The coronavirus lockdown has led to a big uptick in reading and binge-watching. We’ve given you plenty of recommendations in both categories, but as things gradually get back to normal, one show you definitely don’t want to miss is the Canadian crime series Cardinal. Season four is available on iPlayer at the moment – it’s the best of the set and one of the finest cold climate revenge thrillers we’ve ever watched.
Winter has fallen on Algonquin Bay up in Northern Ontario, and the husband of a prominent local politician has been kidnapped. He dies a brutal death, tied to a stake and left out at night to freeze in the minus-20 degree climate wearing just a thin white parka.
Detective John Cardinal (Billy Campbell) and his partner Lise Delorme (Karine Vanasse) soon have a suspect in custody but the man is murdered in a daring swoop by another culprit, right outside the police HQ. The precision of this killing baffles Cardinal and his team. The MO used for the first murder suggests that the killer wants his victims to suffer in a particular way, but the second seems like a professional hit.
Before long, the frozen bodies of more seemingly unconnected victims are turning up at quarries and logging sites around Algonquin Bay. And, it looks increasingly like the wife of the first victim has something to hide…
The more you find out about the people killed, their relatives and the killer himself, the more Cardinal season four will pull you in. Corruption, cover-ups, greed, eco-crime – they’re all in there. Meanwhile, Cardinal and Delorme have their own lives to deal with. He’s coping with the murder of his wife in season three, while she’s planning a move out of Algonquin Bay down south to Toronto. Plus there’s the small matter of the growing attraction between them.
The intrigue, the drama and the atmosphere of the frigid Canadian winter are all very well done, but there are some finer details too that give this series of Cardinal a little extra. It contains some very accurate depictions of life in the snow. The crunch of it underfoot is prominent in the sound effects, and you can almost feel the weight of it around the characters’ legs in the scenes where they’re desperately wading through it – to save someone else’s life, or to save their own. Although there are plenty of cold climate crime shows, not many put you waist deep in the white stuff the way Cardinal does.
The show is just the right length. Six episodes feels enough to tell the story and the makers haven’t tried to draw it out as seen recently with other crime dramas. A comparable show might be the Norwegian series, Wisting, based on The Caveman by Jorn Lier Horst. It’s with watching, but the story feels stretched at 10 episodes.
When you watch Cardinal, look out for the character Jerry Commanda, played by Native Canadian actor Glen Gould. His role in the story is an interesting one. Jerry is a police officer who steps to the fore when cases involve Native Canadian characters. He talks to them and lays the groundwork for his colleagues to make sure relations with First Nations communities run smoothly. Sometimes this puts him in a tricky position…
Cardinal season four is based on Until the Night, the sixth and final novel in the series by Giles Blunt. It was broadcast in Canada in April and May 2020 and drew a substantial domestic audience before crossing the Atlantic to air on BBC Two in May and June. Algonquin Bay is a fictional place, approximating to the Ontario towns of Sudbury and North Bay, where the episodes were filmed.
The bad news is that unless Giles Blunt pens some more Cardinal books, this will be the detective’s final appearance on our screens.