There’s something oddly comforting about the arrival of another season of Cardinal, almost like the return of an old friend: regular readers will possibly recall my reviews of seasons one and two of the show, and I’m pleased to report this third season is surprisingly good- much better, infact, than season two. Indeed, on reflection this third season might actually cast dubious events of that sophomore season in a fairer light, chiefly that of the suicide of Cardinal’s unstable wife, Catherine Well, I say ‘suicide’ but the inference of that season’s finale is the crux of this season. When Cardinal himself begins to believe the death was suspicious I rather felt familiar old demons of guilt were pushing him in the wrong direction, and into another seasonal pit of self-loathing, but it transpires he has every reason to have his doubts.
Continuing the series tradition of differing seasons (season one set in Winter, the second in Summer), By the Time You Read This is set in the fall, and its predictably gorgeous. The semi-rural locale of Cardinal (Alonquin Bay, a fictional version of North Bay, Ontario) is one of its biggest selling-points, almost lending it a Twin Peaks-kind of vibe at times, and its wide-open golden forests and bitterly-cold windswept lakes are a lovely diversion visually. The cast, led by Billy Campbell as the title character, all hushed commentary and craggy, life-worn features, is as fine as ever, and I definitely think Karine Vanasse as his investigative partner Lise Delorme has really come into her own here. Both leads underline the series tendency for underplaying everything and not relying on too many shock tactics- there is a fragility about everything, and a calmness that is refreshing, especially after season two’s straining of credibility; a definite return to form.
This third season benefits by improved writing, with four arcs that ultimately tie together in a very satisfying manner. I’m tempted to suggest it manages this over a six-episode season far better than Game of Thrones managed, but that feels like a cheap shot. Oh okay, I went there. But anyway, it throws these storylines in the air: the first is a series of grisly murders perpetrated by an odd group of End of the World nutters, another is a series of violent robberies at ATM machines, another the department chief being involved in a bloody suicide, and the fourth being Cardinals initially, we assume, misguided theory about his late wife’s death. It seems unlikely at the outset, but the arcs really do tie in together rather well and form a satisfying whole at the conclusion- yes, they manage a perfect landing compared to GOTs dodgy near-crash in the dirt. The personal angle, and our empathy for Cardinals plight and self-doubt regards Catherine’s death is what really raises this season. I do think this has been a marked improvement this year on what I felt a fairly exploitative previous season.
So it definitely seems there is plenty of life in this show yet, and indeed a fourth season is coming, hopefully next year. I appreciate that this is likely one of those shows lost in all the noise of bigger, more popular series on Netflix, Sky Atlantic etc but it’s certainly well worth tracking down. Stuck on BBC’s Saturday night foreign drama slot on BBC4 its unfortunately a victim of Autie Beeb’s scheduling and it’s a wonder I manage not to miss it whenever a new series suddenly drops.