Torqued Intelligence
by Robert Fulford

(The National Post, 1 December 2007)

Running the Vancouver end of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) is delicate work, but Mary Spalding (Klea Scott) is up to it. As the main female character on Intelligence, CBC television's best current drama, she's an ambitious schemer who simultaneously manipulates her civil-service bosses in Ottawa and her secret informer, Jim Reardon (Ian Tracey), weed king of British Columbia. We never quite understand Mary's life goals but we know she's formidable, ruthless and on the way up.

A 21st-century version of film noir, Intelligence seldom strays far from that genre's governing principle: Low-life bad guys may shoot each other on the mean streets but the really bad guys are sitting behind desks, wearing suits and plotting big-time evil. Now that viewers have seen eight of the 12 one-hour episodes in the second season of Intelligence, we know precisely who those bad guys are: Americans.

First, the people running the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration try to bring down Mary's prize informer, Reardon, by framing him for murder. They lure him to Seattle and a shoot-up he narrowly escapes. Mary heads off a plan to extradite him and then comes across something much more sinister and also American -- an international plot to take over that most precious of all Canadian assets, water, so that it can be directed to thirsty southwestern states. Naturally, the CIA is involved.

It sounds like the darkest fantasy of a Canadian nationalist. Mary may be devious and greedy for power, but she's still a patriot. She throws all her resources into the struggle against the American empire.

Chris Haddock, the creator of Intelligence, writes sharp, biting scripts, understands how to build a convincing environment and demonstrates a genius-level talent for casting; his Intelligence actors may be the best stock company anyone in this country has ever put together. But when it comes to Washington's power, he's addicted to the conventional wisdom of hysterical nationalism. On the question of water rights, for instance, he assumes we all agree that fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly and Americans gotta steal our water. It's their nature.

In the old days, paranoid anti-Americanism at the CBC appeared mostly in news shows and documentaries. That was enough to infuriate some of us. But in recent seasons it's seeped into drama as well. There's no question that the CSIS heroes on Intelligence consider the Americans our most dangerous enemies.

And on March 30 and April 6, the CBC will broadcast a two-part miniseries, H20 II: The Trojan Horse ("a bold, futuristic thriller"), in which water is once again the object of desire.

This continues a miniseries broadcast in 2005, H20, which borrowed from Trudeauvian mythology and Liberal dreams. Prime minister Matthew Mc-Laughlin drowns on a canoe trip, but it's revealed that his death was no accident. Perhaps the Americans assassinated him. His son, Tom McLaughlin (Paul Gross), previously not involved in politics, returns to Canada to attend his father's funeral and gives such a ferocious eulogy that it propels him into the party leadership and the prime minister's office. (The script also borrows from Jean Chrétien's life: A character who believes someone is breaking into her house grabs an Inuit sculpture to use as a weapon.)One character says the Americans are damming or diverting every river in Canada. Advertising for the miniseries described it as "A battle for Canada's most precious resource."

In the sequel that arrives in March, Tom is now a former prime minister and Canada a former country, since (another dark nationalist fantasy) the citizens have voted to join the United States, under American pressure and manipulation.

Tom sets out to take revenge on those who stole his country. He begins by running for president, which the American constitution allows, classifying Canada as a former U.S. territory. He's helped by various European nations hoping to end American hegemony. And (not to give away too much) Tom turns out to be less admirable than we might have hoped.

Conspiracy theorists will say that all this indicates a plot devised by latte-lapping leftists among the filmmakers in Toronto and Vancouver. Unlikely. Their motive is probably pure calculation. Their shows appeal to the anti-American mood that Liberal and NDP politicians, as well as a few editorialists and TV critics, have done their best to foment. They also, I imagine, attract nods of approval from grant-giving Ottawa bureaucrats who consider their product "relevant." Our TV drama producers have learned at least one rule from American TV: Success begins with an appeal to prejudice.

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