Loyalties – The Grand Ballroom

copyright 2017

Susan had hardly ever gone inside the Grand Ballroom, as her aunt called the large salon off of her dining room. Once in a while, she had gone in there to dust when she was helping Ramona with housework. Her aunt had insisted that Susan would do chores and learn alongside their maid and cook. She did not want her niece to become a useless lady accustomed to being waited upon, especially as the war grew worse. It would only be a matter of time before there was no more hired help, her Aunt Julietta had bemoaned, and no more permanently indentured servants. A woman ought to be able to keep her own house, she had decreed. Susan would at least know what it was that her servants did and know how hard they worked for her.

There had never been any balls since Susan had come to live with her spinster aunt after the death of her parents. Julietta had hardly ever hosted any at all – the ballroom had been built by her grandfather, who had loved hosting lavish parties to show off his newly-gained wealth, and had been redecorated by her mother, who had enjoyed entertaining and hosting annual festivities for the New Year. Julietta had simply striven to keep the room from getting too dusty. They had hosted Susan’s parents’ wedding feast in the Grand Ballroom, and she reckoned that was the last real party that had taken place there.

Since the war had begun, the windows on the one side of the ballroom had been smashed by a mob of patriot vandals and subsequently boarded up. Julietta had drawn the curtains across the wood and there had never been any sunlight in the room again. Still, they had cleaned the room twice a year. Gradually, the furniture was removed and relocated to other rooms of the house, including the harpsichord, which was now in the parlour for Susan to play. Only a few chairs remained in the ballroom – most of them had been reluctantly broken apart for firewood. The velvet covers had been used to mend Susan’s dresses as she had grown.

Today, she wore one such dress – burgundy red velvet patches on the elbows of blue wool. It was her housework clothing – not really befitting a ballroom.

It was the sunlight inside that she noticed at first. Since the windows had been covered, the ballroom had been dark and they had cleaned it by lamplight. At first, she thought that vandals might have come along and bashed in the wood, but she soon realised that only a small piece had been removed. That one piece – wet through and rotten – let in a large beam of light that illumined the beautifully-painted floor.

Susan gasped. She had not realised how intricately the floor had been painted. Flowers and vines circled her great-grandfather’s giant family crest in the middle. It was indeed grand!

“Who’s there?” she squeaked. Someone was moving the curtains.

Well, the curtains were moving – clearly, someone had decided to hide behind them when they had heard her approaching.

The movement stopped at her voice.

“I know someone’s in there – the wood might have fallen off by itself, but I can see you in the curtains! I’m not that blinded by the sunlight.”

The curtains gingerly peeled back to reveal behind them an embarrassed fifteen-year-old boy with a black eye.

“Miss Susan? I’m sorry – I was just looking around. I didn’t pull back the plank!”

Davey was the type of boy who attracted mischief no matter what he did. He had the black eye from an altercation in the market earlier that week, which was why he had now stayed behind while the rest of his family purchased supplies for their journey. Susan was thus sceptical that he had not been tinkering with the windows, but she decided to believe him. What would it matter anyhow? They were going to leave.

“I never said you did. Besides, the ballroom needs sunlight. I’ve never seen the floor sparkle like that! And it hasn’t even been swept or polished!”

“Ballroom?” Davey’s one good eye grew wide. “This here is a ballroom?”

“Yes, this here’s a ballroom. Hasn’t had any grand balls in it for a long time, though. Never been to one myself.”

“Me neither,” he replied quickly, although his never having been to a ball did not surprise Susan. Davey was a farm lad – a well-to-do one, or at least he had been – but still a farmer’s son, and a young one at that.

She herself might have been just barely old enough to attend such a fancy affair had one been organized, but she had the suspicion that her aunt would forbid it. There were too many soldiers in the city looking for a quick night.

“The harpsichord used to be in here – and there were music stands, so there must have been musicians. They’d have been hired for the night, I suppose. And the chairs along the side, the food and drink served in the dining room…” She gestured toward the large doors on the wall opposite the windows, which opened into the dining room that they ate in for special occasions.

“Must have been something!” Davey agreed, following her wistful gaze. “There’s sure lots of room to dance in here, even with musicians, I’d wager.”

Susan nodded, involuntarily giggling nervously. Looking around, she could not help thinking of how empty the rest of the house was. Her aunt was in her private parlour on the second floor; Davey’s family was at the market, along with her aunt’s manservant; and the maid was in the kitchen. Susan and Davey were very much alone in the ballroom.

“Were you sent to fetch me for something?” Davey asked. “Do you need my help?”

She shook her head and tried to keep her eyes focused on the crest in the middle of the floor.

“I just saw the sunlight, ‘tis all. I was curious.”

“Me too. Well, guess you already figured that out!”

Davey was like a cat – always exploring. It was how he ended up getting into mischief no matter what he intended. He was a sweet, kind-hearted boy, Susan had observed over the weeks that his family had been staying in her aunt’s house, though he did have the strong will to fight.

“That I did.”

For a long time, it seemed that neither of them spoke.

“Did you learn to dance?” Davey asked suddenly.

“Yes, Aunt Julietta insisted that I learn to dance every kind of dance that she knew. She would sing and teach me the steps, and then she would play the harpsichord and I would dance for her. It was one of the ways that she would cheer me up when I was little, whenever I got to missing my papa.”

Without meaning to, Susan burst into tears.

“I’m sorry, Miss Susan! I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“Just thinking about being little again, how simple things seemed. A silly girl sort of thing to get teary about.” She wiped her eyes with her apron.

“I learned to dance a bit,” Davey continued, trying to cheer her up. “Mother taught us children – sometimes she would dance with me, sometimes my brother, and the other one of us would be stuck with Becca, who never liked dancing much. We all had to sing at the same time too! Becca just screamed, mostly. ‘Course, she was pretty little. She got better as she got bigger and could move her toes out of the way.”

“Sure, that would have gone over well at a ball!”

“A bawl at a ball?” Davey grinned and would have been handsome were it not for the black eye.

Susan managed to stop crying in order to laugh.

“I’m sorry, you must think me hideous,” Davey noted her averted eyes.

“You must think I’m awfully forward! I just never been alone with a strange young man before so it seems hard to look you in the eyes.”

“Oh, I’m a strange young man?” Davey fully unravelled himself from the curtains and stood up straighter. Clearly, he had taken note of her calling him a man, even if she did also call him strange.

“Well, you’re not family and we’re close in age.” She looked up at him and smiled demurely. “You’re not hideous at all, either. I’d say you’re three-quarters right handsome!”

“Handsome? Well, no one’s ever called me handsome before. Not even Mother! Though she’s said that about Jamie sometimes.”

“Well, he’s older, I suppose.”

“Right.” He shifted awkwardly. “I guess I should be going.”

“Do you want to dance?” Susan had blurted out the question before she knew it, stopping Davey mid-step.

“I beg your pardon?”

“It’s just…it’s just that this is probably the last time we’re in the grand ballroom and it doesn’t seem right to leave it without any more dancing! Who knows what will become of Aunt Julietta’s house once we’re gone?”

We’re gone? I didn’t think you and your aunt would be leaving.”

The tears were welling up in her eyes again as she nodded.

“Aunt Julietta called me up to her parlour and told me. She’s going with you – at least as far as Nova Scotia, maybe not to the same town. She said I was free to stay here and she would leave the household to me, but I told her that I didn’t want to stay alone. So I’m going too.”

Davey’s face lit up, though he tried to hide it.

“And here I was thinking you would be hosting all these parties in this grand ballroom!”

He bowed to her and held out his hand.

“A dance, Miss Susan?”

She curtseyed and nervously clasped her fingers around his.

“What sort of dance? A quadrille with only two of us?”

“I don’t see why not. But can you start the singing?”

Tearfully giggling, Susan began to warble out a tune.

It was not really a fitting last dance in her great-grandfather’s Grand Ballroom, she thought as Davey spun her around. There should have been musicians, instead of her nervous singing that sounded like a songbird occasionally interrupted by a croaking frog. The ballroom should have been filled with many dancing couples. Her Aunt Julietta ought to have presided over the festivities like a queen in her palace. There should have been punch, ale, and wine; the table in the dining room should have been laden with meat, cheese, and fruit. Perhaps there still would be more parties to be hosted by whoever bought the house, but it would not be the same.

“You know, you do sound a bit like a fiddle and a harpsichord,” Davey remarked. “Are you still crying?”

“Aren’t you nervous? Or sad?”

“Very nervous indeed – I’m dancing with you! But that sure don’t make me sad.”

Susan smiled.

“Yes, dancing with you don’t make me sad either! Shall we have another song, then?”

Davey grinned in response.

“Sure as I haven’t let go of you yet.”

After they finished another dance, they stood facing each other in the middle of ballroom. The sunlight was drifting toward the door, gradually blanketing them in darkness once again.

“Do you think we have time for one last dance?” Susan wheezed, out of breath from singing.

Glancing at the window and then listening for noise elsewhere in the house, Davey nodded.

“One last dance in the ballroom…but maybe not the last dance for us?”

She just smiled.

“I wouldn’t have asked you to dance otherwise.”

***

For further posts in this collection:

Loyalties – Part 1
Loyalties – Part 2
Loyalties – Part 3
Poems: By the Water; Meditations By a Grave; Let the Snow Fall; Blizzard Born

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One Last Look

copyright 2017

The sun is rising behind us,
Even as it sets on all we have known,
Ahead is nothing but dreams,
Guided only by hope and prayer,
We are chased from our home,
To seek out a new one.

The rising sun blurs the past,
Casting shadows over the land
That our lives used to revolve around,
I try to look once more,
But all I see is sunlight,
And my eyes are blurred with tears.

We can carry a lot, but still so much is left,
The homes we lived in,
Our families’ graves, our gardens,
The places where we gathered together,
And where we will never gather again,
Beside our river and streams.

The unfamiliar land is before us,
Similar and yet unknown,
How long before none of us recognise it,
And we are lost?

Our children will never know this world,
This life that we have had for years,
They see nothing but sunshine
Illuminating the darkness ahead.

I take one last look and turn back,
Facing the path that the sun has given us,
Ahead is yet only a hopeful dream,
But I am determined to see it become true.

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Who did I think he was?

Who did I think he was?

Some kind of great hero?
A leader who would overthrow the state?
A leader who would become the state –
And who would have me at his right hand?

Oh, let’s face it, that would have been nice,
But I am no statesman.

And it really doesn’t matter now.

I said I would die for him – this very morning, in fact,
Or was it yesterday morning?
Everything is blurry and confused – I need to sleep,
But I can’t sleep; I shouldn’t sleep.
He can’t. Or that is all he does.

But when asked if I knew him, alone among strangers,
My curiosity moreso than my devotion
Having gotten the better of me,
I said that I did not.
I didn’t abandon him, I denied him,
And I couldn’t bear to watch,
Knowing that he was right about me.

He would know it, so I left.

In his human heart, he knows why.
No one wants to die,
No one wants to be imprisoned,
To have their families and friends suffer for them,
No one wants it, but it must happen.

He left me the choice to go home,
Go back to my simple life,
To my family – don’t ask me what I will tell my wife –
Or her mother! I would rather not.

I should find the others,
Where did my brother go?
We need to hide together.
The women will be fine – they aren’t suspicious,
And they’ve got the boy with them,
I will get his brother too,
They can all meet us later.

I failed him, but I will not fail the others,
What was it that he said?
He would leave and come back again?
Perhaps they will let him go…

Or perhaps he really means it,
And he can come back from the dead.

Who did I think he was?

copyright 2017

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Family Drama & An Alternate Happy Ending

ONCE UPON A TIME
Season 6, Episodes 13 & 14 (Ill-Boding Patterns)(Page 23)

Much like in the first season of the show, while the story arc continues throughout the episodes, each individual episode tells a self-contained story that furthers along character-development and reveals more of the past.

In Ill-Boding Patterns, the main plot is primarily sidelined in favour of Rumpelstiltskin (and Belle, to a lesser extent) confronting Gideon. In the process of learning more about what happened to Gideon and the ill treatment that he received at the hand of his grandmother, we also learn more about the relationship between Rumpelstiltskin and Baelfire in the past. While interesting, this plot was not so much needed in of itself as much as it was needed to show how far Rumpelstiltskin was willing to protect his son from following him down a dark path. Ultimately, he had a choice between allowing his son to become addicted to power and making him forget about ever having wielded it, widening the rift between them in the first place. Would knowing this have changed how Baelfire felt about his father? I don’t think so – from what we saw in earlier seasons, Baelfire did come to believe that his father had the potential to be good.

What this backstory mainly does is give some context for how hard Rumpelstiltskin will fight for Gideon’s salvation, even at his own expense. This episode marks the beginning of Gideon turning away from “evil for the sake of good” and learning to trust and work with others. How this pays off in future episodes remains to be seen.

The B- and C-plots for this episode feel a bit shoehorned in for time – it is as though the writers need to remind us that the other characters exist. Regina, alternate-Robin, and Zelena’s adventures with trying to escape Storybrooke feel overly melodramatic. It does serve to reconcile the two sisters and also bring back the Evil Queen from snakedom, but this plotline wavers between drama and comedy. The content is too dramatic to be a funny sideplot, but it is the most lighthearted of the plots in the episode, so it seems that the writers were trying to make it more amusing. It ended up feeling a bit odd. As for the C-plot, well, all we get of Hook and Emma is an awkward proposal scene after Hook wrestles with telling her that he killed her grandfather many years earlier. He ends up not telling her (of course), which only sets up their relationship on the wrong foot. Thus while this little plot might seem happy, it is anything but that. Even the lighting is dark!

Ill-boding is right!

But moving on the Page 23, which actually brought closure to the story arc between Regina and the Evil Queen. To be honest, it brought closure to Regina’s character arc altogether – she has finally learned to love herself and not be pinned down in self-loathing masquerading as hatred for Snow White (or anyone else). Now what? On one hand, the future is full of possibility, but on the other, what will the writers do with her character?

In the end, the not-so-Evil Queen and alternate-Robin get their happily-ever-after, which really worked well for the story. Not only did it tie up loose threads, but it got extraneous characters out of Storybrooke. Now Regina can turn her focus back to her family and the town is down one (or potentially two) villains.

While the main plot is hopeful and enjoyable – which I appreciated after putting up with the build-up to it in previous episodes that only came across as melodrama – the B-plot involving Emma and Hook is most definitely not.

Snow White is ever hopeful and excited about the possibility of her daughter getting married. Undoubtedly due to having missed out on her daughter growing up, she is dreaming of weddings and dresses and flowers, while Emma herself is still processing that she just got engaged. Emma is a practical woman – saving Storybrooke is much more important to her than planning a wedding. Plus she can tell there is something wrong with Hook.

Unfortunately, Hook chooses not to confide in her, which understandably makes her upset. As a viewer, on the one hand I wanted to laugh because after all they have been through, she is ready to postpone their engagement after finding him hesitant to confide in her all of his horrible deeds? On the other hand, I understand the feeling. When you are engaged, you are supposed to be a team, and teams confide in each other. (Emma has her own issues, of course, but she has never killed Hook’s grandfather.) But rather than simply berate him for forgetting this, she gives him his ring back! Oy, in this kind of show? Seriously? A bit too much, I think, but still understandable.

In light of all of this, I can sympathise with not wanting to spend time gushing over wedding plans.

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Getting On With the Story

ONCE UPON A TIME
Season 6, Episodes 11 & 12 (Tougher Than the Rest)(Murder Most Foul)

With the threat of this being the last season of the show, the writers have started off the second half of the season exactly as one would expect the beginning of the end to be. The action picks up where the previous episode left off and we are teased with a showdown between Emma and Gideon – but obviously not their ultimate showdown, which clearly cannot take place yet or it would be a rather awkward ten episodes until the finale.

Thus, Tougher Than the Rest is everything that I expected of it and little else. Emma and Regina escape the alternate reality that they were previously trapped in, bringing along a new version of Robin Hood for the ride. The escape is not that thrilling and the best part of the alternate reality is seeing how badly Hook has aged. This episode resolved the cliffhanger and restored the status quo, ultimately making the alternate-reality Enchanted Forest seem little more than a cumbersome romp. I understand that it served as an opportunity for good character development for Emma and Regina, but after the alternate-reality seemed so promising in the previous episode, we did not really get a chance to explore it. Personally, while I can understand that the writers did not want to waste time, I think they might have been better off to wait until the next episode to get the characters back to Storybrooke. Then again, the story proceeds along nicely at a good pace, so I really cannot complain.

Despite not creating two separate storylines for this season, the writers still had to create two acts. Tougher Than the Rest opens Act Two and does its job. Emma realises that she can face Gideon. Hope is restored, the band is back together again.

In Murder Most Foul, we begin the story arc of Regina wavering between courting and mothering alternate-Robin as he tries to adjust to life in Storybrooke. Alternate-Robin is an outright villain who is finds himself constantly reminded of a better version of himself. He is astute enough to realise that Regina sees a ghost when she looks at him. Not only does he feel out of place, but he cannot reconcile her with the villain that he had heard of in the alternate reality. Their story becomes a B-plot for the next episode as well. It is enjoyable drama, but seriously feels out of place. Compared to the action that the other main characters are facing, Regina`s domestic troubles unfortunately come across as melodramatic.

Luckily, we are able to push aside this drama in favour of a fun, albeit ultimately tragic, adventure with Charming and Hook. Seeing them have their own investigation – a bit of a buddy-cop episode – was long overdue. The two of them have come to a place where they actually trust each other. They are also each out of their element. Neither of them have much to do with magic (thus their potion brewing was hilarious) and neither of them are particularly adept at heroics on their own.

This made me realise how much Once Upon a Time is carried by its female leads. It was actually unusual to see Charming and Hook do something together without Emma, Regina, or Snow. Indeed, it is rare for two or more male characters to be shown doing something on their own together for any length of time. Sure, a few one-off scenes here and there, but not a whole plot! In most shows, it would be the other way around.

In this episode, we finally discover what happened to Charming`s father and get to see what led to his twin being taken by the king. We also, sadly, get to see that Prince James was unhappy and that the boys` father hated himself for not being able to reunite the family. Charming learned something about himself and resolved some issues of his past, but Hook only discovered more things to despise about his once-wicked ways. Like any reformed criminal, he hurt people in the past. Coming to terms with that, especially when meeting victims` loved ones, is not easy. One keeps having to be forgiven over and over again, and forgiving oneself especially. Each new revelation could cause years` worth of trust and relationships to be destroyed. Understandably, Hook is terrified that he is going to lose Emma`s love and Charming`s respect.

In a show that is ultimately about hope and forgiveness, this new plot twist was well-placed. It is too early in the act for everything to be fine.

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Now That Was Some Finale!

MURDOCH MYSTERIES
Season 10, Episode 19 (Hell to Pay)

 

Rather than celebrate the show’s 150th episode with throwbacks and jokes, the writers decided to pull out all of the stops for a five-headed cliffhanger!

Incidentally, Miss James was absent from the episode. Was she studying for or writing her exams at the medical college, perhaps? I couldn’t help but try to imagine her shock upon learning of the episode’s events. Perhaps to calm my nerves, I kept envisioning something comedic.

While the episode is told out of chronological order for the first act, we come to learn that Murdoch got too close to uncovering a conspiracy involving important businessmen and civic officials. As a result, he is framed for murder and goes on the run; his colleagues try their best to help him while being more and more tethered and muzzled by their superiors. Everyone is compromised and we are left with a lot of characters in mortal peril when the credits roll. Even side characters such as Mrs. Brackenreid and Nina have their fates called into question by implication: if the conspirators think that they could be useful to them or if they might know too much, they would have no qualms about hurting them. As a viewer, I actually hope that the conspirators write off Nina as “just a whore” and not worth bothering about, and that they think Mrs. Brackenreid is just a silly wife with no knowledge of what her husband might be up to. The former is in more danger, since she is actually featured in the episode and is connected both to Crabtree and to one of the murder victims. But the latter is not in the clear, since one could say Dr. Ogden is also just a wife with no knowledge of her husband’s affairs.

The writers are going to have fun putting the pieces of the story back together. Either that, or the show will become “Miss James’s Mysteries!”

Joking aside, Murdoch Mysteries is a dramedy. Shaking up the core cast too much would remove the comedy element. Even killing off side characters who have recently been getting attention, like Higgins and Jackson, would jeopardise the nature of the show. Murdoch Mysteries is beloved because it is fun, intriguing, informative, and reliable. In short, I am not too worried about the overall fate of the characters – especially when the head writer seems to basically agree with me.

So I will be waiting to see how they promote filming next season, since just about any character’s presence would be a spoiler…

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Fun Before the Finale

MURDOCH MYSTERIES
Season 10, Episodes 17 & 18 (Master Lovecraft)(Hot Wheels of Thunder)

 

After 10 years, even with shorter seasons, it is hard to keep police procedurals from becoming too formulaic or routine. One way to remedy this is to dwell less on weekly cases and more on characters’ personal lives as well as story arcs spanning multiple episodes; another is to have fun each week as you solve the case.

As a dramedy, Murdoch Mysteries chose the latter this season (for the most part) and we were treated to some outlandish-but-still-vaguely-plausible cases and shenanigans. These two episodes are especially fun and playful without making too much light of the fact that they still revolve around solving murders.

Master Lovecraft is a nod to the gothic horror genre and gives us a chance to meet the show’s version of H.P. Lovecraft. As per usual, we get a historical person who just suspicious enough that they might be the murderer, but likely is not, since the show does not want to deviate too far from actual facts. Thus we can immediately turn our attention to Lovecraft’s suspicious group of friends – death-obsessed adolescents with too much money and time. While I found the episode engaging and entertaining, I personally found the use of “crazy rich young brats” tropes annoying. I know the situation is supposed to be funny, but it isn’t. Being wealthy doesn’t keep one from having troubles and being young (and thus with a biological tendency to be melodramatic) does not mean that one is crazy or stupid. Or, if one is such a thing, that should in no way render them void of sympathy from the audience. Moving on though – I was able to easily ignore this issue when actually watching the episode.

What was most hilarious about Master Lovecraft was Mrs. Brackenreid’s subplot wherein she reads Dracula for her book club and accidentally becomes one of young Lovecraft’s obsessions. Mrs. Brackenreid is overwhelmingly straight-laced, but she definitely has a repressed sense of adventure! Watching her struggle with the situation and manage to deal with it was most rewarding. We rarely get domestic scenes with the Brackenreids, but they are a treat to enjoy when we do. They represent a more typical portrayal of the Edwardian middle class than the other characters, but they also remain relatable to the viewers.

Hot Wheels of Thunder is an excuse for some roller-derby action for Dr. Ogden and Miss James while Murdoch and company solve a related murder. The episode is both an excuse to be liberating for women and also highly stereotypical, complete with a catfight and lots of mean-girl behaviour. Was it enjoyable? Absolutely – and in light of how serious the finale is, some much needed revelry indeed!

The most serious aspect of the plot is Constable Crabtree’s love life, which takes an unfortunate turn once again. For one, we have the return of Nina Bloom, who assists our protagonists in their roller-skate racing and obviously gives Crabtree some pause for thought. For two, his colleagues keep reminding him how he ought not to let Miss Cherry get away or screw up his relationship with her. Thirdly, Miss Cherry is turning into a domineering shrew who despises Detective Murdoch and Dr. Ogden. Like Crabtree, we as viewers are supposed to be initially intrigued by her and then later turned off.

Like most children brought up in what is considered to be and unconventional manner, at one point in his life, Crabtree desired to get married and have children and be every bit “ordinary and respectable”. He wanted to be conventional because he felt that he missed out on that as a child. He felt that he needed fixing somehow – underlying his confidence and accomplishments was broken self-respect. But Miss Cherry (who I am sure has her own issues that I could go on about and it not really a villain) represents all of that potential respectability and yet Crabtree realises that she is not for him. He has been craving the wrong thing.

Nina Bloom, on the other hand, is exactly what he is looking for now. He grew up with ladies of the night as his aunts. He knows Nina’s world. He has come to realise that he would rather be with her than marry someone else merely for respectability. Here is a woman who cares so much for him and his happiness that she was willing to let him go! Not because she didn’t love him, but because she felt that she could not give him the future that he wanted.

The brightest moment in the finale (see next post for the rest of that review) is when Crabtree at least halfway reconciles with Nina. We are not certain as to whether they will be reunited, but Crabtree admits that he was wrong not to chase after her and to think that there was anyone better than Nina for him. Neither of them are conventional people and they are well-suited for each other. Plus, Nina gets along with Dr. Ogden (and vice versa), so it merely down to Murdoch to accept her and they will have smooth sailing at their dinner parties.

Or at least one hopes!

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