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Durham County Season 3

Durham County is our version of The Wire.

Bleaker than a Canadian midwinter morning, the edgy homegrown series has maintained a relatively low-key presence on premium cable for three seasons. Much like The Wire, the show unfolds under the guise of a routine crime drama, but in the process it creeps into nasty little corners of the human psyche. This is not family viewing.

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As before, the third season of Durham runs for six hour-long episodes and by this stage the darkness has reached fever pitch. The show's nucleus remains the grim police detective Mike Sweeney, played by Hugh Dillon, who transferred from the Toronto homicide division to the supposedly peaceful suburban climes of Durham County after his wife Audrey (Helene Joy) was diagnosed with breast cancer. Dropped into a world of barren fields and buzzing hydro towers, Mike's life became a nightmare.

To date, Mike has endured the threat of a childhood friend turned serial killer, a marital split followed by an affair with a scheming psychiatrist and the bitter estrangement of his only daughter, Sadie (Laurence Leboeuf). While his personal life suffered, his rank among the local constabulary only kept moving upward.

And life appears to be improving for the Sweeneys in the third campaign's first episode. Mike and Audrey are reunited and she's pregnant. Sadie has returned to the family fold and has recently graduated from police college. And Mike seemed relatively pleased with his new partner, Ivan (Michael Nardone), a hearty ex-military type from Kosovo.

But then, the family's good vibrations begin to crumble, one at a time, at the behest of forces beyond their control, and all in the very first hour.

It begins with Mike and his partner investigating the brutal murder of two young men at a nearby commuter train stop. Then Sadie signs on for her first police assignment, which involves undercover work. And Ivan cannot supply an explanation for why his wife has seemingly disappeared off the face of the Earth.

Durham County gets darker and darker with each successive hour and the third episode features a scene that may qualify as the most shocking moment ever broadcast on Canadian television (yes, it has to do with Helen's pregnancy).

Remarkably, there is not a single gratuitous moment in the third season. There are fleeting moments of torture and murder, but the storyline, penned entirely by Laurie Finstad-Krizhnik, steers wide and clear of showing actual blood and guts, even in those instances where it might make sense.

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Instead, Durham mines its dramatic quotient from terse dialogue by characters in moments of extreme crisis. A cruel joke here. A hurtful racial epithet there. And the ever-present threat of extremely painful past memories forever hovering over the principal characters. If the goal is to make viewers uncomfortable, it works.

But only with this cast, it seems. The show works off the nerve and energy of former rocker Dillon, who is a far better actor on Durham than on the cops-'n'-robbers series Flashpoint. Joy is achingly believable as his long-suffering wife and Leboeuf rises to the occasion in her heightened role on the series. This is a young actress to watch.

Once again, Durham County is not for the faint of heart. The third season is the final season and in its last hurrah, the show's creators have wrapped up the story in the most shattering manner imaginable. It's scary good.

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