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).