Da Vinci’s Inquest – Season 2
by Jef Burnham
Available from Acorn Media.
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Season 2 of the Canadian Broadcast Corporation’s (CBC) award-winning police drama, Da Vinci’s Inquest, premiered in October of 1999. Throughout the series’ Canadian run, it was nominated for over 50 awards, taking home more than 30, including numerous awards for Best Dramatic Series. The series is currently being broadcast in America on late night CBS and the second season’s American DVD release is set for November 13 from Acorn Media.
The American equivalents of Da Vinci’s Inquest are unarguably Law & Order and CSI (which it predates by two years). Da Vinci’s Inquest uses complex methods of investigation, combining the skills of the various Homicide, Pathology, and Forensics Departments with Coroner, and title character, Dominic Da Vinci, played by Nicholas Campbell (Cinderella Man), who conducts formal inquests under the Canadian Coroner System. Da Vinci’s Inquest, whilst it may not exceed the status of Law & Order in America, is far superior to CSI and the numerous programs it spawned.
In a behind-the-scenes interview with the series’ creator, Chris Haddock explains, “The show’s been called ‘ruthlessly unsentimental.’ That’s because we really go over… the scripts and try to play much more naturalistic [stylistically].” As such, the series retains a level of respect for life and humanity that CSI and its contemporaries are disturbingly devoid of. It isn’t unheard of for a character in one of these series to remark how much they love their job as they pull a chunk of a murder weapon out of a young man’s throat, or for the camera to follow a bullet as it tears through a bystander’s abdomen.
You’ll find none of that in Da Vinci’s Inquest. In fact, there are no onscreen deaths in season two whatsoever. In the interest of realism, the criminals and victims here are fleshed out well past the point of the cardboard cutouts that grace the American crime drama. They are people with problems—real problems—and they are never taunted by the police when they finally give a confession. Even the most sadistic of serial killers gets fair and impartial treatment, as is the law.
The central characters of the series are made up of the people who fill the various positions within the Vancouver Coroner’s Office. There are homicide detectives, forensic investigators, pathologists and, of course, the coroner himself, Dominic Da Vinci. This allows for great differentiation between the characters as they are easily separated at first glance by their roles within the office, as opposed to the unrealistic, super-scientist investigators of CSI. As the point of the show is the solution of each episode’s particular case, we are only given brief glimpses into the characters, but these glimpses add up fast. Even if you missed the first season, you will have a solid grasp of the characters by the third episode.
The second season consists of 13 episodes that deal with everything from fishing trawler accidents to the death of a child by shaking to serial killers targeting prostitutes. Guest stars include character actor Matt Frewer (2004’s Dawn of the Dead remake), who is investigated in connection with the disappearances and murders of 29 Vancouver prostitutes; and Jewel Staite (Joss Whedon’s Firefly) as Da Vinci’s daughter, Gabriella, who moves in with him in the second episode of the season and isn’t seen again until some time the next season.
The most notable episodes of the season are “Sister’s Light,” which follows the inquest into the capsizing of a herring boat; “The Lottery,” in which Da Vinci and Detective Shannon struggle with the dilemma of a lottery ticket they found in the possession of a dead man with no family; and the last two episodes of the season, “Fantasy and Reality,” the two-parter which follows the investigation into Matt Frewer’s character, Larry Williams.
Special features on the second season include cast and crew filmographies and a behind-the-scenes featurette. The featurette, though short, features interesting statements on the making of the series from the cast and creator, Chris Haddock, but suffers from being riddled with clips that seem to be from later seasons. Just fast forward through the clips to avoid spoilers.
Jef Burnham is a writer and film critic living in Chicago.
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