While there is hope and redemption, don’t look for one big happy ending as “Blackstone” returns for a fifth and final season. The first of eight new episodes premieres Tuesday on APTN.
“There are some really great, satisfying moments this season and at the same time, it’s still ‘Blackstone,'” says co-creator, showrunner and all around driving force Ron E. Scott.
“We’re still going to be hard hitting. We’re not going to shy away from stuff. There’s some raw authenticity to this season just like all the others.”
Set in the fictional Blackstone First Nations territory, the APTN original offers a searing look at modern-day life on a reserve rife with corruption and addiction. Seasons 1 and 2 were broadcast this summer on CBC. Early episodes were also seen on Showcase.
One of the big story arcs this season is the continuing investigation into missing and murdered aboriginal women.
“We go deeper into the mechanics of how that can happen and what happens afterwards,” says Scott.
Scott, like most Canadian TV producers, had to be resourceful in order to keep his series on the air. APTN made an early commitment to position “Blackstone” as a flagship series, but hour-long dramas are expensive to maintain. Additional revenues from “second window” broadcasters allowed Scott to maintain a standard he set for the series in terms of storytelling, production and casting.
Scott says he was satisfied with the ratings for the summer run of “Blackstone” and is optimistic viewers will see further seasons on CBC.
Nevertheless, both APTN and Scott agreed to end the series after this 5th season.
“There was no ratings slide or slip in audience, we both just agreed it was time to move on,” says Scott, who has two new projects in various stages of development.
TV shows get more expensive the longer they stay on the air. Salaries for cast members tend to escalate, for one thing, and funding and tax credits sometimes dwindle as new shows seek support from various jurisdictions and agencies.
Scott’s proud of the 86 award nominations, including Gemini wins, “Blackstone” has received so far.
The series has also been a showcase for aboriginal actors. Over the five seasons, Scott has filled roles from aboriginal communities right across Canada. Season 5, he says, really brings the characters played by Carmen Moore, Eric Schweig, Michelle Thrush and Steven Cree Molison to the forefront.
“It’s not uncommon on a lot of reserves to have things come down to two families,” says Scott, who drew from sources as seemingly diverse as Shakespeare and “The Sopranos” for inspiration.
“This season, it’s really how these two families relate to their communities, each other, and, thirdly, the world.”
One other casting coup was bringing Ashley Callingbull-Burnham back for season 5. From Alberta’s Enoch Cree Nation, west of Edmonton, Callingbull-Burnham, who plays Sheila Delaronde, appeared in seasons 1 and 2 before going on to become the first aboriginal woman to win the Miss Universe crown at the end of August in Belarus.
“We had no idea when we brought her back that she was going to win Miss Universe,” says Scott. “She and (co-star Justin Rain) have such chemistry and it was just a great storyline of redemption and reconciliation. So many aspects of that thread of hope this season is in their storyline.”
— Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.