It's fitting that Low Winter Sun, AMC's gritty adaptation of the 2006 British miniseries about crooked cops, is premiering immediately after Breaking Bad this Sunday. Both shows are examinations of deeply flawed men fumbling their way through situations that cause both the characters and viewers to question their own notions of morality.
The pilot episode (10/9c, AMC) opens with the brutal murder of Detective Brendan McCann (Michael McGrady) — a dirty cop who we later learn is the target of a corruption investigation — at the hands of his own partner, Joe Geddes (Lennie James), as well as another officer, Frank Agnew (Mark Strong). Frank and Geddes later cover up the crime to make it look like a suicide, but their plan quickly starts to unravel, thanks to suspicious members of the police force — led by smart, pesky Internal Affairs agent Simon Boyd (Breaking Bad alum David Costabile) — as well as loose ends in the form of McCann's ties to the criminal underground.
"It's a fantastic story that just meanders in and out of truth and lies and possibility and probability," Strong, who also played Frank in the original series, tells TVGuide.com. "Every week, you meet them and they're working out how the hell they're going to keep going, how the hell they're going to do it without being discovered, how they're going to keep this terrible secret, how they're going to get people off their backs, what they've got to do to survive. ... But at the same time, they've got people who rely on them. And it's a very, very complicated world that is set up.
"The lines are completely blurred between the cops and the crooks and the good and the bad," he continues. "Nobody can take the moral high ground in this story. It's all about a mishmash of just trying to get by and doing the best you can."
Also complicating matters is the fact that Frank begins to question Geddes' motivations upon learning that he knew about the investigation into McCann. Does Geddes have reason to be worried as well? And if so, how far would he go to protect himself?
"Joe Geddes is fighting for Joe Geddes," James tells TVGuide.com. "It's a very selfish act that he has undertaken. ... It's a desperate act that he commits. I don't think he gives much thought to the effect it's going to have on Frank, just in the same way that I don't think Frank gives much thought as to whether or not Joe is telling him the truth, or whether or not he can trust this man he's about to enter into this messed-up pact with."
Suffice it to say, the Geddes/Agnew partnership, which Strong likens to a "bad marriage," turns the notion of a buddy cop pairing on its head. "They're thrown together, because they're the only two people who really know what's happened," Strong explains. "Frank's got to cope with the idea that he now can't tell anybody that Geddes was responsible, because it implicates him. ... So he's kind of trapped."
Viewers also learn that Geddes, before becoming a cop, was on track to become a priest. ("Either he likes confessions, or he wants to protect and serve," quips James.) By the end of the second episode, it's clear that he has some demons of his own to deal with.
"On the simplest level, I think Geddes thinks by killing Brendan that he's going to wipe his slate clean and he's going to be a good man," says showrunner Chris Mundy (Criminal Minds). "I think he sincerely believes that if he does this one horrible act, he gets a do-over. ... When he tries to do good, everything just goes to hell. And when he does bad, everything kind of works out for him. And he's trying to reconcile those two things."
But while Geddes is clearly the mastermind of the crime, it's Frank who seems to have the more personal vendetta against McCann. In order to goad Frank into killing Brendan, Geddes tells him in graphic detail exactly how McCann murdered and dismembered Frank's girlfriend, Katia. (Or did he?)
"It's a massive choice that [Frank] has to make," Strong says of his character's decision. "Joe Geddes is like Mephistopheles in his ear and it's like a Faustian pact that he makes with him. They do this thing and then from then on they're in an unholy alliance."
Viewers only get brief glimpses of Frank's relationship with Katia in the first episode, but will learn more as the show goes on. "Frank needs Katia," Strong says. "He needs another shot at life. This was in his mind his final chance ... to really have happiness in a f----d up world that he lives in."
For the American version, the world that Frank inhabits is based in Detroit, as opposed to Edinburgh.
"I think [the setting] needed to be a place that is struggling," Mundy says of the decision to move the series to the Motor City. "There's a fierce pride in that city ... but it's also broken in so many ways. And that just kind of describes our characters to a T. The people that choose to stay and plant a flag are very strong, stubborn, prideful group of people. And I think it was important to have that kind of place. ... It just feels sort of acutely American at the moment. It's the only place it could be in my mind."
As the season progresses, more and more connections are revealed among the major players and the differentiation between "good guys" and "bad guys" will become even more nebulous, Mundy teases. "It's a series of people trying to make the best decision out of a bunch of lousy choices," he says. "And each bad decision they make leads to lousier decisions and lousier choices, and they're just trying to scrape by to get back to zero. It doesn't matter if they're cops or criminals or someone in between."
Watch the first five minutes of the Low Winter Sun season premiere below. Will you tune in on Sunday?
Low Winter Sun premieres Sunday at 10/9c on AMC.
(Additional reporting by Adam Bryant)