In what is becoming a sad several weeks for Canadian TV, it has been announced that Season 4 of CBC’s legal drama Burden of Truth will be its last.
“After four incredible seasons, we’re bringing our Burden of Truth story to its conclusion in tonight’s series finale,” a statement read on the show’s official Facebook page. “We are so proud of the stories we’ve been able to tell each season, especially those related to social justice. We’re also tremendously appreciative of the support we’ve received from our fans worldwide, and are particularly grateful to the communities in Winnipeg and Selkirk, Manitoba, for being so welcoming to our crew.”
“We’re incredibly proud of Burden of Truth and are honoured that the show resonated with so many viewers worldwide,” executive producers Ilana Frank, ICF Films, Linda Pope, and Kyle Irving, Eagle Vision said in a statement. “When we began this season, we knew our story was coming to its natural end with a meaningful conclusion for Joanna, Billy, and the entire cast of characters. We’re thankful to the communities in Winnipeg and Selkirk, Manitoba, where we filmed our show, and our tremendous cast, helmed by Kristin Kreuk and Peter Mooney, for bringing ground-breaking stories to life. We also appreciate the steadfast support of our production partners at eOne, as well as our broadcasters CBC and The CW, on four tremendous seasons of Burden of Truth.”
Created by Brad Simpson, Burden of Truth stars Kristin Kreuk as Joanna Chang, Peter Mooney (Rookie Blue, Saving Hope) as Billy Crawford, Star Slade (Frontier,Emerald Code) as law student Luna Spence, Meegwun Fairbrother (Mohawk Girls, Hemlock Grove) as Police Chief Owen Beckbie, and Anwen O’Driscoll (Emerald Code, Flint) as new Millwood police recruit, Officer Taylor Matheson.
The legal drama follows Joanna Chang, a ruthless, big-city lawyer who returns to her small hometown in Millwood for a case that will change her life forever.
In the fourth season, a mining company reopened a dormant mine outside Millwood. Joanna and Billy, lawyers and new parents, stepped in to protect a local woman’s home from certain destruction. When the mine swiftly retaliates, Joanna is forced to confront a long-buried secret from her past and scramble to protect the future of her career and her family. As both sides prepare for war with the fate of Millwood at stake, Joanna and Billy must juggle their life with a newborn with waging a legal battle against a corporate titan. When they come across evidence the mine isn’t what it claims to be, Joanna seizes an opportunity to launch an unexpected legal battle that will bring the company to its knees.
Burden of Truth follows Frankie Drake Mysteries and Kim’s Convenience as CBC series ending this broadcast season.
Burden of Truth could have ended after last season. The Season 3 finale wrapped up the legal show-turned-family drama’s storylines in a neat bow, with lead character Joanna Chang, played by Kristin Kreuk, completing her metamorphosis from emotionally damaged corporate lawyer to self-aware justice seeker and mom-to-be.
But just like after the show’s first season—which so efficiently resolved its legal-heavy environmental plot that it looked like it had nowhere left to go—it found a way forward by digging deeper into its characters.
“This year, we thought the only way to really do another season is to take it all away from Joanna and see what happens,” says Kreuk, who is also an executive producer on the series.
And in the Season 4 premiere, airing Thursday at 8 p.m. on CBC, Joanna is clearly struggling. She and Billy (Peter Mooney) are trying to find their footing as new parents while waging a legal battle against a powerful mine company that wants to reopen an old gold mine outside of Millwood.
“[Joanna] and Billy are really trying to parent without any support,” says Kreuk. “They’re just doing it on their own in a vacuum while both of them are working.”
The situation is made worse by the mine’s ruthless legal team—who use the same aggressive tactics that Joanna did when she was a corporate lawyer.
“She sees this mining company come in with predatory behaviour that she was part of in her past,” Kreuk explains. “So she’s trying to defeat her shadow self.”
We recently caught up with Kreuk and asked her to break down Season 4’s biggest storylines and explain what it was like to film during the COVID-19 pandemic.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect production this year? Kristin Kreuk: We got kind of a late pickup for the show this year due in part to, in March, nobody knew what was going on or what would happen or how quickly the pandemic would resolve itself. Then we started shooting later than we normally would for our show. We didn’t start shooting until basically the end of August.
In Winnipeg and Manitoba at that time, they had very few cases, they hardly had a first wave. And so for a while there, it looked like we may be able to skate by a little bit. But even from then, before we even got on a plane, we got tested. We tested the minute we arrived. On set, everybody was wearing masks and shields, everyone was kind of placed in pods. People had to step away from set to eat, and there were hand-washing and hand sanitising stations. We worked shorter work days so people could get more rest, so they didn’t get tired and their immune systems didn’t weaken.
So a lot changed, and it was a very different season of television. And Winnipeg’s cases started to go up quite a bit in the fall, and they were the worst in Canada for a while, so towards the end, we got worried. But it always felt safe because of all the precautions. In many ways, I felt safer on set than I did anywhere else.
Were there any story changes because of the pandemic? KK: Yes, totally. One of the main things was ensuring that we didn’t have very many background performers, so we didn’t do courtroom scenes really. We used to have big courtroom set-pieces at the end of every season, and we didn’t do that this year. We had to change it up.
Season 3 ended on a very positive note for Joanna, but as this season begins, she’s having some problems adjusting to motherhood and also finding it hard to be on the less powerful side of a corporate case. What can you hint about her journey this season? KK: Joanna and Billy, when we left them last season, were probably in the happiest place they’ve ever been. The pregnancy wasn’t too hard for Joanna, she was able to work, they were doing very well, and she had kind of healed a bunch of her stuff. At the top of this season, the reality is sinking in more for them, and Joanna’s really struggled. She’s feeling the pressures of what motherhood should be and feeling all of the narratives that have been put on motherhood, and they weigh on her.
And then there’s the fact that the job she does is so dangerous in many ways because she’s taking on the underdogs in cases. It’s something that the other mothers that she’s meeting aren’t able to comprehend. So she’s kind of in this place of doubt.
As you said, Joanna and Billy were in a very happy place at the end of last season, but being a new parent is hard. How are they going to handle that? KK: What I love about Joanna and Billy is that they love each other, that’s not a question. But this year, you’ll see the differences in what makes them feel secure and safe. For Joanna, it has to do with her ability to do the things she’s best at, particularly because she feels like she’s failing at being a mom, which is debatable. If you just look at what she’s doing, she’s not, but she really feels like she is. She feels most secure through being able to be great at her job.
Billy’s sense of security also comes through Joanna being great at her job, but he also wants a more traditional life. And I think those two things butt up against each other because that’s not what Joanna wants or needs, but that is what he wants and needs. So we kind of see that unfold between the two of them, particularly because Joanna’s choosing, similar to last year, a case that isn’t helping them to make money for their firm.
Two recurring themes I’ve noticed are finding the meaning of home and finding your identity after trauma, and it looks like Season 4 will continue that trend. Was it always the show’s intention to explore those themes? KK: We are aware of what you’re talking about, but I think that when we started the show, we only understood one small aspect of what that meant—at least, I don’t know if this was [series creator] Brad [Simpson]’s scheme all along. I think that we were really focused on Joanna’s own trauma, and we weren’t looking at it as completely, but each season we’ve delved deeper and deeper into that.
A manifestation of that through Taylor [Anwen O’Driscoll] this season is her trying—and her storyline is so beautiful this year—to find her place in a town that she thought she’d never come back to, that’s a representation of her horrible relationship with her father and her loss of a future she saw for herself, of having to like reacquaint herself with her dreams and her place on that land. This season is very much about kind of repositioning yourself on your land and in your home and how you can do that while incorporating the trauma of your past into that without forgetting it.
I thought Owen Beckbie’s fight against racism in the police department was a very interesting storyline last season, and Meegwun Fairbrother did a great job with it. What will happen with Beckbie this season? KK: [Meegwun] wrote half a script this year, so he’s been a big part of the season. Beckbie’s in an interesting place where he’s finding himself in a position of power, and he thought maybe, as an Indigenous man in a position of power, could change things. But he’s realizing through being on the ground that that isn’t true, that the system is the system. And so this season is sort of about him evaluating his place in that system and how he can create the changes he wants. You see that through the cop aspect of [the story] and also through this kid, played by Skye Pelletier, who he sort of takes on. His relationship with Beckbie is a big part of the season.
Burden of Truth hasn’t been afraid to hold up a mirror to some of the darker aspects of Canada’s history, particularly its treatment of Indigenous communities. Have you gotten a lot of positive feedback about that? KK: Honestly, I think people are mostly really excited that we’re delving into those stories. Some people have told me that they’re actually learning from the show, which is kind of sad because our education system should be doing that. But it’s also great that we can do that because I have always believed that one of the powers of scripted television or feature films is that you fall in love with people, with characters and then you can develop empathy for them in a way that you feel more connected to. So feedback wise, people have said that to me, people really appreciate it. But I’ve also seen some really negative stuff about how we’re super white-hating, which is clearly also not true.
Did you have a favourite episode or storyline this season? KK: It’s hard to say because it’s such a serialized show, but there are images that have stuck in my head as I’ve watched them through all the edits. There’s a moment with Beckbie, he has a scene with Crystal [Michaela Washburn], who we briefly saw in Season 3. She’s a criminal and he is a cop, and they’re both Indigenous and they have an all-out, intense discussion. It’s a very good scene, and there’s a small moment that follows that I find really moving, where Beckbie is kind of facing his cop self.
There’s stuff with Luna [Star Slade] that’s really powerful this year as she tries to decide what path she wants to take for her career, whether she wants to focus on legal aid, or if she wants to sort of go in the direction that Joanna went, and she has to decide what will make more of an impact based on what she wants to do with her life.
And there’s stuff with Billy and Joanna as they manage being parents that I find really beautiful. They come to an understanding with each other and they have therapy scenes, which I think are also really interesting. There are a lot of things to look forward to from all these characters.
Burden of Truth airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.
Burden of Truth is billed as a legal show, but in reality, it’s an intricate family drama that uses a deeply flawed—and systemically unequal—legal system as its highly-effective backdrop.
This character-driven approach has been a big hit with both critics and viewers. It’s also one of the reasons series star and executive producer Kristin Kreuk initially wanted to do the series.
“I wanted to do something serialized, and I wanted to be able to delve into the lives of the people affected by these cases as well as our regulars,” Kreuk tells us in a phone interview. “On our show, we just happen to have legal cases that trigger all of our characters, and as the seasons have gone on, I feel that all of our leads are related to each other, like they’re all family in a way, so we kind of get to be This Is Us, but also a legal show, which I really like.”
Over the course of two seasons, Kreuk’s character—corporate attorney-turned-socially woke lawyer Joanna Chang—has experienced some This Is Us-level personal drama. At the start of Season 1, she was an emotionally disconnected corporate attorney working at her ruthless father David Hanley’s (Alex Carter) big-city law firm. However, after she teamed with small-town lawyer Billy Crawford (Peter Mooney) to investigate an environmental case in her rural hometown of Millwood, Manitoba, she discovered she had a secret step-sister named Luna (Star Slade), who was the product of a sexual assault committed by Hanley. As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, in the second season, Hanley was murdered, and Luna was falsely accused of the crime by racist cop Sam Mercer (Paul Braunstein). In the taut Season 2 finale, Joanna proved Luna’s innocence and—in a huge display of personal growth—gave up a posh corporate law gig in Singapore to pursue her budding relationship with Billy in Winnipeg.
During the Season 3 premiere, which airs Wednesday at 8 p.m. on CBC, we find a year has passed since Joanna missed her overseas flight, and she and Billy are in love, living together and running their new socially-conscious law firm, Crawford Chang. It all appears blissful at first glance, but as usual, there are new legal issues brewing that could shake things up.
“The beginning of Season 3 is this crazy time for Joanna,” Kreuk explains. “She’s started a business, and it’s probably not the smartest business choice to start a boutique law firm in Winnipeg and work primarily on cases that speak to a social conscience.”
The fledgling law firm’s precarious position is immediately highlighted when Joanna and Billy lose a workplace negligence case, devastating their clients, forcing them to cut staff, and causing Joanna—who has never lost a case in her life—to be plagued by self-doubt.
“Joanna is being forced to reckon with the parts of herself where she perceives herself to be weakest,” Kreuk says. “She’s not as good at the things she’s chosen to do as the things that she’s done before, and she has a lot of people who are relying on her in a way that working in corporate law didn’t previously come into play. She’s the most vulnerable that we’ve ever seen her by far, and she’s starting to have a bit of anxiety rumble up.”
That anxiety is made worse when Kodie (Sera-Lys McArthur), an old high school friend, has her children taken away by Millwood Family Services, forcing Joanna to delve further into unfamiliar areas of law and, worse, face more family skeletons.
“There are some secrets in Joanna’s past that affect the way she perceives everything and that she’s kind of buried,” Kreuk hints. “Joanna’s mom was taken from her—not in the same way as Kodie’s kids are taken away—but her mom was taken away. And Joanna’s really mad because she thinks it’s her mother’s fault that her mother abandoned her, so there’s all this personal stuff with family for her: Who gets to have the kids? Who gets to keep them? Why did Joanna’s father get to keep her? What makes it possible for someone to raise their children and why? Who decides?”
Kodie’s struggle to regain custody of her children also continues the show’s exploration of the way the Canadian legal system treats indigenous individuals and communities.
“I have to be delicate here, but in Canada, in the foster care system, we have a lot of Indigenous children, and this storyline will represent that to some degree,” Kreuk explains.
In addition, she says that Owen Beckbie (Meegwun Fairbrother), who is now the Millwood police chief, will be increasingly pushed “to the edge” in Season 3, as he comes to terms with the light prison sentence his former boss Mercer received for causing the death of an Indigenous man. Meanwhile, Luna will be dealing with the aftermath of her false imprisonment, “trying to find her place in the world after seeing the reality of what her situation [as an Indigenous woman] in the country is.”
Luna’s journey of self-discovery—which includes working at Crawford Chang—will also cause some disagreements with her sister.
“Joanna is very strong-willed and can put a lot of pressure on people, like her father before her,” she says. “Despite her growing humanity, she still feels that the job is the job is the job. You do what it takes to make sure your client wins, and that is the most important thing. How you feel about it is irrelevant. And Luna isn’t that person—which is good in who she is—but that will result in conflict.”
The events of Season 3 will also be hard on Billy, who is unaware of the family secret that is driving Joanna to take on Kodie’s “unwinnable” case.
“She’s obviously choosing this for emotional reasons, but she won’t tell him what it is,” Kreuk says. “And indeed the audience won’t know the real reason until probably the end of the season.”
The situation will lead to “the most intense period of difficulty” Joanna and Billy have ever experienced, she says, but despite this, their arc “is really gorgeous and culminates in a very moving way. This is the most emotional case that we’ve done.”
Burden of Truth airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.
The first season of CBC’s Burden of Truth was a pleasant surprise. At first glance, the series—with its vague title and legal theme—had the unfortunate outer markings of a bland procedural, a sort of brown paper bag among more colourful “Peak TV” offerings.
But in a wonderful sidestep, the series eschewed a plot-focused case-of-the-week format in favour of a single, serialized case that took its time and built its characters. Moreover, its environmental storyline involving big-time corporate lawyer Joanna Hanley (Kristin Kreuk) and a mysterious illness affecting high school girls in her hometown of Millwood, Manitoba, exonerated its seemingly punchless title. As the suffering of the girls became impossible to ignore, the weight of Joanna’s conscience—which her lawyer-boss father David Hanley (Alex Carter) proudly proclaimed she didn’t have—became heavier and heavier. This moral awakening led her to defect from her dad’s big-city law firm and help small-town lawyer Billy Crawford (Peter Mooney) investigate the cause of the girls’ illness. It also led her to discover that her father once preyed upon an underage girl, resulting in the birth of her sister Luna (Star Slade). This helped her to win the case but forced her to change her name.
The burden of truth, indeed.
In the show’s Season 2 premiere, which airs Wednesday at 8 p.m. on CBC, that burden still looms large. Now working at a high-pressure corporate law firm in Winnipeg and using the last name “Chang,” Joanna is trying to distance herself from both her father’s shadow and the Millwood case. However, the events of Season 1 won’t be easy to shake off.
“I think Brad Simpson, who created the show, really wanted to be sure that we stayed with the lives of these people and to really instill that these cases don’t just end and that’s it,” Kreuk explains during a phone interview from Toronto. “There’s a lot of complexity and also a lot of horrible things happened, so they have to deal with the balance of that.”
For Joanna, that means having to deal with Millwood-related aftershocks—be they in the form of a visit from her estranged father or in the form of an unwanted Case of the Year award—while she is struggling to rein in her difficult new client, a hacker-turned-political activist (Varun Saranga). For the people of Millwood, that means finding a way to rebuild their lives after the closure of Matheson Steel, the source of the environmental contamination that made the girls ill.
While the series is admirably willing to delve into the aftermath of Season 1, Mooney assures viewers that there are plenty of fresh storylines and threats lurking about in Season 2.
“I think the danger in the second season is so much more immediate,” he says. “The onus in the first season was chipping away at these girls’ lives in a really tragic way, and this season is just as dangerous. But that danger is not a future danger, but a danger that’s present and right there in every day of the season.”
One major source of danger is Joanna’s new case, which involves hacktivists, shadowy corporations and Internet privacy.
“When the hacktivist stuff happens, it’s hard for her,” Kreuk says. “Not just because she doesn’t understand the Internet and she doesn’t understand privacy, but because she’s dealing with young people who are really emotional and really intense, and that’s really tough for her. I think, practically, that puts her into a space where her life is on the line and so are the lives of her clients.”
To make matters worse, the case forces Joanna to confront parts of her personality she would rather keep hidden.
“When people attack Joanna’s privacy, it starts to get into emotional profiling and the darkest parts of your psychodynamics that you don’t want to look at and you don’t want anyone else to see,” Kreuk says.
Meanwhile, back in Millwood, Matheson Steel victims Molly (Sara Thompson) and Taylor (Anwen O’Driscoll) are trying to physically and emotionally heal after their ordeal, while Luna remains troubled by the crime David Hanley committed against her mother (Jessica Matten). The town is also reeling from the closure of the mill—an event that is driving up unemployment and increasing tensions. This causes Billy to retreat to the outskirts of town, but his tranquil existence is interrupted when his impulsive younger brother (Andrew Chown) suddenly turns up.
“Billy got away pretty clear in Season 1,” Mooney says. “Anything from his past that he’d rather have avoided, he was able to avoid in that season. But in Season 2, it comes crashing back into his life and we meet his brother Shane, who brings us back into his history, and it’s tricky history. There’s a lot going on. We see a lot of different sides of Billy beyond the side that he usually puts forward.”
If all of this sounds like a Season 1-style slow-burn instead of the “immediate” danger Mooney spoke of, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. There is an early-season twist that turns everything on its head, and Kreuk says the fallout will challenge viewers and push them to “think about their place in Canada, or in the world, in a more nuanced way.”
Mooney concurs, adding, “We tell a really difficult story this season, and I think it’s really well told. I’m really proud of it.”
Burden of Truth airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.
What the heck will Billy and Joanna do now? When we last left our heroic lawyers on Burden of Truth, Joanna had been booted off the case, leaving Billy to fend for himself. Undaunted, Joanna sat down with Nate to take his statement. Looks like he’s willing to blow the whistle on Matheson after all.
Meanwhile, Owen was the victim of a massive beatdown at the hands of his boss, Mercer. Is he going to be OK, or did this whole case lead to a loss of life?
Wednesday marks the two-part season finale of Burden of Truth beginning at 8 p.m. on CBC; here’s what the network has released as episode synopses for “Home to Roost,” written by Lynn Coady and directed by Grant Harvey and Doug Mitchell, and “Cause in Fact,” written by Brad Simpson and directed by Grant Harvey and Doug Mitchell.
Joanna faces the one person who may be able to defeat her father: her mom.
Using the law to her advantage, Joanna herself reinstated on a technicality plays her trump card. When it’s not enough to elicit a settlement offer, Joanna makes it personal.
And here are some spoiler-free hints as to what else to expect.
The needle in the haystack
Matheson is compelled to hand over their files to Billy; now it’s up to he and Luna to find evidence Matheson’s parent company, PNL, knew illegal dumping was taking place in the field. That’s going to be tough, especially without Joanna to help them.
David Hanley takes one on the chin
Figuratively, of course. But it sure feels good to see it happen. We also get some major dirt on him. It’s pretty good stuff. Then David shows his true colours while building the case with Alan against the girls.
We get an update on Owen
And the news isn’t good.
Road trip and family reunion
Joanna and Luna hit the road to Winnipeg to visit Joanna’s mother. There are tears. And facts pertinent to the case.
The court case begins
We’ve been leading up to this point all season long. Emotions are high, bombshells are dropped and the payoff is huge. Congratulations to all on a stellar first season of Burden of Truth. And I’m excited to see where the show goes in Season 2 on CBC. Kristin Kreuk and Peter Mooney will both return as Joanna and Billy for eight new episodes written by showrunner Adam Pettle, creator Brad Simpson, Shannon Masters, Hayden Simpson, Eric Putzer, Felicia Booker and Renee St. Cyr.
Season 1 of Burden of Truth concludes with back-to-back episodes on Wednesday at 8 and 9 p.m. on CBC.