So after just three short weeks we wrap up Black Fly Season, the second series of Canadian crime drama Cardinal. It does make me wonder if it had been extended out to an episode a week rather than the traditional BBC4 double-up if I would have had the patience to persist with what has been a relatively flat storyline in comparison to the superior first season, but with an an absolute slap in the face of an ending it might just set up proceedings going forward to be very interesting indeed.
Cardinal and Delorme head to the kill site where Toof met his unfortunate end at the hands of Leon and his trusty golf club. A little dental sleuthing identifies Toof as Rachel’s dealer from the local snooker hall – along with a boot print that resembles the one they dug up from Terri’s discovery site. Toof’s distraught mum puts the detectives onto Leon and Northwind – Ray’s native name – as the guys he went to live with a few months previously. Slowly, the circle is closing into the gang as the evidence piles up – thanks in part to some ingenious science involving maggots.
Meanwhile, Clegg makes a surprise visit to Ray’s Summer Love Shack and is clearly entrenched in the drug boss’s plans when he provides him with his cut of the takings, but when Alan gets a late case of the wobbly morals and refuses Ray money, he reminds him their deal is life or death – and Ray wants Terri’s whereabouts from Alan as soon as possible or his children are next. Elsewhere Jerry (as commentators said last week, the real MVP of the show) gets the rundown on just how dangerous Ray is when he visits the Northwind reservation and hears how when the chief refused to provide him a reference to native Canadian drug dealers, he cut off his dog’s paws in retribution. Not cool Ray. Not cool.
As the net closes, Kevin escapes the encampment to have a quick drugs smoking session, but flips Leon’s stolen truck when he nods out at the wheel, before fleeing the crash scene. In his stupidest maneuver yet, he then returns to the base to beg Ray for more drugs “to sell”. Unfortunately for Kevin, the truck is registered to Ray (seems a bit convenient, would a crime boss have anything in his name?) – and is full of drugs paraphernalia when the police eventually find it. Matters only get worse for Kevin when Ray catches him breaking into his summer love shack looking for more drugs – and sets him up for his next sacrifice as the new moon rises.
Elsewhere, Musgrave gets shook down by Cardinal when Tammi won’t take the bait in his bid to bring John to ‘justice’ for Kyle’s killing. Cardinal has evidence Musgrave has been stealing files, along with recordings by Tammi as to his attempted bribery. Cardinal asks Musgrave to make things right for Delorme in her bid to move to NIS, which he eventually does. Tammi visits Catherine and tells her the full story of how far Cardinal went to protect his wife over the death of Tammi’s partner. Despite Cardinal’s best efforts (albeit often misplaced), Catherine feels beholden to his protective stance over her illness and tells her psychiatrist that hearing this news was devastating – she feels responsible for Kyle’s death, exactly the thing Cardinal has been trying to avoid in paying off Tammi.
Terri positively identifies Leon from a selection of mug shots, whilst unbeknownst to her Leon is staking out the safe-house thanks to Alan’s betrayal. Alan’s not stopping there though in his bid to be worst cop of the series – when Ray asks who he should be targeting, the detective identifies Cardinal as his main adversary. Meanwhile, Cardinal and Delorme get the lowdown from Ray’s former foster mother, who has some choice things to say about the kid she helped raise – in essence that he was a raving psychopath in training. His real mother was repeatedly victimized by bikers and his grudge against the gang culture never abated – leading him into his current war with the Northern Riders. A call to Miami PD clarifies his activities up to now – a string of brutal, ritualistic murders related to him as El Brujo (‘The Witch’) that remain unsolved but mysteriously stopped when Ray left town – and headed to Canada.
Leon brings a drugged Terri to Ray’s Summer Love Shack, who strings her up next to her terrified brother. Ray is obsessed by the magical power that he insists Terri harbours (“if a bullet can’t stop her on this side, imagine what she can do for me on the other”), and feels the sacrifice will be his most successful yet. As you do. Coming to, she recalls finally how she came across the shack on her first visit to find Kevin and how that lead to Leon trying to murder her. Unlike her useless brother, Terri isn’t one to give up – she gets herself off the hook she’s tied to and frees her sibling – only to be caught again by Leon, albeit after she’s driven a sharpened animal bone through his face. That looked painful.
Clegg hopes he can finally atone for his sins by slipping Lasalle the coordinates to Northwind’s camp, before giving Cardinal a likely story about wasp allergies to divert the detective’s attention whilst he swipes his phone as they head out into the forest in search of Ray’s camp. Back at HQ they realise Clegg has betrayed the team when they find out Terri is missing – and when Cardinal reaches for his phone to call in their location Clegg holds him at gunpoint whilst Jerry and Delorme hone in on the GPS of the detective’s car.
In the big finale – if you can call it that – Clegg delivers up Cardinal to Ray – but when the drug boss demands he kill John it’s a step too far and he tries to pull the trigger on Ray instead. In the ensuing scuffle, Ray escapes but not before slashing Clegg – leaving Cardinal and Delorme to discover the summer love shack and a prostrate Kevin tied up on a makeshift altar. Delorme takes down Leon at gunpoint whilst Cardinal hunts down Ray in the woods before they have a flaccid punch-up in the lake – with Delorme eventually providing the bullet that stops Ray drowning John. Everything wraps up neatly, with the Northern Riders appearing a little too late to act but still be arrested anyway, Clegg alive and facing some tough questions, Terri and Kevin reunited and Ray injured but facing a lengthy prison sentence. Cardinal heads home with a phone call to Catherine’s answer machine saying he is officially done with the police. He’s retiring.
Fans of the books will know things don’t wrap as neatly as intended in this story (slightly brought forward from the third book in the series), when John arrives home to find a note from Catherine that leads him into town and the horrific sight of his wife having finally took her own life. Did Ray’s prophecy of Catherine’s inevitable demons taking over come true? Perhaps in the more esoteric sense, but more likely a final submission to her battle with mental illness – a battle Cardinal was never going to win for her. It’s a real sucker punch of an ending, a proper lump in the throat moment – and one that I wrestled with. Catherine’s journey hasn’t been the best represented across the two seasons, and at times she felt like more a cypher for the plot to progress than a real character. I mentioned last week there seemed less and less for her character to impart on the show other than to confound Cardinal, but even so the way her death was treated as a inter-season cliffhanger felt cheap. Perhaps we’ll see the ramifications of this in a more nuanced way in the third season, but for now it left a decidedly bitter taste.
Cardinal, like any other crime drama, lives and dies on it’s stories. In the first season it felt like there was real peril involved as we joined the detectives on a serial killer hunt – and with the question over John’s shady past still unanswered it felt like a show with purpose and drive. Unfortunately the second season’s story just didn’t hold together for me – Ray on paper I’m sure would be infinitely more terrifying than what we got on screen – but overall I felt a real lack of sympathy with most of the victims involved except Terri – all who were criminals involved in what they knew could be a deadly,brutal world. Not only this, but re-treading Musgrave’s involvement was a mistake as it bore little to no impact on the show other than to grow the seeds of doubt in Catherine’s mind about the extent of her husband’s commitments. Perhaps in overview it’s just too tall an order to explore a book’s worth of plot in six episodes that barely rake in at fifty minutes a piece – but hopefully we’ll see an upturn in the series’ fortune next season.
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