Cardinal returns for it’s fourth and final series this week, with a few immediate differences – a new home (BBC Two), a new slot (midweek prime-time) and (it feels) a new sense of narrative purpose after a somewhat meandering, directionless third season. This time around, the story is based on originating author Giles Blunt’s sixth novel in the franchise, Until The Night – and in these opening back-to-back episodes, there’s a feeling of the series returning to the dramatic highs of its impeccable debut season.
We rejoin John Cardinal (Billy Campbell) looking dour and dejected as ever, having swapped his family home for a dismal town flat as he awaits the former’s sale in the aftermath of last season’s conclusion around his wife’s death. Suffering from recurrent nightmares of a vehicle trapped on thin ice, it’s clear the detective is as haunted by his dark past as ever.
Not so partner Lise Delorme (Karine Vanasse), who is looking forward to the future with her transfer to Toronto PD finally on the horizon and Algonquin Bay shortly to become a distant memory in her career. After all the torment Cardinal went through in the previous season with his fellow detectives, it seems Lise and he are back on good terms – to the point that the tender romantic spark which has always followed this pair seems to be subtly reigniting again.
However, there’s not much time for any shenanigans in the ice-cold grip of a bleak Canadian winter, although it’s a joy to see those sweeping snow-blind vistas back in the series after two seasons of milder weather with much less personality – even if it is a bit odd watching this deep freeze during the current bright nights of summer. It’s into this frosty environment our intrepid detectives enter when Jerry Commanda (Glen Gould, very dapper as always) pulls them onto the case of a missing person – or very important person – state prosecutor Robert Quillen. Quillen was out the previous night enjoying the benefits of his open marriage to local politician Shelia Gagne (Carmen Moore), but had failed to return home to his wife as agreed.
One thing that was apparent early on here was the show wasn’t messing around this time – we moved swiftly from scene to scene with a little exposition to grease those pesky plot wheels, and it felt much more on a par in terms of pace with the first season then the somewhat languid tone of its successors. So in short order, Cardinal and Delorme scan the motel room Quillen was clearly abducted from, complete with a bird’s feather left by the kidnapper as a clue (always handy – especially later on as we’ll find out), then track Sheila’s phone to a failed ransom drop with an unwholesome chap called Wade Kleiss, who they promptly arrest, only for the real perpetrator to brazenly walk into the precinct car park, taser the arresting officer into unconsciousness and stab poor Wade to death. This was all in the first 25 minutes, and had me checking to see if I was watching the same show as I was used to.
So we were definitely picking up the pace here, and this worked in tandem with the level of urgent brutality the season’s villain was going around administering. Like previous seasons, we got to know him very early on in the running – a morose middle-aged man called Neil Cuthbert (Currie Graham, who Project BlueBook fans will recall as Cal Miller). Neil is definitely a man on a mission – and that mission is murder as a means to punish others – something he casually informs Quillen of, in a very Nordic noir set-up, leaving him tied to a tree trunk in the dead of night to (very painfully) freeze to death. With Quillen as a means to an end, an anonymous video sent by Neil to Sheila of her husband begging for his life shifts the detectives’ focus on to her as the real “victim” of the murder. Neil wanted her to suffer. But why?
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While the police pick up the pieces of the case with Sheila, Neil is already stalking his next victim. Hindsight being what it is, we know what’s in store for whoever he picks – and so it was a fairly dark twist to reveal his prey as elderly (and very sweet) Adele Leblanc (Linda Goranson), mother of local florist Barry Leblanc (Duncan Ollerenshaw). It’s clear from Neil’s (very) creepy interactions with Barry at his workplace that the pair aren’t acquainted, so what’s the connection here? Barry makes mention to his mother of knowing Sheila when they were at high school together, but they aren’t friends – so is this something fatally coalescing from a shared experience in their childhood past?
The scenes around Adele’s abduction were frankly, hard to watch – not least because it was clear Neil had some level of remorse in his actions, but also that he’s driven by some deeper, more visceral level of vengeance that supersedes his humanity. Adele’s disappearance triggers the police to connect the cases when Delorme finds another bird’s feather in her scooter basket (handy that), and as they scramble into action, we see Neil leaving Adele to die alone in a massive junker’s yard. Meanwhile, as Sheila sees the news about Adele’s abduction on television, she is clearly spooked by the person mentioned as missing. So a shared secret maybe – and as Neil again tells Adele that her punishment is really meant for Barry – another victim falls to whatever that secret might be.
It was a savage ending to two fast-paced and enthralling episodes, and it seems initially like the show is attempting to recreate the more action-packed slant of that debut season – and certainly with as memorable a villain on board. What suffered slightly in this was the usual interplay between Cardinal and Delorme – which is the real centrepiece of this show – but I’m sure that will develop later into the season. On this evidence anyway, all signs point to Cardinal going out with a bang.
Cardinal is currently showing on BBC 2