In 1841, Edgar Allan Poe published the legendary “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” short story, and with it, he ignited a whole new literary genre. Since then, detective stories have filled our imaginations with powerful, inspiring characters, terrifying villains, and mysteries that just cannot be left unsolved.
The genre attracts audiences thanks to our will to uncover what should sometimes be left in the dark, and to make ourselves feel smart and useful. There’s nothing better than solving a case along with the detectives in the story, and sometimes, you even manage to solve it before they arrive.
This time, HBO Max brings a new detective story to their streaming service in the form of The Thaw. The series is written by Marta Szymanek and directed by Xawery Żuławski. The series comes in the form of six episodes with an average running time of 45 minutes each and stars Katarzyna Wajda, Malgorzata Gorol, Boguslaw Linda, Bartlomiej Kotschedoff, and Monika Krzywkowska, among others. The show tells the story of a detective trying to balance her home life and work life.
However, the discovery of the body of a young woman trapped under ice sends her into a case that hides some of the darkest secrets in the city of Szczecin, Poland.
HBO Max has been trying to become one of the most popular options when it comes to streaming content. Its library is among the best in the market, boasting a great number of classic movies and TV shows, alongside newer productions that still maintain the seal of quality that the HBO brand has been made famous for. The results have been somehow mixed, as the service is quite behind its competitors, Netflix, Disney+ or Amazon Video. So, how to fix this?
The answer is uncertain, but why not copy something that has been successful for others? By bringing top-tier productions from other countries into their service, Netflix has found significant success in both the international and domestic markets. What show could be the next Squid Game?
The Thaw isn’t the next Squid Game, that is for sure. It might not even be the next Mare of Easttown. However, the Polish detective show might be able to find its audience on the service. Thanks to an appealing mystery, some great acting and enough twists and turns to make audiences around the world watch until the end to find the answers to the case.
It’s great that HBO Max is giving more and more spotlight to productions outside the United States. Of course, some of them just can’t match the production values of Hollywood productions. Nevertheless, most of them compensate for this with more interesting and daring plots. Tackling themes and situations that would otherwise find no space in the normal TV landscape.
The Thaw is a dark series, both visually and thematically. Director Xawery Zulawski chose to create an ambiance that trapped the characters in the same way as the woman whose body’s discovery ignites the whole case.
The image of a woman trapped under ice, lifeless, brings to mind the now mythical discovery of Laura Palmer’s body at the beginning of Twin Peaks. And just like in the show, the discovery rolls down the hill and traps everybody around it, taking them on a journey of discovery of a secret, some people just don’t want to see come to the surface.
It is a typical set-up, but Xawery Zulawski and his team manage to execute it quite well. So, The Thaw might lack originality, but the talent displayed on the screen cannot be denied.
The light only shines brighter when it contrasts with the shadows. Because of that, The Thaw also takes its time focusing on Katarzyna, our main character, who not only has the role of a detective confronting the darkest corners of the city but also that of a mother.
A mother who needs to be strong enough for her daughter now that her husband is out of the equation. Katarzyna’s relationship with her daughter is the heart of the show, and the scenes where the two share moments serve to put things into perspective. Even heroes are pushed by more than just duty; more often than not, it is love that serves as the strongest of fuels.
And yet, The Thaw can become a bit overbearing and overacted at times, almost falling into melodrama territory. The emotions are too intense and the constraints too weak at moments. Outbursts are a normal part of everyday life, but the show might focus on them a bit too much to transmit a sense of desperation and tragedy across the screen.
Visually, the show can also become a bit tiresome. The coldness of the colors and the few variations of scenarios serve well to encase the characters and audiences inside their own ice cages, but visually it gives the show monotone visuals. Washed out cinematography has its place and time, but it could be overdone when doing it all the time, every second.
The Thaw has a slow start, but by the halfway point it finds its stride and finishes in a sort of satisfying way. This isn’t a Hollywood production, so don’t expect a Hollywood ending. Waiting for the rhythm to find its foot might be too much for some, but for those who can endure, it becomes a very entertaining watch.