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Opposite its behemoth series Breaking Bad, AMC premiered a brand new drama tonight starring Mark Strong and Lennie James. Low Winter Sun follows the murder of a cop and the subsequent cover up, set against the backdrop of a corrupt police unit where nobody trusts each other and no one is talking. The standard form of a pilot doesn’t always say a lot about where a series might be going, but if this is what we have to expect from Low Winter Sun, the series will offer an escape unlike anything else television has to offer.
We’re introduced to Strong’s Detective Frank Agnew in a tense moment. He’s clearly psyching himself up for something, and when he turns to break the third wall and face the camera, we know it isn’t something good. He meets up with another officer in his department. Joe Geddes (James) has a more colorful past, and between the two there’s enough anger and will to take down a corrupt cop and make it look like a suicide. It sounds like I’m spoiling a lot, but this is only the first five minutes of the series.
Unlike most police dramas, we don’t have a whodunit. Instead, we have a web of lies being spun in the unlikeliest places, a police department, a little a la Dexter. In fact, there are nods to many other series in Low Winter Sun. The setting and intimate moments inside the walls of a police department may remind viewers of The Wire and the anti-hero status of our two leads—but especially Agnew—harkens back a little to another AMC series, one that also airs on Sunday nights.
It may nod at several small screen endeavors, but Low Winter Sun is its very own program, first cultivated as a miniseries in Britain in which Strong also played the lead. The powers that be liked his performance so much that they invited him back for another round, and it’s easy to see why; the actor’s portrayal is a man who is thorough and steady-handed but also tense and clearly holding in anger. There are a lot of layers in the performance, helped by the fact that Agnew’s just involved himself in a moral grey area by killing his corrupt fellow officer (who supposedly killed a girl). Still, I get the feeling the rigidness is constant, carefully maintained by the detective on a daily basis.
Or maybe he’s just having a bad day. Suits actor David Costible pops up in the episode as an Internal Affairs officer, and he has his eye on Agnew, and James, too, along with other watchful eyes in the department. He’s hoping to sniff out the corrupt officers, and while Agnew’s seems intent on believing that killing was a one-time deal, we soon learn things may not be clear-cut as they seem. His partner-in-crime, Joe, might be hiding some dirty cop secrets of his own. Joe spends most of the episode playing the fast talker, but when it comes to his secret deed with Agnew, his real capacity to understand and empathize with blurred moral lines shines through.
The Internal Affairs stuff should keep our two heroes busy for the next few weeks, as should the cocaine that’s being sold across the city of Detroit, stealing across the city’s bars and empty houses. In the absence of a murder mystery to solve, the cat and mouse mystery seems to have gone inside the department, and we can’t wait to see how Chris Mundy’s tangled new web of a show will unravel.
AMC’s Low Winter Sun airs on Sunday nights at 10 p.m. ET.