Having watched my fair share of Nordic Noir styled tv crime dramas, I know that the vast majority of the good shows are primarily not in English. So it was a real treat to stumble across Cardinal on Acorn TV (via Amazon).
Cardinal is a Canadian series adapted from the novels of crime writer Giles Blunt. The show focuses on police detective John Cardinal (Billy Campbell) and his partner Lise Delorme (Karine Vanasse), who investigate crimes in the fictional city of Algonquin Bay.
But these are no ordinary crimes. Oh no, these are grisly and very very dark. If your stomach turns easily, Cardinal may not be the show for you!
If however, you can get past the gruesome murder details then you are in for a treat.
With six episodes in each season, Cardinal follows one major crime, usually by a serial killer.
The plots generally start off with a petty crime, that then takes John Cardinal and Delorme down a rabbit hole to a far more serious crime, wrapping up nicely at the end of episode six.
Cardinal Season 1
When we meet John Cardinal, he has already been removed from the homicide squad due to his obsession with investigating a missing Native Canadian girl.
When the body of the missing girl finally turns up, he is reassigned to the case with a new partner, Lise Delorme.
But what he doesn't know is that she has been assigned to investigate him as part of a corruption probe, which forms the secondary plot of the season.
The murder investigation then widens when another missing person case with similar patterns leads the two detectives to believe that a serial killer may be active in the area.
Cardinal Season 2
When a young girl suffering from amnesia, after having been shot in the head appears in Algonquin Bay, the detectives must not only identify her but find out who wanted to kill her.
Their investigation soon leads them to various murder victims who appear to have been killed in accordance with some occult religious rituals.
The bodies are tied to a local biker gang, and known drug dealers, so it looks like somebody is trying to take over the local drug trade.
Secondary to that plot is the relationship between John Cardinal and his wife Catherine who suffers from mental health problems and is being treated by Dr Bell. (He becomes more important in Season 3).
Eventually, all of the pieces of the corruption probe from the first season are wrapped up as is the story of the girl with the missing memory.
Cardinal Season 3
This time around it is a series of atm robberies that takes a turn when Cardinal and Delorme tie them to the murders of a couple in town for a convention.
With the killer on the loose and a witness who won't come forward, trying to figure out how everything ties in proves trickier than usual.
Cardinal Season 4
The fourth and final season of Cardinal, the Canadian crime drama, follows the story of a prominent politician's husband who is abducted and then left to die.
Cardinal and Delorme suspect that a hired killer is targeting his victims out of revenge for a cover-up in their past.
Is Cardinal Worth Watching?
There really is a lot to like about this show. The fact that it is in English is a bonus, but otherwise, it really does feel like a Scandanavian crime drama.
That is largely in part due to the bleak landscape of the fictional town in Northern Ontario, the characters which are far more low key than in the traditional American cop shows and a script that is devoid of over the top bravado.
The stories are good, the pacing of each season is good as are the side relationships that help humanise our detectives.
If I had one criticism though it would be that each of the first three seasons are very samey.
And by that I mean, there is always more than one killer, usually a group with a dominating leader, a psychopath as a right-hand man with a couple of nitwits who blindly carry out instructions.
Seriously, how many collections of these serial killer groups could there realistically be in one small northern Canadian town?
The thing is, you only notice it when you binge a show, and as all four seasons are available on Amazon (via Acorn tv) that's exactly what I did!
Otherwise, Cardinal is a compelling crime drama and well worth watching.
Will There Be A Season 5 Of Cardinal?
With four seasons all wrapped up, Cardinal is no more. The last episode aired in May 2020 and the show was not renewed for a fifth season.
As the series was adapted from the Giles Blunt books and the fourth season had covered the final and sixth novel in the series, ‘Until the Night’, there was nowhere for the plot to go.
Thankfully though, Cardinal does have a decent ending, which so many shows do not actually get these days.
So while we only got four seasons of police detective John Cardinal looking all broody, at least we were left on a cliff hanger!
What Books Is Cardinal Based On?
The Canadian crime drama is based on a series of six books by writer Giles Blunt.
Each season adapts a specific novel so Season one is based on Forty Words for Sorrow.
The second season adapts the third Cardinal novel, Blackfly Season with the third season combing books By the Time You Read This and Crime Machine, the fourth and fifth novels in the series.
Lastly, the fourth and final season is based on the sixth novel, Until the Night.
Cast of Cardinal TV Series
One of the most prominent things about Cardinal is how low-key the various characters are played.
It's almost devoid of all the usual circus theatrics that we get with so many other police procedural dramas – thankfully!
But to play these cool, calm and collected detectives, you need great actors and that's what you get in the cast of Cardinal.
Billy Campbell as Detective John Cardinal
Karine Vanasse as Detective Lise Delorme
Kristen Thomson as Det. Sgt. Noelle Dyson
Deborah Hay as Catherine Cardinal
Alanna Bale as Kelly Cardinal
Glen Gould as Det. Jerry Commanda
James Downing as Det. Ian McLeod
Zach Smadu as Det. Ash Kular
Eric Hicks as Constable Derek Fox
David Richmond-Peck as Sgt. Malcolm Musgrave
Shows Like Cardinal
If you loved watching Cardinal as much as I did, you may be trying to find similar types of shows for your next binge.