Annie’s Escape

copyright 2018

Part II of “Annie’s Interrogation

“Daddy, why isn’t Mummy coming to meet us?”

“Mummy and Andrew were too badly hurt to come with us.”

“What about Puffball?”

“He stayed to protect Mummy and Andrew.”

“Why didn’t we stay with them?”

“Because our house is gone and it isn’t safe anymore.”

“Are Mummy and Andrew at the hospital? Can we go visit them, like we visited Great-Granddad?”

“No, we can’t go visit them.”

“Why not?”

Annie was awakened by the sound of a door opening. Across the corridor, Corporal and Private Nott shoved a gangly boy into the cell facing hers, tossing him a water bottle and snapping a photo of him, just as they had for her three days earlier. Private Nott had a few more choice words for the boy as Corporal marched away and was replaced by another soldier. Annie shuddered as the woman went on about being respectful and law-abiding and how she knew so many good people who suffered because of resistance acts. Nott had already ranted about the same thing at her and the three other students who must have been in cells adjacent to Annie’s, since she couldn’t see them herself. Which of her classmates were they?

For the past three days, Annie had been ritually dragged out before Commander and Corporal for further questioning. It had been a repeat performance of her keeping her mouth shut while they tried various ways to get her to say something. Luckily, the third soldier with his eager pants had been nowhere to be seen. Commander must have realised not to bother with that threat when all of the prisoners were minors. After each session, Annie had been thrown back into her cell, given a new water bottle, and had her photo taken.

The one thing that Private Nott had been good for was as a shield. While she couldn’t hide Annie from the camera in her cell, she always stood in front of Annie while the latter relieved herself into the drain in the corner, concealing her from any guards, including herself. Annie figured that she did the same for the other prisoners. The older woman also constantly kept an eye on their toilet paper supply – each cell was supposed to have precisely one roll. It was thin and rough paper, but at least Annie did not need to soil her clothes.

After her rant, Nott turned her attention to the newly-arrived soldier who was supposed to be standing guard with her. While she was a strict disciplinarian with the prisoners, she went all gooey and sweet with soldiers. She asked him whether he was new to the facility, and when he seemed to answer in the affirmative (the man was very quiet), she acted as though she were a hostess showing her guest around. Annie could not help but roll her eyes.

As the guards moved down the corridor, Annie could finally turn her attention to the boy. He was hard to identify until he looked up at her, at which point, Annie’s eyes widened and she squeezed her hands over her mouth to muffle her gasp.

Nicky?! What are you doing here? You’re not supposed to be here – your class wasn’t on a mission. You’re only in Grade 9!

Nicky winked at her. Glancing in the direction of the soldiers, he gestured to the cross around his neck. It was not his style – Nicky was a country boy, not really into the gangster music scene with the big flashy necklaces. The smaller, plain cross that slid under his shirt was more in character for him. But then Nicky gestured to his eyes.

It’s a camera?

Annie imitated the gesture.

Nicky pointed at her, then at his ears, then at his smaller cross – identical to hers. Annie nodded and winked back at him. Then the two shuffled back from their doors to sit quietly in the middle of their cells.

“So they stuck you on guard duty, huh?” Private Nott asked the new soldier, as the two of them made their way back toward Annie and Nicky. The new soldier stopped just out of view of Annie, so only the woman was visible to her.

Her “huh” is funny. It almost sounds like “ha”, like she’s emphasising it too much.

The new soldier must have nodded, because the woman went on.

“We’ve got five prisoners in this wing. All dumb kids with ties to the resistance, though I doubt they actually have any ties to the resistance. They’re probably just making mischief. What the Hell loyalty would they have to a country they can barely remember, if at all? Probably found some maple leaf crap somewhere for cheap and thought it would be fun to go out and blow up train tracks.”

Yeah, you just keep telling yourself that, lady.

“Do you have kids?” the woman continued. If her comrade was responding, Annie could not hear him. In fairness, Nott was barely giving him a chance.

“As in three kids, or a three-year-old?”

Nicky held up three fingers, obviously trying to help Annie follow the conversation. The man must have done the same to Nott.

“Whatever, same thing. I’m sure you’d do anything for them, right?”

“’Course.” This time, Annie heard a quick answer.

“I just can’t imagine how these kids think this is a good idea. No respect! My kids know right from wrong and would never do anything against the law. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like it. Tough! The law is the law.”

Where are your kids? You’ve been here the past four days. I’ve never seen you leave.

“Lots of kids lost their parents in the war,” the new soldier pointed out, his voice a low growl. “Maybe they aren’t as lucky to have a mother like you.”

“Still, that’s no excuse not to learn respect! My kids are half their age and know better.” She then continued to tell anecdotes about her daughter and son.

Funny, she asked him whether he had any kids, but didn’t even ask any more questions. You would think she would try to build a rapport with him, not just rant and brag.

When she was done talking about her kids, Nott decided to change the topic slightly.

“Did you fight in the war? Or are you a new arrival? How many tours of duty have you done?”

The man must have nodded again.

“My husband fought in the war too. He stayed on after his second tour when he met me!” She giggled flirtatiously.

Aha! So you’re not one of the invaders. Who’s the traitor now?

“I figure that’s what everyone should do. Stop fighting and move on! It’s over!”

Bit ironic, since fighting is what soldiers do. If you don’t want to be a soldier, why are you here? Go home and keep ramming that respect into your brats. Let your great American husband sex you up!

The man mostly kept silent. Private Nott kept prattling on about nonsense and it was clear to Annie that Commander must have exiled her to their corridor so that he would rarely have to listen to her. To be fair, she was not giving away any secrets. What did it matter that five teenagers were annoyed listening to her gossip about her private life? Maybe that was part of the strategy to get them to talk.

Nicky suddenly got Annie’s attention by rhythmically tapping on the padded floor. To the camera, it just looked like he was passing the time. However, he was playing a code. Annie recognised it as “be ready.”

Be ready? Ready for what?

He must have caught her quizzical look, not to mention whether any of the other three students could see or hear him, because he gestured with his head toward the guards.

To Annie’s surprise, Private Nott suddenly collapsed onto the floor, her voice knocked out by a well-placed punch to the throat. Her head hit the concrete with an audible crack and she lay motionless as the man handcuffed her and tied a blindfold around her head. Grabbing her weapons, he let out a string of French curses at her. Annie wondered how long he had been coming up with them while he listened, because they sounded rehearsed.

Still translating the curses in her head, Annie realised that the soldier was now unlocking all of the cell doors, starting with the cell next to her, moving back to Nicky, and then to her. It was only then that she recognised the man as her uncle. He winked at her as he ushered her toward the end of the corridor as he opened the remaining two cells.

As the group hurriedly made their way past empty rooms, they were met by two more soldiers. Instead of stopping them, these soldiers handed them weapons and extra ammunition. Annie was relieved to get her pink handgun back.

“It’s not stealing when it was ours in the first place,” the soldier handing it to her whispered. “Don’t tell me how many bullets you had on you. However many boxes I hand you is how many they took, okay?”

She nodded.

The five students and three soldiers soon arrived at a side door. It was so old that it splintered into several pieces when kicked. Evidently, this wing of the building had not been remodeled.

“This was mental hospital – over a hundred years old,” her uncle explained. “Rule number one of making a prison – make sure all exits are sealed. But thank God for their arrogance, eh?”

Another soldier was waiting with a prison van outside the door, but they too were in disguise.

“Switch!” the driver called out. One of the soldiers hopped into the driver’s seat while the driver took her place loading the five students into the back.

“Phil, get in the front with Kerry,” the first driver ordered. “Kayley and I will deal with the kids.”

Once safely in the van, the first driver pulled her mask off to reveal herself as Nicky’s mother, Leanna. She smiled at her son, whispering that she was proud of him. His being captured had evidently been part of their plan.

“Now, Kayley, let’s get to work on these bracelets and anklets. We’ve got to get them disabled! Kids, your crosses!”

All five of them turned the recording and tracking devices off. Nicky fiddled with his bejewelled camera cross, but managed to find the off switch.

“Hard to remember which sparkly bit it was.”

The two women managed to disable and partially remove all of the bracelets and anklets while speeding down the road in semi-darkness.

“Are we going all the way back to Frozen Lakes now?” one of the students asked.

“Eventually,” Leanna explained, flinging the boy’s anklet into the middle of the floor. “There, that’s the last one!”

“We’d be stealing a military van. No point in having them chase us all the way. We’re gonna switch out soon,” Kayley added.

Leanna nodded.

“Nicky and Annie-Penny, you come with me. Autumn, you go with Kayley. Simon and Henry, you go with Kerry.”

In a grove of trees with an abandoned farmhouse, three cars and drivers were waiting when the van pulled in.

“Take everything! Let’s go!”

Everyone divided up to ride in the cars.

“Daddy!” Annie cried, giving her father a hug.

“Hi, sweetie!” He had tears in his eyes. “I’m glad you’re okay. Now, let’s get in the car and go home!”

Annie and Nicky settled themselves into the back seat while Phil and Leanna tossed their uniforms into the trunk.

“Meet you at the first rendezvous point!” Kerry called out as she slid into the passenger seat of her car. “Keep in contact, preferably visual!”

Annie’s father and the other driver agreed.

“All right, everyone ready?”

“Other than being slightly underdressed, yep! We’re all buckled in.” Leanna was only wearing leggings and a light cotton shirt.

“Weapons at the ready!” Phil added. “But hopefully, we won’t need them.”

“Kerry and Kayley made sure to rescue Mama Anna’s pink handgun,” Annie chimed in. “I’m sorry I almost lost it.”

“She gave it to you to use, so she wouldn’t mind,” her father added, thinking of his second wife. “You weren’t careless. Your group got overpowered. You’ll know for next time!”

Annie finally had a chance to look at the surrounding countryside.

“Where are we?”

“About eleven and a half hours from Frozen Lakes! They took you kids a long way.”

“Thanks for coming for us.”

“We’re family, of course we’d come for you! You’re our kids! Our Frozen Lakes kids!” Leanna gave her a hug. “We’re very proud of you.”

“I didn’t tell them anything!”

“Nope, neither did the others. We could hear your crosses sometimes. Nothing but shouting soldiers and the occasional sarcastic response from one of you kids. That must be why Simon has a black eye and Henry’s got a broken nose.”

“I’m sorry to have caused trouble.”

“No trouble! But the Canuck Pirates probably won’t be doing any gigs this far south for awhile! I think we might get recognised. We’ll stick to the northern route.”

“Speaking of which, let’s practice,” Phil suggested. “Start us with a song, Annie!”

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Annie’s Interrogation

copyright 2018

(companion short to No Fixed Address & Fixed No Fixed Address)

They shoved her hard into the metal chair, cursing at her for failing to land properly on the seat as they pulled her handcuffed arms around the spindly wooden back. One soldier held her wrists while the other maneuvered her legs into a sitting position, threatening to cuff her ankles if she did not stop kicking and squirming. Not that she was squirming so much as she was just trying to get balanced and sit under her own willpower.

“Your name?” a third soldier demanded from across the table.

Why the Hell is there a table in here? she wondered. None of them had anything to write with. Was it just so they had something to pound their fists into? Or to put between her and them?

“Your name!”

Annie, Penny, Jasmine, Laura, who cares?

“Come on, Missy, your name!” Yep, he pounded his fists into the table.

She kept her mouth shut. Her ID was in her pocket. They could fish it out.

“Answer him, you little punk!” The soldier holding her legs yanked them apart and shoved his nether regions toward hers. “Come on, answer! Speak, huh? Scream!”

What are you going to do, rip my jeans and panties? She glared at him.

“Hey, hey, buddy – she’s underage, stop it!” His comrade had pulled her identity card out of her pocket. “She’s only sixteen!”

“That’s legal in my state,” the thrusting soldier grumbled.

“Yeah, well, not in the federal territories, it ain’t!” The soldier across the table – clearly the highest-ranking among them – ordered him to stand down and step aside. “The card, Corporal.”

‘Corporal’ handed him the card, briefly letting go of Annie.

“Don’t make any moves or you’ll regret it,” ‘Commander’ warned. She nodded. Her red leather jacket was too stiff for her to pull her arms back anyhow.

“Says she’s sixteen and that her card was issued at …”

“Yes, Corporal, I’m reading it. Now Missy, it says here your name is Anne Redcoat. That don’t sound like a real name to me, but I’m gonna go with it. Anne, is it? Annie, maybe?”

That’s Miss Annie to you, buddy. Getting awfully familiar, aren’t we? What’s next, you going to send McThrusty here back to prod me some more?

“Annie, we don’t want trouble. You’re just a kid – you should be in the high school. Where do you go to school? You’re still in school, right?”

‘Course I go to school, you eejit. I go to Frozen Lakes Academy. We’re on break now, though. This is part of my work-study program – Guerilla Resistance Mischief 20.

“From that look, I’d say you either mean it’s obvious you go to school, or obvious you don’t. Which is it? Come on, now, we won’t tell your teachers on you.”

Like Hell you wouldn’t, you lying smarmy sob.

“Either you’re in school or you’re not – it’s not a hard question, Miss Annie,” Corporal added softly, patting her gently on the shoulder.

She nodded.

“Where do you live? Your card just tells us where they issued your driver’s license.”

Well, wouldn’t that be where I live? Not that it was, but it would be good guess.

“You from a ways off from here?”

I’m from Frozen Lakes. So yeah, kind of a long ways off. About a six-hour drive in good weather.

“You’re kinda dark – you a Native American? Hispanic? Arab?”

Why do you ask that? What next, my whole family tree?

“Commander, I don’t think you can ask that.”

“She looks like one of them,” McThrusty piped up from the corner.

“You shut it!” Commander turned back to Annie. “I’m sorry, Miss Annie. That was indeed not a good question. Just wondering who to call to retrieve you.”

What would my ethnicity have to do with that?

“She’s got a tattoo on her wrist, sir,” Corporal offered. He whirled her chair around and held out her bound wrists in the commander’s direction. “Maple leaf, see?”

“Yep, I see. Now put her down and turn her around again. She ain’t a blow-up doll.”

She was soon facing Commander again. He was smiling smugly.

“So you’re part of the resistance, huh? That ain’t a joke, you know. We don’t take to kindly to traitors and that’s what those so-called resistance fighters are. Just deluded folks who need to be taught a lesson. You don’t want to associate with them.”

I don’t?

“They refuse to accept our legitimate takeover and our two governments’ decisions. They hurt hard-working, decent folk and disrupt our economy. They refuse to respect the law! If it weren’t for them, we’d have backed off years ago and set up a civilian police force.”

Oh really? Like, for nearly twelve years, you’ve been scared by a few thousand resistance fighters? The best military in the world? What a load of bearshit.

“Your mama know you got a maple leaf tattoo? What does your daddy think of his little girl traipsing around with a bright red hat and a pink handgun?”

You don’t know a damn thing about my mother or father. I know my dad is proud of me. He is one of my biggest supporters.

Tears welled up in her eyes.

“Come on, you just want to go home, don’t you? You don’t want to be in trouble.”

‘Course I want to go home – don’t you? You’re not from around here. Don’t you want to go home? Why don’t you just pack up and take your stupid flag and tanks and head back to where you came from?

“Where are you from? How many people are in your unit?”

Eff off. I’m not telling you that.

“Just tell me what I want to know, Annie, and I can send you home. Back to school and mama and daddy. No trouble.”

Buddy, I’m sixteen, not six. Don’t give me that.

She closed her eyes.

“Daddy, daddy, wait! Where’s Mummy? I want Mummy!”

Debris was falling around them as her dad squeezed her tightly against himself. She was only four years old – a petite little girl who took after her mother’s olive skin and black hair. One might have still mistaken her for a toddler at a distance. She couldn’t run far on her tiny legs, even though they weren’t wobbly anymore.

“We have to keep going, sweetie. I need to get you somewhere safe. We’re going to Grandma’s.”

“Is Mummy meeting us there? With Andrew and Puffball?”

“No.” Her father finally answered, albeit with a lot of hesitation. “No, Mummy won’t be meeting us. It’s just you and Daddy now, okay? We’re going to Grandma’s cabin. Remember? That’s where the camper is. You like the cabin.”

“What about Grandma?”

“She might meet us there too. I don’t know, sweetie, I really don’t. Now, can you hold on really tight to me, keep your head in my coat, and don’t let go? We’re gonna make a run for it across this street now.”

She had nodded and whimpered “Yes, Daddy.”

Somehow, they had made it out of the crumbling city. She had seen footage of it later – huge towers collapsing, smaller buildings being crushed, tanks and soldiers in the streets, civilians being rounded up…they had lived in one of those smaller buildings once. They had been a happy family of four, complete with a puppy, and she was supposed to get another brother or sister.

“Hey, punky, wake up!” Corporal was shaking her.

“Answer my questions, Miss Annie,” Commander demanded.

I’m from Toronto. You know, that metropolis you razed. Suppose you think you’re all high and mighty for that, eh? So now I’m from Frozen Lakes. My family had four and a half people and a dog. But now it’s got way more than that, okay? Even if you killed my Mummy.

“How many people in your unit?”

She shrugged.

“Let me guess, you’re just a pawn? A throwaway? Not worth telling important things to?”

You said yourself that I’m just a kid.

“Put her in solitary overnight. Maybe she’ll have her voice back in the morning.”

“Commander, let me at her! I’ll loosen her up real quick.”

“No! If it gets out that we’re raping kids, Operation 54’40 Freedom is over. Corporal, take Miss Annie Redcoat to solitary. Get her some water! And give her her hat back.”

Corporal lifted her arms back over the chair and pulled her up,

“Come with me, Missy.”

“Take Private Nott with you. I don’t want the girl left alone with anyone.” Commander gestured toward a uniformed woman outside the interrogation room. The woman fell into line behind Corporal as he pushed Annie toward her cell.

Well, what a gentleman you are, Commander! Just afraid of being sued, eh? Go on, don’t think this isn’t getting back to Frozen Lakes. Your Operation is going to fail like the board game. Even if it takes years. I’ve been waiting twelve already. I’m not the only kid who lost their mother.

The woman unlocked her handcuffs before throwing her into the padded cell. Corporal shoved a full water bottle into her hand and then tossed her hat at her before the two of them slammed her cell door shut. The woman snapped a photo and the flash momentarily stunned her.

Once they had left, Annie burst into giggles.

My hat actually landed on my head.

She adjusted the hat so that it sat in its proper place over her black braids: a red hat with a white maple leaf on the front.

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Politics, Names, & Spy Capers

Season 11, Episode 14 (The Great White Moose)

 As the episode opened with President Teddy Roosevelt sneaking into Canada to go hunting, this was unsurprisingly an episode that marked the annual return of our favourite fictional Canadian spy, Terrence Meyers, who always gets on Detective Murdoch’s nerves. Like James Pendrick, Meyers appears about once per season. After a decade, the show is able to poke fun at this ongoing relationship – one of tension, frustration, and mutual admiration. After all, Meyers is constantly getting in the way of Murdoch’s investigations and withholding valuable information – not to mention sending Murdoch on the occasional wild goose chase. (Er, in this case, a wild moose case.) But they have fun together (albeit Murdoch is constantly afraid for his life) and we have fun watching them.

The actual mystery itself is an enjoyable caper with lots of twists. Some suspension of disbelief is required, but this show is not about representing the Edwardian era and historical facts exactly as they were. Besides, it is not outside of the realm of possibility that a spy such as Meyers could exist – I just don’t think he would be considered that competent if he required constant back-up from the Toronto constabulary and had to keep letting them in on state secrets.

Because this was a Meyers and Murdoch episode, the rest of the main cast was reduced to supporting roles. Dr. Ogden is still dealing with her impending change of status and is worried about losing Murdoch. She is still annoying to watch/listen to, but her behaviour is entirely understandable. First of all, she is enraged that the American President thinks that he can sneak into Canada to hunt Canadian wildlife for his own trophy and amusement. Most Canadians would agree! (She at least waited to voice her complaints until after they had left Roosevelt’s company.)  Then she is concerned that Murdoch is trying to exclude her from the discussion about their child’s name. Is that a bit irrational? Possibly, but that would be placing 21st century sensibilities onto 1905. Nowadays, at least in most cultures in North America, it is assumed that the mother gets an opinion on what their child is named. In some cases, she gets the right to veto any name or even complete naming rights altogether. There is a great emphasis on a child having their own name. But in 1905, it was much more common for children to be given one of the top ten or twenty most popular names, and they were usually named after their parents, grandparents, or godparents. Murdoch is somewhat surprised that his wife would balk at naming their son after himself, but his suggestion was entirely reasonable. He then decides that perhaps they should name a son after his wife instead, thinking that was what she was upset about. Of course, she was just upset because she didn’t want to name her son after them. After all, this is likely their only child – it isn’t as though she is going to have seven more to use all of her favourite names on.

As for Crabtree and Brackenreid, they get the chance to be comic relief as they assist in the increasingly macabre investigation. They even bandy around the idea that Dr. Ogden might be pregnant, but they dismiss it. I am not sure why – do they think that their friends/colleagues have a celibate marriage? Do they think that Dr. Ogden is too old to have children? Do they know about her past struggles? I look forward to their reaction to the news in future episodes.

Ultimately, Canada saves the day, Roosevelt goes home, and no national incident occurs – but it is a suspenseful episode! And no, no moose were harmed.

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Getting Rather Serious…(sort of)

Season 11, Episodes 12 & 13 (Mary Wept)(Crabtree a la Carte)

 After a couple of lighter episodes, Mary Wept is dark and philosophical. Religion is murky territory, particularly in a show focused on science and technology. It is easy to forget that Detective Murdoch is a devout Catholic amid all of his interest in science and learning about the physical world.

The central mystery of the show is initially not a murder – although one shows up later – but a statue of the Virgin Mary that arrives mysteriously at Murdoch’s church and then proceeds to miraculously “weep” blood. Thus there are a lot of discussions around belief in miracles, faith in general, and healthy scepticism. For Murdoch, faith and scepticism go hand in hand. It isn’t that he doesn’t want to believe in a miracle, but rather that he needs to eliminate all other possible causes first.

For comic relief, Crabtree is back from his trip to Paris and is feeling bored in Toronto – that classic feeling that one has after coming back from a good holiday and is reminded of all the things that one doesn’t like about one’s hometown! Naturally, his (and Nina’s) perceived snobbishness is annoying to everyone else, but no matter – his friend Higgins is much more concerned about proposing to Ruth! When that doesn’t go as planned, thanks to the aforementioned murder, it comes down to the not-marriage-minded Crabtree and Nina to get their friends back together. It is adorably awkward, but works out well in the end. I thought it was a very sweet subplot.

Violet Hart gets more screentime in this episode and is arousing suspicion from Dr. Ogden. Violet is seemingly emotionally distant (at least at work), even when examining a baby’s skeleton. She is furthermore eager to please and focused on getting what she wants. A lot of viewers were wondering if Violet is obsessed with Murdoch like Eva Pearce was, but I really hope this isn’t the direction that the writers are going with the character. From my perspective, it seems more like Violet is determined to take advantage of every opportunity she gets, looks up to Dr. Ogden, and wants to be like her – if not better – in the future. If she suspects that Dr. Ogden is pregnant, she might even be eyeing her job. (That’s not evil – that’s practical.) Since Violet is a non-white woman, she knows that she won’t get many opportunities to advance, but she is going to darn well try her hardest. She also confesses to Murdoch that her faith is what guides her and allows her to be calm and collected at her job. (I might argue that Violet finds Murdoch appealing and is a bit jealous of Dr. Ogden, but no more than most of the female viewership of the show. I think she is hoping to meet her own “Detective Murdoch” someday.)

Which leads into Crabtree A La Carte, a much more comedic episode that nonetheless has very serious undertones. First of all, the victim-of-the-week is murdered by botulism poisoning – a slow and painful death by paralysis. No one deserves such a death – made all the worse because it can take over a day for symptoms to show up, making getting effective treatment all the less likely. (This was especially the case in 1905.) For all of the crazy antics of the cooking show that forms the backdrop of the episode, the fact that the victim dies horribly for no reason at all (other than he was dislikable) keeps this story from being very funny.

Crabtree is especially concerned because he thinks he might have been poisoned as well. While we know he survives to the 1920s (thank you, Frankie Drake Mysteries), he certainly does not! I can completely understand his terror and existential dread at the thought of soon dying without getting to accomplish all of the things that he wanted to do. It is one thing to know that one is going to die and accept one’s mortality, but knowing that one’s death might be imminent is another matter altogether. What to do with one’s last few hours? Especially if the actual last few hours might be spent in paralysis with all of one’s mental faculties perfectly intact?

In both this episode and Mary Wept, Detective Watts assists in the investigations. He is his usual philosophical, eccentric self, but seems to have a crush on Miss Cherry. I foresee that driving a bit of a wedge between Watts and the rest of the stationhouse, none of whom harbour much respect or liking for her. At least he proved that she could still be useful!

Over the course of both of these two episodes, Dr. Ogden is dealing with morning sickness and hormonal swings, leading her to frequently deviate out of her normal character. This is much to Murdoch’s chagrin, since he has no idea how to help her and that is really all that he wants to do. However, as she reminds him at the end of this episode, she is not enjoying yo-yoing emotions or morning sickness either. Furthermore, she too has no idea how he could help her. She doesn’t like to admit that she needs it, for a start! She doesn’t want to stop working yet, after all.

While she would be justified in her paranoia because of past encounters on the show, I honestly think that Dr. Ogden is jealous of Violet because Violet’s career is just taking off (if she can get past a lot of misogyny and racism) while Dr. Ogden’s is waning. Even doctors were expected to stay home with their children once they had them. I think it is actually a bit of a stretch that she is still working while married. Perhaps Dr. Ogden will be able to open a home-based practice of some kind, or continue to do research, but now just about everyone will evaluate her maternal skills before they consider her medical career. Murdoch doesn’t really understand this yet, or he has not realised the extent of the sacrifice his wife is making. He thinks that she has come to terms with it already.

Next week looks like a spy caper – so I hope the domestic drama takes a bit of a break!

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The Frankie Drake Mysteries

The Frankie Drake Mysteries

In the same universe as Murdoch Mysteries, The Frankie Drake Mysteries take place in the early 1920s in Toronto. Frankie is a female private detective, about 30 years old, and solves cases a bit more unconventionally than the police. There is a lot more intrigue, suspense, and spontaneity than in a police procedural. The situations are a bit more scrappy, the cases vary wildly from the mundane to the grisly to the explosive, and the main characters are almost always having to work outside of (and often against) the system.

Despite the many changes in society and technology from 1900 to 1920, the era was still hostile to women in the workforce and especially challenging male roles and dominance. The main differences from 1900 were that women had gained the right to vote, earned some measure of respect in the workforce due to WWI, and lost out on a lot of husbands or potential husbands (again, due to WWI and the influenza epidemic). Thus, women in the public sphere was slowly gaining ground, particularly in cities.

Frankie Drake herself is an extremely unconventional woman, 1920s or not. She had an odd upbringing and looks to challenge authority, especially male authority. We don’t know much about her past, other than she served in the war (possibly as a spy) and thus has post-traumatic stress disorder as well as a lot of skills in physical combat, driving motorcycles, etc. She also does not seem to have serious long-term romantic relationships, although that remains to be seen. In that vein, she defies convention by having a relationship with an African-American boxer, although they follow convention enough to keep it behind closed doors.

Basically, everything about Frankie would be normal in a male hero for this type of series, no matter what the era. But Frankie is still a very feminine woman. The writers have created a character that balances both elements well. One never gets the impression that Frankie is supposed to be androgynous. That is a serious misconception on the part of those with objections to women’s rights – that feminism is about being androgynous and eliminating the differences between men and women. Feminism is about equality. If a woman dresses in a more masculine way, that could be because she needs to do so to be accepted as an equal (or because the outfit is more comfortable or practical for the situation), not because she wants to be a man. Watching this show reminds viewers just how scandalous it was for a woman to wear trousers, drink alcohol, and earn her own living until fairly recently.

If that was all that the show discussed, it would be a bit of a one-trick pony. However, the series fully delves into the intricacies of 1920s Toronto: Prohibition, the post-war aviation industry, the Chinese head tax, the eugenics movement, immigration trends, cross-border crime, the booming film industry, the jazz culture, fear of socialism, etc. Most of these get glossed over in conventional understanding of history, sandwiched between the First World War and the Great Depression/Second World War. Even in Canada, where no major revolutions or civil wars were taking place at the time, the 1920s was an exciting, dynamic era.

The other characters are equally intriguing: Frankie’s colleague and best friend, Trudy; Mary, the Morality Officer (the closest a woman is able to get to being a police officer); and Flo, the morgue assistant who decided to get out of the kitchen after being widowed in the war and now has aspirations to advance in the medical field. All three are integral to Frankie’s investigations. While Frankie and Trudy are rarely apart, or at least are investigating in tandem, Flo and Mary play roles of varying degrees of importance, depending on the episode. They all have very different personalities: Trudy is artistic and a dutiful older sister; Mary is mousy, clumsy, and determined; and Flo is sarcastic and uninhibited. None of them are conventional women for the time period, but they also are not that judgemental of women who are. After all, freedom and equality are about having choices.

Since this show takes place in the same universe as Murdoch Mysteries, I could not help but wonder about the characters from the earlier show. An introductory web series showed that Inspector Brackenreid and Detective Watts were still alive, with the former being retired and the latter now an Inspector in his own right. This is not surprising, since they would have been past the age for being soldiers. It is nice to know they did not succumb to the flu. Likewise, Constable Crabtree (no longer a constable and possibly having retired from policing) is still alive in the 1920s, seemingly content as a businessman. I’m guessing his garage business worked out very well! But in the first episode, Frankie is in a cemetery across from a field full of fresh white headstones of war dead and I could not help but wonder if the younger Brackenreids were there. I can understand that the writers don’t want to reveal what happened to the Murdochs – that would rather lessen any suspense in that series! As it is, we can assume that Brackenreid, Watts, and Crabtree will not succumb to any mortal peril. I really do hope that such brilliant people as Murdoch and Ogden did not end up as flu victims!

I have been enjoying this show so far. Does it get a bit preachy sometimes? No more than necessary. It employs more of a “show, don’t tell” method. Is it for everyone? Not if you don’t like history, don’t like women in starring roles, or don’t like mysteries. Oh, and if you can’t stand jazz…

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January Fun

Season 11, Episodes 10 & 11 (F.L.A.S.H.)(Biffers & Blockers)

In a month traditionally associated with darkness and post-Christmas sadness, the first two Murdoch Mysteries episodes of 2018 provided much-appreciated comedic relief. Some might have found them a bit too silly, but that is the beauty of the show. Each episode is still a murder mystery, after all. There is still a death in each one, and both are treated respectfully. No matter how odd the situation, rarely do our main characters get too cynical or openly laugh at the unfortunate deceased.

Nonetheless, the show does not always dwell on the sadness of the situation. We are following police investigations, not the victims and their families. I do wonder if 18 homicides a year is a bit much for Edwardian Toronto, but we can overlook that.

F.L.A.S.H. sees the annual return of the unfortunate inventor James Pendrick, who is becoming self-aware of the patterns that follow his amazing and potentially-world-changing inventions. He is ever optimistic that something might work, but he is aware that they might not. He is no longer surprised that someone close to him might betray him. He is no longer surprised that Murdoch suspects him of murder. He is fairly nonplussed at the idea that his invention might not make money, or might be bought out by competing companies and never see the light of day.

Because of this in-story awareness on the part of Pendrick, Murdoch, Brackenreid, and Dr. Ogden, the episode is highly amusing and it is actually easier for the audience to suspend our disbelief. We can get caught up in the world of Pendrick’s zany inventions and ideas for a beautiful future – some of which has relevance today. Pendrick and Murdoch get to work together to solve the crime and Murdoch especially gets to geek out on new technology. All in all, lots of good fun!

(True to form, Pendrick is not the murderer, and he is undoubtedly off to pursue another idea for next year.)

Biffers & Blockers is a sports episode, this time involving cricket. The fact that this game is only now catching on in North America is certainly made light of – Murdoch and Ogden have no idea how the game is supposed to go, even if they do find it quite exciting.

The mystery in this episode – namely who murdered an athlete with an exploding bat – is not without its twists and turns. Multiple suspects arise as Murdoch tries to figure out even who the intended victim was. I figured out who the murderer was, thanks to creative editing, but I still had no idea who they had been targeting or why. (I have watched a few too many mysteries. Put it this way, if the camera cuts to a seemingly insignificant character, or lingers too long on them, or if a seemingly insignificant character is getting a lot more screentime than expected, that person is highly suspect.)

The main comedy of this episode is in our favourite comic relief constable, Higgins. Higgins is dating Ruth Newsome, a wealthy socialite, and she is striving to make him into more of a gentleman. He gets to play cricket, wear a suit, and have a manservant – all of which he quite enjoys! He fits in perfectly well with her family, despite the class difference, and they are all a bit dotty. It’s not that they are unintelligent, but rather they are overly sheltered and used to getting their way. They are actually fairly smart, but they live in such a different world than our main characters that they have little understanding of how odd they are. They live in a gated community world but long for adventure. Hopefully Ruth doesn’t get tired of Higgins. He seems to enjoy their life very much, even if Murdoch cannot understand why.

The most amusing ongoing storyline in both of these episodes centres on Murdoch and Dr. Ogden and their family plans. In the first episode, they spend a lot of time trying to conceive – even as it gets in the way of the investigation and gets tiring. (For an intellectual like Murdoch, it is not entirely clear if he enjoys the distraction from solving the mystery.) It is a funny situation, but still a rather sad one, particularly for those who understand what infertility is like. Yes, they are treating it like a scientific experiment, but that is the best way to look at it. The funniest thing about the situation is how the rest of the characters are in the dark about it and how Murdoch and Ogden strive to keep it that way. We in the audience are part of an intimate in-joke.

In the second episode, which I suppose takes place about a month or so later, it seems they have had a successful experiment. While they are still keeping this a secret – I think Dr. Ogden especially is worried that concentrating too much on it early on might cause something to go wrong – Murdoch is suddenly overly concerned with taking care of her. Both of these reactions are entirely plausible and within character. Murdoch has always wanted a family and so naturally would want to focus on the long-term future. Dr. Ogden is more concerned with safely having a baby and also what this will mean for her own future. She is no doubt sad about losing her job and being expected to stay home, even if Murdoch talks about hiring a nanny. I don’t think that Dr. Ogden has always dreamt of having children. She was very focused on her education and her work. She only wanted to have them once she met Murdoch, and even then, she thought she could not. I hope that they are going to discuss these issues in future episodes.

But now, we can just be happy for them and giggle at how the other characters are confused at their behaviour – and hope that nothing goes wrong.

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Downsizing (2017)

Downsizing (2017)

One of those films that looked interesting but was not immediately on my “must-see” list, Downsizing pleasantly surprised me in how entertaining and thought-provoking it is. Similar to The Martian, it takes a serious approach to science fiction and presents a world very eerily close to our own, but for a few differences. (Yes, it also stars Matt Damon – that’s probably why I so readily made the connection.) The fact that it this story takes place in an alternate future that is very relatable makes it unsettling to watch, but also leaves us with a feeling of hope. Escapism, this is not.

The basic premise of this film is that a scientist discovers a way to safely miniaturize all organic matter – reducing humans to the size of miniature dolls. (Think a one-inch to one-foot ratio.) The ultimate goal behind this initiative is to reduce environmental footprints and waste; however, once the technology becomes widespread, its uses expand to cover other needs as well. There are a noble few who still have the goal of saving humanity, but the majority “downsize” for personal reasons. One of which is simply wealth – the cost of living for a miniature person is much less than a normal-sized person, so many are lured in with the promise of being able to live a life of luxury in a protected environment.

There are two main plots to this film. The first plot centres on Matt Damon’s character, Paul. He is an “average American” from Nebraska who seems to be in his mid- to late thirties for most of the film. His life didn’t go as planned for many reasons (mostly beyond his control) and he sees the opportunity to downsize as bringing a fresh start for him and his wife. He is also in favour of helping the planet. His character is genuine, optimistic, kind, and unfortunately painted as a loser in a world of wealth, excess, and selfishness. He discovers that his problems do not go away in his new, miniature life. However, he slowly learns to find his place and new meaning.

The second plot is about the world at large and how it is heading for environmental disaster. There are lots of short scenes where characters explore ideas about downsizing and both the good and bad effects that it has. We see technology adapt to accept an ever-growing population of “small” people, ordinary people musing about how the economy is being wrecked, and see that downsizing doesn’t result in everyone being able to live lives of luxury. The technology is used to control political dissidents and it is implied that it is also used to control poverty, petty criminals, and anyone else that gets in the way of governments or corporations. The wealthy community that Paul moves into, he later discovers, is serviced by and surrounded by a giant miniature slum.

I found that this film raised a lot of questions, but purposely left us to answer them ourselves. Did we think that the writers were correct in how such a world would play out? Did we share the scientists’ sense of both hope and dread? Would we go ahead and leave behind our old lives for a chance to live in luxury? A chance to save the planet? A chance to help ourselves?

And how would we help ourselves? Is being rich helpful? For some, it undoubtedly is. Is having meaningful work helpful? Is helping others helpful? Is helping the environment helpful? And are we doing these things just to help ourselves, or for something more?

Paul is shown to be a hardworking person who does a lot of drudgery, but genuinely wants to do things for others. He does not start off the film living a life of glamour, ease, and luxury; he does not end up living such a life at the end of the film, either. Why? Because that is not the type of life that he finds meaningful. He is, by nature, not a very selfish person. In fact, it is when he acts selfishly that he most often loses out. That isn’t to say that one should never think about themselves, but rather that we need to evaluate what a good life is. Other characters in the film who are much more selfish are not portrayed negatively, but merely making different choices.

I strongly recommend this film. It is entertaining, but it is not a light-hearted comedy. Nor is there a big conspiracy or evil corporation. There are no great battles. This is a film that shows humanity as it is, has been, and could be. It is art first.

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