Tag Archives: Cardinal

Cardinal: Writer Aaron Bala dissects “Mama”

Aaron Bala’s journey into writing television is an interesting one. His first gig after attending Humber College for writing and production was managing the social media account for CTV’s sitcom, Satisfaction.

“It was really awesome,” Bala recalls. “I got to be on set all the time and I got to help them shoot some videos and edit some stuff for all of their web content.” Attending the Bell Media Diverse Screenwriter Program was followed by internships at 19-2 and Saving Hope. The latter put him under the mentorship of Patrick Tarr. So, when Cardinal was greenlit for a third season, Tarr called on Bala to join him. And what an episode for Bala to be credited with. In addition to giving us some background on Mama, it propelled the story towards its conclusion next week.

Here’s what Aaron Bala had to say about “Mama.”

Congratulations on joining the Cardinal team and being a part of the franchise. With it airing not only here in Canada but sold around the world, you must be pretty excited to be a part of it.
Aaron Bala: Oh for sure. I saw the first season and I fell in love with it. And getting to be a part of it is probably one of, if not the greatest writing experience I have ever had in my career so far.

A quick question about the writing credit on ‘Mama.’ The story idea came from Noelle Carbone. And then it says teleplay from yourself and Patrick Tarr. Can you explain how that all worked out?
AB: When I got hired it wasn’t a given that I was going to get to write anything. But, Patrick was outfitting for me to get something and Noelle Carbone was originally supposed to write this episode, which was the preface to the finale. And then what happened was she wrote the outline for it. Hence the story by credit, and then she had to go. And so, it kind of fell into our laps and Patrick was like, ‘Here, you’re up on deck. Let’s go do this.’ It was great to have these two great writers that I got to work off of, Noelle who had the outline. To look at and build off that, then hand off to Patrick to finalize it. And, then hit it out of the park.

This was a big episode. We were getting a little bit more background into Mama and her affect on this family that she has. Was this daunting at all for you? A bit of jitters? 
AB: Oh, for sure. Always. Writing is always daunting. It is never not daunting. But you know, I think the great thing about the show is, it’s six episodes in and we can really build it so that you are left with mysteries with characters that we can start closing those mysteries sooner rather than later. And, as much as it can be terrifying, it’s also really gratifying when you get to write those scenes that explain what the audiences have been wondering for so long. And, especially, when you can write some scenes that are explaining things that audience doesn’t realize it yet that’s going to get explained in the finale, and some of that stuff is super cool too.

One of the scenes that struck me in this episode was the ghost of Catherine, and Cardinal saying, ‘I don’t want to see you anymore.’ I thought that was a beautifully shot scene. 
AB: That is certainly the brilliance of this show, is saying as little as possible and yet saying so much. I remember that scene. That is something Patrick really, really pushed for and just this moment where [Cardinal] has been pushing this case for so long and you know, he finally finds the guy who has been sending the letters. And it is over. But she’s still here. And, I think it is a meditation on what grief is like for all of us and still stuck with seeing people that have passed on and moved on from us. I think it is also potentially in the back of his mind like maybe this case isn’t over yet.

Maybe there is a little more to this. But he is still broken and he doesn’t want to push anymore. You see him get so angry and I think it is great because you have that scene with his daughter just before and see how their grief is manifesting in different ways.

We also got more insight into what Dr. Bell is like and the control he has had over his patients over the years. That verbal chess match back and forth at Dr. Bell’s house … Cardinal walking forward and then he’s walking back. Man, just so well done. 
AB: I think that is probably my favourite scene in the entire episode. I just love it, love it, love it so much. In the books, Dr. Bell was always my favourite character.

I just thought he was so different than the other books had and he was a real cerebral character and I really liked that. It was funny because we left the room one day and were talking about our favourite characters and we all had someone different we really liked. And I thought that was so emblematic of what you want in a writer’s room. So for me, that scene is just so beautifully acted and written. You said, ‘chess match’ and I think that is the perfect word because you come off that scene with the woman that has been talking to Catherine on her computer. You walk out of that scene and you say, ‘Dr Bell did this, he is responsible.’ Then you walk into this Dr. Bell scene and Cardinal is coming with fire and fury. But, Dr. Bell, he almost prepared in a way.

But not in a, ‘I know I am guilty’ but, in a way that he knows that anyone commits suicide that he knows someone is going to come and believe it is him in the end no matter what. He just diffuses all of Cardinal’s beliefs that Dr. Bell is the guilty party and Cardinal leaves that scene and I’m like, ‘Yeah no, Cardinal is chasing ghosts. Dr. Bell didn’t do this, he needs to move on.’ Then you have the whole tag scene with his wife at the end and we kind of just pulled the rug just a little bit out.

I would agree with you about being a favourite character because nothing scarier than a guy who is in your mind and messing around. 
AB: And yeah, we’ve seen a lot of the characters who have guns and we happen to this season as well. I also just like the appeal of this character who may be just as menacing as those other characters but from a totally different way. You know, bullet wounds can heal sometimes, but some of the mental scars don’t.

What have you learned about yourself as a writer? Again, you from Saving Hope to Cardinal now, what have you learned about the whole writing thing and yourself? Have you figured out what your strengths are?
AB: I think I am starting to learn where some of my strengths are, and I am leaning towards structure and themes. I think as the more shows I work on the more that is revealed, and the more you see others do it as well as you, you learn from them. I think what Saving Hope and Cardinal have really pushed me towards is finding the emotional cords of the characters and pushing them emotionally in ways. It is easy for me to say, ‘and then they do this crazy thing at the end.’ But, it is harder for me to say, ‘and then this thing effects them so deeply to their core.’ But, that is what television is. We don’t watch television for what happens. We watch for how it happens to our characters.

Anything you are working on that you can tell me about?
AB: I am on Private Eyes, which I think is on my resumé. Which, you know, has been a great fabulous show. I like staying in the crime space.

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

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

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Comments and queries for the week of February 15

Great episode! An interesting story about the role of journalism in society. The show is pleased with the variety of storylines and versatile presentation of the characters of the characters. George Crabtree here is not quite good—he is envious and vindictive. George should not have told Miss Cherry about the book and his hurt feelings, but he did it. Julia and William are represented by excellent professionals, but not enterprising people. And this is good. Talented people are rarely successful in business. It is the realism of the characters I really like, no one is perfect, everyone can be wrong! Very interesting interview with Maureen Jennings. Thank you for your talent, for the opportunity to enjoy Murdoch Mysteries for many. —Lilia

Great episode!! Loved the ambivalence created around Louise Cherry, who I have a very hard time warming up to even when she wasn’t quite so obnoxious. In this era of jaded over entertained consumers it was amazing and humorous to realize how intrigued the public was over every little twist and turn of technology. And poor George once again suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune kudos to Johnny Harris he is an amazingly funny guy. —David

I finished the episode with the feeling that Miss Cherry is going to do a hatchet job on William and Julia’s book—the revenge she was suggesting George seek for the “slight” when he thought he was not being given any credit for his help. —Byron


“…What was it like working with Billy and Karine? … Their scenes together have all this tension, but it’s not tension borne out of traditional conflict. It’s a deeper thing, I think. They’re both a little afraid of each other, or of what they mean to each other.” I really like that Cardinal and Delorme are just work colleagues and do not seem to have any romantic feelings for each other. In so, so many shows, if there are two single people, writers always seem compelled to hook them up which always leads to VERY boring storylines. Delorme and Cardinal have developed a strong friendship which seems so complicated at times. Because they are just friends, as a viewer, one doesn’t know if the friendship may break down because of their behaviour. We certainly know a lot about Cardinal’s personal life and in Season 4 I would love to find out more about Delorme’s life outside of being under threat from the high crime rate in Algonquin Bay! —John

Got a question or comment about Canadian TV? Email greg.david@tv-eh.com or via Twitter @tv_eh.

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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.

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Links: Cardinal, “Jack”

From Heather M. of The Televixen:

Link: Cardinal “Jack” preview + Daniel Grou interview
“We block shoot the whole thing like a movie. It’s one piece with six chapters. You’re constantly keeping the arc in your mind. That’s one of the challenges of shooting. [The tone changes] so you’re keeping the actors aware of where they’re coming from psychologically and where they’re going.” Continue reading.

From Charles Trapunski of Brief Take:

Link: Interview: Cardinal’s Karine Vanasse
“You see how he is fragile and how he is hurt and how he is broken. In Season 3, there’s that line that has been said about him: “a broken man with power”. I like that line, although I don’t see him knowing the power that he has. I love all the nuances that he brings to the character.” Continue reading.

From Bridget Liszewski of The TV Junkies:

Link: Cardinal: Why Aaron Ashmore had a great experience joining the CTV drama
“On the page, he definitely had his own self-interests, but I don’t think he’s a terrible person. As the season goes on, we see a little bit more of where he’s coming from.” Continue reading. 

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Cardinal: Showrunner Patrick Tarr reviews “Jack”

A few weeks ago, I ran an interview with Patrick Tarr. Our chat happened over a year ago, before he took over showrunning duties for Season 3 of Cardinal.

Now that the third cycle, “By the Time You Read This,” is in full flight, I wanted to reconnect not just to ask about what it was like to work with Billy Campbell and Karine Vanasse, but why he decided to change some key plot points from Giles Blunt’s source material and his experiences working with director Daniel Grou.

First of all, congratulations on Season 3 of Cardinal. You captured the look and feel of the series while putting your unique mark on it. Have you watched a broadcast episode and, if so, what were your thoughts?
Patrick Tarr: Thanks! When I was first approached about writing Cardinal, the first season wasn’t even finished. I watched episodes with temp score, no VFX, timecodes on the screen. But you still could see what it was, that there was something special in the characters and their world. A few months later, Noelle Carbone, Shannon Masters, Aaron Bala and I were in the writer’s room when the first season started airing. And suddenly it was a hit, it really seemed to resonate with viewers. So the pressure was on: don’t screw this up. I spent a lot of time in post-production of Season 3, I’ve seen these episodes so, so many times. And we all get to the point where we think and hope it’s good, but who knows? So finally seeing it on the air and getting to see that people are reacting positively is a huge relief. Now onto worrying about screwing up the next one.

You did change a few things from the book. In Crime Machine, Roman and Irena are decapitated. And, Noelle Carbone told me she had originally written it as the couple on a burial platform. Why did you decide to change that?
PT: When you get a couple of seasons into any series, you have to be careful about repeating things. There are things that might not feel repetitive in books but will feel much more so in a series, especially one that you can binge. So when we looked at Ray Northwind in Season 2 and the dismemberment in that terrifying shed of his, it seemed like we needed to find something different for our first victims. But of course, it had to be something visually creepy and filled with dread because it’s Cardinal. These are the kinds of conversations we have. We cycled through a few ideas and there was indeed a burial platform version, which I loved, but then that boat image hit and it felt so right. It also tied into stuff that comes out later in the season, both visually and thematically. It connected some dots for all of us. And the way that rising boat shot was executed by Daniel Grou, Dylan McLeod and the whole crew … I find it so grimly beautiful.

And, also, Mama is male in Crime Machine. Why change the character to female? I’m not complaining. I’m just wondering from a storytelling point of view.
PT: Before Sarah Dodd started writing Season 2, she and I got together at Sienna Films for a couple of days with a pile of the Giles Blunt books and talked about what Seasons 2 and 3 might be. There was some shifting around of material, and we also realized that Ray Northwind from Blackfly Season and ‘Papa’  from Crime Machine bore a few similarities to each other that weren’t glaring in the books, but definitely would be on television. The moment that the idea of ‘Mama’ arose, it was electric. I hadn’t ever seen this character before. That is always the most exciting feeling—I have not seen this before. 

Rya Kihlstedt is fantastic as Mama. Did she audition and, if so, was there something she did in her audition that cemented she was perfect for the role?
PT: Early on one of our casting directors, Jon Comerford, sent an email with a link saying something like, ‘Hi this is Rya Khilstedt and she should be Mama but we need to move fast.’ So we all watched her reel and within five minutes it was ’YES!’ from everyone. It was instant—this was Mama. And then Rya came in with such energy and excitement to play this character. And on set, the relationship that Mama’s surrogate kids (Alex Ozerov, Sophia Lauchlin-Hirt, Nick Serino) had with her and with each other was very sweet. They bonded like a real family. Because their story runs separately to the main action for a while, we shot almost all their scenes in the space of a week or so, like its own little indie film.

The Jack/Mama relationship is an interesting one. Before she laid him down on the bed to strap him, it felt overtly sexual. Was that intentional?
PT: Yes, it was. That scene was pivotal, and it became a real challenge to find the right balance. It moved around in the editing a few times. Originally the scene played later after you’d already spent some time getting to know Mama, Jack, Lemur and Nikki. But making this Jack and Mama scene the very first scene of the episode was a bold choice that was like, ‘OK, here we go, meet the family.’ We had spent two episodes convincing the audience that Jack is a terrifying predator (which he is), only to reveal in the first scene of Episode 3 that he’s completely under someone else’s power.

It’s a big moment of character development for both Mama and Jack as you see that she knows exactly which buttons to press to make Jack do what she wants. Which is different from the way that she manipulates Lemur or Nikki. Even within that scene, she uses love and fear, intimacy and pain to keep Jack under her spell. In the book, Papa’s use of sex as a means of control is much more overt. And even though what we shot was pulled back some, I’m sure a lot of people are going to be uncomfortable watching it. I’m not looking forward to the phone call I’m gonna get from my mother on this one.

When I last spoke to you, we were in North Bay and your cycle hadn’t started filming. What was it like working with Billy and Karine?
PT: They have both internalized these characters so much. Their scenes together have all this tension, but it’s not tension borne out of traditional conflict. It’s a deeper thing, I think. They’re both a little afraid of each other, or of what they mean to each other. And as actors, they are both so driven to do more with less. It’s a lot of work, the way that they use looks and silences to convey emotional moments rather than to find pauses between them. Sometimes Billy would come up and ask if I thought he needed to say a certain line and I learned immediately to trust those instincts. It was always better without the line. And Karine finds these emotional beats within beats. The way that she plays Delorme, every scene is really telling a story about her.

I know Podz from his directing of 19-2. What does he bring to the table as a director and what do you learn from someone like him?
PT: The writer/director relationship on Cardinal is not like on other shows I’ve worked on. Because Daniel directs the entire season, it really had to become a creative partnership. He knows his job and I know mine, but there is a lot of overlap between them. We got good at finding compromises and balancing what we each saw in the story along with what our producers at Sienna and our network saw in it. I trusted his instincts because I loved his work in the first season and I’d seen what he’d done with 19-2. What I really got from watching Daniel work is that his every directorial choice is motivated by emotion. Camera moves are emotional. Location choices, wardrobe, casting—it all comes from that place for him rather than what would look cool. The way he speaks to the actors, they can tell he’s put himself into the hearts of the characters and can engage with them about what they’re feeling. And I think that helps them feel trust and comfort and to find something true in what they’re doing in a scene.

I love that, this season, Lise has taken the lead and Cardinal is reporting to her. It has really refreshed that relationship for me, as a viewer. I’m assuming it was fun for you too.
PT: It was indeed. We kind of expected a bit of pushback on that, as suddenly the guy that the show is named after isn’t in charge anymore. But everyone was so into that new dynamic, and how it allowed the characters to go to places they hadn’t before. Cardinal is on this emotional journey and Delorme is taking up his slack and then some. They’ve been through the shit together and she has proven herself to him over and over. So when he starts to lose focus she’s right there calling him on it the way he called her out for digging into his past in Season 1. It also gave a new dynamic to Delorme’s relationship with Kristen Thompson’s Dyson character. Those two are each bearing silent burdens in this season, each of them trying to support someone through grief while struggling with issues of their own.

What can viewers expect from the rest of this season?
PT: Next week’s episode, written by Shannon Masters, is such a showcase for Karine Vanasse. She’s flipping from action scenes to big dramatic scenes, and she’s just so intense and incredible through all of it. You really feel the disappointment in Delorme that her partner is failing her and leaving her to deal with this huge, awful case alone. But even as she feels that she still sympathizes with him and has the patience for him. Moving into the end of the season, as things start to close in on John Cardinal, Billy Campbell will break your heart. Not to mention, we have Mama and her family headquartered at the remote cabin of Lloyd Kreeger (Tom Jackson). They are a volatile bunch. It’s a complicated season with multiple storylines and points of view, but it all comes together in the end. Things that didn’t seem like they would ever connect end up becoming hugely important. There are visual sequences that still take my breath away after multiple viewings. I really hope people will connect with it and want to come back to see what happens next.

Want to score the ultimate Cardinal contest? Visit CTV.ca to enter for a chance to win an on-set experience by watching the latest episode of Cardinal, Season 3, and visiting CTV.ca to submit your answer to the trivia question.

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

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

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