I’ve been anticipating the arrival of BBC’s Hard Sun for quite some time now, but the wait is finally over. The show premiered on Saturday night and, to be honest, I’m not sure what to make of it. The eight-part drama from Luther mastermind Neil Cross is a thriller told through the eyes of DCI Charlie Hicks (Jim Sturgess) and DI Elaine Renko (Agyness Deyn) who are both thrown into life-changing circumstances when, in the middle of a murder investigation, they stumble upon a revolutionary piece of information: the human race will become extinct in five years. While post-apocalyptic dramas are all the rage, this BBC pre-apocalyptic series promised to be something quite different, which is likely why we were all excited for it’s arrival. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite live up to the hype. There’s no denying that the series is adrenaline-pumping stuff but a few car chases and a series of violent attacks cannot make up for the show’s narrative problems and scripting issues.
The first episode of a drama series can be a tough one for even the greatest of screenwriters. Why? Because they not only have to set up the narrative of the show, they also have to establish the universe in which these events take place, not to mention the rules of said fictional universe. Additionally, the creator (in this case, Cross) also has to introduce us to the series’ protagonists, all the while establishing their individual needs and goals. It’s tough going, that’s for sure, and very few series manage to get the balance quite right. While Hard Sun does accomplish some of these basic drama requirements in its first episode, they’re not executed as well as they could’ve been. In fact, the main problem with Hard Sun is its lack of narrative structure. Within the first twenty minutes, we’re subjected to two home invasions, two blood-spurting attacks and an eight-month gap, while also learning that one of our protagonists is seemingly having an affair. That’s a lot to digest, especially considering the sci-fi narrative had yet to begin.
I can’t help but think that all of this extra information would’ve had more of an effect had it been leaked throughout the episode, or perhaps even over the course of the series, but instead we were given it all at once — before we even hit the halfway point of the episode. There were also at least three inciting incidents before our detectives stumbled upon the Hard Sun flash-drive (which is what I would argue is the beginning of the show’s main narrative) and, as someone who knew very little about this show going in, this only confused me further.
It’s not just the plotting problems that are hindering Hard Sun, it’s the character development too — specifically where Renko is concerned. I found it hard to connect with her and the reason for that is quite simple: we know next to nothing about her. While I’m all for keeping viewers in suspense, a little bit of information about her motives or her relationship with her son wouldn’t have gone amiss. At the moment, she is nothing more than a blank canvas and, as a viewer, that makes it hard to build a connection with her. The fight between her and Hicks during the episode’s final act did little to help matters, as Renko’s cold exterior and excessive use of violence in this scene made me like her even less.
Good dramas almost always consist of internally conflicted characters (think Happy Valley or Doctor Foster) but, due to the underdeveloped characters, I couldn’t find any internal conflict in Hard Sun. Instead, I felt like there was forced external conflict to make up for the lack of internal struggles. For example, Renko and her son. Why did he try to kill her? What was that all about and how does it play into the show’s central storyline? Similarly, Hicks is having an affair, yet he appears to be happily married. Again, no explanation as to what was going on here. To sum up: Before we even got to the central narrative, we already had far too many unanswered questions. It all got a bit messy.
What I will say is that Hard Sun and its concept has a lot of potential, and if the narrative structure can somewhat stabilise in the coming episodes, then it certainly stands a chance at enticing viewers.
The final verdict: chaotic plotting and a gratuitous use of violence resulted in a rocky start for the Neil Cross drama, but with the stakes higher than ever for our protagonists, perhaps things will improve as we move into the second episode of the eight-part thriller. Although, considering the amount of information we’ve already been given, it’s hard to imagine there is enough material left to stretch another seven episodes. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
Hard Sun Continues Saturday at 9.30pm on BBC One
Contributed by Stephen Patterson