Hard Sun S01E03 “Episode Three” REVIEW
Airing on BBC One, Saturday nights
Writer: Neil Cross
Director: Nick Rowland
Essential Plot Points:
- A mysterious man phones a samaritan helpline and asks the counsellor why she does what she does and if it’s because she thinks it’ll save her when the end comes. He later attacks her when she leaves the call centre to go home, then deliberately leaves her dying at a busy road intersection where thousands of people pass within inches of her and not even notice.
- Renko interviews a prisoner called Jean-Paul, who is agreeing to give evidence against his old firm, the Nicholson family, in exchange for a reduced sentence. His story about killing a businessman who strangled a call girl provided by the Nicholsons doesn’t quite square up, because the a rival gang boss was later convicted of killing the call girl; she was found in the boot of his car. Renko suspects Butler and Hicks were in the pay of the Nicholsons and got rid of the call girl’s body for Jean-Paul, framing the rival gang boss in the process. Jean-Paul is saying nothing; Renko suspects he’s more scared of Hicks than his old firm.
- Renko meets with Benedetti. He’s having an existential crisis over Hard Sun. She doesn’t care. They shag. Well, why not?
- Renko and Hicks’s team investigate the murder of the girl. Renko leaves the crime scene when she receives a call asking her to urgently go see her son.
- The mysterious man goes to a church where the catholic priest recognises him as Tom. Tom asks the priest to hear his confession.
- Tom, a charity worker who has seen much death in flood-hit regions of the world, is not impressed with God at the moment. He confesses he murdered the girl to see if God would intervene. He then checks that the priest will adhere to the privacy of confession, and when the priest says yes, Tom says that he’ll have to live with the burden of knowing about the murder but not being able to do anything about it.
- Hicks spots the priest at the murder scene looking concerned. When he leaves, Hicks follows him back to his church.
- At the hospital where Daniel is being treated, Renko is shown video of her son attacking Grace when she visited.
- She goes to speak with him. He says Grace told him that he was the child of a rape and how that made it impossible for Renko to love him. He also says that Grace has told him about Renko knowing more about Hard Sun. Renko refuses to talk about it. Daniel reveals a razor blade he’s been hiding in his mouth; he attacks his mum then starts cutting himself before some orderlies restrain him.
- Hicks talks to the priest, Father Dennis, and intuits that Father Dennis has heard something pertinent in confession, though Father Dennis, of course, denies it… while trying hard not to make nudge, nudge, wink, wink motions.
- Father Dennis goes to meet Tom; Hicks follows at a distance, cunningly disguised by putting on a grey woolly hat.
- In a disused factory/warehouse/office block that Tom has made his lair (he clearly has ambitions to be an Arrow villain) Tom and Father Dennis discuss – rather forcibly – the Book of Job (the one where God makes a good man’s life really miserable ’cos Satan says God has done him too many favours). Hicks listens from the shadows.
- Tom grabs Father Dennis and holds a knife to his cheek; Hicks intervenes, so Tom pulls a fastened plastic cord round Father Dennis’s throat and leaves him gasping for breath. Tom escapes while Hicks tends to Father Dennis.
- Back at the police station, Hicks reveals to Renko that he knows she’s trying to find evidence incriminate him. He protests that he loved Butler, and he loves Butler’s family as if they were his own, just as he considers the families of all his colleagues as one big family. And that includes Daniel.
- But when Renko suggests they kill Grace, he assumes she is either wired to entrap him or a bit psycho.
- Tom starts singing, “Dies Irae” from the Requiem Mass on a bus, then threatens to kill himself when everyone ignore him. One guy steps forward to stop him, so Tom stabs this “good samaritan” to death.
- Hicks and Renko haul in Father Dennis for an interview, but he refuses to name Tom.
- Hicks takes Renko for a quiet coffee. He shows her the scan of his unborn child, and begs her not to continue with the investigation into him, because with only five years left until armageddon, he wants to be with his family to support them.
- Renko interviews Spencer Coleman, the gang boss whom she believes was framed by Butler and Hicks. He says Butler was a decent copper who wanted nothing to do with the framing. Butler told Coleman what Hicks was planning, but said he would try to talk Hicks out of doing something stupid, and if Hicks refused, Butler would grass on him. A couple of days later, Butler was found dead in the canal.
- Renko calls DCS Bell and tells him Coleman is talking bullshit and Hicks is innocent. Bell doesn’t believe that she believes what she’s saying.
- Grace turns up outside Hicks’s house and shows him a video of Renko interrogating Coleman (but neglects to mention that Renko lied to Bell to protect Hicks). Grace says if Hicks can find the flashdrive with the Hard Sun dossier that Renko’s hidden, then she’ll make sure Renko is taken out of the picture.
- Tom places a porcelain Jesus head amongst the flowers commemorating his previous victim, then puts on a mask, takes out a massive blade and photobombs the TV news reporter covering the story.
While Hard Sun itself is once again relegated to bit-part status – creeping into the edges of the action like scripting dry rot – the third episode of the BBC’s increasingly un-pre-apocalyptic thriller is an intense, gripping and occasionally stomach-churning slice of cop drama.
The main selling point here is Richard Coyle’s deeply demented Tom, a psycho of such screwed-up morality and motivation you half expect Clarice Starling and her special helper to be on his trail. With his Old Testament quotes, Requiem Mass recital and unique brand of victim selection, Tom is a widescreen villain, and, you could argue, perhaps a little too broad for a show like this. But he dominates the episode in ways that at least mean you’re not going to forget this show for a while, even if it is in your nightmares.
Not that villains with a Biblical bent are anything new, but Coyle’s Tom has a deeply unsettling twist; he does what he does to force God to reveal himself, or, perhaps, to prove that God is fallacy by not revealing himself. But, as Father Dennis points out, the Bible has this little loophole covered in the Book of Job, aka, God’s Ultimate Get-Out Clause: it basically says, “God is way too awesome to be understood by us lot, so whatever he does or doesn’t do, suck on that humanity.” Tom doesn’t buy that, and goes off to murder more do-gooders. People on public transport are advised to read The Daily Mail to improve their chances of survival.
Father Dennis’s crisis over keeping the confessional sacred is another old detective story chestnut, but at least Father Dennis has the decency to look genuinely conflicted by the whole thing. No wonder Hicks singles him out in a crowd; he looks like he’s swallowed a hedgehog. It’s a tricky role to play and Dermot Crowley makes Father Dennis believable and sympathtic.
So there’s come cheesy stuff going on here, but the way it plays out feels refreshingly edgy and exciting. Plus, we get to a new level in the ever-more complicated relationship between the most ill-matched cop buddies ever. Renko looks like she’s just about proven Hicks is a bent cop, then tells her boss he’s innocent, because she fell for his sob story about wanting to support his family. Hicks is then shown only half that story (the bad half) by Grace to blackmail him into doing her bidding. The only will-they?/won’t-they question when it comes to this pair is will they or won’t they kill each other. That’s still what’s makes this show worth coming back to.
But it would be nice if the show was just a little bit more concerned with Hard Sun.
- The “Dies Irae” sequence on the bus – when Tom chooses his victim by seeing who’ll come forward to help him when it looks like he’s going to kill himself – is deeply, deeply disturbing. Richard Coyle is excellent as Tom, a killer who is truly cold, unpredictable and fruit loop. It’s difficult to believe that this is the same guy from Coupling.
- Benedetti: “I’m thinking that in five years, this is all gone. Shakespeare, and the Sex Pistols, Mozart, Twitterm Cary Grant, the Teletubbies… it’s all gone. No one is ever going to sing your favourite song, ever again. And that doesn’t worry you?”
Renko: “Not unduly.”
Benedetti: “Well, if you really believe that, why not just neck a fistful of pills, or jump off a bridge?” – This is a great exchange, and brings home the full horror of what those in the know are living through. Well, most if them. Renko doesn’t seem to give a toss. Does she have some terminal illness anyway?
- The fact the Renko assumes the worst of the dead woman before being told she worked as a Samaritan is a smart character beat.
- Hicks: “How does God get up in the morning?”
Renko: “By not existing, same as every other morning.”
- The time lapse reveal of the body is very pretty and, even though time lapse cityscapes are a tad passé these days, it does have a story-based justification; it quickly highlights the fact that so many cars have unknowingly passed within inches of the dying woman.
- Hicks: “Keeping secrets. It’s quite stressful. It wears you down. You’re always waiting for that knock at the door. Some people have this urge to confess. Yeah, you can see it in their eyes. You must see the same sort of thing in your line of work.”
Father Dennis: “I do. I know that look very well.”
- Hicks: “Now I could be wrong… but I can’t help feeling like I’m looking at that right now.” A clever exchange that turns what at first looks like a stunningly lucky piece of guess work into incisive intuition.
- In fact, that whole Hicks/Father Dennis scene is marvellously nuanced and the “get your own transexual dominatrix” gag is great.
- Renko suggesting that they kill Grace, and Hicks assuming she’s got a wire on her and is trying to entrap him is a great moment.
- Another great cliffhanger.
- There’s not a strong enough connection between Hard Sun and Tom’s motives (yet, anyway). In fact, Hard Sun feels like a minor sub-plot rather than the show’s main USP.
- The two Renko interrogation scenes are doing way too much work; there’s an awful lot of really important information being delivered in sparse, staccato dialogue that’s difficult to get your head round unless your takin notes.
- How did Daniel conceal a razor for that long – and talk that much – without slicing off bits of his tongue? And where did he get it from? If hospital security isn’t really lousy then are we to assume Grace slipped it to him?
- Is a grey woolly hat the best disguise Hicks can think of?
- The whole “priest cannot reveal what happens in a confessional” angle feels familiar from a whole load of old old movies and TV shows, right back to Hitchcock’s I Confess (1953).
- Father Daniel’s speech about Job doesn’t actually make much sense unless you’re familiar with the Book of Job in the first place. He could have summarised it a bit more clearly for heathens.
And The Random:
- According to Catholic law, a priest is under the gravest obligation not to reveal the contents of a confession, or even whether a confession took place. He cannot do so even under threat of imprisonment or civil penalty, and can incur a latae sententiae excommunication if he breaks the seal of confession. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Given the delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to persons, the Church declares that every priest who hears confessions is bound under very severe penalties to keep absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have confessed to him. He can make no use of knowledge that confession gives him about penitents’ lives.”
Review by Dave Golder