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!