(The podcast and short video versions of this review are below, you can also find the links to listen on Apple, Spotify, Amazon at the bottom of this page - you can also search your usual podcast platforms.)
Let’s be absolutely clear right from the get go here - it was pretty much nailed on that I was going to like this show. If there was a dating app equivalent to match you with TV shows the bio for this would have had me swiping right so hard.
With an overarching mystery.
A lead character who is brooding, slightly tortured and deeply committed.
Set in a snowy landscape with a hint of desolation.
An unwanted new partner.
Some dark mystery in the past.
I mean…come on!
THE SET UP
If you’re craving something innovative or totally different then this is probably not for you, but if you are a fan of Scandi-noir type thrillers then get ready to strap on your snow boots and step into some icy, murky mysteries.
Based on the novels by Giles Blunt, the first season introduces us to the fictional city of Algonquin Bay and detective John Cardinal (Billy Campbell) who has been demoted for his failed investigation of a missing native Canadian girl. For family reasons, he has moved out to the country hoping a “quieter life” will help them.
You’d have thought these detectives would have shared a memo by now about avoiding small towns and their creepy serial killers. And John Cardinal becomes convinced this is a serial killer when another body is found…and another young person goes missing…
The body of the teenage girl has now been found in the ice, and Cardinal is called back on the case along with a new partner Lise Delorme (Karine Vanasse) - who we soon discover is investigating Cardinal as much as the murder. What is he hiding in his past? Could he really be covering up his role in corruption? This duality of purpose is mirrored throughout the show. Cardinal himself is private and quiet, but also intense and dogged. Delorme is ambitious and secretive, as well as righteous and reflective.
The Canadian landscape is beautiful but dangerous.
The community is tight-knit but fearful.
Keeping a family together or starting one.
Love or obsession.
This conflict and duality helps draw us in as there is something to doubt and root for with each character and it helps heighten the peril - there is no way that everyone gets out of this okay.
The six episodes pack a hell of a lot of story in and in the current streaming climate it’s refreshing to not endure 2 or 3 episodes of set up before the story gets going.
You know how sometimes you have to reassure your friends that your recommendation is “worth sticking with, it’s a bit slow, but by the 3rd and 4th episode it gets really good” ?
Yeah, that isn’t the case here. I tipped a friend off about this show and got a text back a couple of hours later that they had blown through two episodes straight away.
The six episodes pack a hell of a lot of story in and in the current streaming climate it’s refreshing to not endure 2 or 3 episodes of set up before the story gets going. You know how sometimes you have to reassure your friends that your recommendation is “worth sticking with, it’s a bit slow, but by the 3rd and 4th episode it gets really good” ? Yeah, that isn’t the case here. I tipped a friend off about this show and got a text back a couple of hours later that they had blown through two episodes straight away.
Although the comparisons to Scandi-noir thriller are right there (I mean, Billy Campbell was even in the US version of The Killing ), Cardinal actually reminded me more of a fave British show of mine: Unforgotten. And I don’t just mean the similarity in their gorgeous, haunting theme songs.
The two leads set the tempo in communicating volumes with the expressions and delivery without the need for histrionics, long speeches, or dramatic actions. You’re rewarded for fully engaging instead of maybe half watching whilst you check social media as discrete glances and barely concealed expressions key us in on emotions and thoughts. These characters are satisfyingly complex - and watching them navigate moral quandaries and messy relationships not only adds to the drama but also adds fuel to the fire of uncertainty - how can these two messed up people work together?
Like Unforgotten, it is delicately plotted with less reliance on big reveals or moments of intuitive genius. The thrills here are often the slow burn ones where get to go “ohhhhhhh” as you realise how clues are knitted together. I would never have thought that a petty thief’s stalking of a supermarket could be so tense and also deliver a “no way!” moment.
You might also say “no way” at some of the violence - Cardinal is no cosy murder mystery. It is violent, at times gory, and unflinching in depicting the worse of what people are capable of doing to each other. And whilst it is subtle and considered, it doesn’t dawdle, maintaining a brisk pace and expecting you to keep up as it accelerates towards a tense ending with lives at stake.
As always with great TV shows, you come for the hook (murder, mystery, a lost spaceship) but you stay for the relationships. And Cardinal offers up so much of the human experience for us to unpick and by the end I felt like it was a dissection of the many forms of love, as it was of the bodies found in the Canadian ice.
Biscuit rating: Duo Choc Sandwich.
This solidly made treat gives you plenty to munch on and you'll find that one just isn’t enough. Luckily, you’ve got 4 seasons to enjoy.