Season 9, Episode 9 (A Merry Murdoch Christmas)
As far as Christmas specials go, this is one of the best that I have seen thus far. A Merry Murdoch Christmas took the classic Murdoch Mysteries episode and stretched it into a two-hour exhilarating adventure, culminating in a dark chase through the snow to catch the suspect. The suspense was counterbalanced with holiday sentimentality customary for Christmas specials.
If that were all, it would have been pleasant enough. However, the story highlighted key themes surrounding the holiday season: namely, that it can be too easy to get so carried away with the family traditions that we neglect others who may be lonely or downhearted, and that people can use Christmas as a means to puff up their own generous image while neglecting those less fortunate than themselves for the rest of the year. It is stated more than once in the episode: “Christmas is a time for the godless to feel pious and for the greedy to feel generous.” This is still true, as anyone who works at the food bank can attest. We are inundated with pleas for donations from mid-October through mid-January, but for the other nine months of the year, it is easy to forget about charitable works and donations. Poverty is a problem all year. Making a big show of being generous at Christmastime – while appreciated – does little to alleviate the overall crisis.
Another element that the show touches on is the fact that crime does not take a Christmas break. The police have to work extra diligently during such a busy season. That, along with their somewhat cynical outlook on life, can make for tired and grumpy police officers. To alleviate their image, they participate in charity toy drives (or, as I saw in a recent news article, hand out stuffed animals to children), all the while still trying their best to do their jobs and solves crimes. In the days leading up to Christmas in A Merry Murdoch Christmas, a high-profile murder threatens to prevent the constables of Stationhouse 4 from celebrating the holiday with their families. Even as it seems all will be well, there are Inspector Brackenreid, Detective Murdoch, and Constable Crabtree (along with Dr. Ogden) running around after a murderer at midnight on Christmas Eve. For the police, along with firefighters, nurses, and other emergency personnel, Christmas is just another night – and a busy one, at that.
Finally, the setting of the story proves interesting. Early twentieth-century Canada, especially Toronto, was a cultural melting pot. The Victorian-era traditions so often portrayed in Dickens-inspired stories were evolving to fit more in line with the modern Christmas traditions that we associate with the holiday in the present. In 1904, Christmas trees were gaining widespread acceptance, but were still looked upon by some as a silly German practice. Not everyone hung stockings (leading to an amusingly awkward scene between Murdoch, Ogden, and Crabtree). Not everyone wrapped gifts, although it was becoming more normalized with the advent of cheaply manufactured wrapping paper. Wrapping gifts was still seen as a bit ostentatious. Goose was still the normal bird for dinner, rather than turkey. Manufactured toys were becoming more and more affordable. In other words, the creators of the show succeeded in recreating a world that was no longer Dickens, but not quite Miracle on 34th Street yet. In that sense, A Merry Murdoch Christmas gives us a glimpse of a time not usually associated with Christmas and tells us a good story while they are at it.