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Series / Cardinal

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Cardinal is a Canadian Police Procedural drama that premiered in 2017 as a joint-production between CTV (which airs it for the English-speaking audience in Canada) and Super Écran (which airs it for the French-speaking audience). Based on the works of author Giles Blunt, it stars Billy Campbell, Karine Vanasse, Kristen Thomson, Allie MacDonald and David Richmond-Peck.

Originally slated to be a single miniseries, its success led to it being picked up for three additional seasons.

Critics in Canada have hailed the show as an equal counterpart to Nordic Noir thrillers like The Killing.

Set in Algonquin Bay, Ontario, the series follows Detective John Cardinal of the Algonquin Bay Police Department, a deeply burdened and troubled man, as he seeks to unravel complex mysteries and deal with his equally tangled personal life.


Season One, based on the novel Forty Words for Sorrow, focuses on the discovery of the body of Katie Pine, a young female teenager of Aboriginal origin who'd been reported missing the previous year. Cardinal, who originally investigated her disappearance, is brought back to reopen the case. Cardinal is determined to find whoever is responsible for Katie's death and his resolve is only strengthened when he realizes that Katie is part of a pattern and that other young people have started going missing as well.

Simultaneously, Cardinal has to learn to work with Detective Lise Delorme, his new partner. Delorme herself is struggling to manage her career and her marriage. Complicating matters is that she is also helping the RCMP conduct a secret investigation into Cardinal to see if he was responsible for a leak that resulted in a botched police raid that left one officer dead.


Season Two, based on Black Fly Season, follows the investigation of a teenager with amnesia soon leads to a case of two drug gangs, one biker and the one seemingly led by a Canadian Aboriginal man trying to make money by using the reserves as bases. Although it's not as it seems to be since there's also a serial killer on the loose who uses Afro-Caribbean religion as a basis.

Season Three, based on By the Time You Read This and Crime Machine, sees the ABPD tasked to investigate the death of a married couple after a supposed home invasion. Meanwhile, Cardinal gets a letter printed from an unknown person, harassing him after Catherine had supposedly killed herself.

The fourth season is currently airing.

This show contains examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Woody is a criminal who steals other people's stuff for a living, but when he finds a tied up and tortured Keith, he tries to tie him loose and help him escape.
  • Apocalypse Cult: Season 3 has the ABPD investigate the activities of a Canadian-American doomsday apocalypse cult led by a discharged female soldier from the US.
  • The Atoner: John Cardinal stole a pile of illegally earned money from criminals he once arrested and since then has felt deeply ashamed of it. Even though he used the money to pay for his daughter's education and his wife's mental healthcare, he eventually considers turning himself in for it and quit being a cop.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: In season 1 which is based on Forty Words for Sorrow, Eric Fraser and Edie Soames. Although Eric is more responsible as the murders are all his idea.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Woody, the burglar from the serial-robbery subplot in the first episode, comes back as the focus of the fourth episode's B-plot. He attempts to rob Edie and Eric and gets killed while attempting to free Keith, making this also an example of A Death in the Limelight.
  • Dirty Cop: The first season's major subplot is Delorme trying to determine whether or not Cardinal is on the take.
  • It's Personal: Delorme discovers that her investigation on behalf of the RCMP is in fact a personal crusade on the part of her contact who blames Cardinal for a sting operation that was blown with a cop killed.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: Between the AB police and the RCMP. Justified that the latter is a federal police force brought in to check on allegations of a Dirty Cop.
  • Mob War: Part of the first season's backstory was the investigation to allegations that Detective Cardinal provided info that helped jumpstart a gang war in the 1990s.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: Algonquin Bay is a fictional counterpart for North Bay in Ontario.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The revelation of two teens killed in AB has shocked the community and scared them out of their wits.
  • Shown Their Work: Whenever a police officer in Canada is suspected of being involved in a criminal case, the department or agency would depend on either an independent agency from outside the province/territory or have officers involved from out of the area.
    • The presence of an Aboriginal-managed casino is real. They're used to help Aboriginals living in their territory get money as a means of sustaining the communities.
  • The Oner: "Keith" has one when Detective Cardinal and Lise search for the killer in a school.
  • The Show of the Books: Entirely based on "Forty Words for Sorrows".
  • Sigil Spam: You can see the red maple leaf in the uniform, including rank lapels and cap in the AB uniforms. Truth in Television that most police forces in Canada use this in their logos or on their uniforms.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: In "John Cardinal", Detective Cardinal accosts Constable K. Fox who goes to a crime scene without being cleared off by forensics officers, potentially contaminating the evidence. He tells him to remove his police-issued winter boots and leave the scene.
    Cardinal: Constable, I'm gonna need your boots.
    Constable Fox: My boots?
    Cardinal: And then I want you to go home. You're dismissed.
    Constable Fox: Sir.
    Cardinal: You have kids? Pets? Carpet in your TV room?
    Constable Fox: I have two kids.
    Cardinal: Their DNA is now contaminating the crime scene, the unprocessed crime scene - that you chose to enter.
    Constable Fox: Sir, I swear, I...
    Cardinal: Let me tell you something. If one day we're lucky enough to get this guy, I can't have you serving up freebies to his defence attorney. So off they come.
  • Wham Episode:
    • John Cardinal: It's revealed that Lise is recruited by the RCMP to hunt down for a corrupt officer, specifically to check on rumors if Cardinal was a Dirty Cop or not.
    • Woody: Cardinal learns that Lise that she didn't leave financial crimes and is scheduled to go back once her stint to investigate him is over.
    • Keith: Despite the efforts of the ABPD to hunt for Keith, Edie stabs him in the end with a bowie knife.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The AB police is hunting for a serial killer who has no qualms in going after teens who go off the grid.

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