SERIES REVIEW – In 1841, Edgar Allan Poe published the legendary short story “Murders in the Rue Morgue”, launching a whole new literary genre. Since then, detective stories have filled our imaginations with powerful, inspiring characters, fearsome villains and unsolvable mysteries. Polish director Xawery Zulawski has directed such a tastefully noir crime series.
The genre attracts audiences thanks to its desire to reveal what should sometimes be left in the dark and make us feel clever and valuable. There’s nothing better than solving a case with the detectives in the story, even though sometimes you solve it before they find out.
This time on HBO Max, we’re writing about a Polish detective story series called The Thaw. The series consists of six episodes with an average running time of 45 minutes and it stars Katarzyna Wajda, Malgorzata Gorol, Bartlomiej Kotschedoff, Boguslaw Linda, and Monika Krzywkowska, among others. The series tells the story of a female detective who tries to balance her home and work life, while raising her child with her father-in-law and trying to come to terms with the recent death of her police officer husband, who allegedly committed suicide. The Thaw is written by Marta Szymanek and directed by Xawery Żuławski.
However, the discovery of the body of a young woman trapped under ice throws her into a case that hides the darkest secrets of the Polish city of Szczecin.
The Poles are here too
HBO Max is trying to become one of the most popular options when it comes to streaming content. Its library is one of the best on the market, boasting a wide range of classic films and TV shows alongside newer productions that still retain the quality stamp for which the HBO brand has become famous. The results are somewhat mixed, as the service still lags slightly behind its competitors, Netflix, Disney+ or Amazon Video. How can this be remedied?
There is no sure answer to that, but why not copy something successful elsewhere? By bringing other countries’ top productions to its service, Netflix has achieved significant international and domestic success. Among them, there are a growing number of Eastern European series, to mention the Hungarian The Informant.
However, we are talking about the Polish series, which is pretty standard on Netflix and quite good quality. There is no need to complain about The Thaw either: this HBO Polish crime series could also find its audience on the service, thanks to a mysterious and tough murder and baby kidnapping case, some great acting and exciting twists that keep viewers riveted to their seats for six episodes.
It’s a really good move on the part of HBO Max to shine more and more of the spotlight on productions outside the United States. Of course, some of them simply can’t match the production quality of the Hollywood series. Nevertheless, most of them compensate with interesting and more daring plots than usual. They deal with themes and situations that would otherwise have no place in the usual TV offer.
The Easing is a dark film noir in every sense of the word, both visually and thematically. Xawery Zulawski (son of Andrzej Żuławski, the famous Polish director who died in 2016) has captured this mood extremely well in his series, thanks to the gritty murder mystery and the often hopeless or desperate situation of its protagonists and their faltering supporting characters, who are often as trapped as the woman whose body is discovered.
The image of the lifeless woman trapped under the ice at the beginning of Twin Peaks makes us remember the now mythical discovery of Laura Palmer’s body. And just as in that series, this discovery triggers not only an investigation, but also a chain of events that puts almost everyone in a tight spot, while dark secrets come to light that some people try to keep at all costs – even at the cost of more murder attempts or corruption.
Obligatory clichés, familiar phrases
Typical film noir set-up, but Xawery Zulawski and his team use the usual clichés quite professionally. So, while Mellowing may lack originality, the talent of the director and his actors make this Polish series captivating and engaging.
Eschewing also takes the time to focus on our protagonist Katarzyna Wajda (played by the classically beautiful and extremely charismatic Katarzyna Wajda), who not only plays the role of a female detective confronted with the darkest underbelly of the city and its criminals, but also that of a mother.
A mother who must be strong enough for her daughter now that her husband and the father of her daughter are dead. The relationship between Katarzyna and her daughter is the heart of the series, and the scenes in which the two share moments together serve to put things in a new light. Even the heroes are driven by more than duty; more often than not, it’s love that serves as the most powerful fuel.
Among the cast, it is also interesting to note the name of Linda Boguslaw, who played the chief prosecutor in several Hungarian films in her youth, including Eskimo Woman in Cold and A Man for a Delicate Job in the 1980s.
Too much drama
Outbursts are a normal part of everyday life, but the series focuses on them perhaps too much to convey a sense of despair and tragedy through the screen. Unfortunately, Eschlösülés can become a little overblown and overplayed at times, almost descending into melodrama. The emotions are often too intense, and the characters, consisting mainly of detectives and policemen, seem to forget that they are supposed to be concentrating on a murder case.
Visually, the series can also become a little tiresome. Dark (evening) scenes are seen quite often, but when it is daytime, the faded colours do not alleviate the constant bleakness of the atmosphere. Although this is a typical feature of film noirs, it still gives the series a monotonous visual appearance for six episodes. After all, this is a series and not a film noir of one and a half hours…
The Thaw starts slowly but finds its rhythm halfway through and finishes very satisfyingly. Anyone who can stand the extremely dark, often suffocating Eastern European atmosphere (which is also typical of our small country), which is otherwise an excellent fit for film noir, and the struggle or futile struggles of the characters in seemingly hopeless situations, depressed or downcast, will enjoy this series. However, those who are more open to the more colourful Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul or Ozark, and less open to such things might better skip this depressing Eastern European crime series.