Season 6, Episode 10 (Under Fire)
There are two ways to start up the season again: either start out with something light and comedic to get audiences in the mood again or open up with a dramatic episode that uses plenty of effects and serious acting.
Castle chose the latter option, having ended the fall with a comedic Thanksgiving-themed episode and returning with the team tracking down a serial arsonist who graduated to murder. There is plenty of fire and an explosion to entertain us in a terrifying manner. There is also considerable suspense when Ryan and Esposito end up trapped in a fire-engulfed building while Beckett and Castle wait outside and try to solve the crime. Just to up the tension even more, Ryan’s wife Jenny is about to have a baby. Not surprisingly, she goes into labour while her husband is trapped in the fire.
Of course, all is well that ends well. The mystery is solved, the arsonist/murderer is caught, Ryan and Esposito are rescued, and Jenny has a healthy baby. The suspense is lessened quite a bit for the audience since it seems highly unlikely that the writers would kill two main characters in the first episode back. Castle is a dramedy and thus only would really kill a main character in a finale. The show would suffer terribly without its backup comic relief duo. Thus, the real suspense in this episode lay in the mystery itself.
Still, the tension was high and emotions were rampant. The fire effects were beautiful. All in all, Under Fire was intense and thrilling – the perfect way to start back in a bitterly cold January!
Season 7, Episode 10 (Murdoch in Ragtime)
By contrast, Murdoch Mysteries started January with a lively episode featuring ragtime and gospel music. A well-dressed musician was found dead near the docks. Suspicion falls on the remaining members of the troupe, leaving the audience guessing. Was it a racially-motivated hate crime? A murder by a jealous husband? Creative differences between performers? An accident gone wrong? A simple case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time? All of these theories are realistically put forward at some point or another during this hour, and all of the theories are plausible.
The episode also brings to light the changing musical sensibilities of the Edwardian era. By 1901, ragtime music was gaining popularity in North American cities among crowds of various ethnic backgrounds. It was not yet considered “respectable” music, but it was no longer confined to only black audiences. As shown in this episode, middle-class and upper-middle-class white audiences were gaining appreciation for the syncopated rhythms and new dance styles. Ragtime was certainly frowned upon and undoubtedly protested, but it was also fun. There are many excellent musical performances in this episode and the singing alone makes it worth watching.
In the characters’ personal lives, things are getting better for Murdoch and Dr. Ogden (they are now stealing kisses like young teenagers) now that Gillies is permanently (so they think) out of the picture. Their relationship is cute and sweet – they finally have time to enjoy being with each other again. Time will tell if they will actually get married. Meanwhile, Crabtree and Dr. Grace have hit a snag in their relationship – namely Dr. Ogden’s ex-brother-in-law, Lesley Garland, who is more of Dr. Grace’s social station and is intent on charming the young doctor. While I don’t think Lesley Garland’s intentions are entirely noble, he is not a villain either – he merely thinks that he is more worthy of Dr. Grace than a humble constable. Some trouble in paradise for the show’s beta couple could be interesting, though if Dr. Grace treats Crabtree too badly, viewers would lose sympathy for her. Crabtree is much more lovable than Dr. Grace.
Season 5, Episode 11 (Frame Job)
At the conclusion of the last episode, an unknown assailant shot Malachy Doyle at point-blank range. This episode takes place immediately following, with Jake and Rose driving Mal to the emergency room. The remainder of the episode carries on with the investigation into the shooting, which soon involves a hunt for a missing painting that may or may not have been stolen and leading to Rose getting kidnapped. The story is a typical Doyle episode therein, and like in Castle, there is little concern on the part of the audience that Mal will actually die.
Once again, the writers decide to give Sloan a subplot. She is back to her old tricks, but it is unclear whether she merely likes the thrill of crime or whether she has a plan involving the Doyles. So far, it seems she either thinks she needs some sort of security that she thinks criminal proceeds might bring her, or she merely loves the high of committing criminal activity and is addicted to it. Either of these scenarios at least keep her sympathetic, if still annoying. Nonetheless, Sloan’s subplot does not really add anything to the story and distracts from the fun of watching the other characters: Mal and Rose are sweet together, Des and Tinny are figuring out their relationship, and Jake and Leslie have a chance to get back together. Sloan doesn’t really need her own subplot – she is just a teenager. Hopefully her delving into criminal activity gives her a nasty comeuppance that scares her straight, because she is not cute or sexy or even intriguing. She is a waste of airtime.