Hard Sun S01E01 “Episode One” REVIEW
Airing on BBC One, Saturday nights
Writer: Neil Cross
Director: Brian Kirk
Essential Plot Points:
- The British security services learn something deeply disturbing that they’d like to keep a lid on (perhaps because they might just get the Brexit deal done before the world ends).
- Charlie Hicks is a dodgy copper. Not in the usual way. He actually seems to be good at his job, it’s just that he has some questionable extracurricular activities. Like thieving from criminals and possibly shooting his former police partner, Alex Butler.
- He’s also shagging Alex’s widow behind his wife’s back.
- Hicks’s boss forces a new partner onto him – Elaine Renko. She was recently attacked by her own knife-welding son, Daniel, who also burned down her house.
- Daniel’s a “hard son” to like, geddit? Hard “son”. No? Oh, never mind…
- Daniel was given up for adoption, y’see, because (as Hicks later guesses correctly) he was the result of Elaine being raped when she was a very young teenager. Feeling he’s been rejected by his mother has had a bad effect on his mental state.
- So Dan’s now in a high security hospital, and mum tries to bond by tempting him with sweeties.
- Hicks suspects Renko may have been brought in to spy on him. He’s right (though she doesn’t admit it, of course). Her bosses want her to find evidence that Hicks killed Butler.
- While Renko is pretty sure Hicks has a lot to hide, she quickly decides that he’s innocent of his partner’s killing.
- Meanwhile, the main plot is happening. A hacker has discovered the government’s big scary secret. He wants to go all WikiLeaks with it but a colleague, Sunny – who thinks there’s money to be made – ends up chucking him out his flat window and making off with his flash drive.
- When Hicks and Renko track him down while attempting to sell the information, some shady security boot boys turn up to shoot everyone who’s clapped eyes on the flash drive.
- Sunny and his contact are killed but Hicks and Renko escape with the flash drive.
- The next morning they look at its contents; it reveals that humanity will die out in five years as the result of some undefined catastrophe called “Hard Sun”.
- Renko wants to make the information public. Hicks is not so sure.
- When he phones his wife to warn her that (what he believes must be) MI5 might try to grab her and her daughter to use as leverage against him, he’s too late.
- A security agent called Grace answers instead. She threatens his family and tells Hicks to bring her the flash drive.
- But Renko refuses to give it up, and she wins the fight when he tries to take it off her.
- Renko heads to the Paladin News Group.
It’s the end of the word as we know it, and if this were a US show no doubt we’d have REM all over the soundtrack. Which’d be fine, but David Bowie’s spinechilling classic “Five Years” provides a far more ominous backdrop to the climactic moments of this episode. As such, you can’t help being reminded of Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes, but Hard Sun is a far, far cry from a sequel to those nostalgia-fuelled BBC classics. If Gene Hunt told Elaine Renko to, “get your knickers on, we’re leaving” he’d likely not be in possession of his testicles for much longer.
Hard Son is a wonderfully odd beast – an “apocalyptic” show that doesn’t feel like every other end-of-the-world doomfest and a cop show with two leads who definitely aren’t buddies. If anything, it’s this central relationship between Hicks and Renko that drives the show rather than the thinly-applied layer of SF. Because the end-of-the-world shtick – so far at least – plays second fiddle to the show’s real crowd-pleasing innovation: it’s a cop show about two cops who are actually enemies. There’s clearly mutual respect there – both cops show sign of real intelligence and quick thinking is fraught situations – but each of them has the other in their sights. It takes a number of cop show clichés and gives them a shake-up; using them the abusing them.
While some genre fans might feel a little disappointed that this isn’t some British X-Files, hopefully the intriguing dynamic at the heart of the show will keep even them stuck to the screen.
What’s also great about the show is how Renko is the real bruiser here. Our money would be on her in any fight. You only realise later in the episode that the reason she makes such a hash up fighting Daniel is because he’s her son, so she was probably holding back a little. It’s a shame that our first experience of her is as a victim, but the rest of time on screen makes up for his lapse.
If anything, the opening episode does suffer from being a little too packed. What with Hicks’s complicated back story, Renko’s intense backstory, the conspiracy stuff and the “Hard Sun” revelations that’s a lot for the script to juggle and the viewer to take in. It’s also a little more po-faced than some of the episodes that follow, as if having to introduce so many elements left little room for having some fun.
But it certainly leaves you wanting more. We could happily watch this for five seasons…
- Agyness Deyn and Jim Sturgess are both excellent. They practically eclipse (no pun intended) anyone else when they’re on screen. The spiky relationship between Renko and Hicks makes for hypnotic viewing. Deyn is oddly intense, scary and fragile all at the same time.
- Renko is a magnificently dirty fighter, not ashamed to shift things in her favour with biting and knuckledusters. Her “reverse-into-the-enemy-car” manoeuvre was a refreshingly different solution to being pursued, too. Can she guest star on Top Gear, please?
- You have to love the little message Renko left for Hicks in her safe – the scene reveals a lot about both characters.
- The sequence when Lloyd Hammond plummets to his death is excellently written and shot – so much more elaborate and effective than the usual TV plunge of death (with the added bonus that the branches help disguise the usual dodgy “falling” FX).
- Another great scene was Hicks’ ploy to get away from Grace’s boot boys in the street – smashing a few car windows and making as much noise as possible to wake up the neighbourhood, then making it known exactly who he and Renko were. A different kind of “witness” protection – but it works.
- Yeah, light a bonfire while making a getaway, because that won’t draw the attention of anyone who happens to be close by.
- We’re guessing Hicks uses a public phone box because he’s worried his mobile might be traced, but it just seemed a little convenient that he just happened to be right next to two of London’s desperately rare pay phones when he wanted to call his wife.
- The very early, first Renko scene initially seems to be that blight of modern crime drama: a random act of violence against a woman. Admittedly as the episode pans out, that’s not what it is at all, but because of where the scene sits within the episode, it may have given some viewers the wrong impression about what kind of show this is going to be.
And The Random:
- The song towards the end is David Bowie’s “Five Year”, a track the partially inspired the series. If you check out the lyrics, you’ll soon realise why.
- So now you know which companies to buy shares in…
- Apparently, Agyness Deyn gave Jim Sturgess a bloody nose while filming the fight scene while wearing knuckledusters.
Review by Dave Golder