Posted: 05/17/2008

 

Da Vinci’s Inquest – Season Three

(2000)

by Jef Burnham



Available on DVD June 10 from Acorn Media Group.


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In the third season of this honored Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) series, we rejoin Vancouver coroner Dominic Da Vinci (Nicholas Campbell) and the myriad of investigators he enlists to piece together the incidents surrounding various murders, suicides and accidental deaths. This time around, Da Vinci finds himself passed up for promotion to the head of the Coroner’s office, as a result of his unusual stances on issues such as prostitution, drug abusers and the class divisions of Vancouver.

Campbell, who I’ve known best for his repeated work with director David Cronenberg, is extraordinary, portraying the coroner with enormous sensitivity and charisma, whilst maintaining the character’s bullheadedness in the face of injustice. Jewel Staite (Firefly), of whom I’m also a big fan, reprises her bit part as Da Vinci’s daughter, Gabrielle, totaling no more than two minutes screen time in her two episodes. Donnelly Rhodes (Battlestar Galactica) and Ian Tracey (The 4400) costar as Homicide Detectives Leo Shannon and Mick Leary. The bond between these partners is very important in this season as Shannon struggles with caring for his mentally unfit wife. As is characteristic for the series, however, the main characters’ personal lives are put on the backburner, but the effects of their personal crises are a constant influence on their work.

That sort of writing is really what makes the series great. We know so much about Da Vinci and his associates, but are given so little. The same goes for the cases they investigate. Rarely do we see a case play out to the end. Murderers don’t always confess, we aren’t always given a motive, and sometimes we are only given Da Vinci’s best guess as to what happened. This fresh approach to writing television drama makes the episodes far more satisfying than any of the series’ American counterparts.

Season three opens with quite a shocker, as the audience is witness to two murders. I don’t recall seeing any actual deaths in the second season, and there certainly weren’t any more in later episodes of the third. The writers show a great deal of respect for life (once again, unlike their American counterparts), but opening with the singular death scene was a good way to remind the audience just how high the stakes are for the Da Vinci crew. Other notable cases in the season involve a woman shot through the eye with a chopstick, the sexual assault and murder of an 11-month-old infant, and a D.O.A.-style case in which Leary must find the murderer of a man who is still alive, but has been injected with a lethal poison. In the season finale, Da Vinci goes head-to-head with a cocky young defense attorney who viciously attempts to discredit Da Vinci and his credentials so that his client can get off on a murder charge.

All 13 episodes from the third season are collected in this four-volume set. Special features include a photo gallery, the obligatory cast and crew filmographies, and two, short behind-the-scenes segments. First of all, the special features are inconveniently on the first disc. If you’re like me, once I watch the feature materials, I immediately skip right to the special features but am really unlikely to if I have to return to a previous disc. Also, the featurettes (just like on the second set) are inconsiderate of those of us who have not seen all subsequent seasons. The cut scenes shown in the behind-the-scenes featurettes are not even from the third season. In fact, I had to turn them off after they gave away a rather important plot point from one of the later seasons. As this seems to be endemic in the U.S. releases of Da Vinci’s Inquest, I will be refraining from watching them on future sets.

Jef Burnham is a writer and film critic living in Chicago.



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