Steph Song finds Blood and Water in her bones


OMNI isn’t a network I look to for scripted dramas. In fact, it’s not generally a network I look to at all.  But with tonight’s premiere of Blood and Water, the multicultural network is suddenly home to one of the most intriguing Canadian series on air.

A half hour, eight-part procedural, Blood and Water stars Steph Song as Detective Jo Bradley leading her first case, the murder of a man from a prominent Chinese-Canadian family, immediately following her diagnosis of uterine cancer. While her boss admonishes her to slow down on the investigation, her doctor encourages her to quickly make a decision between chemo and a hysterectomy. Full of her own doubts, she faces the second-guessing of her resentful more senior partner, played by Peter Outerbridge.

Drawn in by the premise, flawed characters and quiet intensity, Song jumped on a plane from Australia where she’s been living with her husband and three-year-old daughter back to Vancouver which has been her home through Dragon Boys, Everything’s Gone Green and my personal favourite, jPod.

Born in Malaysia and raised in Canada, when Song was 14 her mother decided she couldn’t take the Saskatoon winters anymore. Two weeks later the family was on a plane to Australia.

Early in her career, particularly when she moved to Los Angeles, Song saw more Asian caricatures  in the roles on offer — the bad guys, the dim sum waitress, the request to put on an accent. “That’s not me,” she says. “But now doors are opening and the industry is getting more diverse.”

Much is made of the fact that Blood and Water is a trilingual series — English, Mandarin and Cantonese — but the premiere sets up the initial action and characters in English and there’s nothing jarring to non-Chinese speakers about the eventual subtitles. Plus an audience used to sampling Scandinavian noir and the like on Netflix are sure to be less subtitle-phobic than the olden days of TV (circa 1995).

The multilingualism of her current show isn’t a gimmick, either. It’s a reflection of the Vancouver I see all around me and a way in to these characters. Bradley, for example, understands but does not reply to characters addressing her in Chinese. Though put in charge of the high-profile case for optics, as her last name suggests she was adopted by non-Chinese parents.

Song points out that her character is an outsider to both cultures. Adding to her isolation: because her diagnosis means she won’t be able to have children, her lineage stops with her. And because she’s adopted, her only connection to her lineage would be to trace it backward.

Like her character, Song is no stranger to juggling different cultures, and calls both Canada and this type of meaty role “close to my bones.”  Regardless of language or ethnicity, “we’re all fighting our own battles, and I think this show will appeal to a wide demographic.”

Blood and Water airs Sundays on OMNI.