Season 8, Episode 1 (On the Waterfront)
There is something to be said for feigned normalcy, such as when one goes about one’s business at work while battling an illness or dealing with a significant life event…or in the case of a television show, starting off your premiere episode as though this is merely another installment of your police procedural.
The opening scenes of On the Waterfront are almost the same as they would be for any other episode of the series. A seemingly random and unknown group of characters meet up and either one of two things happens: they discover a body or one of them is murdered. In this case, it is the latter option as a nervous businessman is clobbered to death in front of a group of horrified hotel restaurant patrons, all of whom are untouched by the assailants. The only difference is that we’re treated to a teaser scene first of a woman being quickly murdered – again, a random woman by a seemingly random thug in a random alley. The two scenes do not appear connected, but any viewer of a police procedural can assume that a connection will be established at some point.
At the end of the previous season, Inspector Brackenreid was left in mortal peril. Instead of going straight to the question of his survival or demise, we are presented with a new investigation and our other main protagonists going about their business…with a new police inspector. Much to the viewers’ frustration, it is fifteen minutes into the hour before we find out whether Brackenreid survived the finale. (Though the opening credits are a good clue, they can be misleading and occur right at the start of the program.) The rest of the episode proceeds with not only the murder investigations, but also an overarching plot about the police taking/maintaining control of the 1901 Toronto dockside and of Drs. Ogden and Grace joining the suffragette movement. At the end of the episode, we discover that it is, in fact, On the Waterfront – Part I. Any conclusions have to wait. The premier episode thus feels like we are at once stepping back into a nice groove (this is the eighth season, after all) and also breaking into new dramatic territory. It is a satisfying story that holds a lot of promise for future episodes.
Rather than go into spoiling the surprises (until next time, at least), I want to point out that I appreciate the storytelling device of keeping the audience waiting for resolution from the season finale cliffhanger. Too often, writers fall into the pattern of picking up where they left off, wrecking the timelines of shows and also making it difficult to get audiences engaged beyond the first few minutes. To use the example of the other shows that I track, Once Upon a Time has such a compressed timeline that even the “current” timeline is two years behind the real world, while Castle frequently has to figure out ways to get across summer jumps after resolving the cliffhangers, which basically puts the brakes on the story in the premiere. Neither of these methods are bad – they work for their respective shows. However, for those who are watching the premiere just to get resolution from the finale, there is little to keep them watching if the writing doesn’t throw a curveball at them. (In the case of aforementioned shows, the plot does indeed offer viewers something else to chew on before resolving the cliffhangers, but not to the extent that this season of Murdoch Mysteries does.)
This episode could have started right away with the discovery of Brackenreid’s body and the immediate investigation into his attack. They could have kept his health in critical condition for the entire hour as the rest of the cast worked to figure out who attacked him or prove their culpability. Next week could have moved into the new season in earnest, or kept the investigation going. But that is not the spirit of this show. No matter what liberties Murdoch Mysteries takes, it is a detective show and strives to maintain lightheartedness amid the drama of the Edwardian era. So true to form, we begin with new murders some months later, to match with the time that has passed since the finale, with the finale’s consequences still fresh in our characters’ memories, but faded enough into the past so as not to immediately disrupt routine.
But something is different about this episode – we are treated to a lot more character development and background. After seven seasons, the show can explore not only its main cast, but also its supporting cast. Some of the police officers, after all, have been around for seven years with little more than the occasional funny scene. It is about time they got some more scenes. Overall, this season is shaping up to be very exciting, thought-provoking, informative, and funny.
Season 4, Episode 2 (White Out)
Last week’s premiere was as much about tying up loose ends as it was about setting up new plots. This week’s episode, however, kicked off the new season’s plot in earnest. Our main characters made contact with the new Frozen characters, Elsa’s motivation was revealed, and we caught a glimpse of the new season’s actual villain. (Unsurprisingly, it is not Elsa.)
As far as how well-crafted this episode was, it stuck to one main plot with a small side plot involving Anna and David in the past. It was the type of episode that actually could be watched on its own. While Emma and Elsa got a chance to have centre-stage, they shared it with David – who in my opinion often gets overlooked on this show. He is more than Prince Charming and it is always refreshing to see him without Snow White. As the generic “good man”, it is easy to perceive David/Prince Charming as having few layers, especially compared to Rumpelstiltskin and Captain Hook (or even Robin Hood). However, this episode shows him as a vulnerable young shepherd, trying to provide for his mother and survive to live another day. We learn that his father was an alcoholic who tried his hardest to quit, but eventually succumbed to his addiction and left young David to be man of the house at six years old. This, combined with the loss of his twin (although he was not conscious of this, but it has been proven that twins form bonds from before birth and that the loss of a twin, even at birth, can cause trauma in the survivor), could have set David on the path of villainy or of cowardice, but a chance encounter with Anna cemented his belief that he could be heroic and fight back against the hard-knocks in life. Unfortunately, this episode did not go into much detail of just how far David could have gone the way of Hook or Rumpelstiltskin were it not for this encounter and it was left up to the viewer to discern this. Thankfully, I found that this plot on its own was enjoyable. David as an individual is just as exciting as Snow White as an individual, and while they are held up as the ideal married couple, it is refreshing to see them on their own.
Speaking of on her own, Snow White had a very small part in this episode, but it was hilarious. As a new mother, all she wants to do is sleep, but a power outage causes the townspeople to look to her for direction. Since Regina has holed herself up in her house and absconded from the office of Mayor, they turn to Snow – whose kingdom they fought for and so who they rightly believe is their queen and leader. Baby in tow, she finds herself trying to figure out the power plant as Grumpy, Granny, and several other dwarves badger her. Finally, she screams at them that they are overwhelming her – which is cathartic to watch because we all have been in similar situations – and once they have left, she promptly figures out the problem. It certainly doesn’t take a new baby to know that feeling. Snow even tells them that she could sympathize with Regina turning evil because the people’s constant demands were so annoying. The best line: “You have lived your entire lives without lightbulbs! Go buy a flashlight!” She certainly didn’t need her Prince Charming to defend her.
As for the actual main plot, which is Elsa freezing out the town in attempt to find her sister, it is a straight-forward story about Emma, David, and Hook discovering that Elsa really just wants to find her family and has little control over her powers. Emma inadvertently gets stuck in an avalanche, but David and Elsa manage to save her. By the end of the episode, Elsa, for the time being, has joined the Charming family on a quest to find Anna. I enjoyed this story very much, but it was not very memorable. It was merely a suspenseful way to open up this season’s plot.
Meanwhile, Henry refuses to be rejected by Regina and is rewarded for his efforts by her welcoming him home. I presume that her rejection of him was more of a knee-jerk reaction on her part and likely stemmed from her not wanting to see anyone at all. Even her mirror was not really all that helpful, seeing as he only reminded her of her evil past. Regina probably thought that Henry would be happier with Emma and the Charmings while she herself wallowed in misery. Not entirely a selfish move, but not entirely a nice one, either. We don’t actually get to read what her note to him said, but I assume that she meant well.
Season 7, Episode 2 (Montreal)
In considering how much mystery to give their viewers before really resolving last year’s finale, the writers of Castle decided to keep it going over multiple episodes. Rather than be two parts, Montreal merely offers more clues and more questions. It is a more traditional episode in that Castle and Beckett are back to solving a murder case completely unrelated to Castle’s disappearance. It is comical, albeit comical in a manner more fraught with tension than usual. Castle is still not back to his old self and Beckett is still finding it hard to trust him. In some ways, their relationship appears to have regressed a few years – their behaviour seems more like it was in the second or third season. However, Castle seems more desperate and aloof than funny, and Beckett seems more frustrated than amusingly annoyed. As Castle discovers more clues as to his disappearance, his demeanour improves – and consequently, so does Beckett’s. Perhaps the writers intend to slowly bring their relationship back to where it was last year over the course of the next few episodes? It is still highly uncomfortable to watch, but quite believable. The portrayal of both Castle and Beckett dealing with the trauma of his disappearance with realistic, albeit usually couples are dealing with illness or job loss, not abduction. Beckett has lost her Castle, and Castle has lost himself.
That said, I am still enjoying this turn that the writers decided to take this couple on. They could have had them get married and then started off the season with them as a married couple investigating crimes (or have Castle disappear after their nuptials rather than before), but they chose to make a great change in their relationship dynamic instead. They did not choose the marriage route, which (let’s face it) in TV land means that they would next be on the baby route. They instead chose to portray something that happens in many relationships, albeit not usually in such a dramatic way: that of a profound shift or loss in identity that results in a loss of built-up trust. Castle was abducted and lost his memory; usually, outside of television, a spouse falls ill, develops an addiction, loses their job, or suffers a great family tragedy. While the afflicted spouse looks for meaning for what happened to them (much as Castle is trying to solve his abduction case) and to their spouse for solace, the other spouse feels robbed of the spouse that they had and lose their confidence in the afflicted spouse, even when the affliction (illness, job loss, death of family member) is not the afflicted spouse’s fault. After all, while Castle can’t help what happened to him, a small part of Beckett still wants to be angry with him, which is all the more frustrating for her because he does not deserve it. In this case, neither of them do.
That said, more cases together will definitely help repair their relationship. I only hope that they involve more toy pianos!