Cardinal Season Four: Until the Night

cardinal4This post is proving a little bittersweet: anyone who has read this blog over the past few years will possibly remember my positive reviews for the past three seasons of the Canadian crime drama series: season one here, season two here, season three here and I’m pleased to say I think that the fourth season, Until the Night, is possibly the best of the lot. Unfortunately it also appears that, by all reports, season four is the final season, which sets up that quandary where its great for a show to go out on a high and leaving fans wanting more, but its naturally sad to see a show end when its so good.

I’m not really much of a fan of these crime dramas- I think they universally suffer from a propensity for a genre-wide crime drama escalation war, in which the serial killers get smarter and more cunning and the murders more elaborate and gory until it approaches the level of farce- I think much of this is due to the continuing impact of films like The Silence of the Lambs and Seven. Its a bit like the Lord of the Rings films ‘needing’ bigger and louder battles and Star Wars films needing bigger and more spectacular space battles, until it all collapses under the excess. Certainly the second season of Cardinal suffered from that, and the third to a lesser extent. Fortunately Into the Night dials things back considerably, and while still quite complex, at heart its a pretty basic tale of revenge, and one with some emotional gravitas too. Sometimes less is more, and I certainly that is true of this fourth season. Besides that, this is just simply a damned fine story with great writing and sense of drama/mystery/tension, with a bit of horror thrown in.

Billy Campbell again returns as Police Detective Cardinal, a man haunted by his past who with his younger partner Lise Delorme  (Karine Vanasse) investigate crimes in the fictional city of Algonquin Bay – an area of great beauty on the edge of the wintry wilderness. This season emphasises that wintry aspect, with a series of deaths unfolding in which people are abducted and then left to die of exposure in remote isolated locations. The detectives have to find some link between the victims and a pattern to the locations of their deaths, and the complicated but professional nature of the abductions quickly lean them to suspect these are contract killings. Who hired the killer, and why, becomes as much the focus as the identity of the killer himself.

As usual the show is beautifully shot – you can feel the cold just from the snow-swept imagery and it conveys a wonderfully tactile, atmospheric sense of being there. The script is tight and rarely wavers into the ridiculous – often if I watch these crime dramas I suffer a few moments of ‘WTF?’ that breaks the tension/sense of reality (again, that pressure to ‘better’ past dramas and raise the stakes post-Seven etc). The two leads are as great as ever (can’t understand why we don’t see more of Campbell, and Vanasse is surely destined for more success) and this season even throws in a regular face from The Expanse. I left the show with a sense of satisfaction at a great season but yeah, some considerable sadness if this is indeed the end. You never know of course, never say never and all that.

Cardinal Season Three: By the Time You Read This

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.

Cardinal Series Two: Blackfly Season

card2.jpgCardinal returns for another six-episodes of murder and intrigue. Readers may recall my post last year about the first season of the show, which was very impressive but distracted me with a ‘where have I see that face before..?’ mystery that was only solved at the end when I realised series lead Billy Campbell was the Rocketeer from Disney’s 1990 movie.  The soft-spoken, craggy, life-worn John Cardinal and his internalized emotional turmoil is a long way from the fresh-faced innocent hero of the Disney adventure, and Campbell is again brilliant as the core of this drama.

Based on a series of books by author Giles Blunt (season one based on Forty Words for Snow), Cardinal is a detective drama in a similar mould to so many others on tv. What perhaps helps set this aside from others is its setting, in the fairly wild landscapes of Canada and the urban sprawl of Alonquin Bay, a fictional version of North Bay, Ontario.

While the first season was set in winter, its icy locale a perfect setting for the chilling murders it depicted, this second season is set in the summer, which immediately both distinguishes this season from the other but also lessens the show’s mood and impact that helped set it apart. That said, I did find it helped the show feel fresh and surprising. The wide vistas of snow are replaced with landscapes of green, and characters plagued  (as the season title and book it is based upon, Blackfly Season, would infer) by summer flies and procedural investigation of forensic studies of maggots in decaying flesh of victims. Yes, this is gruesome stuff in places. So the show feels a little different due to the change of season, but much of the rest remains the same, and there’s not much wrong with that when it all worked so well first time around.

If I had any fault with it, maybe it would be the odd behaviour of some characters who were just annoyingly stupid and irritatingly weak in places, but that is possibly fault of the original literary source rather than the show-runners, and hey, maybe its all just to serve the drama when we shout at the television screen at crass dumbness and smugly watch its inevitable results.

Fairly concise at just six episodes, this is a show that feels similar to BBC dramas over here that run a similar length – it doesn’t outstay its welcome and rewards inevitable binge-viewing. I’ve read that a third season has already been shot and a fourth has been greenlit, so there’s more to look forward to, which is good news indeed. John Cardinal is a fascinating character well-realised by Campbell and considering the closing events of this season, I am very curious about where the show takes him next year.

I know your face, Cardinal…

d12017.31: Cardinal- Season One (2017)

By the second episode of this six-part crime drama, I was hooked- but also bugged by a distant familiarity with the actor playing the titular detective. Where the hell had I seen him before? This kind of thing bothers me all the time these days. He looked familiar and yet… not. Even his name, Billy Campbell, seemed familiar. Yet I couldn’t place the name or the face. This is exactly the kind of thing that the internet is made for, but I was being stubborn, I’d figure this out eventually….

Only I didn’t. The internet finally won. In my defence, it had been 26 years.

Billy Campbell was the star of the 1991 film The Rocketeer, which was the last thing that I had ever seen him in (although that wasn’t exactly true, as apparently he’d been in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and an episode of Frasier, according to IMDB).  Anyway, nowadays he’s older, craggier, greyer… yes, an infinitely more lived-in face compared to the youthful charms of his heroic character in the Disney film. I loved The Rocketeer. I saw it at the cinema and thought it was great, but it turned out to be another one of those films that deserves a sequel but fails to muster an audience, instead getting sidelined to the kerbside of movie history.

Cardinal is a Canadian series with much in common with such crime dramas as The Killing or The Bridge and so many others. Its graphic, relentlessly serious, dealing with isolation and serial murders and complicated detectives. Not as good as the first series of True Detective (but then again, what is?), but certainly well worth watching. Being set in Canada in freezing-cold locales buried in snow it looks as cold as its grim subject. If I were to offer any criticism its that it never really attempts to get under the skin of its criminal/s, instead finding the titular detective a more interesting character to dissect- which is fine, it’s just that kind of detective show where the nominal ‘hero’ is the real subject. It just leaves much of the grisly murders and their methodology unexplained. In hindsight, that may be a good thing- some things can’t be explained, some twisted psyches too twisted to make sense from, but there is a vagueness to it that is a little frustrating. Yes, Cardinal himself is fascinating and layered and Billy Campbell very good in the role, but… the murders, man.. all the torture and graphic gore. Whats it all about? What makes the bad guy/s (I’m being deliberately vague here, incase you’ve not seen it) tick?

So anyway, a pretty impressive show and apparently immediately greenlit for two more seasons. Well, there’s something to look forward to next year. At least next time I won’t be distracted by where the hell I’ve seen that guy before.

(In my defence, he looks so much different without that rocket on his back).