Cardinal s1 ep 1; s1 ep 2

Algonquin Bay, Ontario, Canada. (Apparently a thinly-disguised North Bay.) A missing First Nations girl, Katie Pine, turns up dead and encased in a block of ice. This comes as little surprise to the detective who was originally looking into her disappearance, John Cardinal (Billy Campbell in fine form), and he’s put back on the case, with dark warnings to behave himself; we’re given to understand that he became obsessed with the investigation first time round. Cardinal is paired with Detective Lisa Delorme (Karine Vanasse, reliably good), who’s just transferred in from Financial Crimes.

In the first of this double-bill Cardinal pursues his belief that whoever killed Katie is, to use his word, a “repeater”, and he starts to review unsolved missing person investigations to see if he can find similar cases. Meantime Delorme is sent off to stay on top of Cardinal’s outstanding enquiry into a string of housebreakings, which – as yet, possibly? – don’t seem to be connected to the murder.

But in the final few minutes of the first episode the show moves up a gear. We discover that Delorme’s presence in the homicide squad isn’t because she fancied a career change: she’s been planted there by Musgrave, the unlikeable Witchfinder General of Internal Affairs, who thinks that Cardinal has a corrupt relationship with drug dealer Kyle Corbett. (And, from what we’ve seen, Cardinal is undoubtedly up to something in the background.) So Delorme is investigating a murder and her partner, at the same time. Awkward, potentially. And while she’s being lectured by Musgrave, Cardinal’s pursuit of one of his missing-person leads results in him finding the body of runaway teenager Todd Curry.

Which sets up the second episode nicely: Cardinal and Delorme head to Toronto for Todd’s post mortem, and discover that his head was wrapped in old-fashioned audio tape, which when analysed contains a faint recording of Katie Pine, pleading for her life, and an unknown man, presumably her killer, thus establishing a link between the murders. Meantime Delorme is visibly wrestling with the fact that Cardinal is more agreeable than the other men in her life – husband and Witchfinder – but nonetheless continues to investigate Cardinal, tailing him to a casino at which he appears to exchange black market chips for cash. He looks dirty, but I’d bet my mortgage that means he isn’t.

By the end of the second episode I was kind of hooked, I think, although with one or two reservations. Even leaving aside Cardinal’s obvious debt to Scandi-noir – the snow, the dead girl, the multiple plots – there’s much about this show which draws from the well-established procedural playbook. Cardinal and Delorme, to start with, tick quite a few of the maverick-TV-cop boxes. For Cardinal, there’s inevitably Secret Pain, personal (his hospitalised wife is bipolar), and professional (his thwarted investigation into Katie’s disappearance). He also has a dead raccoon in his crawl space. I have no idea whether that’s supposed to be a metaphor for something. Delorme, meantime, is supposedly trying for a baby with her husband, for whom I do not care at all. I suspect that before the end of the season he’ll be finding a hidden stash of birth control pills lying around. But Campbell and Vanessa are attractive and watchable actors who elevate the material. And in addition the show looks, well, amazing. The snow-covered, desolate landscapes are, I would guess, a gift to a cinematographer; and the shot of the block of ice containing the remains of Katie being hoisted out of the murder scene on a pulley isn’t one I’ll forget any time soon. So Unpopcult is in, with further reviews to follow.