My review of season 1 is HERE.
Hard Sun is the code name for a secret government file of documents that show the progress of a world-wide extinction level event occurring over the course of the next five years caused by changes in the sun. It’s also the code name for the event itself, which is already underway. Though there will be graffiti all over London that reads “Hard Sun Is Coming”, that’s not really true. Hard Sun is already here.
The government doesn’t want you to know that, though, and they’re willing to kill to keep the secret for as long as possible. Hard Sun, the TV show, begins with a government agent reading the Top Secret file in her office, her face turning ashen as she understands its implications. She is Grace Morrigan (Nikki Amuka-Bird), MI5 agent and one of our major characters.
Next, a woman walks home from work, then putters in her kitchen. She’s attacked from behind by a young man with a large kitchen knife. They have an all out brawl, with the woman fighting for her life. She’s had some self-defense training and holds him off for a while. Eventually he stabs her in the abdomen, then sends her smashing to the floor as she lands on her glass kitchen table top and shatters it.
Once she’s on the floor, the boy grabs a jug of gasoline and pours it over her, then the rest of the room. She tries to talk him out of it, calling him by name, Daniel, so he must be someone she knows. He turns on the burner on the gas stove, goes out the front door, and drops a lighted match in through the window.
Lucky for her, it doesn’t instantaneously explode the way these things usually do on TV. As the flames spread, she drags herself to the back door, and slips out just before the flames reach the stove and gas line. The force of the explosion when the fire does reach the stove throws her clear of the house. She lies on the ground and watches her house burn. There’s a Hard Sun metaphor in here somewhere. You’ll get it once you find out who Daniel is.
Eight months later, a robber dressed in full black cat burglar attire, from the knitted cap and scarf covering his face down to his shoes, uses the barrel of his gun to wake up a man named Nicholson. The burglar forces Nicholson to open his hidden wall safe, despite Nicholson complaining that someone will hurt him if he opens it. The burglar implies that he’ll do something worse.
The police raid the house as the burglar jumps over the back garden wall and runs. Once he gets to the sidewalk under a bridge, he stops and strips off his layer of black, revealing that he has jogging clothes on underneath. He shoves the outfit in a trash can, pours some lighter fluid in, and drops in a lit match, lighting it up. Then he puts on the backpack containing his loot and jogs away.
The next morning, the same man is in his kitchen making smoothies and watching the news. The police pulled off a city-wide raid of a crime gang known as the Nicholson syndicate during the night, arresting 15 people, some of them senior members. The burglar robbed one of those top members, Felix Nicholson. The police found $300k in cash, plus weapons, at his home. So what did burglar take?
The burglar, Charlie Hicks (Jim Sturgess), turns off the TV when he’s joined by his pregnant wife, Simone (Lorraine Burroughs), and stepdaughter, Hailey (Tamara Smart). He has a pleasant, comfortable, middle class family and lifestyle, not what you’d expect from someone who’s catburgling crimelords.
Sunny Ramachandran (Tom Reed) gets a call from one of his hacker contacts, saying he has new information to sell. We only hear Sunny’s side of the conversation, but Sunny tells his contact that the information is too high level and secret, they’ll get burned if they use it. The contact insists to Sunny that he’s found something big. Sunny asks, “What do you mean, “Hard Sun”?”
Charlie goes to work at the Lethe Street Police Station, where, we discover, he is a detective. Presumably not the most honest detective, since he moonlights as a burglar who steals evidence just before police raids that have been in the works for years. This morning, his boss assigns him a new partner, DI Elaine Renko (Agyness Deyn). Elaine is the woman who was attacked in the episode opening. Charlie and Elaine decide to go to a diner to get to know each other a little.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the city, a man falls from a balcony several stories up and dies when he is impaled in the branches of a tree. Sunny runs down the stairs of the building and outside to look at the body. Then he grabs a rocket-shaped flash drive from a wrist strap on the body, and runs away. We have our murder case for the episode.
At the diner, Charlie brings up that Elaine is the officer who was stabbed and had her house burnt down. He makes a little more tactless chitchat about her situation, then gets right down to his own paranoia and asks why she’s there. She denies knowing what he means, saying she goes where they send her. After all, they’ve both mentioned that there’s been a vacancy in his department.
She tells him that she knows that Alex Butler, who died, was his partner, and that he and Alex were close. It’s not her intention to replace Alex. She’s just trying to do her job. He agrees with all of that, including that she could never replace Alex. He gives her suspicious, penetrating looks the entire time.
Having established that they neither like nor trust one another, and that Charlie has no intention of ever trying to do either, they head out to the murder scene. The victim was named Lloyd Hammond, and he was on permanent sickness benefits for spectrum disorder. He threw himself from the 15th floor. Elaine informs Charlie that people on the milder end of the spectrum are more likely to be suicidal than people on the severe end. She has an interest in mental health issues, which he says makes sense for her.
Grace Morrigan is standing outside Hammond’s building, watching the investigation. She makes a call.
Up in Hammond’s apartment, DS Herbie Sarafian (Joplin Sibtain) and DS George Mooney (Adrian Rawlins) have already begun their investigation. They found the victim’s laptop open to child porn and assume he felt guilty and killed himself. Elaine points out that it’s odd that a guy with black walls, an Area 51 poster and a generally paranoid vibe would leave his laptop open and unlocked that way. Mooney and Sarafian tease her over being so observant, and she gives them grief back, then walks out.
Charlie follows, saying they were just sizing her up. She should take it as a complement. What he doesn’t say is that they were practically using a demeaning, sexist hazing ritual to do it, made even worse since she’s their superior officer. She’s probably had more than enough of that crap in her career. And life. And then been told she’s too sensitive and emotional when she objects. Guys, acting like sexist *ssholes toward women isn’t a complement, no matter how much you try to justify it with that excuse. But I digress.
Elaine asks Charlie if he’s also being a rude *ss to her because he’s just sizing her up. He says no, he doesn’t need to, then asks if she’ll drop him off someplace. She agrees, probably because she’s already had enough of him for one day.
Alex gets dropped off at the home of Mari Butler, his dead former partner’s widow, and mother of that partner’s child. He congratulates Mari on getting into graduate school for psychology, then tries to give her a thick envelope of cash. She won’t take his money, and he says it’s fine, he nicked it. She thinks he’s joking.
Then they start making out and he leads her up to the bedroom. Wow. This is the guy with the pregnant wife. How does he keep his life straight, especially since he’s operating on zero sleep?
When Charlie gets back to the office after his long lunch, he finds that the team has started a murder board. Elaine was right, the child porn scenario didn’t pan out once they examined the evidence more closely. It was obviously faked as a cover up, just as she suggested. Then Elaine suggested that they look at sealed records, and found that Hammond had hacked into NASA when he was a teen. He was an expert hacker and conspiracy nerd who lived like a hermit. Since the apartment showed no signs of forced entry, that only leaves a few likely suspects. The favorite is Sunny Ramachandran, who had a lot in common with Hammond and worked with him frequently.
They theorize that, since Sunny has been known to sell information, he must have killed Hammond for information that Hammond had recently hacked but didn’t want to make public. Hackers sell information using physical media, like a cd or flash drive, so that it can’t be hacked by other hackers. They’ll have to watch Sunny until he goes to meet the buyer.
Charlie puts two of the other members of the team, DS Keith Greener (Owain Arthur) and DS Mishal Ali (Varada Sethu) on the first watch for the stakeout. He and Renko will take second watch. In the meantime, Charlie goes to see his boss, DCS Roland Bell (Derek Riddell), to ask if Elaine has been made Charlie’s partner to investigate/observe him for Bell. Bell insists that it’s a normal transfer, and has nothing to do with Charlie’s history. Charlie doesn’t look convinced.
Elaine actually is investigating Charlie, though. She’s in her attic, with an extensive murder board set up, recording her current thoughts on the murder after spending a day with Charlie, the prime suspect, and the others in the office. Through her monologue we find out that Alex Butler was shot in the forehead on a bridge over a canal at night, from a distance of five feet. He, or his killer, was heard to say, “It’s not true, it is not!” just before the shot was fired.
She knows that Hicks is lying about a lot, and sleeping with Butler’s wife. She can also tell that he feels guilty about something, but she isn’t sure what that is yet. When she’s done, Elaine hops down through the ceiling panel into her hotel room (she must be on the top floor) gathers up her things, and heads out.
After she leaves, Charlie arrives. He uses his position as a detective to coerce the management into letting him into Elaine’s room. He searches her room, but doesn’t find anything. He doesn’t think to look up and check behind the ceiling panels, so her murder board is safe. He does open the room’s safe, which is empty except for a rude note saying “Hello and f*ck you!”
Elaine goes to a large hospital with several levels of security. After a long walk through various gates and locked doors, she reaches her destination. Daniel, the boy who attacked her, is brought out to see her. She says hello, and after a moment, he says, “Hello, mum.”
They sit at a table together and Elaine tries to chat. She tells him that she has a new job, so she can visit him now. Then she dumps out a bag of candy she brought for him, rambling on about not being sure what his favorites are. He eventually says he likes them and asks if he can have one. She says yes, he chooses something and eats it, and the visit seems successful.
Sunny sits in his apartment and stares at his phone and the flash drive he took from Hammond for a long time. He eventually decides to look at the files and plugs it in. It opens up to a file that’s called Hard Sun, which is classified. The file quickly cycles through all of its pages, and we can see flashes of hurricanes, giant solar flares, graphs with steep downward or upward trends, and documents with scary words and phrases that indicate doom and gloom is on the way.
Sunny slowly looks through it all. He starts drinking liquor straight from the bottle at some point. Then he breaks out a new burner phone and sim card to use to call one of his regular customers. They agree to meet at the regular place.
Elaine and Charlie take over the stakeout from Mishal and Keith. Bell calls Charlie to tell him that orders have come down from above to call off the investigation into Hammond’s death and to stop following Sunny. Charlie realizes immediately that the orders ultimately came from MI5. He assumes that MI5 would be embarrassed by the results of the investigation, and doesn’t think that should stop them from catching a killer. They decide to continue with the investigation anyway.
Sunny walks out onto the sidewalk at that moment, on his way to met with his client. He gets on a motor bike and takes off, with Elaine and Charlie following. They follow Sunny to a parking garage, where they find separate spots to watch from. When Sunny shows his buyer the Hard Sun file, the man attacks him, saying, “Why would you show me this? I’ve got children!”
That’s enough of an excuse for the detectives to jump in. They break up the fight and capture both men, even though Sunny tries to escape on his motorbike. Charlie questions the two men on their way back to the station. He wants to know what’s on the drive that makes it worth killing for, and made the buyer attack Sunny.
Sunny doesn’t answer, so Charlie takes a different approach, asking why Sunny killed Hammond, since Hammond was his friend. Sunny says that he loved Hammond. Hammond was so excited when he found the Hard Sun file. He thought they should leak it to everyone immediately, but Sunny wanted to stop and think about it first. They had a scuffle over the file, and before he knew it, Hammond just went over the side of the balcony.
Charlie still doesn’t get it, and decides to look at the file himself. The buyer tells him not to, while Elaine says, “Boss, chain of evidence.” She’s likely pointing out that if he opens the file now it amounts to evidence tampering, since they won’t be able to definitively document what was on the drive before he messed around with it, and what he might have added or deleted. Charlie plugs it in anyway.
Elaine realizes the light has been red for a very long time. Another car pulls up behind them, then someone shoots Sunny and the buyer in the head. Elaine starts to drive, but is blocked in. She throws her car into reverse and crashes into the other car as fast as possible, which incapacitates the people inside. It also temporarily kills her car, which Elaine tries start again.
Finally, it does start, but by then they are surrounded by multiple MI5 cars. They drive away as fast as possible, but are soon blocked in again, so they get out and run, chased by many MI5 goons. Once they reach a well lit and populated street, Charlie sets off some car alarms so that people will come to their windows. Charlie yells that they’re police officers who need backup. The citizens inside should call for backup using his name. That was quick thinking on Charlie’s part. (Or is it a common thing for British police to do, since they don’t have guns?)
Charlie continues to smash car windows, setting off car alarms and yelling to the neighborhood residents to photograph his and Elaine’s attackers. He and Elaine eventually must find the right car, maybe one without an alarm? They hop in and hotwire it, driving away just as the attackers surge on their new car.
MI5 cleans up the accident, welding the bodies of Sunny and the buyer into metal barrels to be disposed of. They burn Elaine’s car to destroy any evidence.
Charlie and Elaine drive for a few hours until they’re sure they’re safe. MI5 knows who they are, so they can’t go home or to work. They finally stop next to the river to get their bearings. Charlie decides that he has to know what’s in the file. Elaine doesn’t want to know, but Charlie plugs it in. They watch as the Hard Sun file plays, with the predicted megadeaths, crop failures, demand for body bags, and ultimately, the extinction level event. They are as devastated as everyone else, and as unwilling to believe it at first.
Charlie calls home from a nearby payphone to check in with Simone. Grace Morrigan answers, so Charlie asks her if the file is real. She apologizes for how the events of the night before were handled, but points out that he should have stopped the investigation when told to do so. Charlie keeps asking her if what it says in the file is true. Grace finally says yes. She asks for his help in keeping it secret. She has daughters, just like him, and it won’t help them to know about this. She’s holding Hailey and Simone. All he has to do to keep them safe is to bring her the flash drive. Just come home. She says it all in a calm, hypnotic voice. Charlie hangs up on her.
Elaine is waiting for him on the beach. Charlie tells her that he needs the flash drive to save Simone and Hailey. Elaine tries to get him to see that if he brings MI5 the flash drive they’ll all be killed, but he’s beyond reason. Charlie turns ugly in his fear for his family, and starts in on Elaine about Daniel, saying they’ll go after him next. Then he wonders how old Elaine was when she had him. 13 or 14? Was it incest? Rape? She doesn’t answer him, so he decides it was rape.
Elaine continues to try to reason with Charlie, trying to convince him that the only way to stay alive is to go public with the information. Then Grace would have no reason to kill them. But Charlie just keeps going on about Daniel, asking how many times he stabbed her, how much Daniel must hate her to do that to her, and what she did to Daniel to make him hate her that much. It’s not just unforgivable, it’s more misogyny from him, and he’s only saying it to make her lose control so that he can take the flash drive from her. He’s a deplorable human being.
They end up fighting anyway. She has her baton and brass knuckles, and is generally smarter than him. He’s used to being bigger and an intimidating cop and not having to work that hard. Elaine gets him to stay down pretty quickly.
She walks away and takes a cab to the Paladin News Group. We end with a montage. Charlie thinks about his family. Grace worries that the news will get out. Elaine makes her way to the newspaper filled with grim determination. David’s Bowie’s song Five Years, which inspired the series, plays over the visuals.
Somebody tell me if I’m wrong, but I believe Charlie’s rank, DCI= Detective Chief Inspector and Elaine’s rank, DI= Detective Inspector. Their boss, DCS Roland Bell, would be a Detective Chief Superintendent. The others on Charlie’s team have the rank of DS= Detective Sergeant.
I saw a review of Hard Sun in the Guardian, complaining that the show felt the need to overexplain things, as if its viewers were idiots. LOL. The thing is, the showrunners knew when they were making Hard Sun that it would also be on HULU, and we Americans would be idiots about Britishisms like Whitehall meaning MI5. Shockingly, not all Americans even know that MI5 is the British intelligence agency, but the James Bond films have made it a safe assumption.
Charlie is a resourceful, clever guy with absolutely no personal moral standards. He betrays everyone, even his closest loved ones, while telling himself that they are who he puts first. But, you have to admire the strategic thinking of a guy who’ll rob a crime boss moments before a police raid, so that the robbery will never be noticed by the crime syndicate or reported to the police, in order to use the untraceable cash to support his mistress, who is the widow of his dead best friend and police partner. He’d clearly thought that one through. You have to feel bad for his wife, though, who has no idea what kind of person she’s married to. Charlie is living a double, or maybe a triple, life. He talks a lot, but he’s very good at keeping his secrets and appearing to be an open book.
Elaine, on the other hand, is too loyal for her own good. Her son tried to kill her in a particularly brutal way, and she’s still trying to get him to like her. She keeps her secrets closed up tight, preferring to speak about her private life as little as possible.
Elaine crashing through the glass tabletop in her kitchen is a small cyberpunk touch in what generally has the look and feel of a standard gritty British police drama. At this point, you have to keep your eyes open to notice the dystopian future starting to bleed through. There are visual cues that the sun is getting hotter and fires are becoming more common. Elaine’s car went up in a flash. People are subconsciously noticing that something is off.
And we see those images from the Hard Sun file displayed on various forms of technology, over and over, this episode. Everyone who sees them reacts exactly the same way- as if their world has already ended. Then they die, or if they’re lucky, they have to go on the run. Their personal futures literally become dystopian. MI5 is foreshadowing the extinction level event by making almost everyone who sees or knows of the file extinct.
The Hard Sun file and the way MI5 has chosen to suppress it could turn Britain into an oppressive society, ruled by fear, where people are suddenly disappeared. You have to wonder what happened to the scientists who discovered the phenomenon and the others who researched its various implications. Are they dead now, or kept in hiding and isolation?
This entire episode is filled with instances of fear, intimidation and paranoia, starting with our introductions to the main characters. Then they quickly start lying, deflecting, and finding ways to cover up their vulnerabilities. Daniel is introduced as being violently criminally insane, making it hard to ever trust him, but, unlike the others, he reveals his vulnerability later in the episode. There’s a moment, just before he’s brought in to see Elaine in the hospital, where he’s behind a glass door that distorts his face, making him look slightly two-faced and strange. He’s symbolically of two minds, and you can’t predict which you’ll get.
Grace reveals her vulnerability the first time we see her in her obvious fear when looking at the Hard Sun file. She deals with her fear by trying to tightly control the thing she thinks she still can control, information, but it’s already too late. She’s a loyal government employee, but she’s likely gone beyond the bounds of her job with the murder of innocent citizens like the buyer.
Elaine and Charlie are both outsiders who appear to be insiders. They both have huge secrets and lead double, even triple, lives. They decide to continue the investigation even after they’re told to stop, and in that moment they move outside the law and lose the protection of their jobs. They become anti-heroes, and the shows begins to take on noir and cyberpunk characteristics.
What we are seeing is the origin story of a cyberpunk, noir dystopia. They may not have cybernetic implants, but their phones are key elements of the story, as is the hacking plot. MI5 acts as the evil, corrupt government organization that controls everything. Mari is the Femme Fatale. There are already enough plot arcs to keep the story complicated, some that are possibly connected.
Neil Cross wrote about his inspirations for Hard Sun for EW. Elaine and Charlie were inspired by Maddie and David from the 80s show Moonlighting, a couple who had terrific chemistry. Fans waited years for them to get together, then wished they hadn’t. Cross has always wanted to create a pair who were the opposite of Dave and Maddie- a pair who didn’t like each other and would never, ever be getting together, but absolutely had no choice but to trust each other and work together. I’m so relieved that there are no plans to saddle Elaine with Charlie romantically.