In three short weeks we’ve reached the conclusion to this third series of Cardinal – and whilst it’s not lived up to the standard set by its debut season, the show remains an enjoyable experience as a solid police procedural.
Much of these last two episodes were more concerned with the second-string story around the death of Cardinal’s wife Catherine – so much so in fact that the lead story of Mama and her bunch of apocalyptic teen warriors almost took second billing itself, with a relatively perfunctory resolution that echoed the slightly disappointing outcome of the villains from the second season. Cardinal has a habit of building it’s antagonists up to the point that you expect something a little more spectacular to seal their fates, with the first season only really delivering on that promise.
For what it’s worth, that fate was swiftly locked in with the efficiency only a short series can bring. After Jack pins Lemur’s death on Delorme, Mama begins to lose her already tenuous grip on sanity in her quest to bring on the end times. A little exploratory work from the detective squad reveals Mama didn’t exist as a person before she joined the army then did a spell in jail for gunrunning. Her eventual exposure as Amy Scriver was a nice twist that was telegraphed earlier on in the season, after the murder of her parents decades previously mirrored that of the Barstows. But sadly we never really got any proper time with Amy/Mama to understand her motives – not least in the brutal execution of her own parents but also the reasons why she suddenly believed the apocalypse was coming. There was no grand speech or personal history to be revealed here – and whilst that might reflect reality in the lack of a motive for a lot of crimes, the result was she never imbued any real menace as a character.
However, we were treated to a tense ten minutes at her behest when she held Cardinal and Delorme hostage as the police’s dragnet closed down on her. Unfortunately, the outcome of that siege was swiftly over before it even begun, with Amy felled by Kreeger (who it turned out was nothing more exciting than a random pilot she required to fly her posse north) and then shot point blank in the head by Cardinal. Likewise, Jack was put on ice in a similarly straightforward fashion at the hands of Jerry – a man so cool and composed he’s capable of being caught in a bear-trap and still shooting straight. Did we ever find out why Jack was so crazy? Maybe it doesn’t matter or maybe we didn’t care – but it might have added some depth to his character at least, otherwise he was a little too much of a pantomime villain. Either way, the story of Mama was wrapped up neat and tidy with every suspect dead rather than facing a troublesome thing like a court case, and only two legs maimed (Jerry and Delorme’s respectively) as the cost.
But maybe that was for the best, as the suspicious circumstances around Catherine’s death provided the greater interest here. Quite why Cardinal took six episodes to open his wife’s laptop remains unknown, but it led him to a friend of hers who doubted her therapist’s methods after it transpires he ordered both her and Catherine to write suicide notes. The question of Dr.Bell’s culpability in a number of his patient’s deaths would have been something I’d have gladly seen spun out properly on it’s own across the season rather than being strapped to the underside of the main plot-line – and would have felt more sinister being gradually revealed across the run-time rather than crudely being offloaded in a big exposition dump for twenty minutes before the end of the show, with a literal point to point run-in of some very clunky plot devices to get us there.
But then Cardinal as a show isn’t a psychological thriller, so that would have required a bit of a pivot. The show likes to pull at a few different crime genre threads in the manufacture of its stories but it’s never felt as distant from the Nordic Noir tropes of its first season as it does now – beautiful shots of scenery and a melancholy theme tune aside – and if anything it now owes more to police procedural Bosch in its evolution, with a set of characters we don’t really need to know too much about other than they are resolute and will solve the case whilst being quite dour about it. Not every crime show needs to be an existential movie-like masterpiece to be considered good television, but the field for this genre is more crowded than ever before so quite where Cardinal sits in that mix is something the show feels like it’s still trying to work out. What is evident with the show already renewed for a fourth season is all the plot threads that drew these three seasons together are now done – so wherever we do go now needs to tread some new ground at least.
FOR OUR EPISODES ONE AND TWO REVIEW, click here
FOR OUR EPISODES THREE AND FOUR REVIEW, click here