CBC’s new season of The Romeo Section starts with a fishy terrorist attack in Vancouver, an even fishier official inquiry, and the reactivation of a disreputable spook who catches the whiff of government mind control. If series creator Chris Haddock isn’t careful, people are going to start using the C word. Conspiracy, that is. Or conspiracy theory, to be more precise, as defined and weaponized by an establishment that would prefer to discredit inquiry into the less savoury aspects of government and law-enforcement work.
“My feelings exactly,” says Haddock, in a call to the Straight. “I’ve had this discussion with people on set, and I’m saying that my mission is to recognize that conspiracy is not a bad word. It’s what we do. Monkey 1 is going to conspire with Monkey 2 to steal the food from Monkey 3. That’s a conspiracy. This is in our very nature.”
Monkey 4, presumably, tries to figure out the plot. And thus Andrew Airlie is back in the rumpled tan suit as Haddock’s weary intelligence man, Wolfgang McGee. This time, he’s joined by a louche former agent called Norman (Brian Markinson), whose taste for pills and rough trade is matched by his nose for a cover-up. It sets up a perfect dialectic for at least one of Haddock’s concerns, which he traces back to a conversation with a journalist who interviewed Sirhan Sirhan, and who walked away convinced that Robert Kennedy’s accused assassin was a hypno-programmed patsy.
“The belief for 50 percent of the audience is probably ‘Okay, this is far-fetched,’” says the writer, who started to really raise the bar for Canadian television with Da Vinci’s Inquest in ’98. “The other side of the audience is X-Files–ready and they’re prepared to believe anything. I’m trying to play both sides. Norman fully embraces these theories because he’s seen over time what was once wild speculation actually turned out to be true. And on the other hand you have this professor who’s supposed to have a little bit of a social scientist in him, he’s fact-based, and he carries the side of doubt. I love working in that ambiguous territory.”
Manchurian candidates aside, The Romeo Section is still unambiguously flavoured by its Vancouver location. In the season opener alone, Haddock’s multilayered plotting takes in the heroin trade and the seamier end of the film industry, not to mention some fine angles on the Waldorf Hotel. Meanwhile, McGee’s old handler, Al (Eugene Lipinski), is plotting to ensnare a political rival in a honey trap using Asian asset Lily Song (Leeah Wong).
It’s conceivable that Haddock is channelling some deep political realities in Vancouver that would be a tad, say, indecorous to raise outside of a dramatic venue.
“I’m lying in the weeds and occasionally popping up to score a point, I hope,” he says with a chuckle, adding: “I’ve felt the sting of censorship in Canada. When they want to put you off air when you’ve got a good show going, they can do it, and they will.
“But,” Haddock continues, “I just really enjoy having something that’s a little bit difficult to tackle and that I’m not quite sure starting out how it is that I’m gonna bring it all home. It’s not [CTV series] Flashpoint, where they created this fiction that Toronto has a 24-hour, 365-day-a-year SWAT squad because it’s necessary. That kind of fiction I roil at. That’s not harmless. That tells everybody that doesn’t live in Toronto that Toronto is this dangerous city full of suicide bombers and all this other idiocy. We’re not that. So I was trying to create something that feels not out of scale with the Canadian reality.”
Season 2 of The Romeo Section premieres on CBC Television on Wednesday (October 5).