Moody ‘Cardinal’ won’t let go of an unsolved murder
Cardinal is TV’s version of a riveting summer beach read — in a very chilly package. Hulu’s six-episode weekly murder mystery ( Friday,
out of four), based on the novels of Giles Blunt, focuses on police detective John Cardinal (Billy Campbell, The Killing), whose tenacious search for a missing indigenous teen girl in a snow-covered, northern Ontario community eventually puts him on the trail of a serial killer.
Cardinal is a familiar murdermystery type, the damaged but dedicated detective whose inability to let go of a dead-end investigation threatens his career but ultimately leads to solving the crime.
However, the Canadian series adds an intriguing twist: the investigator also is the investigated, as Cardinal’s behavior in a previous case may come back to haunt him.
Campbell, whose salt-and-pepper beard and unkempt hair bring his handsomeness down to mere mortal proportions, masterfully inhabits a tired, weathered man struggling with his wife’s mental illness and the physical distance from a loving daughter who attends school in Toronto. Professionally, despite frustration with the brass, he’s a relentless investigator.
Viewers meet Cardinal during a ho-hum shopping-center stakeout, when he’s shaken from his stupor — literally and figuratively — by detective Lise Delorme (Karine Vanasse, Revenge) and news that the teen girl’s frozen body has finally been found, after the Algonquin Bay police department had moved on to other investigations and Cardinal, angered by that decision, has been demoted.
The reopened case revitalizes Cardinal. So does Delorme, who lacks his experience but matches him in savvy and persistence. The jousting and bonding between the senior Anglo investigator and his younger French-Canadian partner gives Cardinal emotional depth.
Viewers meet the murderer, Eric Fraser (Brendan Fletcher), early in the series, which follows the police and the suspect on separate paths destined to intersect. Some plot coincidences seem too pat, but the intrigue pulls viewers into the episodes, written by executive producer Aubrey Nealon ( Orphan Black). Torture scenes are troubling — and still too common in TV and movies — although some of the gruesomeness is hinted at or shown after the fact.
The wintry setting works on literal and metaphorical levels, as a picture of nature’s cold beauty and a defining element that grounds Cardinal in place and mood. (The abundance of snow and ice, featured in gorgeous cinematography, might help heatstricken viewers drop their internal thermostats a few degrees.)
Seemingly endless birch forests define Algonquin Bay’s remoteness, while a thick snowpack, frozen lakes and opaque, low-hanging clouds echo the character’s confined, muffled emotional core — which only his wife, his daughter, the teen victim’s mother and now Lise can penetrate.
For viewers fearful of commitment, Cardinal resolves its crime over its six-episode first season. Fortunately, the series has been renewed for two more seasons, leaving time to investigate other crimes from the novels and the characters’ messy lives, including Delorme’s fascinating (and Cardinal-like) struggle to balance the professional and personal.
That’s good news for viewers, whether they’re watching at the beach house, the ski chalet or any place (or season) in between.
Billy Campbell plays John Cardinal, a damaged but determined homicide investigator, in Hulu’s Cardinal.