TV on DVD: Chris Haddock’s Intelligence

To say that Chris Haddock’s Canadian TV series Intelligence is (or, as is now the case, was) as good as any American crime show is unfair to Haddock. It’s better, smarter, more sophisticated than its American counterparts, more clever in its tangle of narratives and less showy in a visual style. Set in Vancouver, B.C., a central hub for shipping between Canada, the U.S., Asia, and points beyond and the major western border crossing between the U.S. and Canada (as well as the home of Haddock’s previous series, Da Vinci’s Inquest), Intelligence is a domestic espionage show about the ground work of intelligence agents after the kind of international crime that Jack Bauer is too busy to bother with: gun running, drug smuggling, human trafficking. It’s also about the workings of local crime with international reach, in particular low-key Vancouver crime boss and marijuana smuggler Jimmy Reardon (Ian Tracey, of Da Vinci’s Inquest), who plays informant for the ambitious head of the Organized Crime Unit, Mary Spaulding (Klea Scott, from the third season of Millennium and a terrific Portia in a local Seattle production of The Merchant of Venice I had the pleasure of seeing a few weeks ago) in a quid pro quo exchange of information.

Ian Tracey as Jimmy Reardon
Ian Tracey as Jimmy Reardon

Jimmy steers clear of hard drugs and not just for moral reasons; he doesn’t like the increased scrutiny from local and national law enforcement and he really doesn’t like the violence it brings. So ratting out the coke and meth dealers is a no brainer for him and the bottom line of his business. Mary, meanwhile, is making a play to step up to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and discovers more intrigue inside the office than on the streets: what she thinks is a mere leak turns out to be a sieve pouring out information to the US, China, Russia, and who knows where else.

At stake is 1) the tenuous balance of criminal power that Jimmy keeps in check (which in turn keeps Vancouver streets relatively free of drug gang violence), and 2) government agencies filled with agents and political players more beholden to American agencies and corporations than their own country. The superb writing keeps it grounded in a reality where officials wait on information to work its way through the chain of command and agents and smugglers survive without the kinds of high-tech toys and glamorous weapons systems available to their counterparts on American TV. The opening episode of the second season finds Jimmy making a getaway from a trap set by the American DEA, which has lured him to Seattle for reasons that don’t really fit into the category of legitimate agency business. His escape takes the entire episode, which pieces together each leg of his run for the border with nothing but cell phones and GPS devices bought at local electronics stores. This is a model of smart people using practical technology, manpower and patience to get a person over the border, and it’s all done in the world that we live in, not some slick espionage fantasy where computers are hacked in seconds flat and armed response teams are just minutes away from every possible engagement.

Klea Scott as Mary Spaulding
Klea Scott as Mary Spaulding

There’s also a fascinating evolution of characters through the two seasons. Jimmy’s screw-up brother Michael (Bernie Coulson, who bears a slight resemblance to Chris Penn) actually mans up in the course of the first season and proves to have real native intelligence when he improvises a distraction to avert a minor crisis during Jimmy’s escape. Arrogant Organized Crime Unit Detective Ted Altman (Matt Frewer) is a rogue with his own agenda, happily conspiring with the CIA to undercut Mary until it blows up in his face, but undergoes a dynamic and completely believable transformation when Mary, promoted to the head of CSIS Asia Pacific Region, personally picks Altman to take her old job. He’s suspicious of the gesture and even more taken aback by the way she considers his reports, follows his advice and backs up his plays (something his American contacts never did). Suddenly part of a real team with a real leader, he returns the respect with loyalty and good work. The show doesn’t make a big deal of it and leaves it to the subtle but strong shifts in Frewer’s performance to tell the story of the transformation. It’s his best, most nuanced performance in years, maybe ever.

But perhaps what I appreciate most is the relationship between the Canada and the U.S. as seen from the Canadian perspective. The United States makes a show of egalitarianism and partnership, but its every action is about profit and economic control: politically (the U.S. has moles all over CSIS and has bribed politicians in every level of government), privately (the machinations of an  American-owned multinational has very troubling ties to American intelligence) and criminally (just as Mary uncovers the corporate conspiracy, Jimmy finds American drug gangs moving over the border and trying to muscle into the Vancouver street business). The series was cancelled before these storylines could be fully played out, but Haddock and his collaborators had already laid in persuasive suggestions that all of these powers were intertwined at some level, and they all shared a common purpose. CSIS was a small fish taking on the sharks in the intelligence community, but it was taking them on and making headway with a mixture of tenacity, a show of international cooperation and good luck. If it wasn’t completely convincing, it made for a nice underdog story in a completely convincing portrait of Canada’s international position in world politics and economics.

Intelligence ran for two seasons on Canadian TV, a mere 25 episodes that came to an end at the end of 2007. It won a handful of Canadian awards, and deservedly so. Acorn brought the series stateside in a pair of DVD box sets and it’s gripping viewing thanks to sharp writing that transforms what could be the mundane details of communication and diplomacy in both the streets and the political arena into a complex web of feints and threats and power plays. It’s more The Wire than 24, admittedly not as ambitious or sprawling or dense with characters and stories, but just as methodical and full of shades of gray and levels of compromise on both sides of the law. And at the heart of it all is the tricky symbiotic relationship between Jimmy and Mary.

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Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

37 thoughts on “TV on DVD: Chris Haddock’s Intelligence”

  1. While Intelligence was a step up from most US crimeshows, it was not in a league with Da Vinci’s Inquest. Some good ideas, but watered down by too many storylines, whiplash cutting, minimal character development, and actors who appeared to be racing to spit out lines. Made me think there was waaaay too much cocaine involved. I totally missed the long contemplative takes and moody, world-weary tone of Da Vinci with its loving portrayal of Vancouver’s seediness and the justaposition of horrible events with the everyday human-ness of its characters.

  2. The pace of Intelligence is certainly faster and more frenetic than the 2 Davinci Series. It’s a colder, meaner world we enter into, and harder to take, harder to look at. It’s even harder to look at what our society has become. Easier to numb ourselves, to turn away. This series provides an invitation to Canadians to contemplate how we are losing our sovereignty, and what the relentless merging of Canada with the US really means. And it’s not about jelly beans, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper remarked sarcastically, arrogantly, and contemptuously.

  3. Here I am stranded in New York City with a lot of trash on the tube. Then I discover Da Vinci’s Inquest. Great television. I’m still watching the reruns…and Intelligence was terrific.

    Hey Chris Haddock, give us more.

  4. I just finished season 2 of Intelligence. Great show, not perfect, but really, really good.

    Does anyone know why it was cancelled and if there is a chance it would come back anywhere else? I heard rumours HBO or FOX were looking at it.
    I would love to see season 3, or at least the screen play for season 3 to find out what happens.

  5. An absolutely brilliant series, 10 out of 10. It was as addictive, superbly acted and well thought out as my other favourite shows The Wire, The Sheild and Brotherhood. I was very annoyed that it was being axed just like I was with Brotherhood. Popular TV series like 24 and CSI, may have the viewing figures, but they are not in the same league. Oz and Deadwood are also two of my other favourites.
    http://www.thestar.com/News/article/349539 for another reason as to why the show was cancelled.

  6. When the Wire ended I was so depressed, got caught up with all the characters and loved it. Now I just finished Intelligence, and cannot believe it is only two seasons. Cliffhangers were not wrapped up and it was great television. Plan on ordering DaVinci’s Inquest next…

  7. There were several rumors as to why this show got cancelled but the most likely reason is the same reason why so many shows get cancelled on the CBC regardless of how good they are. Politics. When ever a new head is appointed at the CBC, they want to clear up as much room in the schedule to insert their own creations or finds so that they can say, ” look at all the new programing I brought to the CBC!”
    If they don’t bring new shows then it looks like they haven’t done anything. So out with the old and in with the new.
    They will justify what they are doing by pointing to the ratings and comparing them to shows on huge american networks, which is not a fair comparison at all. Even if the show is one of the highest rated among other CBC shows, it still won’t be good enough because maybe that new show they want to bring in will get even better ratings, which usually dosen’t happen but is what they seem to be constantly hoping for.

  8. Simply a superb show – just finished it off on video in the states; just cannot believe it got canceled. What a shame….onto DaVinci’s Inquest. Hope Tracey can get another leading role somewhere.

  9. The best I’ve seen in a long, long time. Kept me up way too late several nights running by great writing and believability of the characters and story. Makes American TV look like what it is: all flash and no substance. And I’m from south of the border. More please

  10. I loved, loved, loved it. Sell the rights to FOX so I can see the story completed. Ian Tracey was great!!!

    I just finished watching Intelligence (seasons 1 & 2), and am now starting DaVinci’s Inquest. Available on Netflix)

  11. Sean, I could not agree with you more; excellent review above. American series are positively childish in comparison.

    The acting and the writing are all so perfect in Intelligence! Every script is a gem (Haddock is a genius, in my opinion), and each actor is perfect in his/her role, from seemingly-nuts-but still-vulnerably-in-love-with-Jimmy Francine to loyal-and-smart (and lovable) Ronnie, tough-but-just-right muscle and security expert Bob, precocious Stella, weasel-turned-touchingly-improved Ted, precious Alpha-girl Sweet, sharp-as-a-tack Mary, cunning Kiniski, so-sexy Katarina, and of course, to-die-for-attractive and really quite ethical Jimmy. I don’t mean to leave anyone out – they’re ALL brilliant!

    It is no less than a crime to me that the CBC did not renew Intelligence for at least 5 seasons. What ungrateful jackasses!! I am left hanging, wondering what would have become of all the characters I came to know and love.

    Even if Haddock sold it to Fox, it would have beeen ruined by an American company. Everything he implied about America in the series is correct!

    How I wish that Tracey and the rest had been allowed to fully explore this wonderful set of characters. I am heart-broken that the show ended way too soon.

    Why, CBC…WHY????? Shame on you!

  12. Just finished Intelligence season two (thank you netflix) and looking for season three: alas…! What happened to Jimmy? What happened to Mary? What happened to the bad guys and the good guys and the blended guys? No more? Say it ain’t so.

  13. One of the best series beating even 24 that bogged down into trivial repetitiveness in its last 2 years. A private network would have been proud to continue the intrigue- but that’s not what you get with a public network that cannot divorce its offerings from the intrigue of public politics. Sorry that FOX passed on bringing it to the wider audience- they needed something to replace 24 and they booted. Maybe DIRECTV will consider since they were smart enough to take on DAMAGES.

  14. I was just finished season 2. A fantastic show. Brilliant acting and a terrific plot line. I am from Pennsylvania by the way. I honestly don’t think they were trying to demean the U.S. at all. It was about corruption at all levels. Both the U.S. and Canada were subject to the same temptations.

    It is a crime that this show was not renewed. At the very least they should have had a 2 hour wrap up.

  15. Whatever jackass cancelled that show deserves to be punished. I don’t care about it, the politics it was only proof that something of such artistic value could be expunged by a feckless mandarin retard who should burn in hell. His job was to let it happen. Instead, he killed it. I say we take him around the back of the building and beat the snot out of him. Because he kills artists. Is that in his job description somewhere?

  16. I just discovered this series via Netflix, in addition to Da Vinci’s Inquest, another fantastic Haddock series. Love your review, and I’d be happy to join Greg in a back-alley beating of the brainless creature(s)who killed this show!

  17. I can’t help bu be pleased to find so many fans out there finding this review. Why isn’t this show better known and why aren’t critics praising it across the plethora of TV sites across the web?

  18. I agree with most of everyone’s posts here. Intelligence is riveting tv. For all you Netflixers out there and lovers of well written TV shows let me recommend these as well (All in my humble opinion are golden)

    FX: Justified
    FX: Rescue Me
    BBC/PBS: Sherlock (Sherlock is coming back for a 2nd season)
    FX: The Shield

    I would also add the comedy Arrested Development. and one more show that was fantastic but canceled after one season: FX: Terriers

    If you want to go back into time… check out one of the 1st serialized dramas: Wise Guy & Twin Peaks

  19. Oh, One more thing: This is for Seanax or anyone else who might know… Is there any music from Intelligence available to buy or download? The soundtrack for that show is/was great.

    Thanks

  20. I just completed this AWESOME series and would like to knnow where I can get the soundtrack? I especialyu like “We:re Dangerous: Reggae style, who sings it? Thanks. AND if a sesaon 3 & 4 could be in the makinig that would be wonderful!!!! Please keep us informed…..

  21. Great series . . . too bad it was cancelled (another win for the U.S.?). Even though the series didn’t end as the director planned (too short) even the parellels in the last show for Jimmy and Mary were well done.

  22. The soundtrack is available through iTunes, Amazon, etc. but there were many fantastic songs used that aren’t part of the official soundtrack. I’m watching the series again, not only because it merits multiple viewings but now with the goal of identifying songs that aren’t on the soundtrack. If I manage to come up with a good list I’ll post it. =]

    Thanks to Guy Steele for the Netflix suggestions. I find myself watching many CBC and BBC productions, so in addition to Guy’s “picks”, allow me to add: Whitechapel, Wire in the Blood, and Luther. I know there are more, and am sure to remember them as soon as I send this post. LOL Oh – the Spike TV 8-episode series The Kill Point was a good one, IMHO.

  23. Just stumlble on the show on netflix and love the season one and two was fantastic and cant wait to see season three when will it be out in cali hanging loose waiting for a fantastic show to return and cast awesome

  24. No tv show is perfect. But each new episode of intelligence would fill me with anticipation when Hallmark UK showed them late on Friday nights. And that sense of discovering a secret gem was part of the charm and the problem. Intelligence was a brilliant, if quite dark, show that combined fine acting performances with neat characterisation and a commitment to realism above the techno-gimmickry beloved of US directors. Far superior to 95% of the fluff that fills our tv schedules. Yet it was niche viewing everywhere outside of Canada. I’ve loaned out my box set to others and they can’t believe this compelling show got cancelled but none of them knew jack shit about it at the time. My conclusion is that CBC were either inept in promoting their most internationally saleable series (ever perhaps?) or deliberately buried it as they found the image of Canada and the series’ cutting commentary on US-Canadian relations too unpalatable. CBC really screwed Haddock over IMHO. If they’d let it be known they’d back him to finish the series in 3 seasons they could have sold the rights to this to several European stations. Instead we’re talking about the show that could have been “The Wire” except for CBC’s lack of balls. I felt sorry for Tracey and Scott as they had rare on screen chemistry in what should have been their defining roles. Years later I’d still like to know what happens to Jimmy 🙂

  25. Found myself rooting for the bad guys! Great series too bad we’ll never know what happens. The actors really nailed the parts they played. My favorites: Martin (Eugene Lipinski); he walked away with every scene he was in. Mary (Klea Scott) deadly as a black widow. She acted as though to the manor born(the world of intel)and her facial expressions, under tight control, were a credit to whatever acting classes she may have attended at the start of her career. A joy to watch these and all the artists in this series. I look forward to the time someone gets his/her ass out from up and gives us some more from this crews.

  26. Ditto to most of the comments above. I just found this on Netflix and watched the two seasons over the course of a week after putting three children and a wife to bed each night.

    I thought perhaps Netflix was only licensed for the first two seasons (06′ and 07′) and that I would have to go to a video store for the last 3-4 years. Very disappointed to say the least to find out it was cancelled. I would be willing to bet the Americans had something to do with it….LOL! An interesting point made very clear by Haddock that American intelligence had pretty much infiltrated every level of government in Canada. Perhaps it’s true; perhaps it’s just another paranoid conspiracy theory? Either way it made for some great television. Someone was paid off – there can be no doubt.

  27. Cannot believe Intelligence was cancelled. The Canton MI library got both seasons on DVD and they were off the shelf. But we were all left hanging: how did Stella react to her dad’s shooting? Did Mary survive the inquiry? Did Juliana make it out of the country in time? Who discovered Jimmy’s body? What was Bobby’s reaction? What happened to Ronnie and Sweet? So many questions and no answers. At least do a 2 hour wrap-up and give us fans some closure.

  28. Karen, I can’t agree more. This show deserves some kind of follow-up. And, dare I say it, those of us who invested so much in the show (even if through DVD) deserve it too.

  29. I have just been introduced to Intelligence by NETFLIX and, as I approach the last episode, I feel extremely frustrated with the thought that this is coming to an end. I love this show. It is head and shoulders above most series I have seen. Its demise, which I am given to understand, had some political overtones, is much to be mourned.

  30. I keep Googling Chris Haddock to see if anything new is in production, ditto Ian Tracey, a Canadian Huckleberry Finn. “Stepping Razor” was sung by Peter Tosh, and it’s all over Youtube–at least until everything, as well as INTELLIGENCE, is all over.

  31. I just watched the series thru Netfix. I find it shocking that the series was canceled. I loved the program! Sorry to hear it was canceled. Please someone pick it up and run with it. It’s great!!!!!

  32. Less obviously, but essentially, Intelligence was pro-American. Mary Spalding, head of CSIS’s Asian-Pacific bureau, strove to build a Canadian intelligence service capable of playing the spy game in the same league as the CIA. She respected the American service. She admired its superior efficacy and reach. She envied its resources. She knew that the way to become a better intelligence service was to become more like the Americans. The show’s creator, Chris Haddock, strove to make — and made — a show that would not look too shabby next to the best TV made anywhere, HBO dramas. Only those crusty Canucks who watch everything on the CBC wearing Acme Anti-Americanism Detector Goggles they ordered from

    a small ad in the back of a 1954 Saturday Evening Post would fail to see that Intelligence was (also) about following — respectfully, admiringly, intelligently — superior American models and American ways.

    The ambitions of Haddock and his heroine align neatly with those of the Conservative government, which wants Canada’s re-Armed Forces to play a prominent and effective role on the world stage, and whose investment in “border security,” while not rivaling the Americans’ expenditure, looks to the same heavenward direction. If by the curl of his lip or otherwise, the Prime Minister has effected the execution of Intelligence, it is not too late for him to smile on it instead. He may realize, upon reflection, that it serves the cause of his Canada better alive than dead.

  33. I’m so disappointed to learn that Intelligence was canceled after just two seasons. I enjoyed it tremendously, and as an American was tickled that a crime series could be totally riveting without constant shoot-outs, endless cursing, and beat downs. Just great writing and plotting.

  34. Shows like this should be cancelled. Too good, may raise some questions, get people to think, not good. Cancel it and get on with the brainwashing. Bring the reality TV on, cant allow fiction like this to cause doubts in the great US of A. Pretty much any anti-US show was cancelled in season 1 or 2 and will always be.

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