The overt theme of episode 2 is protection of loved ones and how that’s best accomplished. Do you tell all and keep them close? Do you keep secrets and keep them at a distance? Do you lose hope and give up on life? Do you become so overprotective that you’re willing to cross any line to protect your own?
Do you stick your head in the sand and pretend the crisis isn’t happening for as long as you possibly can?
That’s the choice of most of the British people, as Elaine has the Hard Sun story published, but MI5 quickly has it debunked as a hoax. Elaine and Charlie are now relatively safe, but left with the underlying theme of the night, paranoia. The paranoia theme is really the stronger theme, since Elaine and Charlie don’t trust each other, Charlie’s family life is strained, Daniel is spiraling again, Grace continues to stalk them, and there’s a new serial killer on the lose, inspired by the Hard Sun story.
The cinematography is very Hitchcockian, with odd camera angles and shadows that distort people and make locations look sinister. Elaine and Charlie spend a lot of time looking sideways at each other, instead of straight on, slyly trying to determine if the other can be trusted, or if they can get away with their next lie. There’s a strange glow to the light, reminding us at all times that the Hard Sun is coming, and the changes have already begun.
The villain of the week looks like Harry Potter’s friend Hagrid gone bad, grimacing insanely at everyone he encounters. He even goes to Hagrid’s isolated cottage in the country. We’re reminded that a friendly giant turned into a scared, violent ogre is only the beginning of the troubles ahead.
The episode opens with Charlie calling Grace back to tell her that he couldn’t get the flash drive from Elaine. Grace apologizes, politely informing him that she won’t be able to help him, and a black car speeds up the block toward him. MI5 has known where they were since his first phone call, maybe since they accessed the file.
Charlie tries to run, but he can’t outrun goons and a car on no sleep for the second night in a row. They catch him and take him to a derelict building to meet Grace for a little interrogation, intimidation and torture. He’s zip tied to a plastic chair and Grace makes her entrance.
Meanwhile, Elaine finds reporter Will Benedetti at the Paladin Group. She plays the file for him and explains that she’s just ruined his life without his permission. Elaine doesn’t give a crap about informed consent when it comes to staying alive and serving the greater good. Will agrees to write the story. They clear out of the Paladin Group offices and Elaine gives him almost the entire file. She holds some back to use as leverage.
Grace tries to intimidate Charlie into giving her the file or giving up Elaine. He would easily do either, and tells her so, but he can’t. He’s been physically beaten on the way to Grace’s hide out, so the next step is for Grace to politely ask Charlie to not “make” her hurt his family. She shows him Simone on her laptop screen, through a view that could only be seen from Simone’s laptop camera.
Grace asks Charlie why he’d want to unleash the knowledge in the Hard Sun file into the world, with all of the craziness it would bring. She wants him to help his family by giving her what she wants. When he tells her, again, that he can’t, she tells her people to start with Simone. Charlie reminds her that Simone is pregnant, and Grace says, “Not for long.” Her goons pretend to be police officers sent to pick Simone up. With a husband who’s a cop, Simone doesn’t question them.
Grace orders her goons to kill Simone just as Elaine records and transmits a video letting the world and MI5 know that the Hard Sun file is somewhere safe, and Renko is taking care of her people as well. She announces that the story is about to be published in a newspaper. Grace calls off the hit on Simone, then has her people figure out which newspaper has accessed the file. They figure out that it’s the Paladin Group, but Benedetti isn’t in the office. He finishes his story and hits send before MI5 can figure out that it’s him or where he is.
Speech from Elaine’s video:
“My name is Elaine Renko. If you are watching this I’ve been murdered by the British State. During the course of a recent investigation, my colleague DCI Charlie Hicks and I came into contact with a classified government file, code named Hard Sun. In order to protect myself, DCI Hicks, and our loved ones, I’ve made a partial version of the Hard Sun dossier available to a newspaper of record. The state will do its best to suppress the release of this information. Anticipating this, a full copy of the Hard Sun dossier will be kept with this statement. This dossier contains a complete record of the British State’s Civil Defense emergency planning related to the Hard Sun event, including plans for distant control, the imposition of martial law, and provisions currently underway for the establishment of internment camps. If any harm should come to me, DCI Hicks, or any of our loved ones, this statement and the complete Hard Sun dossier will then be released to the media and the internet, and would be undeniable. Whatever you read, remember I have much more.”
Grace lets Charlie and Simone go, leaving both at inconvenient spots in the city. Simone is unceremoniously left standing on the side of the road, and Charlie is tossed, still hooded and with his hands tied, in the middle of the road in a busy tunnel.
After the credit sequence, it’s four weeks later. The Hard Sun file has been declared the biggest hoax since the fake Hitler Diaries in 1983. Will Benedetti has lost his job and his reputation. A conspiracy nut-Truther movement is growing up amongst the people who believe the contents of the file.
Daniel learns all of this as he watches Will interviewed on Hard Talk late one night. The host says that the internet is full of theories about what the extinction event will be caused by- a meteor, comet, or a catastrophic solar storm. So we know one part of the file that Elaine held back.
A large bearded man watches a Truther video on his laptop. He has photos of his wife and children next to the computer. When the video is done, he picks up a sledge hammer and gets up.
Every government agency is preparing for the Hard Sun. Humanity’s days on earth are numbered. We have 1,800 days, and our governments are spending those days lying to us. The first question to ask is: Would the government lie to you? And the answer is, of course. As far as our government is concerned, this topic must remain above Top Secret. Reality is broken, and truth must be hidden. And the masses need a teaching proportional to their limited knowledge. These fictions are necessary for the people and the truth becomes deadly for those whom they believe are not strong enough to contemplate it.
Elaine and Charlie stare at the MI5 building from across the river. Elaine says that MI5 is turning all of the leaks into conspiracy theories, folding and twisting the truth like it’s origami. Charlie replies that they think that they got it all under control, like they’ve put it all away in a box. But they’re wrong.
Charlie: You see the people who believe in it, the creeps and the nutters, the religious fanatics and the psychos, they’re all going to come crawling out of the woodwork. Oh, you know, it just makes my head hurt. I feel like I’ve just got to cram it all in. Just like I’m forcing myself to remember everything. You know, every detail. ‘Cause then all too soon it’s gonna be gone. I mean all you wanna do is protect the people that you love, so how are you supposed to deal with that, knowing that you can’t? Knowing that no one can. Ever. Five years. What’s the point?
Elaine: What’s the point? The point is everything you love is here now. That is all that matters.
Charlie: The funny thing is that there’s only one person that I can talk to about this on this entire planet, and that’s you. I mean I am lying to everyone on this earth but you. (He gives her a look that says a lot, none of it good, about what he thinks about the situation.)
While Charlie is telling Elaine about how his lack of control is causing him to unravel, Scary Hagrid, the bearded guy who watched the Truther video, has taken his trusty sledge hammer to a lovely home, made mostly of glass. We see the husband and wife settling down for the night in the bedroom when Scary Hagrid rings the doorbell. Husband answers the door, and Scary Hagrid hammers him in the head. The wife screams. This won’t end well.
Later in the evening, DCS Bell shows up at Elaine’s hotel room to have a look at her murder board and turn up the heat on her investigation. He tells Elaine that Charlie’s wife has left him, and asks why the investigation is taking so long. Elaine explains that there’s no evidence to connect him to the murder, only the motive of his affair with Butler’s wife, Mari. She accuses Bell of having already convicted Charlie in his own mind anyway, and asks why her investigation matters. He tells her that it matters because they gave her a deal. She gets them Charlie, they let Daniel go to the psych hospital instead of prison.
Charlie goes home to his empty house and calls Simone, who’s staying with her parents. They are gentle and loving with each other, but Simone refuses to come home until Charlie tells her who the people who kidnapped her were and what it was about. Charlie makes a half-hearted attempt at saying there was a brief threat to his life, but everyone is safe now. Simone can tell he’s lying, and doesn’t even engage. She ends the call with both of them nearly in tears. Charlie’s so upset that he goes straight to Mari’s house and is all over her as soon as the door is closed.
Daniel sits on the hospital roof and watches the sun rise, thinking deep and probably twisted thoughts.
The next morning, Charlie makes breakfast for Mari’s son Owen, then drops him off at school, before heading to the murder scene left by Scary Hagrid. When he arrives a little late for work, he tells his coworkers that Simone was having Braxton-Hicks contractions. Keith commiserates knowingly, since he’s the father of six. Everyone asks if Simone’s okay.
Then they go upstairs to the master bedroom/murder scene. The victims are Dominic Vaughn and Sabina Kesinovic, a married couple who also ran a PR firm and were workaholics. Dominic’s arms and legs are broken and he’s sitting duck taped to a chair. Sabina is naked, sprawled across the bed, face down, and was raped. Elaine and Charlie guess that the murderer has recently lost some male status role and knew the victims, probably through work.
Elsewhere, a mom is preparing for work when her two kids, Adam and Julie, bring her a birthday card. While she’s reading it, the doorbell rings. It’s her ex-husband, Scary Hagrid, whose name is actually Chris, there to wish her a happy birthday. He asks about the kids, but the mom, Maggie, says it’s time for school. Chris also asks her if she’s read any of the Hard Sun links he’s sent her. When she says no and begins to get annoyed, he leaves, saying it doesn’t matter.
Mari is at the library picking up books for her psychology classes when Grace approaches her, pretending they know each other. Grace knows details about Mari’s life, and carries on a one-sided conversation. Then she asks Mari to deliver a message to Charlie. As soon as Grace is gone, Mari calls Charlie. He’s in the car with Elaine and can’t really talk. The message was to tell Charlie that, “Renko knows what you did to Alex Butler and why.”
Charlie gets off the phone as quickly as possible, and gives Elaine some paranoid glances. Elaine is glancing at him, wondering what he’s talking about. She asks him if there’s a problem. He says yeah, his wife knows something’s wrong, but he doesn’t know what to tell her. Elaine answers, “That’s easy. Tell her a lie.” Charlie says, “Yeah, well, I don’t want to lie to her. I love her.” He manages to say it with a straight face, too. But then, he’s an accomplished liar with a lot of practice.
They arrive at the murder victims’ office. Daniel tries to call Elaine, but she rejects the call. He doesn’t leave a message. Maggie pops out of a stairwell to greet the detectives. She’s an executive who works for the victims. When she hears the news, she becomes so upset that she might be going into shock, and asks to go to the ladies room to splash water on her face. She vomits once she gets there.
The rest of Maggie’s family is preparing a birthday party for her when Chris buzzes at the door. He shoves his way in and takes them hostage, then calls Maggie, to let her know. He warns her not to call the police, and brags about killing Dominic and Sabina. He made Dominic watch the rape as revenge for Dominic sleeping with Maggie, Chris’ wife. He claims that raping Sabina was the first time he was ever unfaithful to Maggie. ProTip: Rape is not the same as a consensual affair between adults, no matter who else feels like they own the adults. Marriage isn’t slavery (anymore) (in the Western world).
Chris ends the call saying that Maggie has half an hour to get to the apartment.
Keith and Mishal discover that Sabina was consulting a divorce lawyer because of Dominic’s affair with Maggie. When they check the bathroom, Maggie’s already gone.
Maggie arrives at the apartment to find the adult members of her family brutally murdered. While she’s still taking that in, she receives a message showing that Chris has the kids. He’s taken the kids to an isolated house in the country where they’ve stayed before. He plans to “help them sleep,” so that they never have to suffer through the coming events. He says it’s all Maggie’s fault, for throwing their family away.
Maggie asks what she can do, and Chris tells her to come to the place where they made Jessica. She goes. Charlie and Elaine reach her family’s apartment not long after her, and find the bodies. Keith and Herbie are at Chris’ apartment, where he has most of the apartment, especially the main wall, dedicated to the Hard Sun theory. The detectives realize what’s happening.
Charlie pulls Elaine aside. He explains that they have to make a decision. He’s seen cases like this one before, where the husband kills the wife and kids, then himself. If they bring in the SWAT teams and the hostage negotiators, it’ll spiral out of control. If they want to have a chance at saving everyone, he and Elaine should go in alone, quietly, right now.
My own limited experience and observations agree with him. It’s a bold move, but a large police presence will put Chris on the defensive in a way that he won’t be talked down from, and no one will be able to get into the house until it’s too late. Elaine thinks about it, then agrees to Charlie’s plan.
They follow Maggie out to the country, where the mist has settled like toxic, poisonous steam. The toxic elements of the story are rising. 😉 Daniel tries to call Elaine, again, and she doesn’t answer, again. He’s getting quite frustrated with her lack of response, and a frustrated Daniel isn’t a good thing.
Elaine spots Maggie’s car parked in the woods. They park and follow her, with Elaine making sure she has her brass knuckles and Charlie taking the taser gun. They see Maggie after a minute, and Elaine chases her, tackling her when she runs from them. They do a quick good coop-bad cop on her to convince her to let them help her and the kids.
Then all three approach Scary Hagrid’s Haunted Cottage of the D*mned. Maggie goes toward the front door, but stops about 100 feet away. Charlie and Elaine hide behind a fallen tree near the back door. Maggie calls Chris to tell him she’s there, and lures him out the front door, while Elaine and Charlie go in the back.
Maggie tries to keep Chris talking while Charlie and Elaine go up to the bedroom to get the kids, who are drugged to sleep. They carry the kids downstairs, as Chris makes Maggie move closer to him and drop to her knees. Just as Elaine carries Adam out the back door, he wakes up and yells for his dad, frightened that he’s being taken by a stranger. Elaine tries to explain that she’s a police officer, but he’s a drugged, sleepy child, so it doesn’t sink in.
Chris turns to go respond to Adam, and Maggie throws a rock at his head. Charlie and Elaine keep running with the kids, until they hear Chris firing shots at Maggie. Charlie hands off Jessica, who’s now awake, to Elaine, and tells her to get both kids to safety, then call in the situation.
From here on out, the writers turn Elaine into a plot device and have her act out of character. The woman who beat up Charlie and made the Hard Sun file public; the woman who made a deal to keep the son who tried to burn her alive out of jail and still calmly visits him; the woman who’s stoically investigating her partner while putting her life in his hands everyday, can’t manage to make the 5 minute walk/run back to the car with the 2 kids, on his orders. Instead she stops for no reason, comforts Jessica, and loses Adam. 🤦🏻♀️🤦🏻♀️🤦🏻♀️
All she had to do was keep going, get to the car, drive a couple of miles away and call in the crisis. Then they’d have back up, which would be helpful, now that the kids are safe. Maggie’s car is still there for Charlie and Maggie to get away in, if necessary. It would not have been cowardly or heartless for her to leave Charlie behind in order to save the kids and call for backup.
But now she has to go look for Adam. And she can’t see giant Scary Hagrid right in front of her while she’s looking for Adam, so he bashes her in the face with his gun and prepares to shoot her. But look, Adam has suddenly appeared! Elaine barely fights back, then gives up and yells for Adam not to watch Daddy turn into a murderer. Adam stands next to a tree and looks for all the world like a child possessed by a demon, before he runs away to find Mummy, who will undoubtedly eventually discover she’s raised Rosemary’s Baby.
The camera moves over to show us Charlie, Rosemary’s Baby all grown up, who’s been hiding behind a tree instead of jumping in and helping Elaine. Okay, that explains a lot. The notes from the network and test audiences said that Elaine was too tough and emasculated Charlie too much in the pilot, so she has to be taken down a peg or ten in this episode, and be shown being both stupid in the field and nurturing and womanly.
Charlie stands next to the tree until after Chris fires the gun at Elaine. He thinks she knows that he killed Alex Butler and why, remember, so this would be the perfect opportunity to get rid of her. The gun misfires, so he walks slowly up behind Chris. Elaine finally sees him, and you can see on his face that he’s trying to decide what to do. Chris prepares to shoot Elaine again. At the last second, Charlie shouts and fires the taser, then beats Chris until Elaine stops him, reminding him Adam is watching.
Once Maggie and her kids are reunited and the police backup take over, Elaine tells Charlie that he should tell Simone the truth about Hard Sun. He asks her what the truth is. Elaine says she doesn’t know, he can make something up, but he needs to talk to his wife.
Charlie visits Simone that night, and makes his case:
“I’ve been in the country. I hate the country. It smells and things live in it. Look, I just want to say one thing, alright? Then I’m going to go home, I’m going to have a shower, and then play on my X-box. Yeah, I bought an X-Box, by the way. Listen to what I got to say, okay? I’m not trying to be a cavemen. It’s not a man or woman thing. It’s a love thing. Does that make sense? Simone, look at me. You are safe, because I will protect you, no matter what. You, Hailey, and the bump. And as long as I draw breath, no one will hurt you, ever. And if they try, I’ll kill them. I need you to understand that. So when do I get to bring you home? How about tomorrow morning? Please?”
Elaine is staring at her murder board and gets simultaneous calls from Daniel and her boss. She chooses DCS Bell. He tells her that they’ve found the evidence she wanted against Charlie for Butler’s murder. He’s sending it through to her.
Put off by his mother again, Daniel finally gives up and leaves a message:
Mum, I saw this thing on the news, this thing about the sun. And the next day or whatever, people all over the TV were saying it was a like mistake or whatever. That makes sense. But because I’ve got this thing, in my head, when I look in their eyes, when they say it’s not true, well, I think they’re lying. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, actually. It’s kinda been keeping me awake. It’s just like- why would they lie? You know? But yeah. I guess you’re at work or whatever. We’ll speak later, yeah? It’s Daniel by the way. Bye.
He hangs up. An orderly steps in to tell him he has a visitor who’s not his mother. It’s Grace.
Hard Sun is coming.
Technology and Powerlessness
Elaine and Charlie pull off a pretty standard rescue procedure, with Chris looking and acting like a murderous psychopath who’s lured his victims to the iconic horror movie house at the end of the lane. The cool addition to the proceedings is the cell phones. The house barely looks like it has electricity, Chris’ gun looks like it’s 100 years old, while the only other serious weapon or technology is a taser. Otherwise the scene could be taking place 100 years ago.
Except that the four adults communicate by texting and phoning each other, even though they’re never more than 100 yards from each other. It’s an interesting way to bring the modern world into the natural and historical worlds. Much like Norman Bates in Psycho, Chris has become frozen at a certain point in his history and is willing to kill the people he loves to protect that history the way it exists in his mind.
The phones keep Chris and Maggie at a distance, so he never has to confront the reality of her. He can use technology to pretend to have a relationship with her, just like he sends the kids outside, then drugs them to sleep, so that he doesn’t have to face his inadequacies as a father. All the while he tells himself that he’s protecting his family. Take note, Charlie. That X-Box isn’t a good sign…
The phones, and, to a lesser extent, the taser, also bring up the question of whether Hard Sun does have anything to do with our dependence on technology and overuse of resources. Humans have already affected the ozone layer of the atmosphere with our products, maybe something worse happened that’s destroyed the ozone layer completely, like a military test gone wrong or an industrial accident.
There’s also the issue of whether a workaround could be found, if everyone was told everything about Hard Sun now and set loose on the problem. Some of the biggest developments of the 20th and 21st centuries have been made by kids in basements and garages. Grace and her ilk are stopping that from happening. Technology is being used to communicate, but also to stop real communication from happening, just like in real life.
As an American, it’s really weird to get used to police officers without guns. I can’t decide what I think of it, but it’s frustrating when I expect them to shoot, and they don’t, or when they do it’s just a taser on a string. Especially when Elaine was about to die. Charlie likely used the excuse that he didn’t have a firearm, while Chris did, to avoid intervening quickly to help her.
But that’s because of his own issues. Maggie picked up a rock and threw it at Chris when her children’s lives were at stake, even though she was up against the same man and the same firearm. She was braver than Charlie, and didn’t let her lack of modern technology stop her.
After all those corridors and locks Elaine had to go through to get to Daniel, he’s able to get to the roof unsupervised? What’s the point of the locked ward? All he has to do is head to the roof, then shimmy down a drain pipe, tie his torn sheets into a rope or jump onto a dumpster to escape. Between being an escape artist and a lie detector, Daniel is the super antihero of this show. Elaine is almost a superhero, but she has the usual hobbling of her abilities that’s forced on women so that they don’t outshine the men.
Men, Protection, and Control
Charlie bookends the episode by describing to both Elaine and Simone the thought process by which middle class white men become violent criminals. They are taught that their value is as protectors (and sexual conquerers, but that’s another subject), meant to protect people through being in control of situations, and to control situations through power, money, violence and sheer force if necessary.
When none of those solutions work, or they lose access to those solutions, they become distraught and angry, lashing out at themselves or others in their powerlessness. This includes both British and American men. There are many, many studies that show this, but here’s one round-up that explains part of it in relation to guns, which can be extrapolated to include other weapons and forms of violence.
Elaine, who is a practical woman and never had the luxury of thinking she was in control, especially since she was a teenage victim of rape, tries to convince Charlie to value the moment, which is all that we ever really have anyway. This is also what Grace, another woman, is trying to do by stopping the information from getting out. Grace wants to protect society from the worst of what will come for as long as possible, thereby allowing people to enjoy a stable present without worrying about the future.
Meanwhile, Scary Hagrid takes the “distraught white man who’s lost his power and control” trope to the extreme. Hard Sun and other apocalyptic conspiracies become the externalization of their hopelessness. Instead of lashing out angrily at the world, Scary Hagrid targets the specific people who emasculated him, then moves on to his version of protection, planned mercy killings of his wife, children, and then himself.
It’s a complicated subject on a show like this. Sparing loved ones prolonged suffering before certain death is a longstanding disaster and apocalyptic trope. Scary Hagrid jumps the gun, since there’s still years left on the timeline, and he goes on an unnecessary, brutal murder spree first. That’s too extreme. But, if this show lasts 5 seasons, a parent helping a child to fall asleep then die painlessly instead of facing a horrific death might become an action that can be viewed as protective.
Chris may be the first person on this show to act on the idea, but he probably won’t be the last. As far as I can remember, The Walking Dead has only shown the aftermath of that situation, but it’s shown similar situations in real-time. Post-apocalyptic films have also dealt with families making that choice.
Just What Does Hitchcockian Mean in Relation to Hard Sun, Fear and the Pre-Apocalypse?
Earlier, I mentioned that the show is Hitchcockian in its filming techniques, but it’s following Hitchcock’s techniques in other ways as well. Luisa Luiz’s video essay Alfred Hitchcock and The Art of Pure Cinema- Art Regard explains what makes a film Hitchcockian.
John Fusco summarized her essay into four main points:
1- Hitchcock uses film as a place for audiences to project their anxieties- Hitchcock’s characters have very personal fears that are timeless, and also reflect societal fears according to the overall zeitgeist of the times. Hard Sun doubles down on both in this episode, placing an overwhelming emphasis on the potential loss of societal stability because of the extinction event or MI5’s actions when trying to contain knowledge of the event, and on the safety of loved ones, especially children and the elderly, in the face of an uncertain future. The fear of how we can keep the most vulnerable among up safe is universal. Fears of the breakdown of societal stability are a very 21st century phenomenon, as evidenced by the popularity of shows with apocalyptic themes.
2- Hitchcock’s films were a way for him to deal with his own worst fears- Hitchcock mined his own psyche for material, exploiting his dreams, childhood fears, and repressions. His fears turned out to be similar to everyone’s fears. Hard Sun and Luther creator Neil Cross does the same thing. He told a reporter, “The truth is, I don’t write what I’d like to do to other people, I write about what I’m scared other people might do to me.”
He’s also afraid of the dark. “If I’m alone in the house I have to have every light on. I’m out of my mid-forties now and when I was in my 20s and winsome with a full head of hair, to say I was afraid of the dark might have seemed a bit cute and characterful. But now I’m like this broken old man, it’s embarrassing.” Like Hitchcock, who included his fear of heights in his film Vertigo, Cross, understands that audiences will connect with a film that has a more personal, authentic touch. Hard Sun uses odd lighting and deep shadows to emphasize the concept of the coming extinction event. Some of the scariest threats to the protagonists come at night, in the dark, or in artificial dark, like when Charlie is hooded and kidnapped by the MI5 goons.
3- Hitchcock knows you’re watching- Voyeurism is a hallmark of Hitchcock’s films. With MI5, paranoia, secrecy and various murder investigations being important aspects of Hard Sun, it can’t help but become part of Hard Sun as well. Everyone is always watching everyone else, looking for the flash drive, trying to determine their motives and loyalties, as part of an investigation, as part of the crime they are committing. Most of the observing is done illegally, or off the books, or, at the very least, creepily. As viewers, we watch through windows, see the person reflected in a mirror, look through the car windshield as Elaine and Charlie drive, see conversations on phone, computer or TV screens, view from a distance, or hear conversations before we see them, as if we’re eavesdropping. We’re made complicit in the crimes we watch committed, because we become the bystander who witnessed the crime, but did nothing. We’re kept alienated and othered, just like the characters who are too paranoid to trust anyone.
4- Hitchcock mastered every tool at his disposal- This is all about attention to detail. Hitchcock was an auteur, a filmmaker known for his unique artistic vision and style. Neil Cross is still relatively early in his career as a filmmaker, but he’s achieved critical success with earlier projects like Luther. Hard Sun’s first two episodes give us a good set up for the series and the season, but it’s too soon to tell what direction the show will take, or how successful the filmmaking will be long term. The attention to detail is there so far, as I discussed in the first three points, but it needs to be continued and expanded on for the rest of the season and series. And the characterization needs to be consistent, not changed to service the plot of an episode.
I think the four aspects in this list may be part of why reviewers who binge watched the show quickly dismissed it with lame excuses like “it’s too violent” or “the science/police work/whatever doesn’t seem realistic.” As if those don’t apply to most of television and film.
Cross uses the same techniques as Hitchcock to subconsciously prey on universal fears. Techniques like strange angles of multiple stories of stairs. Slightly off camera angles and facial expressions, especially when the characters are in cars. The frequent shots of a sun that’s too big and bright, but the characters don’t notice. This can be compared to the way Hitchcock shot birds doing otherwise normal activities in the film of the same name.
Everything about the show gives the sense that the future, the outdoors, and forward motion are in some way unsafe and unsettling. While we know other people can’t be trusted and have good reasons for that opinion, we’re not quite sure why the other three feel so off. Like the birds, the sun will stop being just slightly off and become overtly dangerous eventually. Hitchcock and Cross use the camera, sound and editing to mimic our subconscious ability to recognize patterns before we see them consciously.
Hard Sun makes the viewer uncomfortable in ways that can be difficult to articulate after one quick viewing. The fears it addresses are fears most people avoid facing directly, even in fiction. Hence the popularity of post-apocalyptic shows, which feel outside the realm of immediate possibility. They turn into horror and action shows most of the time, rather than psychological thrillers that go deep inside the minds and motivations of the characters.
The best post-apocalyptic shows do focus on character, but their characters have survived the worst. Though it may sound strange to say it, the mere fact that there are survivors having their stories told inherently makes post-apocalyptic stories more hopeful than pre-apocalyptic stories.
Pre-apocalyptic characters have yet to face their mass extinction event, and the odds are stacked against their survival. For those individuals, the apocalypse is likely the end. Besides forcing us to face our own uncertainty and mortality, it’s difficult to face that level of mortality for characters we’ve grown to know and love.
The disintegration of everyday life as we know it will surely happen eventually in real life, too, whether it’s in 10 years and because of new inventions or in 50 years because of climate change. People already feel the pressure of the societal upheavals of the last 50 years. The worry that they’ll/we’ll be left behind, symbolically or realistically facing extinction, is tough to face. Better to call the TV show a bad show.
It’s the End of the World as We Know It Part 1
I’ve been looking over what can be seen of the documents in the Hard Sun file, and thinking about what little has been said about it. Over the next few recaps I’m going to explore some possible causes of the Hard Sun event.
Here is the first, and my personal favorite, a Gamma Ray Burst. For episode 3, I’ll look at the next most likely explanation, accelerated solar evolution. If you’d like to play along at home, or weigh in with your own ideas, or correct my bad, vague scientific interpretations, Wiki has a couple of articles that can help get you started: Future of Earth and Extinction Event. Or you can check out the PBS Space Time video series for descriptions of the ways cosmic influences could end us all. It’ll be fun, really!
Travelers viewers take note- a Gamma Ray Burst could also explain the ice age they are experiencing in the future. Sometimes I think Travelers might exist in the same universe as Hard Sun.
One way that Hard Sun could happen:
A Gamma Ray Burst causes changes in the atmosphere over the course of several years that deteriorate the ozone layer, increasing the level of UV light that reaches the surface of the earth. This slowly kills everything that’s sensitive to UV light, including the plankton in the ocean that’s the bottom of the food chain, and triggers global cooling, possibly even an Ice Age.
If scientists in the Hard Sun universe initially discovered that a GRB had hit the earth from outside the solar system, and scientists were beginning to see its effects, the Hard Sun name would refer to the increase in solar UV radiation experienced on earth. In this scenario the enlarged sun graphics are creative license meant to illustrate the increased effects of the sun. It could also be that the changes in the atmosphere would cause light to refract differently, changing the appearance of the sun to our eyes, not the actual size of the sun.
This also gets around the issue critics have had with our inability to predict solar events, not that I think that matters in a fictional alternate universe, but this theory is compatible with current science. Scientists believe that 450 million years ago a mass extinction and an ice age were caused by a GRB, so this isn’t even a hypothetical scenario.
The world of Hard Sun, season 1, would be on its way to becoming a cold, nearly lifeless desert, similar to the world of Blade Runner 2049. It would still be livable, if people found ways to survive the ice age and the increased UV radiation, such as living mostly underground and in bomb shelters/bunkers. Like I said in my episode 1 recap, this is a cyberpunk origin story. The people would require technology to survive, and many would die, but it would be doable.
This also fits with the graphics in the Hard Sun file, which show mass extinctions, but not the complete destruction of the earth or utter extinction of all life. Civilization as we know it would end, or at least change drastically, but life would go on, as it has after all of the other mass extinctions. It would however take millions of years for life to on earth to recover.