Review: Cardinal (S1 E2,3&4/6), Saturday 3rd and 10th June, BBC4

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With Our Deborah away, I thought I’d pick up the slack on Cardinal – BBC4’s new, six-part Canadian crime drama set among the frozen wastes of Ontario. Episode one, as Deborah noted, was workmanlike fare. Very watchable, workmanlike fare. We were introduced to our new tormented cop, John Cardinal (Billy Campbell), who was working the case of 13-year-old Katie Pine. He was teamed with Detective Lise Delorme, who was secretly working as a mole, trying to establish a link between a gang member and her new boss. So things were set up on two fronts – the murder investigation (one that, by the end of episode one, looked like it had developed into a serial killer case), and the other, Cardinal’s murky past.

Last week’s episode two saw more character detail revealed – Cardinal’s wife suffered from bipolar disorder, which, currently, had her in recovery facility; he had a daughter. He had moved to Algobquin Bay so that they could live a quieter life (a bit like Bordertown, in fact). Actually, the more the episode went on the more I started to like Cardinal. Yes, he was constantly whispering and wore a pained expression on his face like he desperately needed to decant large amounts of faecal waste, but there was at least some reasoning behind his weather-worn facade. He had real-world problems; plausible ones. In fact, I did begin to wonder if he was guilty of being in cahoots with the gang member, he was probably doing it to pay off his wife’s hospital bills. I mean, you would, wouldn’t you?

And it wasn’t just me that was beginning to warm to Cardinal, it his partner Lise. After some good work both in the investigation and helping with liaison with grieving relatives, he was beginning to trust her more and more, and, in return, she was beginning to question her role as a spy for Musgrave. That is until she tailed him to a casino to see him withdraw lots of cash. Rinsing his rat money, so she said.

But their relationship was one of interest. Both were beginning to establish something – a friendship, perhaps – and as we saw Lise’s own relationship begin to show signs of fraying, I wondered if the case, and Cardinal, were beginning to overtake her. Especially when she found out that Musgrave might have some sort of personal vendetta against Cardinal, making her question her role as inside mole. (I’m sorry, though, I still have problems keeping a straight face when I refer to Cardinal as Cardinal – it just seems so mononomical, like every cop show from the 1970s. And then there’s Alan Partridge’s idea for a cop show set in Norwich: Swallow.)

As for the case, the two victims’ corpses showed signs of severe torture, and it was at the end of episode two that we got our first glimpse of who might have done this – unexpectedly, two young people, a couple, who were on the prowl for another victim. They were Edie and Eric. The left side of her face and forehead were scarred with severe eczema and she lived with her grandmother; Eric was her slightly scowling boyfriend. It was in her grandmother’s basement that they carried out their hideous torture sessions, and a poor young man named Keith had been drugged in a bar and brought back as their next victim. Why they were doing this, we were never quite sure – presumably, we’ll find out in next week’s final two episodes – but one thing was clear: Edie used her job in a pharmacy to obtain tranquilisers to incapacitate their victims; Eric was the one who relished the torture sessions, demanding that his victims watch their own torturer/murderer.

These two, star cross’d lovers had a whiff of the Bonnie and Clydes about them; complete with that air of untouchability and slight innocence. They stood in the middle of a deserted crossroads in the town in the middle of the night. Eric urged Edie to stand with him, opening his arms and letting the cold night air sting their faces. It’s this relentless hunt for pure thrills, this lust for power and a need to live outside the frameworks of society that drives them. And lust. So many of these murderous couples’ relationships are underpinned by sexual lust, and a need for that heart-quickening rush. If anything they reminded me of a real-life case: Myra Hindley and Ian Brady, the notorious serial killers of 1960s Britain. Aside from their hideous undertakings, they were fairly normal. Eric was erudite and intelligent and worked in a guitar shop, but manipulative and, quite clearly, an utter psychopath; Edie was sweet, equally warped, but in a different, vulnerable way. They were a toxic mix.

As for Cardinal and Lise’s investigation, with all the other stuff going on, I wasn’t quite sure how they were making progress – there was a snippet of sound that was enhanced and analysed here, a line of investigation that involved an SLR camera there – but they were making progress, nonetheless. What made it all work was the momentum and the jeopardy moments. With Keith being held hostage and tortured (although it threatened to, Cardinal never actually showed any torture), his date of death was given. From that moment – the usage of that narrative device – we knew Cardinal and Lise were up against the clock, so everything seemed more vital and more important, and quickened things. They thought they had found the house Keith was being held in – they hadn’t. Keith thought he had managed to escape – thanks, in part, to poor, doomed Woody – but he hadn’t. It lead us to the precipice and back again on numerous occasions.

We left things on a knife-edge, almost literally. Building up nicely, this.

Paul Hirons
@Son_Of_Ray

For our episode one review, go here

 

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