Hard Sun episode 2 review: why has an apocalyptic drama turned into a show about serial killers?

With the world about to end how can we care whether Renko and Hicks get their man? Has Hard Sun turned into Luther, asks Ben Dowell?

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 09/01/2018 - Programme Name: Hard Sun - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 2) - Picture Shows: ***EMBARGOED UNTIL 9th JAN 2018*** Hicks (JIM STURGESS) - (C) Euston Films - Photographer: Hal Shinnie

Well, that was grim. Just when you thought you had a drama where the world is five years from being deep fried, instead you get a dollop of serial killer sauce splashed over your plate.

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Yes, a few minutes into episode two writer Neil Cross performed something of a U-turn. Elaine Renko (Agyness Deyn) had gone to a newspaper with news that the world was finishing (“Christ” said the hapless reporter, quite reasonably) before leaping forward four weeks. By then the security services had convinced the world that the tale was a hoax, the biggest journalistic screw up since the Sunday Times bought the Hitler Diaries.

This volte-face was illustrated by the sight of the poor chastened reporter giving an interview to the real Stephen Sackur on BBC News show Hard Talk about what a doofus he’d been. And that, sort of, was that.

Only of course we – and Renko and Charlie Hicks (Jim Sturgess) – know this Hard Sun info is bona fide, and that it’s all too real. A number of crazed conspiracy theorists have a sense that there may be some truth to it as well… so they start killing. Why? I suppose the imminent end to most life on earth does tend to foster a certain existential ennui, especially in psychotic loners. It also offers Cross a chance to turn this into a Luther-style show about nasty killers.

In what looks like it could become a pattern, tonight’s crazy was Chris Chapel (Jamie Sives), a bitter ex-husband who seemed so consumed by the imminent apocalypse that he killed his ex-wife’s bosses (who are man and wife) and then what seemed to be her entire extended family.

He then lured her away to a remote location where her fate and the fate of their two young children hung in the balance. Renko and Hicks saved the day in a climactic scene in a woodland where the production team worked the smoke machines so hard it looked a bit Scooby Doo (albeit with a lot more blood).

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 09/01/2018 - Programme Name: Hard Sun - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 2) - Picture Shows: ***EMBARGOED UNTIL 9th JAN 2018*** Chris Chapel (JAMIE SIVES), Renko (AGYNESS DEYN) - (C) Euston Films - Photographer: Robert Viglasky

What to make of this?

Well, this is certainly a flawed show. It does seem a little odd to take the world to the brink of destruction and expect us to care about much else. It doesn’t really get much bigger than the apocalypse, so why care about a murder investigation?

Tonight, for example, we learned that DS Keith Greener (Owain Arthur) has six children. Parenthood was a theme – what with Hicks’ preoccupations with his pregnant wife’s “bump” as he called it. But with our awareness of the bigger picture, it’s hard to do more than shrug gamely. Even when we’re trying to catch a serial killer.

Still, for those who like that sort of thing it is squirm-inducingly violent – the smashed heads, slit throats, the prospect of more dead kids. Neil Cross’ stock-in-trade is imminent fear, the killer under the bed, the knock-on-the-door-leading-to-the-smashed-in-skull. We saw it in Luther and we see it here.

A charitable description is “incident-packed”. Cross does know how to work up multiple plotlines and tonight we see Hicks winning his wife back, even if his penitence wasn’t entirely convincing. Having sex with the widow of his best friend (Aisling Bea’s Mari) hardly represents the actions of an adoring spouse.

Next week’s focus is likely to be Renko’s son Daniel (Jojo Macari), holed up in a hospital and an unlucky recipient of a visit from Nikki Amuka-Bird’s chilling MI5 operative Grace Morrigan who is determined to avoid global “anarchy” if the truth of imminent global catastrophe is believed. But knowing what she does it’s still a wonder she bothers even turning up to work.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 09/01/2018 - Programme Name: Hard Sun - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 2) - Picture Shows: ***EMBARGOED UNTIL 9th JAN 2018*** Hicks (JIM STURGESS) - (C) Euston Films - Photographer: Robert Viglasky
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Hard Sun continues next Saturday night on BBC1 with all episodes available on box set on BBC iPlayer