Murdoch Mysteries has not been a show to shy away from difficult and timely topics, so I was not surprised by the premise of Dr. Osler Regrets, an episode that both explores libel and freedom of the press as well as the care of the elderly.
It centres around a visiting American doctor who is unfortunately quoted out of context as claiming that the elderly should be killed off. Not only is this a press disaster for the eponymous Dr. Osler, but a serial killer soon emerges who is targeting men over sixty. The newspaper – especially the annoying Miss Louise Cherry – makes the connection between the murders and Dr. Osler’s misquoted speech, thereby setting up much of the tension of the story.
Of course, the article and the murders are not related, and certainly, Dr. Osler is not to blame for the events. However, the misquote does get our characters thinking! Inspector Brackenreid is naturally concerned with his own aging, while Murdoch and Crabtree debate the idea of people being past their prime and what that means for them and society. Crabtree has an awkward reunion with Miss Cherry and we are unfortunately left with the impression that she is going to be a thorn in the constabulary’s side into the future. On the one hand, she is a determined career woman and talented writer; on the other, she is snoopy, snobby, and oblivious (or uncaring) to how dangerous her actions and writing can be. Personally, I want to see her succeed at her career, but I worry that her insensitivity will only cause herself eventual harm.
Meanwhile, Dr. Ogden confides in Dr. Osler about her experiments and potential fertility treatments. He is pleased for her, but dutifully warns her that she should be careful not to let her emotions get in the way of the experiment or take unnecessary risks. While this could have come across as patronizing, he does so in such a way that does not. Instead, he comes across as genuinely concerned for Dr. Ogden’s health. He treats her as a colleague, friend, and equal. Dr. Ogden has earned a place of esteem in her own right without having children – but she clearly still wants them, and she has earned the right to try.
Speaking of children, 21 Murdoch Street brings Brackenreid’s son, John, to the forefront of the weekly investigation. He infiltrates a prestigious college and gets a glimpse of how wealthier boys his age live and learn. He is initially investigating missing persons, but it soon turns into a murder case when he and Crabtree (who is undercover as a professor) find human remains in a furnace on campus.
Because the missing persons are not only less-than-exemplary students, but also sons of an Indian diplomat, issues of racism and imperialism arise over the course of the episode. The students’ behaviour is not unlike that of their peers, but the dean dismisses them as trash because of their skin colour. Their behaviour, meanwhile, stems directly from their desire for respect among their fellow students. Unsurprisingly, the boys are not dead, nor are they the murderers – despite the establishment’s strong dislike of them.
Crabtree takes his cover role seriously and tries his best to connect to the students in his class, most of whom are bored with their studies and futures. He manages to convince one student to pursue – or at least maintain and nurture – his artistic talents rather than viewing them as a hindrance. Sadly, these young men, John Brackenreid included, are all nine years away from the trenches of the First World War. Their futures are very likely to include death in the mud, or a lifetime of shellshock. It is poignant to see them in their pre-war, normal lives. There was nothing special about them – they were just young men. Whether or not they were content with their futures and lots in life, they still thought they had time. Sadly, most of them would not have much longer.
Finally, The Accident brings everything down to one hour and the chaos of a traffic accident in the early era of the automobile. It would not have amounted to much except that Mr. Dilbert, a city clerk whom Brackenreid briefly had to work with last season, is pinned between a car and a trolley. Dr. Ogden soon realises that to move him would likely kill him. Humble, diligent Mr. Dilbert enjoys one last hour of life, accompanied by Brackenreid. They are later joined by Mr. Dilbert’s colleague Miss Ash, whom he needs to submit his report to the city.
It soon becomes apparent that the accident was staged and that Mr. Dilbert was intentionally targeted. Murdoch has to contend with impatient drivers as he investigates as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. Meanwhile, Crabtree and his fellow constables have to clean up the scene, including comically chasing chickens and pigs – all the while dealing with nosey Miss Cherry again. To her credit, she does take Crabtree’s advice to help out instead of just being bothersome, but she still fails to understand that helping is not a transaction in exchange for information. (I actually feel sorry for her in her failure to understand. She is still annoyingly insensitive, but I don’t think it is as intentional as it appears.)
What this episode primarily focuses on is Mr. Dilbert as he comes to terms with his impending mortality. He goes through the five stages of grief and still manages to find time to ensure that his report gets finished and to confess to harbouring a crush on Miss Ash. Sadly, but fortunately for him, she reciprocates his feelings and both realise that they might have had a happy life together. That is not to say that Mr. Dilbert had a sad life, It merely was not all that remarkable and because he put his work first, he did not have any close friends or family. Like most of us, he thought he would have more time. Sudden death is not as likely for a clerk as it would be for a police officer. Yet he died precisely because his work mattered so much.
It is easy to get caught up in one’s own life, whether it is in one’s work, children, pursuit of happiness, or other endeavours. We are all only a sneeze away from death, no matter how careful and risk-averse we are, and most of us don’t get an hour to contemplate our demise.
In the end, Mr. Dilbert lived a life that he could be satisfied with. That is what we all need to hope for,