5 out of 5

Created by: Aubrey Nealon

covers season 1

Popping up in several bi-polarly good/bad series, Billy Campbell has a particularly weary delivery style that’s intriguing, but slightly off for the characters he plays.  With Cardinal, he’s scored himself an ideal: Not only is the rundown detective the perfect match for his stares-through-you-toward-the-horizon-boy-I’ve-seen-it-all baggy-eyed glare, but the series in which this character – John Cardinal – appears offers him both an excellently entrancing story to act around and a well-interwoven arc and set of baggage to inform that acting.  This is matched with the equally well cast Karine Vanasse, whose own storyline as Detective Lisa Delorme – its standalone elements, those crossing with Cardinal’s – is just as rich and rewarding.  And?: This completeness of story and character is accomplished over only six episodes.

Though it’s based off of a well-regarded series of books, this in itself is not a guarantee of quality television, as the hundreds of shrug-worthy adaptations of otherwise good novels can attest.  It takes a quality team to bring the material to life, and to best understand what it need to work on screen, and Cardinal’s behind-the-screen crew knows exactly how to do that.  With this taking advantage of the smart push and pull of the plot, which has character motivations believably revealed and wound through events, the show is, at all moments, engaging, even when not swilling in the mire of the violent crimes that are its catalyst (for this season, anyway – because a book series equals multiple!).

Those criminal acts are also given their due by actor Brendan Fletcher, who was so effectively frightening in Rampage and is able to add the same simmering-neath-the-surface realness to his character here.   Allie MacDonald, playing his disciple, has the tricky job of being both sympathetic and terrifying, which she pulls off, shaky voiced, fluttering on the edge of tears or snapping at any point.

Cardinal investigates a series of kidnappings, subsequent methodical torture, and eventual death.  The case has haunted this latter part of his career, while other ghosts from his past nip at his heels as well.  The way in which Cardinal casually tasks his new partner (Vanasse) with seemingly irrelevant or time-wasting tasks that turn out to be integral, as well as his quiet but stern demeanor, solve for something that always bugs me about detective shows: Why THIS detective?

Cardinal answers that by showing us that it’s because he’s a damn good one.  And it’s a damn good show to showcase that.