Toronto Star

Border between thought and action

- VINAY MENON

Apassenger plane from Syria lands at Pearson Internatio­nal Airport carrying a known terrorist. Seconds later, federal agents converge on the terminal in unmarked vehicles. The agents flash their badges, amble past security and assume their positions in and around the jetway. As the 24- inspired score thumps to life, the scene is splintered through a deliberate­ly frantic prism of jittery camerawork and disorienti­ng quick-cuts. So begins The Border (CBC, 9 tonight), a new drama that flings itself into the maelstrom of national security in our post-9/11 world by shining a fictional light on a halfdecade of real headlines: radical Islam, money laundering, arms dealers, human traffickin­g, child abduction, nuclear programs, assassinat­ion plots, extraordin­ary rendition, the global sex trade. The 13-part series revolves around members of the Immigratio­n and Customs Security (ICS) unit, a squad that was handpicked by its leader, Mike Kessler (James McGowan). His team includes: Gray Jackson (Graham Abbey), a womanizer with street smarts and admirable biceps; Layla Hourani (Nazneen Contractor), a beautiful, Canadianbo­rn Muslim who speaks seven languages but seems a bit dense when it comes to executing a highrisk takedown; Heironymou­s Slade (Jonas Chernick), the resident computer geek who consumes a startling amount of junk food. There’s also Al “Moose” Lepinsky (Mark Wilson), a former cop with blue-collar sensibilit­ies; Maggie Norton (Catherine Disher), the unit’s unofficial den mother; and Darnell Williams (Jim Codrington), an ex-CSIS agent who is described in the press materials thusly: “tall, black, elegant, with a dry wit and a slow, sexy smile.”

Afinal casting note: Sofia Milos ( CSI: Miami) arrives next week as Bianca LaGarda, a special agent with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security who is based in Toronto.

So that takes care of the characters in this ensemble series. But what about the show itself?

As tonight’s pilot suggests, The Border isn’t particular­ly interested in mining the black-and-white, good-versus-evil material you might expect from a show in which terrorism is often a leading concern (see: 24, The Sleeper Cell, Threat Matrix, The Grid.)

As seen through the gleaming glass walls of ICS headquarte­rs, the world is indeed turbulent and crackling with menace. But it is also shot through with political expediency, rushes to judgment and internecin­e squabbles over jurisdicti­on and accountabi­lity, all of which propel the narrative as much as the criminal schemes and misdeeds.

Take tonight’s pilot. Instead of focusing on the arrest of Tariq Haddad, the “known terrorist,” the story follows the plight of Nizar Karim. Does he have links to Haddad and a terror cell as CSIS suspects? Or is he merely an innocent high school teacher and Canadian citizen who struck up a conversati­on about orthodonti­cs with the wrong guy during a flight from Damascus?

Personally, I would have enjoyed the pilot more if it had less mawkish sentiment and overwrough­t dialogue: “If I quit, who’s going to keep bastards like you from running away with the country?”

The third episode is far superior. Why? It remembers the “action” part of the equation and doesn’t allow any heavy-handed moralizing to squash the story.

The Border, you see, is an action show that’s trying to make you think. And when you think about it, this is both its principle strength and its primary weakness.

Sure, television should be smart and contemplat­ive. But let’s face it: big-picture meditation is a tough way to keep viewers glued to the small edge of their seats. vmenon@thestar.ca

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 ??  ?? The Border is CBC’s answer to 24, but the action doesn’t pick up until episode 3.
The Border is CBC’s answer to 24, but the action doesn’t pick up until episode 3.

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