Pop Culture Gadabout
Thursday, July 24, 2008
      ( 7/24/2008 06:21:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"IT SEEMS THAT DOMINIC ENJOYS STIRRING THE POT!" Both cast and writers have clearly hit their stride in the third season of the Canadian forensic procedural, Da Vinci's Inquest, which has recently been issued by Acorn Media as a four-disc DVD boxed set. Our title hero, Coroner Dominic Da Vinci (Nicholas Campbell) remains, in the words of one character, a "bit of a prick," but you can hardly blame him. In season three, our man gets passed over for the Chief Coroner's position in favor of a numbers cruncher (Gerard Plunkett) and sees his proposal for a safe injection site get shot down. His relationship with his daughter Gabrielle (Jewel Staite, about to leave for more prominent roles) is so strained that we only get to see her for about ten seconds the entire season. In the season closer, our hero even finds himself attacked in court for being one of the few remaining coroners in Canada without a medical background. "I'm an anomaly and an anachronism, but I'm not alone," the former cop snaps at the attorney badgering him - and we wouldn't have it any other way.

The rest of the series cast - most particularly Donnelly Rhodes and Ian Tracey as partnering homicide detectives Leo Shannon and Mick Leary - have all settled into agreeable rhythms. Of all the supporting characters, Leo gets the most attention this season: dealing with an ailing wife whose periodic dementia gets her wandering the neighborhood, starting up dance lessons with an attractive lady instructor. In one of the season's funniest subplots, a distracted Leo's police car is stolen by a suspect. "They're never gonna let go of it," he grumbles in a later episode after one of his colleagues makes joking reference to the incident.

Leo's partner Leary gets less to do outside the job this season, though there are hints that his relationship with pathologist Sunny Ramen (Suleka Matthew) will be heading into creepy territory somewhere down the pike - perhaps at the hands of Mick's Borderliney ex-. He does have some memorable moments in "You See How It Happens," directed by Rhodes: struggling to tamp down his disgust as he questions a former Guatemalan policeman injected with a slow-acting poison by one of the émigré victims he once tortured. Midway into Mick's investigation, the focus shifts from uncovering the murderer's identity to getting the victim to reveal the whereabouts of the men and women he helped "disappear."

Unlike the first two seasons, there are no big crowd-pleasing serial killer storylines in this set. Instead, creator Chris Haddock and his writers work to cram each episode with several cases, resolving some and leaving others open. If at times, it feels as if the writers are attempting to push the open-ended tactic as far as the audience's patience will allow (perhaps most frustratingly in a story involving a pregnant mother who might be responsible for the death of her first two children), in most cases, the approach adds to the series' naturalistic tone. In one of the season's more affecting plotlines, for instance, a grieving father who is unable to accept the verdict of accidental death posted on his cokehead daughter reappears briefly outside Da Vinci's office in two later episodes, still looking for different answers. To the families of loved ones who've passed suddenly and unexpectedly any explanations are going to be woefully insufficient.

Haddock and his writers are often content to raise the issues brought up by their stories than definitively answering them. In "The Sparkle Tour," a Native Peoples activist is found dead after two Vancouver cops drive him out of town and leave the guy out in the country to walk back without his shoes. (The title refers to the sight of stars that the victim sees as he hobbles back home.) Though Dom and we know what occurred, the two uniforms responsible prove to have covered their tracks too well to get punished for their deed. There are no last-minute C.S.I. styled forensic discoveries to tie it all up neatly.

Which is not to say that Dom and company don't get their share of heady forensic victories - they do, though the means by which they get there aren't always as tidy as we see on American forensic procedurals. Crime and death are messy, a point that's made repeatedly in "All Tricked Up," an episode that contrasts two mysterious deaths with the more explicable magic tricks of Harry Houdini. What matters is returning each day/season to do the job - even if doing it can turn you into "a bit of prick" like Dom.
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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