As we can all attest from watching multi-episode series on multiple streaming services, we don’t have enough series that are lean and uncomplicated by redundant digressions and repetition. Many 10-episode series could be trimmed to six and be the better for it.
Cardinal (Monday, CTV, 10 p.m.) returns for its fourth season and the crime drama is lean at six episodes and, simultaneously, has a gravity and gorgeous depth to it. All its seasons, but especially the first, third, and this one, are admirably ambitious and succeed in their ambition to carve out a wonderfully distinct style of Canadian noir.
This fourth season, like the first, is set in deep winter. It’s a good mystery, a mood piece beautifully performed and strikingly made, with great sensitivity to what the cold landscape harbours and reveals. It’s quiet, hushed, letting the landscape articulate its wintry disposition.
Of particular note now is the unfussy depiction of the depth of affection and the rapport between the two lead characters, detectives Cardinal (Billy Campbell) and Delorme (Karine Vanasse). That warmth is all the more subtly powerful in the deep chill of the setting in Northern Ontario. And that warmth is at odds with the storyline about betrayals and savage revenge for old enmity.
First the duo investigates an apparent abduction. A local politician, Sheila Gagne (Carmen Moore) reports that her husband, a local crown prosecutor, hasn’t returned home. It’s all a bit delicate, because she has to admit that they have an open marriage and husband Robert was at a local hotel on a date with another woman. As the story unfolds, one theme is that most people are unknowable.
What happens to the abducted man is one of those grim reminders of the menace in the landscape in winter. The attention to the landscape is exquisite without being ostentatious and what’s striking is that it does not make a fetish of the beauty of Northern Ontario in winter; it offers a picture of cold bleakness that is connected to the bleakness of the soul behind the murders that are at the centre of the story.
Cardinal, which runs on Hulu in the United States to great reviews, and is based on the novels by Giles Blunt, has in each season been a good, solid serial drama. But each one aims for and reaches a much higher level. It is always about duality and contrasts, whether between the Anglo John Cardinal and Quebecois Lise Delorme, or between the personal and the public lives of people anchored down in the environment where it is set.
Here the plot thickens to showcase an intense cruelty and characters who have a devotion to searing revenge (Shawn Doyle has a memorable role as a bad guy ) that makes the intensity of the searching detectives look frail in comparison. It’s an intense thriller, lean and aimed at an adult audience that’s accustomed to unsettling but gripping prestige-TV. Directed with aplomb by Nathan Morlando and adapted by Penny Gummerson, Naben Ruthnum and Sarah Dodd, this season of Cardinal is, again, unmissable. The first three seasons are available on Crave and the entire package is a great binge-watch of quality crime drama featuring great Canadian talent.
Finally, this column continues with a “Stay-at-home-period daily-streaming pick” for the next while. Today’s pick is Olive Kitteridge (Crave/HBO). The director called it a “traumedy,” a miniseries that “mixes serious drama with dry humour.” I called it a masterpiece when it first aired in 2014 and perhaps the most urbane, poised and exquisitely delivered drama on TV that year. It is a testament to the power of TV storytelling at its best – intimate and trenchant. It’s about a life, a marriage and a community. It’s about time passing but leaving bruises that never heal on some sensitive souls. Based on Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of linked short stories, it is about the sometimes tortured, sometimes serene family of Olive (Frances McDormand), a retired math teacher; her guileless husband, Henry (Richard Jenkins), a pharmacist; and their son, Christopher (John Gallagher Jr.), with whom Olive has a heartbreakingly flawed relationship.
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