Review: The Border 3×1

Surprisingly few surprises

The Border

In Canada: Thursdays, 9pm, CBC
In the US: Acquired by Ion Television
In the UK: FX probably

Firstly, as always, don’t go to the CBC web site if you want to have any surprises this season. They give the whole game away.

Secondly, where were we? Oh yes. Back at the end of the second season of The Border – Canada’s answer to 24 and Spooks in which its immigrations service, ICS, finds itself having to deal with nasty Muslim terrorists, and even worse, Americans – lots of people got blown up and shot. Maybe. We were left in a “Dynasty wedding scenario”, waiting to see who survived.

But it’s time for the third season so clearly we have to reveal how many cast members can withstand a fusillade of automatic weapons fire at point-blank range with near-zero cover to protect them.

Anyone want to guess if the number is greater than zero?

Kessler and Carver hover near death while Gray hunts down Layla’s killers. A bloody highway shoot-out with the crime mob ‘Ndrangheta has left Major Kessler and Agent Carver fighting for their lives. The Squad is forced to the sidelines, as Special Counsel Louise Tilden investigates the role of ICS in the much-publicized tragedy. Meanwhile, Gray, who has been suspended from duty, sets out to avenge the murders of Layla and his father Dougie.

Is it any good?
There’s a certain feeling of, “Hmm. You can do better than this” creeping in now.

Obviously, CBC has been having a few budget issues of late, thanks to the recession and the advertising downturn. What that means for The Border is apparently they can afford for everyone to turn up in SWAT uniforms. They just can’t afford to have actual firefights, beyond one or two weapons firing.

Oh dear.

The premiere episode sees Kessler in hospital with a bit of bullet lodged in his shoulder, being visited by every blonde woman within 100 miles. Carver the American is hovering on the verge of death, since she’s not as hard as Kessler. Want to guess whether the ratings booster that is Grace Park will be around next episode?

Everyone else important in the cast is just fine, thank you, because they’d borrowed Batfink’s wings of steel to protect them. That was handy.

Primary recipient of those steel wings, Gray, is being all mopey because he got his dad and partner blown up last season, so he wants to hunt down the nasty American mafioso who done him wrong. This apparently involves giving away the keys to his apartment to street punks because he feels a bit guilty and tailing guys in a really obvious way.

Back at the office, ICS is being investigated by a nasty, but quite cute lawyer, thanks to the fact that 11 people got killed in the shoot out we didn’t see. She doesn’t care about the truth and all she wants to do is bring down Kessler and ICS. Damn her. Even the new comedy Minister of Justice can do little but grin a shiny grin about the whole situation.

Meanwhile, Charlotte the MI6 agent and best friend of Lara Croft apparently, is doing her level best to fix what those poor old Canadians can’t manage to do for themselves: she interrogates, does some obvious body language interpretation, karate chops and shoots people in the head. Now The Border has never been absolutely the most realistic of shows, but you do feel that if there were 20 armed police officers, ICS agents and armed response officers and a guy drew his gun, more than the solitary MI6 agent standing around would have a go at shooting him. Still, the Canadians get to agonise about this a bit – but only a little bit, because secretly they’d like to do that if only they weren’t as cold and evil as the English.

It’s all just a little bit silly and more cliched than it used to be. True, there are some very obvious set-ups for the rest of the season: the ICS investigation is going to be our venture into the shady world of politics; the MI6 agent is back for some soapy intrigue with Kessler, no doubt bringing her into conflict with the newly arrived ex-Mrs Kessler who Has Not Got Over Mike But Cannot Show It; we have a new character to come from CSIS to replace Gray’s partner – will there be intrigue between her and the increasingly under-used Darnelle, who doesn’t even appear in the cast photo for the season?; and Gray will no doubt be back as an ICS agent thanks to the public adulation he’ll have got for supposedly shooting the mafioso.

What the show could do with is a bit more fire in its belly. It’s needed it for some time, but with the intelligence rating dropping on the scripts, it needs some action and the ability to do more than equivocate on issues if it’s going to become must-see TV.

At the moment, I’m increasingly feeling the urge to drop this from my viewing schedule. If the new characters and plot lines prove interesting, it might get a reprieve. But I’m beginning to suspect it’s never going to quite pull the excitement bunny out of its hat.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.