The labyrinthine, Gordian tangle of plots, subplots, complications, and revelations crammed into the six episodes of Hard Sun include a serial killer convinced he’s God’s messenger on earth, a stoic detective whose schizophrenic son tries to kill her and set her house on fire, an ethically dubious detective who may or may not have murdered his partner, a man dying of cancer who runs a cult for people considering suicide, and a father who executes his wife’s entire family to try and get custody of his children. And a dastardly, well-staffed MI5 sub-unit of men in sweatpants assassinating people willy-nilly. Oh, and all this plays out in a world where the sun is going to burn itself out within five years, sentencing everyone on Earth to certain, miserable death.
To say it’s too much to take in is to underplay the actual insanity of the show as a viewing experience, as batty, grim, and ferociously violent it is. It’s doubly disappointing because Hard Sun, which was co-produced by the BBC and debuts on Hulu Wednesday, has a killer premise. In the first episode, an MI5 agent, Grace Morrigan (Nikki Amuka-Bird), glumly watches a TOP SECRET live link that appears to be a video of the sun, which is ominously shedding pieces of itself. Naturally, a hacker gets hold of it, and it ends up with Detective Inspector Elaine Renko (Agyness Deyn) and Detective Chief Inspector Charlie Hicks (Jim Sturgess), who suddenly have their hands on information that’s very dangerous, very secret, and not untroubling.
Hard Sun is created by Neil Cross, the brain behind the BBC series Luther, a similarly bloody but more focused detective series starring Idris Elba as a hardbitten detective. The inspiration for his new show was reportedly the David Bowie song “Five Years,” which imagines an Earth set for apocalypse in five years time. In the first episode, Cross explores some of the possibilities of such information coming to light—the mass panic and conspiracy theories and sheer chaos that might be sparked by this kind of prolonged doomsday event. But he quickly abandons this thought experiment to set off down a lane of nonsensical crime procedural plotting paired with abject psychological horror and lots and lots of stabbiness. Rather than spare a moment to think about the implications of the “Hard Sun” phenomenon, for example, Renko and Hicks get back to business as usual, aggressively hunting down killers (they’re busier than ever now) and digging into each other’s loaded pasts.
Hard Sun, it should be noted, is not subtle, or close to subtle, or even anywhere in the same continent as subtle. When Renko and Hicks break into a boarded-up old mansion in one episode, they encounter grinning, lobotomized adults with red eyes wearing identical white nightdresses and moving like Kayako Saeki. When one character hides the literal smoking gun from a murder, he does so under a loose piece of stone in a churchyard crypt. And before another character faces a moral dilemma, she’s seen typing up an essay on “the ethical case against the Milgram experiment.” An inexplicable two-episode plot arc features a serial killer who confides his sins to a Catholic priest before stalking through London wielding a machete. And when characters are tasked with plot exposition, they labor through robotic statements no actual human has uttered. “I saw what you did,” Hicks says at one point. “In a video. On that laptop you just lied about. Reflected in a mirror in that horrible bedroom.” Renko, before finding a flash drive, explains slowly and painfully to Hicks that hackers usually trade information on “a USB memory stick. A flash drive.”
All this is underlined by a score so poundingly oppressive, so atonally menacing, that it’s employed to build tension even in a crucial scene in which Renko … shuts a car door. Deyn, a former model who turned to acting full-time five years ago, is the most interesting thing about Hard Sun, with her close-cropped hair and determinedly placid air. But she has very little chemistry with Sturgess’s shifty Hicks, probably because their characters are continually being turned against each other. Amuka-Bird is committed in her steely portrayal of Morrigan, but her character allows her not much to work with.
This isn’t even to mention the violence, which begins with immolation and ends with nails being driven into eyeballs, and features a whole lot of slashing, beating, and throat-slitting in between. During its BBC run, Hard Sun managed to lose more than half of its 3.5 million viewers, possibly because the experience of watching dodgy cops and dodgy spies and even dodgier criminals all try to end each other just wasn’t a particularly fun one. It’s yet another disappointment of a British import, hinting that a pervasive sense of gloom has infected the nation’s cultural products recently, post-Brexit. “It’s sad, isn’t it?” one character says in the finale. “How you only really appreciate the value of something when it’s about to be lost.” This might be true for humanity, but can’t be said for Hard Sun.