A young First Nations girl’s body is found encased in ice in an abandoned building near a frozen lake, and the titular John Cardinal (Billy Campbell - Helix, The Killing (US), Tales of the City) is brought onto the case. Cardinal is the perfect TV detective, handsome, brilliantly observant, dogged, and haunted. With new French Canadian partner Lise Delorme (Karine Vanasse - Revenge, Pan Am, Blue Moon) forced onto him, and a cloud of suspicion hanging overhead, Cardinal has to fight to be believed by his colleagues that this is not an isolated case and that a serial killer is at work.
The haunted detective
A detective in a small town after previously being a decorated and celebrated cop in big city Toronto, Cardinal has been removed from the Homicide division and has been relegated to investigating break-ins. Out of favour with his superiors after being criticised for going too far in the search for a missing girl: wasting resources and burning himself out. Now the same missing girl has been found dead and the police department is accused of allowing a young First Nations girl to “fall through the cracks”. Cardinal has the chance to uncover the truth in a case that has haunted him.
The chilly and breathtaking landscape
The snow and cold of the show is inescapable, not surprisingly as an adaptation of Giles Blunt's aptly titled award winning mystery novel Forty Words for Sorrow. From the very start, the cold and breathtaking landscape permeates the show and at times seems alien and strange. The body of the first discovered victim has to quite literally be cut out in giant slab of ice and lifted out with a crane.
Scandi Noir's Canadian cousin
With every episode new clues and secrets are unveiled, with all your preconceptions and theories challenged as you never know who you can trust, what the truth is, and ultimately who the murderer is. While Cardinal has the serious faced detectives in anoraks on the poster like much of it’s Scandi Noir inspirations (The Killing and The Bridge), it manages to keep a unique voice. It has the genre elements that fans will love, the gruesome crimes, the beaten down detectives, the complex and dark story lines. But it also contains the cultural complexities that exist in Canada which adds added depth and richness to the story and what makes it so compelling. To use an analogy, think of Scandi Noir as French Fries: in Denmark, Sweden and Norway they smother them in mayonnaise, but in Canada they make poutine, it’s all fried potatoes, but the end result in Cardinal is something a little bit special and uniquely Canadian.
Cardinal is streaming now on SBS On Demand: