Hard Sun S01E02 “Episode Two” REVIEW
Airing on BBC One, Saturday nights
Writer: Neil Cross
Director: Brian Kirk
Essential Plot Points:
- Hicks phones Grace to tell Renko has run off with the memory stick. She is not impressed. Some of her goons pull up in a car and, after a short chase, capture him and whisk him away to a disused mill for interrogation.
- Hicks can’t tell them where Renko has taken the chip because he doesn’t know, but Grace finds that difficult to believe. She threatens to have his wife killed.
- Renko reveals some of the memory stick’s contents to a Paladin News journalist, Will Benedetti. She urges him to run a story about it, pointing out that now he knows about Hard Sun, Grace’s goons will kill him to silence him unless he goes public.
- She keeps back some of the information as a bargaining chip. She makes her own video which she sends to Grace’s team; in it she says she has hidden the memory stick, and threatens to make its entire contents public if any harm comes to her or Hicks.
- Grace receives the message just in time to stop her goons killing Hicks’s wife.
- Benedetti publishes his story…
- Four weeks later, and the Hard Sun dossier has been denounced as a hoax by the powers-that-be and Benedetti’s career is over. But some conspiracy theorists – “truthers” – suspect there may be some basis to the claims even though the exact nature of Hard Sun remains unclear.
- Hicks has separated from his wife. He goes round Mari Butler’s for some consolatory sex.
- DCS Bell visits Renko and demands she get evidence that Hicks killed Butler, otherwise he’ll make sure her son goes back to prison.
- One of the “truther” nutters, Chris Chapel, breaks into the posh home of the husband and wife business partners in a PR firm. He beats the husband to a pulp then ties him to a chair so that he’s forced to watch Chris rape his wife. Chris then murders them both.
- Creepy Grace visits Mari at her workplace, a library, pretending to be an old friend (though Mari doesn’t buy it). She gives Mari a message for Hicks: “Renko knows what you did to Alex Butler.” Which, since Mari doesn’t immediately demand to know what Hicks did to her husband, suggests she knows too… and Grace knows she knows.
- Daniel Renko tries to call his mum multiple times; she never answers.
- Renko and Hicks go to the murdered couple’s company, where they speak to the secretary, who just happens to be Chris Chapel’s estranged wife, Maggie.
- Chris breaks into a birthday party being set up for his Maggie at her home – he phones her showing he’s taken her friends hostage and demands she get there.
- Maggie gives Renko and Hicks the slip. When she gets home, everybody has been killed and Chris has left with the kids.
- Seems Chris has a chip on his shoulder about Maggie sleeping with her boss. He calls her again, revealing he’s kidnapped their two kids. He say he won’t hurt them but he does intend to “put them to sleep” so they won’t have to suffer through Hard Sun. He tells his wife that he and the kids are “where we made Jessica”.
- Hicks has one of his team track Maggie’s mobile. He tells Renko he knows they should handle this using established police procedure, but he’s worried that an armed response will result in Chris killing his entire family. Slightly guilty that it’s the Hard Sun revelations that have pushed Chris over the edge, he suggests to Renko that they handle this alone.
- Following Maggie into the countryside, they intercept her in some woods before she reaches the isolated house where Chris and the children are. They convince her to help them.
- They use Maggie to lure Chris out of the house, then the cops sneak in and rescue the kids, who are drugged.
- (Actually it’s a bit more convoluted than that, with lots of running round the forest, shouting, grunting, hitting and whiny kids, but essentially: kids rescued.)
- Hicks goes a bit postal on Chris but Renko talks him down from killing the guy ‘cos the little boy’s watching.
- Returning to London, Hicks patches things up with Simone.
- DCS Bell sends Renko new evidence that Hicks killed Butler. Renko seems to think it’s fairly conclusive.
- Daniel has another attempt at calling him mum. He leaves a message saying he believes in Hard Sun.
- Then Daniel has an unexpected visitor: Grace.
The second episode of the Beeb’s new “pre-apocalyptic” series doesn’t go quite where you expect. Which, normally, would be a good thing. You don’t want shows to be ploddingly predictable. But in the case of Hard Sun, the sudden change of tack – while establishing a solid ongoing format for the series – does leave you with a sense of a broken promise.
Why? Well, at the end of the premiere, it looked like the series was heading off into full-on “geo-disaster” territory, like one of those Roland Emmerich global eco-threat movies but with an X-Files-style conspiracy to provide an arc plot. For the first few minutes this second episode appears to be continuing in that vein. Renko takes the proof of the world’s doom to a news website and as good as blackmails a poor journalist into publishing the story.
So we get mass panic. Anarchy. Hysteria. Fighting in the streets. Martial law. Right?
We get a jump forward four weeks and the revelation that Hard Sun has been denounced as fake news. It’s not hard to imagine Trump having kittens on Twitter about that one.
In one way, it’s a daring, clever move. It also repositions the show back towards being more of a police procedural, with Renko and Hicks having to deal with Hard Sun-believers going all end-of-days gaga. Writer Neil Cross also ekes the most out of the fact that Renko and Hicks – despite a chasm of differences – are now forced into a partnership based on their shared knowledge, because no one else would believe them.
So there’s some interesting stuff going on here, and the edgy dynamic between Hicks and Renko remains the best thing about the show. But there’s still an uneasy feeling of “we was robbed”. Maybe, if there are future seasons, we will eventually get to the mass hysteria; delayed gratification can be good. But it would have been nice to at least have had a taste of some of hysteria that must have broken out after the publication of the story but before the government instigated damage limitation.
Another problem is that the first “Hard-Sun-nutter-of-the-week” case isn’t exactly the most gripping plot. As with the premiere, there’s a hell of a lot going on here – so much that needs to be established and explained – which leaves little room for the crime elements to develop much beyond workmanlike. Chris is a fairly by-the-numbers psychopathic jealous ex, and his crime spree, while bloody, feels like something we’ve seen plenty of times before. You can’t help wishing that the first post-Hard-Sun-revelation case had been a bit more memorable (especially as later in the season, the “nutters” do become a lot weirder).
It’s a shame that the series’ first “regular” episode is a little lacklustre, but rest assured, things pick up from here on in. After all, Grace turning up for a chat with Daniel – that can’t be leading anywhere good for Renko, can it?
- There’s a nice little touch during Grace’s interrogation of Hicks when she says she knows he’s lying. Perhaps she fathoms this out partly because he says, that Renko has stashed the memory stick in a dead drop behind an “anarchist book shop in Stroud Green.” This follows on from Grace having said moments before, “Imagine the anarchy!” She must have realised that she’d inadvertently Derren Browned him.
- Maggie lobbing a stone at Chris. Sometimes the simple methods are the most effective.
- Hicks: “It’s out of the box, and you can’t put it back. Y’see, the people that believe in it, all the freaks and the nutters, the religious fanatics and the psychos, they’re all going to come crawling out of the woodwork.”
- Hicks: “I am lying to everyone on this Earth, but you…”
- Renko: “He’s lost some traditional male status role. Husband. Father. Provider. So he’s looking to reassert his identity as a man. To be physically and sexually dominant.”
Hicks: “So he’s a dick.”
- Hicks: “It’s just Simone, my wife. I think she knows something’s wrong. What am I supposed to tell her?”
Renko: “That’s easy. Tell her a lie.”
Hicks: “Yeah, well, I don’t want to lie to her. I love her.” – Is he talking about Hard Sun or having an affair?
- Renko: “You should talk to Simone. Tell her the truth.”
Hicks: “Yeah, what’s that?”
Renko: “I dunno. Make something up.”
- Chapel: “Funnily enough, I was never unfaithful to you.” This is a really chilling line, as it reveals how easily Chris is able to justify his actions to himself.
- The guy on the truther video knows how to create an impactful image for himself.
- How did Renko get her message to Grace’s team? And in secret? Does MI5 have a secure hotline for video threats?
- The attempts to give some Hicks’s team members some character-building dialogue falls a bit flat. They’re all still very one-dimensional and difficult to care about.
- Mari’s reaction to Grace’s message for Hicks is very odd. Since she doesn’t immediately demand to know what Hicks did to her husband you assume she knows already. But you’d still think she would be more than a little concerned at some woman she’s never clapped eyes on before basically saying, “I know your big secret!” We’d have expected her to be far more frantic.
- The little boy, Adam, wandering off in the middle of the rescue was a really corny, eye-rolling piece of plotting. It didn’t help that Doctor Who now owns the phrase, “I want my mummy!” and you can’t hear it in any other drama without thinking, “Gas masks!”
- How the hell did Simone keep a straight face when Hicks showed up at her door with the least romantic speech ever? “It’s not a caveman thing,” he tells her, before solemnly vowing to kill anyone who tries to harm them. You’d think Simone would be rolling her eyes, going, “Gee, thanks, Phil Mitchell!”
- How often is everybody in an office looking at exactly the same web page?
And The Random:
- There is no “anarchist” book shop in Stroud Green, but there is a famous book shop called New Beacon Books that specialises in works by black authors.
- “This is probably the greatest hoax of its kind since the Hitler Diaries.” The Hitler Diaries were a series of 60 fake volumes of journals purportedly written by Adolf Hitler, but actually forged by a chancer called Konrad Kujau. The diaries were bought for 9.3 million Deutsche Marks (£2.33 million) by the West German news magazine Stern in 1983, which sold the rights to several news organisations including the UK’s The Sunday Times. However, they were swiftly denounced as fakes.
- Hicks’s interrogation takes place at the former Spillers Millennium Mills building in London’s Royal Victoria Docks.
- Renko has one of the neatest, most aligned evidence boards we’ve ever seen. Does this say something about her psyche? Especially when you compare it to Chris’s wall of clippings.
Review by Dave Golder