The Canadian crime drama returns to the much-coveted BBC4 weekend evening slot after a well-received first season last year. Subtitled Black Fly Season, the show reunites the sleuthing duo of Detectives John Cardinal (Billy Campbell, last seen on UK screens in Modus as the POTUS First Gentleman) and Lise Delorme (Karine Vanasse) on another grisly murder case. The first season was wholly enjoyable, a solid procedural set in an hostile natural environment that reminded me of films like Frozen River – or more recently the excellent Elizabeth Olsen thriller Wind River – with an unforgiving snow-bound territory and a maligned Native Canadian community providing the dramatic backdrop in the hunt for a serial killer.
There was also the side story of the not insignificant fact that Delorme was employed to secretly investigate Cardinal as the main player in a local drugs ring, which came to prove something entirely innocuous instead around Cardinal’s troubled wife, Catherine. By season’s end we left the pair in good terms but with their own personal issues to face – Delorme’s husband Josh having left her due to her decision not to have children, and Cardinal still struggling to balance care for his wife and daughter (the latter of which having been slightly inconvenienced by being kidnapped near the season’s conclusion). With six episodes on the slate and a double bill each run, we only have three weeks back in Algonquin Bay with the erstwhile pair. Hold onto your hats!
It’s summertime in the Bay, which looks as equally intolerable as it’s winters. We open up proceedings with the appearance of a red-haired stranger at the local bar – and with no memory of who or where she is, Cardinal and Delorme quickly come into the picture to investigate. Their victim ‘Red’ has a bullet lodged in her brain that could kill her if she were to suffer a seizure (ouch), so after a quick bout of squirm-inducing brain surgery (and a frankly inappropriate light interrogation from Cardinal at the same time), the bullet is successfully retrieved and traces back to a shortlist of gun owners in the area.
Meanwhile, there are still strands left over from Season One causing conflict – not least the unspoken spark between Cardinal and Delorme. Cardinal’s up for retirement and is keen to get out of the service for good, but Catherine – fresh out of the mental health unit – isn’t ready to make any future plans. Meanwhile Delorme’s struggling to get back into the world of dating, despite harboring feelings for John. Cardinal’s ex-partner Musgrave pops up to highlight this when he tells Delorme “Cardinal’s never going to leave his wife for you” in a failed bid to get her to re-ignite the investigation into John’s past behaviour, as well as threatening to put the brakes on her application to the National Intelligence Service – in itself a ploy to put some distance between her and Cardinal. Similarly, Catherine is frustrated by John’s unwillingness to let her live freely and talks to her therapist about how John blames himself for her suicide attempt, which results in his increasing possessiveness.
Miraculously, the gun owner shortlist brings them in contact with a local resident who finds his gun has been stolen – possibly by his old friend Dave Elhurst, a local mariner who is already in the wind after being missing for over two weeks – and whom immediately becomes suspect number one as a result. A photo of the man in question fails to elicit a reaction from ‘Red’ – but an image of a dilapidated bus in the woods sparks her memory and connects to the place where she was picked up by a local delivery driver, at the top of a trail head into the forest. That trail leads Cardinal and Delorme to the remnants of Dave’s expertly chopped-up corpse. So much for suspect number one. Did Red cross paths with his killer and suffer the consequences?
That question is rapidly answered in Episode Two when we meet Ray and Leon properly for the first time, who discuss the police finding one body, but not “the girl”. Leon assures Ray the job is done but he clearly doesn’t want to admit his failure in front of Ray, who has a threatening way with gutting a fish and a back full of scars from self-flagellation. This raises an interesting question later on, when Red asks Cardinal – “do they think that I’m dead – or are they going to try again?”.
It certainly seems the case for Dave – who was laundering money for the Northern Raiders, a local biker gang – and judging by their desperate search for him, are initially oblivious to his death. Meanwhile, Leon scours the town looking to dig up information on Red’s whereabouts to finish his task, before joining Ray and his naive accomplices Toof and Kevin in taking down Wombat, one of the Northern Raiders gang members, to steal their drugs and sell them to a local Native Canadian gang – a connection that Ray seems to have from his own past.
Kevin is immediately dangled out as the weakest link here, worried that the bikers will retaliate and stupidly using his burner phone to contact his girlfriend about his plans. He may as well paint a target on his head. Later, Leon assures him that Ray – and by default, the gang – are fully “protected” by forces he can’t possibly understand – “he knows things…things that he can’t”. This certainly puts stock in the police’s post-autopsy theory that Dave’s unfortunate end had a ritualistic element to it, one which seems to be replicated when Ray happily heads off to the shack with his box of ‘tools’ to deal with Wombat.
Gang Intelligence connect a former Northern Raiders stronghold to a recent house rental in the area, and the team quickly find the shack where Ray took apart the gang’s drug deal the day before, and capture two Raiders conscripts into the bargain – including Delorme’s boxing protege Rachel, who turns out to be a criminal informant. She lets them know she was sent to the shack to search for Wombat, who was expecting a new drug shipment – but when they got there Wombat and the drugs were missing. The Raiders have no idea who is infringing their turf and you feel proceedings will be bloody as a result.
So something of a slow start to this second season, and maybe not as fundamentally captivating as the initial episodes of the first series – but it’s good to be back in the company of the two main protagonists and with all the key players already in place we can expect a pick up in pace next week.