‘Low Winter Sun’ Review: Going Deep Into the Darkness of the ‘Catacombs’

By  · Published on September 2nd, 2013

Low Winter Sun is a dark show, and I mean that in the most simple-minded way possible. In keeping with the series’ themes of urban decay and existential despair, it’s in the shadows that the characters work, wait, and wax poetic about green emerald eyes (my brown ones are rolling). The cinematography’s heavy reliance on grays, browns and blacks – and the frequent difficulty of making out what exactly is happening in a scene – is supposed to heighten the show’s mysteries. It’s a visual technique that The X-Files pioneered and used to maximum technique – but that was a show built on suspense, where the unknown was lurking in a corner, poised to attack. Low Winter Sun is a drama – and one nearly devoid of suspense at that (though not by design) – so I’m not sure that obscuring the action and depriving the audience of details and nuances through low lighting and contrast really serve a purpose on this show, other than the unnecessary one of providing it with a “look.”

My frustration with the show’s decision to make Detroit look like it’s under a perpetual eclipse might well be overlooked if the dimness didn’t extend to the storylines. Alas. After last week’s episode, the best – and not coincidentally, the lightest – episode the series had produced thus far, “Catacombs” dragged us further into the darkness within Frank’s (Mark Strong) soul. But guess what? Frank’s soul, along with pretty much everything about him, is boring. His J. Crew-like insistence that Katia’s eyes are emerald, not plain green, is boring. His seeming ignorance of Katia’s last name is boring. His utter lack of progress on the McCann case is boring. Even his penis is boring. (And apparently not too clean.)

Thankfully, while Frank wastes his life getting beat up by pimps and listening to 3-second voicemails over and over again instead of just eating a lot of junk food and signing up for OKCupid like the rest of us after a breakup, other people on the show are out doing stuff. Joe has a fight with his wife and tries to scare his adorable, rage-filled daughter straight. Maya goes to see her kids, though they aren’t her kids anymore. (Are they also her ex Sean’s?) Damon tries to prove he’s a badass by plunging his underling’s hand in boiling water and spitting on his father’s grave. Best of all, Sean, the former cop, now-junkie who used to date Maya, shows up, providing a much-needed connection between the criminal and police worlds. (Between Frank’s obsession with a prostitute, Sean’s relationship with the legally flexible Maya, and Joe’s daughter’s budding shoplifting career, is it DPD policy that every officer must date or be related to a criminal?)

Damon continues to disappoint as a character; his no-jailbait rule will be broken and his daddy issues are too ill-defined to make an impression. (James Ransone also hasn’t quite fleshed out the menace and ambition his character is supposed to embody.) The background history on Maya and Sean’s doomed relationship, though, was unexpectedly poignant. It’s now easy to see where Maya’s desire to remake her life comes from, and how desperate she must have been to pin all her hopes and dreams on a nobody like Damon. And if Brendan McCann was the kind of crooked cop who took out all his aggression on others, Sean (Trever Long) seems like the kind of guy who couldn’t help taking it out on himself by turning to drugs – and ended up destroying his life doing so. The losses Maya and Sean have suffered unwittingly make Frank’s separation from Katia feel like a toddler having his ice cream cone fall on the ground.

Dani gets a break in her cokehouse corpse case – it turns out the victim was the former fling/surrogate stepson (gross) of one Daryl Singers, an associate of the guy found in McCann’s trunk. So is that supposed to help Joe and Frank find a patsy for McCann’s murder? Dani’s discovery is presented as a big deal – Joe promises her that she’ll get a promotion – but, as with so many of the other storylines on the show, it’s hard to see why things matter and why we should care, even when the scene’s well-lit.