After many years, it can be easy for a procedural show to fall into a rut. The genre is prone to formulaic episodes. It is quite common in these shows to try to combat this by either creating long dramatic arcs or by having the crimes be more and more outrageous and sensational. In doing so, the overall quality of the stories suffer.
For the past three weeks, Murdoch Mysteries decided to branch off slightly from the predictable formula, but keep the core of the series intact. Various characters were each given their moment to shine while Murdoch eventually solved the crime as usual. This has the effect of keeping the stories feeling fresh and interesting, although it does mean that some characters are missed once in awhile.
Concocting a Killer took the idea that since science was advancing quickly in the 1890s and 1900s, crimes that Murdoch and Ogden could solve in 1904 could not have been solved in 1892, or shortly before the series began. Thus a convicted murderer was freed on the grounds of insufficient evidence, and Murdoch is determined to prove that he had been right despite the evidence.
A new detective is brought into the mix to take on the case with fresh eyes. This detective is young and philosophical, but fairly good at his job. Crabtree remarks that he reminds him of a younger Murdoch. Crabtree, having not been hired yet in 1892, gets to help the new detective solve the case, but keeps getting tripped up by a young reporter who sensationalizes the story. Meanwhile, a murder takes place in the present that Murdoch soon realises is connected to the past case, and eventually both detectives (and the rest of the cast) end up solving the cases together. It was a different style of episode, but one that was enjoyable. It raised all sorts of questions and was hilarious as well.
Jagged Little Pill put the focus on Rebecca James, who is working at the morgue and studying at the Women’s Medical College. Because of this, she does a lot of her work at night, and when she shows up at the station, while Murdoch is there (since he often works late into the night), Brackenreid and Crabtree have gone home. In fairness, I only really started to miss the latter two characters about three-quarters of the way through the episode. It was an exciting story.
A young woman who studied at the college arrives in the morgue as an apparent suicide, but Miss James is not convinced. She decides to investigate the death herself, leading her to question instructors, classmates, and acquaintances of the deceased. While it is clear that many of them find her annoying, they do give her answers, which shows that she personally commands respect despite her skin colour. She is also able to use this to her advantage by pretending to be a cleaning woman. She solves the case, assisted by Murdoch and Ogden, and exposes one of the instructors as someone who really cannot handle women as doctors. That does raise the question – if you can’t handle a woman as a doctor, why take a job teaching at a Women’s Medical College?
We also get a chance to see more of Miss James’s personal life. She is still dating the young man from Colour Blinded, and it seems to be getting serious, as one would expect in 1904. But he does not fully understand her fascination with working in the morgue or studying medicine. Understandably, he worries for her safety in solving crimes. While he seems like a wonderful man and I would like to see them have a happy relationship, I do wonder if she will have to break it off with him if he wants to her settle down and give up everything to just be a housewife. Time will tell, I guess.
Finally, Bend It Like Brackenreid gives us a chance to see Inspector Brackenreid as a sports fan and athlete, and also for us to see his son, who has appeared periodically and certainly grown a lot taller since the earlier seasons. The episode takes place shortly before the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, and two teams are playing each other in the lead-up to the Games. The winning team moves on to represent Canada. Murdoch is still the detective solving the murder of the week, which happens to be a star soccer player, but just as much time is devoted to the soccer itself and to the relationship between Brackenreid and his son, John. John has spent his life trying to negotiate being in his father’s shadow, alternating between wanting to be just like him and wanting to be nothing like him. Brackenreid simply expects that his son will be a miniature version of him, but slowly has come to realise that while his son may not be exactly like him, he still has the important qualities that Brackenreid wanted to instill in him. In the end, the Brackenreid of the title is not the Inspector, but John. Both end up on their way to St. Louis, leaving Murdoch in charge temporarily. (Murdoch is seemingly jealous that he cannot go to the World’s Fair, which also took place in St. Louis at the same time.)
While still keeping this a lighthearted episode focused on the Brackenreids, the case of the week did delve into the topic of sexual assault on college campuses. It was dealt with briefly, and little focus was actually placed on the incident except as a good motive for murder. It seemed that our main characters were more sympathetic to the murderer than the victim because of this. They are police officers and have to enforce the law, but they are quite aware of the difference between moral and legal. In the end, the murderer felt justified, young Brackenreid proved himself a good soccer player, and it was an overall festive atmosphere as the team left for the train.
It remains to be seen how the writers tweak the formula next week!