The title of last night’s episode, “Cake on the Way,” could be a slogan for the series: good things come to those who wait. But as things slowed to a snail’s pace, it became clear that no reward would be forthcoming — not last night, nor, it appears, on any future night. Accordingly, LWS‘ ratings have steadily declined; last week, it was watched by 1.18 million viewers, less than half the number that tuned into the pilot.
So what is Low Winter Sun about and why is it worth continuing to watch?
As I stated in my review of the pilot, Chris Mundy’s series is about the decline of a city. It’s this aspect of the police drama, as well as the generous attention paid to the criminal characters, that’s garnered (rather superficial) comparisons to The Wire. Though it’s shot in Detroit — crumbling wooden houses and empty lots are as much a part of the “look” of the show as the eclipse-like darkness — the action is so disconnected from the actual city, which has experienced some rather soap operatic turns recently, that it could take place in Generic Rust Belt City, USA. Sure, there are some Motor City touches, especially in the multi-ethnic cast — apparently it’s part of the show’s Bible to use the word “Chaldean” at least five times in every episode — but it’s not as though that race has played an important role in the storyline.
Low Winter Sun also showed promise in its pairing of Frank and Joe. Mark Strong and Lennie James are marvelous glowerers and James, in particular, is a pretty great yeller. But the initial antagonism between the two characters has dissipated into a wishy-washy, plot-convenient relationship that isn’t anchored to anything. In “Cake on the Way,” Frank lets Joe brag about the volume of his urine — is that really a thing? — while Joe offers his unofficial partner the last slice of pizza. But whatever nice character moments they shared devolves into pretty much the same screaming match they’ve had since the first episode. They get along when the writers want them to; they bicker and throw things when the writers want some contrast. We don’t know enough about their history together to have a firm grasp of why they react to each other the way they do, which makes it hard to get invested in their partnership
So again, what does this show offer? A meanderingly plotted homicide cover-up that took several episodes to materialize, since Frank initially decided he didn’t want to pin McCann’s murder on anyone. The dreaded Katia mystery, which thankfully didn’t make an appearance last night. A cardboard sword of Damocles, incarnated into the barely two-dimensional figures of Boyd and Dani. Oh, and sometimes, rooting for a wholly unconvincing criminal to make good, because he may be a wife-beater and a pimp, but at least he doesn’t have any underage prostitutes.
After just five episodes, Low Winter Sun has already dissipated the promise inherent in all these storylines, partly through its unambitious characterizations but mostly through its opiated pacing. (By comparison, Walter White had already killed Krazy-8 and Don Draper squirmed through a visit from his half-brother by their fifth episodes.) In “Cake on the Way,” Frank and Joe spend a dank night cooking up a frame job for McCann’s death — though they’re no closer to actually implementing it — and Damon gets one of his lackeys killed. The frustrating thing about these developments is that they were already telegraphed last week — and neither unfolded in an interesting way.
Low Winter Sun is certainly no satisfying procedural or engaging mystery, no compelling character study or nuanced portrait of a city, no grand thesis on crime and punishment, nor on law and order, nor on morality or ambition. There’s no there there because it has nothing to say.
Like the Detroit it depicts, it’s a wasteland, a prodigality of talent and potential, a decaying landscape barren of ideas or interest.
So what keeps you watching?