Refreshing for a police procedural, Murdoch Mysteries is currently on a comedy streak. It isn’t that they are making light of death (although some gallows humour naturally sneaks in), but that the show simply accepts the premise that they need to have at least one dead person per week in order to exist, so they play around with how to keep that interesting.
Painted Ladies is in of itself a dramatic episode, but it still fits the old-style comedy criteria with a happy ending and an overall light tone. Despite there being a serial killer around, our lead characters keep their wits about them and there is never any sense of panic. (This is likely due to the very specific nature of the murders – none of the police initially fit the profile of the victims.) Dr. Ogden determines that the killer used a poisoned lipstick, leading to several hilarious scenes where Murdoch and Ogden visit ladies’ shops. Murdoch is entirely out of his element and is rather surprised to find out that his wife does go giggly over jewellery and even wears makeup upon occasion. In 1904, makeup was still primarily worn by actresses, dancers, and ladies of the night. Lipstick (or “lip rouge”, as it was then called) was a seductive thing to wear. The straight-laced Murdoch is downright jumpy in these scenes – likely not wanting to mix his personal life with his murder investigation. Either way, it makes for a good mood. The actors have great comic timing.
The other main plot of this episode is Crabtree coming to terms with the possibility that his girlfriend, Nina, is involved in the crimes. Nina is a burlesque dancer with plenty of admirers, but she clearly loves Crabtree differently. Even today, such a relationship would have trust issues on Crabtree’s part. How serious is Nina about him? Well, by the end of the story, she throws out the calling cards and flirtation cards that she has received. The episode is written in such a way that the viewers are not sure which way the relationship will go. Either they would break it off, or they would confront the fact that Nina makes her living entertaining men. The viewers are left with a sweet reunion scene, but still uncertainty over whether or not things will work out. I do feel bad for them both and feel that the writers are not done with the drama of their relationship.
The actual murder plot does bear mention – it turns out to be revenge-motivated due to the bullying the murderer received as a child and teenager. It is revenge served very cold in this case. Does the murderer really get any satisfaction from it? It does appear so. Furthermore, the murderer is still feeling misunderstood and righteous once they are caught. They have so absorbed the victim mentality that they do not even care about being hanged. This is a serious consequence of repeated bullying and persecution. Even if the victim does not end up flipping out and killing their tormentors, they absorb this “us vs. them” mentality. The murderer in this case felt entirely justified.
By contrast, Weekend at Murdoch’s is an entirely comedic episode – so much so that they are able to bend the rules of police conduct in order to tell their story. It is a tribute to Weekend at Bernie’s, which I admit to having not seen, but heard much about. In order to solve their case, they need to maintain the fiction that their star witness is still alive. This involves having to parade his corpse through down with a chair that turns him into a puppet, hosting a lecture on his behalf, and spreading false news to reporters. Does it work? Well, that depends…
I do wonder what is going on with Crabtree and the reporter – they have some interesting chemistry going on. She seems to be flirting with him as much as she is interviewing him. Are the writers trying to cause more conflict in Crabtree’s life? Or is the reporter just flirtatious by nature and using it as an advantage in getting her information? Time will tell.
Also, Higgins should, in all normal situations, be suspended or even dismissed from the constabulary for his bungling of the case. Toronto is not a small town in the middle of nowhere, in which case I could understand not disciplining him because there would be so few police officers on hand. I suppose he was disciplined offscreen. Higgins is such a likeable character (even if he is annoying) that it would have hurt the comedy to see him get raked over the coals by his superiors. In the end, the case was solved. It just came unfortunately at the cost of an innocent man’s life.
But it certainly got some good laughs! We can all hope to be so useful after death.