Finding the ‘ugly side’ of summer for Cardinal season two

Showrunner Sarah Dodd discusses the numerous challenges in meeting the bar set by the worldwide success of season one.

Sophomore seasons are never easy, especially when the first was a bona fide hit.

In the case of CTV’s Cardinal, season-two showrunner Sarah Dodd and the series’ all-new, all-women writing team had the additional pressure of adapting not just one book for the new season, but amalgamating several storylines for the miniseries format. They also faced the challenge of recreating the same dark, chilling visual tone of season one in the bright Northern Ontario summer sun of season two.

These were not insignificant challenges, given how much traction the first season found with audiences and buyers worldwide and the expectations created by that success. Produced by Sienna Films and Entertainment One, which also distributes, the series has sold into 100 territories worldwide, with an average of 1.1 million Canadians tuning in each week to watch John Cardinal (Billy Campbell) and Lise Delorme (Karine Vanasse) battle both the elements and a set of sadistic killers. In reviewing the series, which streamed on Hulu in the U.S., The Wall Street Journal‘s Dorothy Rabinowitz wrote that part of the series’ appeal lay in the “bone-chilling glories of the scenery.”

Season two, which debuts Jan. 4 at 9 p.m. on CTV, sees Dodd (Ransom) enter as showrunner, succeeding Aubrey Nealon of season one; season three will see Patrick Tarr (Saving Hope) take over the role. Jennica Harper (Motive) and Alison Lea Bingeman (19-2) write and co-exec produce season two, and Penny Gummerson (Heartland) serves as story editor and consulting producer. Sienna’s Jennifer Kawaja and Julia Sereny are executive producers, while Jeff Renfroe directs and co-executive produces.

In recreating that bone-chilling appeal in the sunshine, Dodd says her team focused on presenting the “ugly side” of summer.

“There’s a feeling of decay behind the beauty that we really explored,” she says. “It looks like cottage country… but look a little closer and things are rotting in the hot sun.”

The storyline follows another mystery for the detectives to unravel, this time a young woman with a gunshot wound to the head whose injury may be connected to more serial killings. With not quite enough material in the third book in Giles Blunt’s John Cardinal series, the writing team had to cherry pick elements from other books in the series to fill out the second season, and also added character arcs that weren’t in Blunt’s books.

“There were lots of elements in that book that were very cinematic, that lent themselves to television, but there wasn’t enough material in just that book for six hours of television,” says Dodd.

All of this was done during during a five-week writers’ room between November and the holiday break in 2016, with Dodd re-working drafts in January and February and heading to set in North Bay at the end of April.

Amidst all the change and the fast pace required, Dodd said Sienna’s Kawaja and Sereny were the “keepers of the flame” that kept everyone on track. “They know their shows so well. They were always able to guide all of us, get us back on the page and make sure we were being true to what the show really was.”