Cardinal: Writer Shannon Masters breaks down “Lemur”

Alas, poor Lemur. Perhaps the strongest all-around survivalist aside from Mama (Rya Kihlstedt) herself, Lemur (Nick Serino) met and untimely, and messy, end at the hands of Jack (Alex Ozerov). Jack took advantage of Lemur being on the run from the police during a botched ATM robbery and killed his “brother.”

Thursday’s newest instalment of Cardinal, “Lemur,” also opened the door on what horrors Jack endured when he was younger and shaped who he is today. Finally, after very much looking to Cardinal (Billy Campbell) for guidance during the past two cycles of Cardinal, Lise (Karine Vanasse) has officially read her partner the riot act. We spoke to the episode’s writer, Shannon Masters—who has written for Burden of Truth, Mohawk Girls and penned her feature film Empire of Dirt—about Jack, Lise and killing off Lemur.

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions and congratulations on being part of Cardinal. I love the franchise and am enjoying Season 3 immensely.
Shannon Masters: I’m glad you’re loving watching it as much as we enjoyed making it.

Before we get into specifics about the series and your episode, how did you get into the Cardinal writer’s room in the first place?
SM: Two words: Patrick Tarr. We’ve been friends for well over a decade and I think he got tired of watching me bang my head against the wall trying to break into television so took a chance and gave me a shot in the room. Plus, I’m cheap so didn’t break the budget. Ha ha.

This past week has been all about your work. I watched Empire of Dirt the other day on Super Channel and your latest episode of Burden of Truth was on CBC. You’ve taken over Canadian TV over the last 10 days!
SM: Finally. Seriously though, someone has to pinch me because I still can’t believe I get to do this job.

I imagine working on Cardinal has been very different from Burden of Truth and Mohawk Girls. How have you grown as a writer through the Cardinal experience?
SM: Every writing experience is unique, just as each show and showrunner are unique and all provide the opportunity to evolve in different ways. But my growth as a writer on this show specifically was exponential because Patrick trusted (and expected) me to do the job well. That gave me a new confidence in both my ability and my voice. Plus, there is something to be said for having a showrunner who comes in with a rock-solid vision. Lesson: being prepared and having a plan gives you freedom.

It’s been hard to feel anything but anger at Jack and the way he’s been acting. But in the opening moments of ‘Lemur,’ we discover he’s endured something horrifying in his past, including his relationship with this father, and how that connects him to Mama. How do you tackle writing a character like him?
SM: I believe the key to writing bad guys, whether they have a difficult past or not, is to write them as though they believe in what they’re doing, that they don’t think their actions are wrong or bad. In general, people have no idea what they are truly capable of until they find themselves in extraordinary circumstances and are faced with hard choices. That holds true for fictional characters as well. So trying to get into their heads and seeing things through their eyes often lends those characters an intriguing level of depth.

I’m not sure if you’ve seen the rough cut for ‘Lemur’ yet, but there is a moment before Cardinal goes into the apartment to talk to Roger, the ex-con-turned-accountant. John pauses at the top of the stairs, loosens his neck and takes a deep breath. He wants to keep it together and not wring Roger’s neck. Do you remember if that pause was written in the script, or something Billy ad-libbed?
SM: It’s been such a long time since I wrote the episode so it could have been on the page, an acting choice or something that came from our director. What I do remember is going into Cardinal’s story this episode with the feeling that he knows he’s skidding down the rabbit hole but just cannot stop himself. His cop instincts are too strong and his GUT is telling him that his wife did not kill herself. So while he knows that every moment he pursues these men he’s put away, Roger Felt included, his grip on the situation slips a bit more, but he’s gonna do it all the same. So he’s kind of stealing his nerves here before he dives in yet again.

You killed Lemur! Now there is nothing stopping Jack from taking advantage of Nikki. How could you?!
SM: Lol. Nikki is tougher than she looks.

Lise has taken a fierce stand against Cardinal. It’s been fascinating to watch her gaining confidence and taking command. Has it been fun, as a writer, to explore their relationship in Season 3?
SM: Their relationship is fantastic and it’s been incredibly rewarding to get to flesh it out even further this season. In this episode specifically, Delorme’s ferocity is born from her desire to help Cardinal. She and Cardinal have morphed from colleagues into friends with a mutual deep respect, so she doesn’t want to see him torture himself or torch his career. And she’s also got a job to do. She’s been given a lot more responsibility this season and she takes it very seriously.

Cardinal airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on CTV.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

Greg David
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Greg David

Prior to becoming a television critic and owner of TV, Eh?, Greg David was a critic for TV Guide Canada, the country's most trusted source for TV news. He has interviewed television actors, actresses and behind-the-scenes folks from hundreds of television series from Canada, the U.S. and internationally. He is a podcaster, public speaker, weekly radio guest and educator, and past member of the Television Critics Association.
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