From the opening moments of Coroner’s Season 3 premiere, it’s clear that COVID-19 has invaded Dr. Jenny Cooper’s (Serinda Swan) world. There are social distancing measures during her group therapy class, full-body protective suits at her workplace, and in one painfully familiar scene, raw marks on her skin when she removes her mask.
“Yeah, that was a striking image,” creator and showrunner Morwyn Brebner says during a phone interview. “And it really did just evoke all the images that we’ve seen of the health care workers and the hours and hours and hours that they had to work in those masks.”
Executive producer and lead director Adrienne Mitchell concurs, adding that the scene demonstrates “the truth of people trying to make their way through this, from doctors down to personal care workers in homes, and just the physical toll that that took.”
Since Coroner is a medical-crime drama that focuses on death, Mitchell and Brebner felt it was natural to incorporate COVID-19 into the new season, which kicks off Wednesday at 8 p.m. on CBC. However, aside from the first episode’s plot involving the death of a long-term care worker who lacked access to PPE, they say the pandemic will influence the ambience of the series more than its storylines.
“The weird thing about the pandemic is that … it proposes the possibility of different ways of living,” explains Brebner. “We can go into different worlds and go through them with a real sense of curiosity and wonder.”
Over the course of this season’s 10 episodes, up from last year’s eight, Jenny and Detective Donovan McAvoy (Roger Cross) will investigate a slew of mysterious deaths in a variety of new environments.
“Because it’s been a COVID-19 year, where time is stopped and everything is surreal and you’re put on pause, you can invite unusual things into your life and hold them in a way that is perhaps more playful,” says Mitchell. “That’s what’s fun about this season: You can go from horror to haunted houses to witches to strange magic.”
This season will also have a different vibe because Jenny faced down several personal demons—including her complex relationship with her dad, Gordon (Nicholas Campbell)—during the show’s dark and psychologically fraught second season, letting her approach Season 3 with a fresh perspective.
“[Jenny]’s decided to be open to life, and that makes her vulnerable, but it also presents an incredible opportunity,” says Brebner. “It’s like allowing things to come at her while she’s embracing her trauma a little and trying to see what it is to her, as opposed to being afraid of it.”
According to Mitchell, series lead Swan—who has always tackled Jenny’s mental health issues with fearlessness and compassion—was completely onboard with her character’s emotional shift.
“Serinda was very much interested in exploring trauma as a tool,” says Mitchell. “So instead of [Jenny] succumbing and being paralyzed by it, now that she has a bit more of an understanding of it, how can she use it and draw from it to move through the world and connect with people who have their own individual traumas? … It’s very interesting. It’s a different journey for her this season.”
Behind the camera, Mitchell used “flares of light and the magic of light” to visually represent Jenny’s newfound appreciation for life, choices that are evident during a trippy, drug-infused sequence in the first episode.
“Only Morwyn can write about a weed journey in the middle of a very hard COVID-19 case, but it works,” laughs Mitchell. “Because [the way we normally live our lives] is sort of on pause because of COVID-19, it allows for unusual, strange, and living-in-the-moment events to take place, and there are some opportunities to have what I would call ‘strange joy.’”
However, not everything will be rosy for Coroner’s characters this season.
According to Brebner, McAvoy will have a health scare that forces him to face his mortality in a new way.
“He deals with death all the time,” she says. “He’s a homicide detective, he’s an incredibly stoic person, and he’s up against something that’s a new kind of adversary for him.”
Meanwhile, Liam (Éric Bruneau)—who left Jenny in last season’s finale—will still be struggling with his war-related PTSD.
“We ended Season 2 with the decision that they needed to be apart to heal, and that being together was going to be an obstacle to their healing,” says Mitchell. “And then the question is, where does that take them? Is that going to bring them back together or not?”
As for Brebner and Mitchell, they’re both trying to recover after Season 3’s exhausting, COVID-delayed five-month shoot, which ended on Jan. 22.
“We brought in a COVID-19 health management team, so we had about three or four rotating nurses and daily screens, in terms of temperature and questionnaires. We also had weekly COVID tests and a strict regimen of mask-wearing at all times,” Mitchell says.
The cast and crew were also required to stay six feet apart as much as possible, which was hard, Brebner notes, because TV production “is really a business where we stand close together and hand each other things.”
Still, they both say it was a “privilege” to work during the pandemic and are proud of the result.
“We go to deep, emotional places, but we also go to a lot of fun places,” Brebner says. “This season has a really strange and magical integrity to it.”
Mitchell concludes, “It’s just weird, but it’s a cool weird.”
Coroner airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.
Images courtesy of CBC.