with the real drama being generated by Strong and James. The threads of Damon and Maya's storyline are working their way into the main story, but it's still too early to tell how effective the payoff will be.
Meanwhile, back in that main storyline, tensions are growing and we're getting more intriguing information as Frank (Mark Strong) is put in charge of the investigation and immediately begins distancing himself from Joe (Lennie James). There's no trust between these two and you can practically see the hostility simmering in the air between them whenever they're alone together.
This was especially interesting this week as they both attended the autopsy of their victim, Detective McCann, alongside Internal Affairs agent Boyd (David Costabile) and it became increasingly clear to everyone in the room that their perfect crime was far from perfect. Those tensions came to a head this week in what was the first real glimpse into just how good this show can be. It was a bestial, violent scene between Frank and Joe, establishing that Joe has an entire agenda that has nothing much to do with Frank at all.
Which doesn't bode well for Joe as Frank is in charge of the investigation and I.A. also has him in their sights. I almost wish we didn't have to keep cutting away to the local criminal storyline, to be honest. It's a texture to the show that doesn't really seem necessary at this point and could end up pulling attention away from the really good stuff.
That said, I'm very curious to see where this is going to go after the third episode. That'll be new ground for Mundy and company, and I have a feeling that's when we'll really get a feel for what this show is capable of becoming.
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 television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.