Serious Questions Under the Guise of Humour

MURDOCH MYSTERIES
Season 12, Episodes 10 & 11 (Pirates of the Great Lakes)(Annabella Cinderella)

It is always good to start the year off in a fun atmosphere as January sets in. That said, Murdoch Mysteries left off in December on a dark and sad note, so I was pleased that the writers managed to balance the serious personal stories with the lighthearted whimsy and escapism that we all need in the middle of winter.

Pirates of the Great Lakes centres on a treasure heist gone wrong. Detective Murdoch has to jump through many hoops in order to catch his murderer – and in the end, he loses one of his new inventions as well as the treasure. Meanwhile, Constable Crabtree gets to roleplay as a wealthy collector (with all of the hamming it up that entails) and Constable Brackenreid gets to join the investigation. Everything culminates in a high-seas battle…err, high-lakes skirmish in a tribute to pirate folklore. A real-life historical character, the American smuggler Dan Seavey, makes an appearance.

Inspector Brackenreid, on the other hand, is the topic of the serious storyline as he considers his future with his family. Margaret still cannot forgive him and has decided to take their younger son with her to live with her sister outside of Toronto.  While overreacting is par for the course for Margaret, this does seem extreme. It is not as though her husband went off and had an affair last month! He had not even been married to her (possibly not even courting her) when he had the relationship that resulted in his daughter. I do think that the writers are trying to convey that this is not just about the relationship itself, but that this is an issue of racism on Margaret’s part. (Historically-accurate racism, yes, but racism nonetheless.) She does not want to remain with a man who was intimate with a non-white woman. I hope that she can get over that! Otherwise, her reaction just seems over-the-top, particularly for 1906. Women were often expected to tolerate their husbands having affairs, let alone having relationships before their marriages!

Brackenreid, for his part, respects his wife’s decision. He does not consider her reaction too drastic and decides to go on leave from his job. He thinks adventure on the high seas sounds appealing, even though it would mean eschewing his responsibilities and giving in to Margaret. In a way, I am glad that he is respecting her decision to leave and makes the decision to leave for a while as well. Hopefully, time away will give them both time to think.

It also gives John Brackenreid some time in the spotlight! He seems to be coping well in Annabella Cinderella, although throwing himself into his police work might not end up being the best coping strategy. He and Constable Crabtree, joined later by Detective Watts, embark on a road trip with first the intention to deliver a convicted murderess to prison, and then the task of re-capturing her and re-opening the investigation into her case.

John is much younger than the other characters and thus his momentary lapses in judgement (as well as flashes of brilliance) are much more excusable than they are for others. He is that sweet kid that you want to see succeed and I certainly don’t want to think of him dying in the First World War in a decade. He and Annabella (the alleged murderess) have lovely chemistry together and it is nice to see that John has not developed the cynicism that the older police officers have. Even Crabtree demonstrates how he has grown more cynical with age. He and John have a bit of a uncle-nephew relationship – I can imagine that he probably feels like escorting Annabella with John is more akin to chaperoning two teenagers than working with a colleague. Watts, on the other hand, has kept his open mind and thus works well with John. Perhaps their disparity in rank helps in that regard.

I enjoyed having Murdoch and Ogden in the background for this episode. Their subplot was funny and it showcased their relationship with each other. They discuss how all of the scientific and technological innovations that they have used or developed are not considered standard enough to publish in a new handbook. I would like to see them write and publish a book together that is in turn de-fictionalised and published in the real world. It would be fun to read and could have a lot of in-jokes to the show. It would be better than simply a comprehensive book about the series: it could go over each episode on a case-by-case basis (including Murdoch’s long list of inventions and meetings with historical persons) in the characters’ own voices, written supposedly without historical hindsight. I think it would make a great companion to the show!

Annabella Cinderella also discussed the topic of home children and how they were treated, as well as class differences in the Edwardian era. This is not a new topic for this show, but it was worth revisiting. Annabella is seen as worthless and untrustworthy from the start because of her background. She is immediately assumed to be ungrateful, even though she was seriously abused by her assigned family. Even Crabtree, an orphan himself, has no sympathy for her. I admit that I did find that a little out of character for him, since he was raised in a brothel, but not unimaginable. Not only did he have the prevailing attitude of the times, but he is a hardened police officer.

A note about Constable Higgins – he has finally told his wife about his financial struggles and Ruth decides she is going to get a job to help out. Much to Ogden’s annoyance, she wants to be a nurse. I think this will be an ongoing comedy plot, but hopefully we do get to see more of Ruth’s character development. It also gives Ogden a chance to mentor another character – one that she finds frustrating rather than highly skilled and competent (like Rebecca James Desmond or Violet Hart). I also could not help but think that Ruth will end up volunteering as a nurse or aide in the upcoming First World War and the remainder of her sheltered bubble will be burst.

These two episodes entertained me for the two hours and I also enjoyed the many over-arching storylines that they continued or set up. I look forward to the rest of the season!

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Who was that?

copyright 2018

Who was that?
He was a complete stranger –
Never saw him before in my life,
Which is somewhat odd,
Considering how he was dressed,
I see a lot of those at the library.

He called my name – he knew it,
Like he expected me to recognise him,
The pain in his eyes as he begged me,
Sure, I was terrified, but he seemed so sad!
So desperate, so confused, so determined,
He asked about our house, our kids…
Poor man must have confused me for his wife,
And we must share the same name.

I gave up on marriage and children,
Not that the idea never struck me as appealing,
As a child, like most girls, I adored playing with dolls,
I dreamed of a handsome husband,
A wonderful house with lots of happy children,
But I never met such a man,
And no children is much better
Than children with a lousy father,
So many women have lost husbands lately anyhow,
I would be selfish to think I would find one.

And yet…as I think about it…
The man is tall and likely would be handsome cleaned up,
He might have made a good husband –
Perhaps something happened in the war,
Messing up his head, confusing him.

I would have loved to have the children he asked about,
But I would probably make a terrible mother,
I am much too independent now,
Besides, I have my cat – little Zuzu
Knocked my vase of flowers over again and got petals everywhere.

I will curl up with my tea and try to forget the man.

Hopefully he finds his wife and family again.

I will dream about what such a life might have been like,
And be content with mine.

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List of Katy’s Other Christmas Musings

An assortment of my posts of Christmas past…

Katy’s Christmas Fireplace Favourites – Top ‘Ten’
24 Dec 2014
In which I rank my favourite Christmas stories…and fudge a little on the “ten” of Top Ten!

Further Meditations on A Christmas Carol – Now Including 1938!
18 Dec 2015
In which I rank my favourite film versions of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

Happy Edwardian Christmas!
23 Dec 2015
In which I review the first Murdoch Mysteries Christmas episode: A Merry Murdoch Christmas.

Who You Are in the Dark
17 Dec 2016
In which I review the second Murdoch Mysteries Christmas episode: Once Upon a Murdoch Christmas (along with another regular episode).

Meditations on The Nutcracker Ballet
2 Dec 2017
In which I muse about the enduring popularity of The Nutcracker.

Third Time Isn’t Quite the Charm
30 Dec 2017
In which I review the third Murdoch Mysteries Christmas episode: Home for the Holidays.

Meditations On Scrooge, the Grinch, & Charlie Brown
31 Dec 2017
In which I muse about society’s attitudes toward outcasts.

The Grinch (2018) – A Wonderful New Twist
11 Dec 2018
In which I review the 2018 film The Grinch.

What’s the Big Deal?
19 Dec 2018
In which I muse about society’s attitudes toward greetings, songs, and secularism.

Posted in Books, Christmas, Disney, Films, Housekeeping, Katy Pontificates, Katy Rants, Murdoch Mysteries, Reviews, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

List of Katy’s Christmas Originals

I realise that, having had this blog for nearly eight years, I have accumulated a collection of original Christmas stories. As I will likely not get one done this year, I am compiling all of my previous ones into one post.

I apologise for the number of serials, shared universes, and incomplete stories. I like to add things here and there as inspiration strikes.

Mountain Graveyard (copyright 2012)
Part of The Followers series set in a post-apocalyptic North America.

Christmas Stockings (copyright 2013)
Part of the Tuesday’s Dust series set in contemporary (or recent-past/near-future) New York.

Reminiscing Over Tea & Cocoa (copyright 2014)
Part of the Tuesday’s Dust series set in contemporary (or recent-past/near-future) New York.

New Year’s Day (copyright 2016)
Set in an alternate dimension Canadian Prairie town.

Let the Snow Fall (copyright 2016)
Poem. Part of the Loyalties series set in 18th century North America.

Fixed No Fixed Address (copyright 2018)
Part of the No Fixed Address series set in alternate 21st-century North America.

Posted in Christmas, Housekeeping, Katy Originals, Katy Pontificates, Loyalties, No Fixed Address, The Followers, Tuesday's Dust, YA Lit & Films | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What’s the Big Deal?

Season’s Greetings!

It is once again the Christmas holiday season and we are being bombarded with songs, commercials, warm fuzzies, charity appeals, homemade baked goods, store-bought baked goods, candy, and perennial controversy.

I don’t normally like to rant too much on this blog about things not directly related to a film, television show, play, or book (or anything else that I am reviewing). However, I have been thinking a lot lately about how, as a Christian, apparently I am supposed to get my undergarments in a twist over the secularization of Christmas.

Because I don’t – and I don’t think it makes me less of a Christian for it.

I don’t care if someone wishes me Merry Christmas, Season’s Greetings, Happy Holidays, or just an ordinary hello. The first one is rather particular, the second covers the whole season of Advent through to the middle of January, and the third is generic enough to simply be wishing me a pleasant rest or vacation.

I also don’t care about the lack of Christian imagery in holiday decorations because Christmas has really become two holidays that occasionally collide: the Christian Feast of the Nativity of Jesus Christ (which for many traditions is just one of many others) and the secular Christmas of Santa Claus. Most decorations go with the latter, since Santa and winter animals are more commercially viable. If Santa has become too controversial, there is nothing wrong with woodland creatures.

I don’t care if secular schools produce secular winter concerts. I would much rather children understand what they are singing about! Nothing wrong with Jingle Bells, Frosty the Snowman, or any other winter-themed song, as long as they are age-appropriate. (Baby, It’s Cold Outside should probably not be performed by minors without a heavy rewrite, for example.)

I have always celebrated the Christian holiday and the secular holiday together, but they have always been different in my mind. The former is a private holiday shared by Christians and those who have an affinity for Christianity. The latter is a public holiday, with a season that starts at the end of October and ends around Dec. 27.

The strength of my faith has nothing to do with how anyone else celebrates Christmas.

Christmas is but one small part of the life of Jesus Christ. No one is going to Hell simply because they said “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” or vice versa. Nor is one going to Heaven for being a martyr about saying “Merry Christmas”.

So can we Christians especially stop peacocking and policing each other? Accept greetings and good wishes with love. Enjoy the season. Enjoy the chance to share our faith with others who are curious – because seriously, it is the best time of the year to do that. Grumping about someone offering you the wrong greeting is probably not going to start the conversation off on the right foot.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

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The Grinch (2018) – A Wonderful New Twist

The Grinch (2018)

While some whine about “too many remakes” or “don’t remake a classic”, I found that the new 2018 version of The Grinch was delightful. It was the perfect middle ground: it was sweet, colourful, wholesome, and whimsical like the 1966 animated special; and it also had character development, backstory, humour, and relevance to modern life like the 2000 live-action film. It was not as dark and focused on materialism as the latter, but we were still reminded that we can still be so busy on the Christmas preparations that we forget those among us who are hurting, fail to connect with others, and seem to not want to participate in the festivities.

Some critics do not like the fact that the Grinch is supposed to be a misunderstood loner rather than an evil goblin. I really do not understand that – the story is not a horror film! It is a didactic story. If the Grinch was not somewhat sympathetic, his story of redemption would not be as fulfilling.

I confess that I found myself identifying moreso with the Grinch than the Whos in this film. He lives alone, does his own thing, only interacts with the Whos on a practical basis (like grocery shopping), has a lot of emotional baggage, and spends his days talking to his dog. I like that in this version, he really does love and care for Max (who does likewise) as a beloved pet. Sure, he takes advantage of his dog’s loyalty, but one gets the feeling that Max thinks he needs to take care of the Grinch. The Grinch in general gets along well with animals. People? Not so much.

I am more of a cat person, but I can see how the Grinch became his present self. Feeling rejected – or rather, just alienated – by Who society, he lives by himself and becomes gradually more and more reclusive. In fact, he started out only being a socially awkward orphan. No one reached out to him.

By the time that Whos started to reach out to him, even only superficially, the Grinch was unable to accept it and found it annoying and confusing. Where was Mr. Bricklebaum when he and the Grinch were children, for example? They seem to be about the same age. Why was the Grinch left at the orphanage by himself if Christmas is so important to the Whos? Why didn’t anyone bring him out to sing the Welcome Christmas song as a child? And yet he is just supposed to love Christmas and be cheerful?

(No, I am not saying that I am a Grinch. Or a Scrooge, for that matter. I just find myself identifying a lot with their characters.)

The music, animation, action sequences, and humour in this film is amazing. I highly recommend it on those merits alone. The characters are delightful. Cindy Lou Who and her new subplot are excellent. She is sweet and determined – you want her to succeed. The other Who characters are all quite likeable. We can see as an audience that the Grinch would be able to fit in if only a) they noticed him hurting; and b) he were willing to accept their hospitality. That is the point of the film: realise that there are people among you who are hurting and want to connect with others, even if they have trouble doing so; and we need to be open to breaking out of our comfort zone in a healthy way, not by trying to make others miserable.

That, of course, along with the old chestnut of “Christmas is more than material things”.

Whoville at Christmas really does seem like a magical (if a bit overly cheery and frantic) place to be. This is my favourite iteration of the Grinch story thus far – and I hope to watch it again next year.

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Murdoch Tales for November

MURDOCH MYSTERIES
Season 12, Episodes 7, 8 & 9 (Brother’s Keeper) (Drowned in Money) (Secrets and Lies)

After a fun tangent for a Hallowe’en episode, Murdoch Mysteries returned to its regular storylines for the month of November before breaking for the Christmas season.

All three episodes were dark in tone and focused on family. While some viewers might prefer the writers to stick with developing Murdoch and Ogden’s characters, I was quite happy to have episodes focused on other characters, whether they were other main/secondary characters or characters-of-the-week. Murdoch and Ogden were left to actually solve the mysteries at hand – or, in the case of the most recent episode, Murdoch was left to solve the B-plot.

In Brother’s Keeper, Detective Watts took the spotlight. As a younger and newer character, there is still a lot to develop with him. He is mysterious and prodigious – almost like a little brother to Murdoch. His odd mannerisms and deep sense of privacy make us eager to know more about him. He is also just enough of a secondary character that we might be able to believe that he could kill someone. We don’t trust him as much as the more established characters.

Before this episode, it was already well-established that Watts had a difficult home-life as a child. His parents died when he was young and his sister abandoned him. In this story, we find out about the family that took him in and raised him as a foster son. He became close to the family’s twin sons who had Down’s syndrome. Over the course of the story, we learn that one of them was murdered several years earlier and the other recently vanished under mysterious circumstances. Watts always felt responsible for protecting them from bullies – especially one particularly psychopathic one – and believed himself a failure for not preventing the first twin’s death.

Really, is it any wonder that Watts is so guarded and aloof?

The question of the episode revolves around whether or not Watts is guilty of murdering the psychopathic bully. It is shot in such a way that we see multiple possible flashback scenarios. Murdoch and Watts have several tense scenes in the interrogation room together. Daniel Maslany as Watts gives a top-notch performance that was heartbreaking to watch. Watts becomes a bit softer and relatable, eventually coming to trust Murdoch and Brackenreid more.

Just as it is enjoyable to watch Watts as “the young detective”, I enjoy watching Constable John Brackenreid as “the young constable”. They are both at earlier stages of their lives and careers than our main characters and the world is unfolding for them.

In Drowned in Money, John gets to assist Murdoch, Crabtree, and Ogden on a case involving a wealthy couple who seemingly committed suicide together, only circumstances soon suggest otherwise upon further investigation. This episode is a straightforward mystery – no side stories involving our main characters – but we instead get to see the dark side of the wealthy and ambitious. Our investigators are appalled at how money, class, and titles have grown so important to the victims that they lost track of anything else. No one could understand why a couple who seemingly had everything they had ever wanted would kill themselves. This episode reminds us how much society has changed and become more loosely-stratified over the past century, as well has how far women’s rights have improved.

Murdoch stepped into the background (and Ogden disappeared backstage) during Secrets and Lies as Inspector Brackenreid took centre stage, eventually sharing it with his son, John, as they solved a personal case in St. Mary’s, Ontario – a much more scenic town than Toronto. Murdoch and Crabtree are left to try to figure out where Brackenreid has gone and deal with his anxious wife.

I must say that I really enjoyed watching the Brackenreids work together on a case.

Brackenreid Sr. leaves practically in the middle of the night to answer a distress call from an old friend – who turns out to be his former girlfriend from shortly before he moved to Toronto and married Margaret. The case that she has entrusted to him? Her missing daughter, whom the local police have written off as having run away and not worth looking for. Her daughter is also Brackenreid’s – making her John’s half-sister (a fact which the younger Brackenreid seems curious rather than angry about). All of this might be a big enough of a shock without the added complication that both women are black. This means that Brackenreid cannot acknowledge them publicly as his old girlfriend and out-of-wedlock daughter.

Otherwise, Brackenreid’s investigation is a rather complex missing persons case. No one turns up dead mid-episode and no one is killed, which would have made for a happy ending except that Margaret is furious. The Brackenreids uncover a conspiracy, but at the end of the day, while his daughter is returned to her mother and meets him, the corrupt doctor at the crux of the case is still only leaving the girl alone on the fear of a burly police inspector returning to attack him. The two women still face a lot of racism and obstacles, especially as Brackenreid’s daughter is determined to improve her position in society and become a businesswoman. Father and daughter are now acquainted, but they cannot be father and daughter openly without significant risk. Were she white (or very light-skinned), Brackenreid’s daughter would likely have been eventually accepted. Out of wedlock children were not uncommon, especially as she was conceived (and likely born) before her father was in a serious relationship with Margaret.

I am happy that after twelve seasons, we learned something significantly new about an established character. Will Brackenreid’s daughter (or her mother) return in the future? If she fit into another episode later on, I would not mind. However, I would like to think that she decides to keep in touch via occasional letters (probably addressed to Stationhouse 4 so that Margaret doesn’t burn them) and continue on her way up the corporate ladder as far as she can. Perhaps they later established a closer relationship after the Great War, especially if Brackenreid’s sons are both killed.

Margaret ends up the unintended victim in this episode – if only because she gets left entirely in the dark. First, her husband disappears and leaves her only a vague, cryptic note about his whereabouts. Then her older son runs off after him. Upon their return, she finds out that her husband has an out-of-wedlock daughter (and she doesn’t quite believe that he didn’t know) with a woman she most definitely considers inferior. Not only that, but her husband left immediately upon hearing his ex-girlfriend’s distress call and did not trust his wife to tell him. It is no wonder she still thinks that he cares for her. We know how much Brackenreid loves his wife, but she doesn’t. Hopefully the situation is resolved in the January episodes.

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