[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Thursday night, Coroner returns for its fourth season on CBC and CBC Gem with an emotional episode that finds the team at different stages of recovery following the events of the third season finale. Jenny (Serinda Swan) has taken a sabbatical from her work and family; her mom, Peggy (Jennifer Dale), has moved in with Gordon (Nicholas Campbell) and Ross (Ehren Kassam); and Donovan is back at work after his surgery.
And that workplace has undergone a bit of a change, too. Malik has stepped up into a more senior role, which makes for an awkward dynamic during investigations, and at the morgue, Jenny’s replacement is the by-the-book Dr. Elijah “Eli” Thompson (played by the wonderful as always Thom Allison). Eli’s arrival also sets up a cute rivalry between River (Kiley May) and Dennis (Jon De Leon).
Whereas Season 3 began fully entrenched in the pandemic, Season 4 moves past it as a plot point, turning instead toward the lives of our characters as they navigate their own challenges. Ahead of the premiere, Season 4’s new showrunner, Adriana Maggs (Caught, Little Dog, and more, who wrote the season premiere, “Emerge,” directed by Ruba Nadda) and executive producer and director Adrienne Mitchell fielded questions for an e-mail Q&A.
Y’all know that I’m always excited to have Thom Allison come play anywhere, and Maggs was thrilled to have him, and for his character to throw a little conflict into the morgue. “None of us can look away when he’s on screen. Everything he does is so compelling and funny and in the ground and he and Jenny have such a fantastic dynamic that grows over the season. We were lucky to have him,” she says.
“It’s really fun to see our boss-woman Jenny Cooper with her own boss, but as their relationship grows and bumps and changes we get to see, not only how they point out each other’s flaws but how they make each other better. This really comes to light towards the end of the season, in Jenny’s rich inner world and the role that Eli, River and Dennis play. We get to see how meaningful Eli and the team really are to her.”
With the beginning of the season, Jenny’s drawn back to the city by her work and family, and Mitchell says she’ll have some work to do to reconcile her past and present. “A hallmark of our series as envisioned over the last three seasons with [series creator] Morwyn Brebner is how the mystery of Jenny’s past gets unlocked for her. We created elements of her memories and subconscious that take hold in her present reality, drawing her to find answers,” she explains.
“In Season 1, we had the mysterious black dog, in Season 2, we had the apparition of her dead sister, and in Season 3, we veered off to capture COVID’s impact on the world but then introduced Jenny’s mother Peggy (who abandoned her when she was young) into the storylines. In Season 4, Adriana picked up on all this beautifully by creating young Jenny who is now there to help Jenny get to the root of why her mother abandoned her for so long.”
In so doing, of course, Jenny has to reexamine her old traumas alongside her new, and in our previous conversations, Mitchell has discussed that their goal is never to re-traumatize her, but to help her heal. That continues. “Morwyn created a masterful way of juxtaposing the tragedy of death with the survivor instinct and the need to forge on — largely through Jenny’s unbreakable spirit,” she shares.
“Adriana was able to build on this in Season 4 with her unique, outside-the-box humour, and as the season builds to the finale, she channels the surreal and the absurd (also a hallmark of Coroner) to an entirely new level!! It’s very crazily exciting! Wait for episode 12 – heads will spin!”
“We wanted to start the season exploring themes like getting back on your feet after trauma, as that felt true for both Jenny and Donovan’s journey, but also felt relatable to all of us as we are all taking baby steps back into the world after a collective rough go with COVID-19,” adds Maggs. “And of course, just because bad things happen, doesn’t mean more things won’t happen, so the resilience of spirit in the face of adversity that’s so inherent to the show Morwyn created has given us the opportunity for beautiful and brave journeys here.”
Donovan’s response to his recovery, and new information from his doctors when he’s cleared to return to work, is very extreme, which gives Roger Cross a great playground, and Mitchell was thrilled to allow him to go there. “I want to give a big shout out [to] Roger Cross and his incredible talent and performance in his depiction of Donovan working through his cancer scare,” she says.
“Roger brings such a complex and nuanced take to Donovan’s struggle with mortality and gives a penetrating insight into his vulnerability – all the more captivating as it runs against Donovan’s very formidable stature and physical presence. I think that Malik sees through MacAvoy’s defensive armour and knows that there is a man there who is as vulnerable and scared as we all are. Andy McQueen as Malik brings such a stunning depiction of how love and pain can be intertwined in friendship.”
“In Season 4, I had the complete and total pleasure to direct the incredible episode 8 in which Donovan has to face his demons and finally lay bare all his fears to those he loves. This has an overriding impact on his work and friendship with Malik.”
While the pandemic isn’t omnipresent onscreen, it was still very much a factor during production, and Mitchell is proud of the cast and crew for safely producing another season under those constraints. “Because we now know more [about] what to expect and have acclimatized to all the precautions and health measures, it’s like the enemy you know. The pandemic is a constant strain and stress on everyone — the main fear is: are we doing enough to protect everyone and can we ever do enough,” she says.
“Adding to this is the sheer struggle to communicate with masks on while on set and not being able to see facial features and expressions. But we do it. With the pandemic constantly looming in all its variations, producing Coroner is a Herculean effort, given the nature of the series which demands ambitious cinematic scenarios and a high level of nuanced work from the actors. It’s truly a testament of how tough and resilient everyone is to keep forging on.”
Season 4 of Coroner premieres Thursday, January 6 at 8 p.m. (8:30 p.m. NT) on CBC and CBC Gem. The first three seasons are streaming now on CBC Gem, and all our previous coverage is here. Here’s a sneak peek of Season 4.
Photos and Video Courtesy of CBC