On Saturday, Oct. 1, Greg David of TV, Eh? moderated a series of panels during Unlock the Mysteries of Murdoch: The Ultimate Inside conference, held in CBC’s headquarters in downtown Toronto. Here is the second of three sessions we recorded, with Murdoch Mysteries star and executive producer, Yannick Bisson.
One of my favourite recurring Murdoch Mysteries characters is Winnifred “Freddie” Pink. Not only is she a childhood friend of William Murdoch’s, but she’s his equal when it comes to solving crimes.
But, as viewers saw on Monday night, Freddie found herself on the other side of the investigation during “A Study in Pink” when she was accused of murder. Interestingly, Freddie wasn’t part of the storyline when the episode idea was first broken, something co-executive producer Paul Aitken told me during our chat. Read on for more details, and a sneak peek into Episode 4.
Is the episode title, ‘A Study in Pink,’ an homage to Sherlock’s first episode or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s first story to feature Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson?
Paul Aitken: It’s an homage to Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet. Her name is Pink and we went through a number of bad suggestions using the word pink in them. We wanted to get pink into the title because it was about her. You can’t reference the plot because there is a very specific twist and you don’t want to give that away.
This was a technology-heavy episode. There was the return of the Truthizer and the unveiling of a rudimentary GPS system. What Craig Grant created was amazing. Was that description in the script, or does Craig just create on his own?
It’s a bit of both. Obviously, I had to come up with the concept of the tracking device and how it worked and I consulted with Craig, of course. But beyond that, when it comes to the look of it, Craig has a field day. We knew that the device had to look like it could do the job and as stupid as possible. That’s part of the fun of these things. It’s always a collaboration with Craig, but the look of the pieces that he puts forth is what he brings to the table. The headphones were from an earlier episode ‘The Filmed Adventures of Detective William Murdoch.’ No reason not to use them.
It must be fun with work someone with Craig, who creates these articulate objects that look like they’d really work.
What’s great about Craig is that he has a very deep understanding of the science of the thing. I suspect it’s an interest of his, as it is mine, and it’s important for both of us, and for everyone on this whole team, that it should look like it would work.
Who was the voice of Constable McNabb? We heard himbut didn’t see him. Was it writer Simon McNabb in an uncredited role?
[Laughs.] I have no idea who it was. No idea.
Let’s talk about the return of Freddie Pink. I really like the chemistry and history she has with Murdoch. Talk a little bit about the crime and her being the focus of the investigation and her being framed by the Murphys.
Using Pink was, I think, Pete’s idea. We have used her before and we know her. When we were first breaking this episode, we realized it felt a little empty. We had the basic plotline and the idea of what it was before we threw Pink into the mix. We realized it felt empty if you didn’t really, really care about whether this person was guilty or not. We thought, ‘OK, who would that be?’ Pink was an obvious choice because we do know her and the audience will recognize her because she’s been on the show a couple of times. We also don’t know her that well that it would be a given that she didn’t kill this person. The only way that story works is if you don’t know which way it’s going to go in the end. Most people will come at this thinking she’s innocent, but wondering how we prove that she’s not innocent.
This also gave you the opportunity to give some of Freddie’s back story. Up until this point we really only knew she was from Montreal and there was trouble.
What was fun was that we got to plan that. We only knew that something had happened in Montreal, so we worked from that.
Did you leave Freddie’s back story open back when she first appeared on Murdoch Mysteries so you could fill in the gaps in an episode like this or was it just a coincidence?
I suspect, at the time, it just wasn’t something we needed to worry about. I had no thought we’d be going back and revisiting Montreal. It’s kind of like the situation with Crabtree and his aunts. We created this world where Crabtree had multiple aunts, an impossible number, all with flower names. We had no idea why and never bothered to find out why until Crabtree returned to Newfoundland. Then we came up with the idea that they were all hookers and it worked out well.
Is it pretty common for things to just fall into place like that?
Every single episode. Seriously. Every episode there is something … ‘OK, how are going to get out of this plot?’ and someone will come up with something clever and actually fits and makes sense. Plot construction is a complicated process and one of the things we do is hope and pray that we think of something.
Is that the last we’ll see of the Murphys this season?
I’m pretty sure, yes.
What about Freddie? Will she return?
I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say, but yes, she’ll return later in the season in a great little episode.
What can you tell me about Episode 4?
There is a new detective from another police station and we meet him for the first time.
Talk about a dramatic conclusion for Murdoch Mysteries. After setting up Julia’s potential demise at the hands of a ghostly Eva Pearce, William struggled to save his wife from the flames as The Great Fire consumed Toronto.
Also unveiled during “Great Balls of Fire, Part 2”? Crabtree and Nina are still going strong, so much so he invested in Sam’s garage, William has staked out him and Julia’s dream home and Henry learned his cigars were not the cause of the fire.
In the first of our season-long discussions with Murdoch Mysteries‘ writing staff, we broke down Monday’s episode with showrunner Peter Mitchell and got a hint into Episode 3.
Was there ever any talk that “Great Balls of Fire, Part 1” and “Part 2” be a two-hour movie instead of two episodes?
Peter Mitchell: Briefly, but I don’t think seriously. It easily could have been done, but it never came up as a serious request.
The scenes that involved fire were impressive. It looked as though you used a combination of CGI and real fire. Was that the case?
It was probably 70-30 real fire.
Safety would have been an issue, no?
It was dicey because, though you do a certain amount of flame retardant, there is always the fact that the bones of the set have been around for quite some time, so there is always a flammability factor in play. Not so much danger to the actors because long lenses and flame bars can disguise proximity. There is a bit more distance between the actors and the flame than the eye would tell you. There is always a tiny risk anytime you do anything, but our main concern was that we didn’t actually start The Great Fire of Scarborough. But we had fire engines on hand and all that stuff.
Did you build extra sets onto the original set that was part of the fire?
We built additions on to the existed set that could be used, especially for the after-effects of the fire. They were sort of modular pieces that could be put into play and then removed. We built a couple of sets that, even though they looked damaged, were remarkably undamaged after the fire effects were done. The CGI that was done after the fact lent to the slightly greater carnage.
I really enjoyed the moment where Brackenreid was narrating the toll of the fire while sepia-toned footage of fighting the blaze was shown. Did you use actual footage from the intermixed with the cast acting it out?
We used as much archival footage as we could find. There is actually some film of the fire from the time. We used the archival footage that we found and then shot some elements and then aged and treated them to look like they fit the archival footage.
Was it a challenge to not focus too much on the fire and stick to the murders when the fire was such a big event?
Quite frankly, the amount of resources it would have taken to do a full episode about the fire would have been beyond our abilities. I liked the idea of using the archival stuff and thought it worked really well. Because it is a murder mystery and it is a fairly well-known event, we acknowledged the one victim of the Toronto fire. We didn’t want to create a falsehood that the fire was used to cover up a murder. We wanted to be more journalist that storyteller in that moment.
Because of the extent of the blaze in real history, will it be referenced at all going forward?
We see that from time to time, in some places. If you look at the actual city maps and the areas that were affected, it was certainly considerable but there are large parts of Toronto that weren’t affected by the fire. We didn’t really want to do Murdoch Mysteries: The Dresden Files. [Laughs.]
What about Julia’s mental state? By the end of this episode, she recognizes killing Eva was necessary. Has that story closed for good?
I think it’s pretty much closed. It was a good opportunity to deal with it, but I think it runs its course. There’s always the danger when you have strong female characters of turning them into a damaged character. I want to stay away from that. Brackenreid got better after being screwed up two years ago; there’s no reason Julia can’t.
It was a nice full-circle moment when Julia told Elizabeth that killing will change her.
We all compartmentalize, right? Who knows, maybe it will pop out sometime, but not in the immediate future.
Crabtree and Nina seem to be going strong, especially after he invested money in Sam’s garage.
Crabtree is on the up part of the roller coaster right now. Then it goes down. [Laughs.] But then it goes up again! And down. What we’ve enjoyed about that is opening up that Star Room set to us. It allows us to have our cops because they are red-blooded males, someplace to hang out and give us some visual colour. We get to use the burlesque routines as a bit of commentary on the show. There is a debutante routine in the first part and a firefighter routine in the second part, which are just fun little bits and very much what burlesque vaudeville would have been at the time.
We got to see William’s plot of land where he’s planning to build the house. Will we spend much time watching it built?
I think there is enough of that on HGTV. [Laughs.] And things don’t always go as planned.
What can you tell us about next week’s episode?
George may be on the way to finally finding love, Julia may be on the way to being healed and Murdoch may well be on the way to a crushing mortgage.
This is the first of three sessions we recorded, with some of the writing staff of Murdoch Mysteries, including Paul Aitken, Michelle Ricci, Jordan Christianson, Simon McNabb, Mary Pederson and head writer and showrunner Peter Mitchell.