Hello and Happy New Year. One always hopes to start a new year on solid footing and with optimism. Well, you can't have everything.
The second season of Cardinal (starts Thursday, CTV, 9 p.m.) begins on solid footing and has a great deal of goodwill behind it, the first season being so darn good. Based on Giles Blunt's excellent 2000 novel, Forty Words for Sorrow, but subtly straying from the novel's conventional ending, the six-part drama was an austere, quietly intense murder mystery anchored in the slow revealing of the two main characters. Those were two cops, John Cardinal (Billy Campbell) and Lise Delorme (Karine Vanasse) working together but also against each other, on a serial-killer case in a place called Algonquin Bay, Blunt's version of North Bay, Ont.
The stillness of Northern Ontario in winter and the landscape were important factors in establishing the quietness of the drama. There was anger and grief in the souls of the characters, but as icily cold as the setting.
Season 2, based on the novel Blackfly Season, is a different proposition. The setting is as majestic as ever, and celebrated in dramatic footage from above – the great vastness of green, the endless lakes and rivers, the allure of the wilderness and its grand verdure. But the summer season offers lushness where once there was sparseness and this season is considerably more florid, in all aspects, than the first.
The opening episode is magnificently staged. A young woman with red hair is running in fear through a forest and is shot. Then she turns up, wandering the area, hanging out in bars and talking to others in a state of smiling amiability. A cop senses something is wrong and, indeed, it is. The young woman, called simply "Red" for a while, has a bullet lodged in her brain, incapacitating her and her memory.
Cardinal and Delorme begin working the case, finding out who the young woman might be, why she was shot and what entanglements she has locally. Meanwhile, a gang turf war is under way, as somebody is trying to squeeze out the local biker gang in the drug trade. That somebody is a mysterious figure who spouts mystical aphorisms that might be Indigenous, or might not. What's certainly hinted is that he is a vicious, sadistic killer who extols a particularly barbaric form of torture to maintain power.
The bodies pile up and there are some brief, hard-to-watch graphic scenes of mutilated bodies. Something is clearly rotten in this gorgeous place of greenery and clear, clean water. John Cardinal latches onto a theory about barbaric sacrifice and, over the six episodes, the strands linking Red (Alex Paxton-Beesley, terrific in a tricky role that demands vacancy and slow awakening) and the assorted characters and killings that are suddenly part of the fabric of the place.
As the episodes roll out, the pace, the plotting and even the dialogue seem to go awry. This season – made by the same core team but some new directors and writers – is much less interested in John Cardinal the complicated man, and even less interested in Lise Delorme the vastly complex, frustrated career cop. The stillness and subtlety, the trust in the audience that was vital in Season 1, almost evaporates here. The plot is too propulsive and inflamed. It doesn't stop often enough to contemplate the emotional mess and pain of the central characters' struggles to define themselves. By Episode 4, some figures in the drama are finishing each other's sentences and offering way too much exposition.
This season of Cardinal is still a solid crime drama and wonderful to watch at the start, but some mercurial ingredient used in the first season is missing. It's a pity and the series is recommended this time with caution.
Elsewhere, Mary Kills People (Wednesday, Global, 8 p.m.) also returns for a second season. It maintains the energy of the first season, with Caroline Dhavernas as Mary Harris, an ER doctor with a disturbing sideline. For a fee, she and sidekick Des (Richard Short) end the lives of people who are terminally ill. It's a lucrative but nerve-jangling sideline.
On the evidence of the first episode, Mary is not slowing down and Des, newly out of prison, has new scruples. He balks at ending the life of a healthy woman who wants to die because her husband is dying. Meanwhile, a new character Olivia (Rachelle Lefevre) has an idea for Mary and Des that complicates all kinds of scruples. It's a brisk show, dwelling lightly on the matter of Mary's formidable power of life and death over others. Sometimes it's too brisk, but Dhavernas is astonishing to watch, bringing a perplexing kind of charisma to this doctor and mother who has a menacing taste for danger.