Pay attention, UK readers: this may be about a Canadian show, but it’s going to be on FX (aka “The channel that gets all the good stuff but no one can get and no one watches”) in the UK soon, so it affects you now.
The Border is Canada’s good TV programme. An atypically conservative take on world affairs, it’s a look at terrorism, crime, international relations, spies and other nefarious activities, all set to the backdrop of Canada’s Immigration and Customs Security (ICS) agency. It does what 24 and Spooks does – except better and with a smaller cast.
So popular did it prove when it aired during the American writers’ strike last January that it was re-commissioned for a second season while it was still airing, and a third one is on its way soon.
But since most of y’all won’t be watching it for a while, I’ll continue talking about it after the jump – and specifically, the second season finale.
There’s a certain quality about The Border – it’s 24 with a conscience, in the words of the producers. But it feels, as a result, like the producers don’t really know what they want to say or where they want to take the show.
The first season saw the show meander all over the place, with America and Muslims depicted as the root of all evil, with a cute female Muslim ICS agent designed to counter-balance the message and accusations of prejudice. That didn’t stop critics and as a result, there’s been a steady move away from anti-Americanism, mainly through the introduction of a new Department of Homeland Security liaison played by BSG‘s Grace Park, who likes to get jiggy with Canadians. The Muslims have still been getting shafted, mind, and cute female agent (played the improbably named Nazreen Contractor) has been sidelined, but hey ho, you can’t have everything.
Token black ICS agent Darnelle, played by a jaw with a man attached called Jim Codrington, had little to do during season 1, right up until the season finale, when he suddenly became the show’s most interesting character, after assassinating a war criminal from a rooftop. However, within four episodes, all was right in the world and what could have been an intriguing season-long tale of intrigue got resolved in just four episodes, relegating Darnelle to jaw flexing again.
Meanwhile, show lead James McGowan, who has now perfected the disgruntled, emotionless stare into the distance, got to get jiggy with a British SIS agent (Daisy Beaumont), who also proved interesting for a while, before being relegated to looking a bit suspicious at times.
And supposed girl-bait, Graham Abbey, found he was spending the time he wasn’t having sex with Grace Park on looking after his gambling-addicted dad, in a tedious plot that should have been swapped out for something involving ninja IMHO.
Even supporting characters, like Alberta Watson’s minister and Nigel Bennett’s moustache-twirling head of CSIS have found themselves left dangling with little to do; and McGowan’s daughter (Sarah Gadon) has had little to do except move in with her dad and raise eyebrows at his girlfriends – while he raises eyebrows at her boyfriends.
So for the most part, season two has been something of a disappointment, a nicer, more Canadian show that didn’t want to upset too many people by taking a stand on anything or having an opinion. Possibly its nadir was the self-declared Twin Peaks episode set in a town which has the American-Canadian border passing right through it.
But as with season one, the show’s finale lifted the show out of its doldrums. At first, it promised little more than a continuation of the regular plots, before turning into one of those episodes that advertisers like to describe as “shocking finales”. And shocking it was, with one (or more) regulars getting the chop seemingly, with maybe more to go next season, judging by the cliffhanger (short of “kevlar lined head” syndrome afflicting some of the cast).
With just a little more fire in its belly, more episodes like the finale and a little more direction, The Border could be a great show; at the moment, it’s a good one that’s worth watching for some intelligent action drama.