These two episodes are much more well-balanced in tone than the previous two. Overall, the mysteries in each are classic whodunits, the main characters get a chance to relax, and the secondary characters get the chance to have a moment or two in the spotlight.
The plot of The Missing is fairly serious – an elderly widow with a large fortune seeks the return of her long-lost (and presumed dead) grandson. Such a case is ripe for con artists and Murdoch finds himself investigating whether or not the latest claimant to being her grandson is indeed genuine or not. Unlike the previous episode, where Murdoch complains that investigating the killing of a dog is beneath him, he commits to getting to the bottom of this case. Unsurprisingly, a murder victim soon surfaces who is connected to the case, leaving Murdoch to figure out what happened to the widow’s heir. Thankfully, we do get a somewhat happy ending to this story.
However, the widow waited over twenty years to find her grandson. Because of this, she was more in love with the illusion of having him back. While it was of utmost importance to her step-grandson whether or not the man who claimed to be the grandson was real, it no longer truly mattered to the grandmother. She was willing to admit that perhaps the claimant was not real, but he acted enough like her grandson that she could convince herself that he was really him. This of course hindered Murdoch’s investigation.
What really made this episode interesting was that Detective Watts, sent over to fill the void while Brackenreid is away and Murdoch is Acting Inspector, dives more earnestly into his investigation into missing women. His case has few clues, no bodies, and reluctant witnesses. Enlisting Constable Jackson’s assistance once again, they make little progress but learn to trust one another. We learn that Watts is troubled by cases of missing women since his own sister went missing when he was younger, and we learn that Jackson is a widower who knows exactly where his wife is. The latter has peace of mind knowing what happened to her and relates to how Watts must feel not knowing what happened to his sister. He affirms his determination to help Watts and assures him that his search is not futile or pointless. In the next episode, Watts is still investigating the case, although Jackson is pulled back to work with the other constables, and he finally starts to get some clues – although they seem to be more confusing than helpful. I do wonder how long they will carry out this plot, because it feels much like a real investigation. There is no tidy resolution in 45 minutes for missing persons cases.
In Mr. Murdoch’s Neighbourhood, Murdoch and Dr. Ogden discover that their newly-purchased land has also served as a makeshift burial ground. Because the bodies were discovered in the course of a training exercise by the constabulary and the Women’s Medical College, our lead characters are assisted in their investigation by Miss James and two of her fellow students (whom we met in Jagged Little Pill a few episodes ago back in the fall), as well as Constables Crabtree, Higgins, and Jackson.
The moral of the case is whether or not it is right to take the law into one’s own hands, especially if the police have not been helpful. As a police officer married to a doctor, Murdoch is not well-liked by his potential neighbours by virtue of his badge alone. He is repeatedly told that the police did not nothing to get rid of a local criminal family who caused havoc on nearby farms. Everyone but the victims are indeed better off because of the men’s deaths, but that does not make it legally or morally right. And as Murdoch asserts, it is not for him to decide. He is obligated to do his job and serve the law. As for morality, vigilantism is not self-defense. From a moral perspective, executing a criminal out of vengeance (even if the vengeance stems from righteous anger) only renders the criminal into a victim and the vigilante into a murderer. It is thus dangerous from both perspectives, so for a police officer of strong faith like Murdoch, there is no question.
But the episode dwells less on philosophy than on romance, comedy, and character development. Having all of the supporting cast work together, along with Murdoch and Dr. Ogden, leaves a lot of room for amusing interactions. Crabtree is soon off contributing to the investigation elsewhere and getting the chance to meet Miss Cherry again. The reporter is very interested in him and seems to think that his talent is wasted as a constable. While the actual plot is funny, the overall tone is somewhat muted when one considers the run of bad luck that Crabtree has had. I could not help but worry that she will only push him further away from his career and then end their relationship. Is she infatuated with him and hoping to make him a man that more fits her idea of a successful husband? Is she just being friendly and encouraging? Does she have a nefarious ulterior motive such as being involved in criminal activities? I am hoping that it is the first question.
As well, Higgins and Jackson get to spend time with the other two students. Both are slightly unnerved to be working alongside beautiful, intelligent young women. Higgins ends up making a fool of himself, but he also is motivated to learn in order to help solve the case. He doesn’t try to take all of the credit – in fact, he seems entirely amazed that he was able to eventually keep up. For her part, his student partner is also impressed, although not enough to want to pursue a relationship with him further. Jackson, meanwhile, ends up getting the other girl, but only after they spent several hours together exploring and talking. One gets the feeling that Jackson has always felt stupid and ignored by doctors, particularly with regards to his late wife’s health, and it is only by interacting with one who sees him as an equal that he realises that he may not be as oafish as he thinks. He also treats the woman that his is paired with respectfully. He also sees her as an equal, not as a woman to be chased. I would like to hear that this relationship continues, even if I don’t need to watch it weekly.
After ten seasons, it is wonderful to watch Murdoch and Dr. Ogden’s relationship, but it is even better to get a chance to see some of the other characters get more rounded out personality-wise. It is also hard to keep coming up with new cases of the week that are intriguing without being too over-the-top or controversial. Including more character development around the solving of the cases makes the new episodes more exciting.
The writers of this episode also managed to make the story feel self-contained, despite all of the connections to other plots. Other than Det. Watts’s investigation (which is a bit confusing even if you have watched regularly), the other subplots work fine on their own. It helps to know some background of the characters, of course, but the dialogue is entertaining and understandable without references to previous episodes. I would not say that it is my favourite episode, but it is definitely one of my recent favourites.