• Cardinal and Delorme face a series of nightmarish winter murders (Cardinal)Source: Cardinal
Our favourite Canadian detectives are back, and they've got a very cold case on their hands.
SBS Guide

21 May 2020 - 8:50 AM  UPDATED 22 May 2020 - 9:24 AM

The phrase bone-chilling could have been invented for gripping police drama Cardinal. Its first season kicked off with a mystery in the snow, and the final season brings brooding cop John Cardinal and his partner Detective Lise Delorme full circle.

It’s the depth of winter and a routine missing persons case in the Canadian town of Algonquin Bay turns into a spate of murders, with victims left to freeze to death. Throw revenge and remorse into the mix, plus more of the intense relationship between Billy Campbell (Cardinal) and Karine Vanasse (Delorme) that made the first three seasons so good, and you have a final season that’s just as shocking and gripping as what’s gone before. The good news is that it’s up to you whether you drag out that suspense, or blast through the entire season at gunshot pace: All six episodes of the fourth season will be available on SBS On Demand from Thursday 21 May.

If you haven’t discovered this acclaimed Canadian drama you can watch it from the start (seasons 1-3 also be made available on SBS On Demand from 21 May) or read on for our quick guide to what you need to know. We’ll try to avoid too many spoilers, but to be honest, you really should watch it from the start; there are major plot lines that we don’t want to give away!

It’s based on books

Canadian author Giles Blunt has won multiple awards for his series of John Cardinal novels. The first, the excellently named Forty Words for Sorrow, was used as the basis of the first season of Cardinal; each of the following seasons has drawn upon other books in the series.

The show's theme music is adapted from a song by Danish singer-songwriter Anges Obel. 

It’s like Scandi-noir, Canada style

If you like a story packed with brooding cops, tricky relationships, stunning scenery and gripping murders, you’ll love Cardinal.  You’ll find yourself caught up in multiple mysteries: it’s not just the crimes that Cardinal and Delorme try to solve that make this series so gripping. There’s also Cardinal’s past, and the relationship between the troubled lawman and his new partner.

Season one starts with the discovery of a body. John Cardinal was booted from the homicide squad over accusations that his work on the unsolved disappearance of young girl had become an obsession. When her body is finally found, he is reassigned to the case with a new partner, but things aren’t what they seem. Delorme has orders to investigate Cardinal, who is suspected of collaborating with a local drug dealer. Given three more seasons, with Cardinal still on the force, you might think that gets solved quickly, but nothing is straightforward in Cardinal’s life.

Unpredictable puzzles

It’s not easy to boil down the appeal of Cardinal to just one or two things; but one of the threads tying all four seasons together is the clever, twisty and unpredictable nature of the crimes Cardinal and Delorme try to solve. Season two starts with a young woman with amnesia appearing in Algonquin Bay (a fictional town loosely based on North Bay, Ontario, where Blunt grew up). It turns out she’s walking around with a bullet in her head, after being shot. There’s also a major plot development in season two (the no-spoilers dance gets very tricky right here!); the departure of a leading character is going to take a hammer to Cardinal’s already troubled life.

Season three – based on Blunt’s novels By The Time You Read This and Crime Machine - sees a double murder with no bodies, possible links to a doomsday cult, anonymous letters and family troubles.

Brilliant acting

Campbell and Vanasse have won Canadian Screen Awards gongs for their portrayals; Campbell was also nominated for an Emmy. Watch and you’ll see why.

And finally …

Season four sees our detectives trying to stop a killer who leaves their victims to freeze to death. It’s a compellingly nightmarish scenario but it’s not only the murders that challenge the pair, as they deal with their past and questions about their futures. (There's a lot more going on in season four, but 'trying to tell you without telling you' is proving very tricky! Trust us, watch seasons 1 to 3 and you’ll understand why fans have been waiting to see what happens in season 4.)

Seasons 1 to 4 of Cardinal are now streaming at SBS On Demand. Start from the beginning:

Continue to the 4th and final season:

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