Not Quite All Wine and Roses


Season 9, Episodes 6, 7 & 8 (The Local Option)(Summer of ‘75)(Pipe Dreamzz)

9-6Now that Dr. Ogden is back actively solving cases with her husband, things are bound not to remain blissful and romantic every week. There will undoubtedly be some obstacles for them. Furthermore, life continues on apace for our supporting characters, who are comparatively less joyful and blissful than Murdoch and Ogden.

The Local Option is centred on the question of temperance and the various sides to the argument that alcohol ought to be banned. It was a very complex issue at the time and this episode does that complexity justice. Then as now, it was not simply a matter of banning alcohol or condemning all consumption of it to fix society’s ills. Alcohol was being heavily abused, and in turn, families were suffering and neighbourhoods were deteriorating. Toward the end of the story, Inspector Brackenreid confronts the reality that his high tolerance for alcohol and his heavy reliance on it has had a strong influence on his now-teenage son. Brackenreid has matured and learned to control his drinking, but that is by no means a guarantee that his son will do the same. Yet his conversation with his son does not feel like an after-school special. It is organic to the story and a fine show of character development on Brackenreid’s part. His relationship with his wife also strengthens as Mrs. Brackenreid realises just how crazy and militant some in the Prohibitionist movement really are.

Also in this episode, we get to check in with Crabtree for more than some light comic relief or facts at hand about the weekly murder case. It is clear that he is still subdued and perhaps a bit depressed as a result of losing his fiancée and the rough patch in his friendship with the other constables. He awkwardly makes conversation with Miss James (after accidentally insulting her neighbourhood) and yet he does so as a respectful equal. He is so approachable that Miss James also approaches him as an equal in their conversation. Keeping in mind that their friendship (not to mention their workplace relationship) would be highly unlikely in 1903, their short scene together is humourous and bittersweet. Whether or not the writers intend to push them further together remains to be seen, but for a few minutes, two young people with complicated backgrounds find a meaningful connection. It is refreshing to watch.

9-7Summer of ’75 gives Dr. Ogden a chance to shove her weight around without her husband present as she insists on having Miss James as her assistant. The city officials are not keen on having two women in the coroner’s office, let alone one who is black, and it takes Dr. Ogden practically threatening blackmail to get them to change their minds. This might be over the top in terms of historical realism, but it made for an exciting B-plot and served its purpose: Miss James is able to remain to assist in the coroner’s office. Meanwhile, another strong-willed woman appears, this time from Murdoch’s childhood, and requests to assist the detective on an investigation that takes the two of them back in time (cerebrally, anyhow) to a camping trip in Algonquin Park in 1875. There, they solve both the old murder and the new ones, albeit in fear for their lives. What is key, however, is that Murdoch enjoys working with said Miss Pink and is uncomfortable with her suggestion that she move to Toronto. It would seem that she might upset the applecart in his life with Dr. Ogden. Clearly, Murdoch and Miss Pink had a strong attraction to each other as pre-teens. However, upon his safe return home, Murdoch puts Miss Pink out of his head and shows his wife a model of the new home that he intends to build for them. In one of the most romantic scenes of the series so far, we see that the house has plans for a joint laboratory and workshop for them to work together. Without a doubt, Murdoch respects his wife as an equal and recognises that her scientific pursuits are as valid as his own. Plus, he makes no mention of any children, not even of adoption, because that is no longer an essential part of his dream of a fulfilled life with Dr. Ogden. Their inventions are, or could be, as important as any children.

9-8In Pipe Dreamzz, we get to see Dr. Ogden and Miss James work together and bring another dynamic to the show. Dr. Grace never worked so closely with Dr. Ogden in this capacity. We get to brainstorm alongside them as they try to determine the poison of the week. We also get to see our lead pair work together again after a couple of weeks of being out of the spotlight or being in it separately. They even get to try opium together in the name of science, leading to some hilarious exchanges. Murdoch, however, is especially disturbed at losing control of his mental faculties – much for the same reason as he does not choose to drink often. He cannot fathom why anyone would think that the pleasure gained was worth such a loss. Despite opium and the dangers of it being central to the plot, there is little moralizing in the episode. Murdoch freely admits his own dislike of being out of control of his mind (even as he enjoyed himself because his wife was with him). But he does not rush to judgement of others. Dr. Ogden is more understanding of the enticement of the drug, but it is clear that she also only felt safe because Murdoch was with her. Like alcohol, opium is not a cut-and-dried issue. Neither are herbal medicine, Orientalism, or anti-immigration sentiments, all of which are touched upon in various capacities in this episode. The charm of Murdoch Mysteries is that it raises many issues and questions, but does not always come down hard on a particular opinion – historical or modern, liberal or conservative. The show expects the viewers to think for themselves.

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