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Durham County: A return to creepy form

In season debut, summer 2009, television, tv on 07/13/2009 at 9:59 am

The Canadian crime series Durham County is back for a second season, debuting tonight (Monday, July 13 at 9 p.m. ET on The Movie Network, following a repeat of the Season One finale). And it’s just as dark as the first, nightmare-inducing first season, although from a different perspective.

It’s good, almost as good as the first season, although I offer than praise with the same trepidation as I did when I reviewed the DVD. Season  One, about a wacko named Ray Prager who happens upon two girls in the forest dying from a serial killer’s attacks and proves he is no human, was too horrifying for me to sit through on the first go ’round. It took months of listening to fans of the series and series star Hugh Dillon for me to catch up, when the DVD came out. It was still horrifying, but I plowed through all six episodes. Like swallowing all the good but horrible tasting medicine in one go.

It was a fantastic, stylish, suspenseful piece of work: Cop Mike Sweeney (Dillon) knows his neighbour Prager (Justin Louis) is responsible for the deaths of the two girls and, although it takes him all six episodes, he finally gets his man. The cost? Prager’s final act before being arrested by Sweeney is to kidnap and attempt to assault and/or kill Sweeney’s daughter Sadie (Laurence Leboeuf). Sweeney arrives in time. Or at least before Sadie suffers any physical wounds.

Season One also left me wanting to take a shower or to walk among children and puppies playing in a sunny meadow. Very dark. Very creepy. Does the high quality of the work mitigate the images this dark business leaves in your  head? Very personal call. If you can’t easily shake this kind of stuff from your head, don’t watch. But if you can take it, watch this series. And watch it from the beginning.

Season 2 finds the Sweeney family in tatters. Mike has been promoted but, as his colleagues point out, he’s still clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress due to having witnessed Prager attempt to kill his daughter. Sadie is even more brittle. She wants dad to come home. Family therapy is ongoing.

And Prager (now played by Romano Orzari who replaces Louis)? He has survived a suicide-by-fire attempt (the scars are real, Orzari having survived a car crash) and is ready for trial. Which means Sadie will have to testify as she is the sole witness and other evidence is thin.

Twisting the suspense a little more tightly is the arrival of a new damaged soul in the community of Durham County. Pen Verrity (Michelle Forbes of True Blood, In Treatment, Homicide: Life on the Street) has a dead daughter, a trembly young son, a raging estranged husband and a backyard pool that never gets used anymore. She also has a therapist’s degree, which is what allows her path to intersect with Sweeney’s.

That puts all the pieces on the board. I won’t spill any beans but it wouldn’t matter if I revealed every single plot turn. As with any good story — and this is a good one — it’s all in the telling.

The look of the series is still sinister: the power lines, the half-finished housing development, Sweeney’s shell of a new temporary home, even the name of the baseball league that Sadie plays in — the “Emergency League”. And even when there is light, as in the Verrity’s ritzy home, it’s sterile and cold.

As far as performances go, Dillon is masterful as the detective father. As Sadie, Leboeuf is spectacular. And her scene with Prager’s son, her former boyfriend (played by Greyston Holt of Smallville) was lovely. Forbes is icy and scary, somethings that she’s also working well on True Blood as the devil/demon who hosts bizarre parties and harbours a strange pig.

But the plot in Season 2 is a wee bit more ragged than in the first in a couple of key respects. The relationship between Sweeney and Verrity does not feel earned. And Sweeney’s obsession with one aspect of the encounter between Sadie and Prager, while understandable in a father, is never grounded in the investigation story. However, in the thick nest of wierdness that surrounds these two points, these false notes quickly dissipate.

I could only endure two episodes of preview. I’m fortifying myself for the rest. I zipped through a couple of later episodes and saw some garish, horrifying stuff. You are warned. But this series has proved worth the effort it takes to watch it. If you’re up to it.

Let me know your take on disturbing but well-done television.

Denise Duguay

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