It may seem odd of me to combine these two episodes together. Excitable Chap is an ordinary episode and is set chronologically at the end of the summer of 1904, while the Christmas special is technically Episode 19 and set (chronologically) last in the season at the end of the year. Because of this, there is no real connection between them – except theme.
Excitable Chap finds Inspector Brackenreid home from St. Louis after having successfully coached the Canadian soccer/football team to a gold medal at the Olympics. (The latter part being true – we did win soccer gold at the 1904 Olympics.) He also got time to view the World’s Fair and comes back feeling a bit like he is missing out on things.
So the Inspector has a midlife crisis as the case of the week unfolds. A mysterious figure who usually amorously accosts women and perhaps commits petty theft (known as “The Lurker”) suddenly appears to have scaled up to murder. As it soon turns out, the Lurker is a familiar face and said familiar character also helps try to solve the crime, since the Lurker only appears when that character is under the influence of a certain serum. The episode is a nod to Jekyll & Hyde and is both frightening and comedic in a steampunk fashion. The murderer turns out to be someone else entirely – again, not surprising for fans of the show (or of murder mysteries in general), but an interesting puzzle nonetheless.
At the end of the episode, Brackenreid decides to take a whimsical trip to Panama – ostensibly to search out a criminal, but also to get a chance to see more of the world. His wife is less than amused, of course, but she does let him go. Despite their different personalities, the Brackenreids love each other and have a strong marriage. His wife doesn’t want to be the one who held her husband back – better that he want to come home to her, as he clearly does at the beginning of the episode.
And as he clearly has done by December, since in Once Upon a Murdoch Christmas, he is back and in a rather jolly mood. Clearly, his trips abroad have loosened him a up a little and made him appreciate home and his family.
This year’s Christmas special is distinctly set in 1904, as a scene with businessmen reference rebuilding after the Great Toronto Fire that year. Like last year’s Christmas episode, it has some elements of Victorian Christmas and parallels to something out of a Charles Dickens novel, but it also has modern twists that more resemble something out of the 30s or 40s. In order words, it is the Edwardian era, exactly as it should be. There are orphans, obscenely wealthy businessmen, and old-fashioned carols, and then there are department stores and superheroes. Nothing extremely anachronistic either.
I could go on about the actual plot of the episode, wherein a thief robs wealthy businessmen of their luxury goods while dressed as a character from Constable Crabtree’s latest comic book, complete with gadgets that aid the thief to jump, reach, and climb away. The main story is just that – the police trying to catch the thief so that they don’t lose their jobs, since the wealthy businessmen are ready to go to the mayor over these incidents. The story is interesting and relatively lighthearted because there are no murders.
Most of the other sideplots are equally funny: Brackenreid puts Constable Jackson in charge of making a stationhouse choir, which necessitates getting Miss James’s help; and Detective Murdoch has planned a Christmas surprise for his wife that involves giving her little gift-clues in the days leading up to the holiday. The gifts are as puzzling to the viewers as they are to Dr. Ogden, which makes for a fun game.
The one serious sideplot involves Dr. Ogden being targeted by two orphans who think that she can heal their older brother. They think she is the Snow Queen. It is a very sweet story and draws on Dr. Ogden’s natural desire to help others. One can tell that she is flattered as much as despairing for the children and she enjoys playing along for them. Needless to say, it is medicine, not magic, that their brother needs, but it reminds us (and the characters) that medicine is a form of magic in the sense that requires training, precise ingredients, and respect. For the viewers, we are reminded how fortunate we are to live in the twenty-first century.
What I did find especially important about the story is the message that it is important to share one’s wealth, whether it is one’s monetary wealth, wealth of talent, or wealth of knowledge. The corrupt businessmen have forgotten that, but it does not mean that they deserve to be robbed. They can afford to buy their wives expensive fur coats and provide 50 wool coats for those in need. Buying a luxury good is not wrong in of itself, as Crabtree points out – he spent a lot of money as a treat to himself (he bought a new pen, of all things), but while he can still afford the basic necessities, that was likely his big purchase of the year. Should he have been robbed, he would have been devastated. Yes, he could have donated the $15 for the pen to good use, but he did make a donation as well, albeit a smaller one. The point being, where is the line between “that person can afford to lose it” and “that person is just treating themself or someone they care about”? At the end of the day, theft is wrong, even for the right reasons and when the victims are of reprehensible character.
The heavenly imagery at the end is of reconciliation – something much easier when the crime is theft of luxury goods from greedy businessmen and not murder. All is well and resolved, including the riddle of Dr. Ogden’s mystery gift. It reminds us that we are all one society and we have all parts to play, and that forgiveness and respect are necessary.