Thursday’s episode of The Border finds Maj. Mike Kessler (James McGowan) in deep trouble. The head of the Canadian border security unit heads on a hastily-arranged mission to Afghanistan and winds up getting kidnapped by the Taliban. He’s bloodied and seriously wounded and things don’t look good. (See the above photo, where he's being shown the recent PPM numbers.)
Now, have to admit, I’ve skipped a few episodes of this CBC series. Now in its third season, the hour long drama seems to have doubled its core cast, with well known Canadian actors like Tonya Lee Williams and Julie Stewart popping up in extraneous roles. And wasn’t this show supposed to be about domestic terrorism and homeland security? When did it go all International 24 on us?
The hour seems over-directed, with constantly moving, hand held cameras offering the same kind of forced tension as you find on those “Stop the TV Tax” ads. Something big is happening. We get it.
Calming everything down is McGowan’s understated performance. The hour is his showcase and he makes the most of it by lowering his voice, restricting his movements and keeping any temptation to act big in check. His quiet command allows us to believe this guy is battle tested and a savvy leader.
Also shining is Catherine Disher who, as Maggie Norton, assumes the role of second in command back home in Toronto while Kessler is held prisoner. Disher has always had a light tough and a knack for hitting the comedy mark but she is just as believable as a capable and caring squad boss, dishing orders and breaking down weasels under her command.
The scenes of war torn Afghanistan were shot north of Toronto in Caledon at the old Maple Leaf gravel pits. Kudos to the design department for pulling this off. You’d never know that it all took place within a slap shot of Eddie Shack’s donut shop.
Still, despite a good grip on realism from the actors and designers, and without totally spoiling tonight’s episode for anybody here, I only ever saw this story ending one way. It seemed as if the show went to a lot of trouble to put Kessler in a tight corner simply to show how the squad would work together to pluck him out of it. Some of that is intriguing, some of it is annoying and complicated, some of it downright cliched. Having seen this about a million times before on television, I wasn’t as involved in the action as I could or should have been.
If you’re growing impatient waiting for Jack Bauer to come back and save the free world, however, check out The Border tonight at 9 p.m. on CBC. The series could use a special episode boost, with ratings slipping below the half million mark in recent weeks.