Spoiler alert: Do not continue reading until you have watched Murdoch Mysteries‘ Season 11, Episode 7: “The Accident.”
Murdoch Mysteries writer Mary Pedersen’s goal was to make fans cry with Monday’s newest episode, “The Accident.” I say mission accomplished. Dilton Dilbert (David Hewlett), city clerk, became the latest victim of a murder plot when he was pinned between a car and carriage while on his morning walk to the office. Unable to move him because he’d die, Dilbert professed his love to Mildred Ash (Angela Vint) moments before he expired.
“The Accident” was unique on a couple of fronts. First, in confined all of the major and supporting characters within the Murdoch Mysteries backlot. Secondly, it was set in real time, adding to the strain of the situation. We spoke to Pedersen about the episode and the inspiration behind it.
This was a killer episode!
Mary Pedersen: Thank you so much. It was really, really fun to do and I’m really proud of it.
It’s kind of a twist on the bottle episode. Not everyone is stuck in the same room, but everyone is in the same place and that made the episode really unique.
Yes, and also having a very short timeline was part of the original idea and that brought a lot of energy and a fresh challenge to writing that episode that was really fun. It’s not our normal plot.
How did the story originally break in the writer’s room?
When we were prepping for our development room in the winter, I watched, with Murdoch in mind, a few Alfred Hitchcock movies. I watched Rope and came to the room saying, ‘Let’s do a dinner party and the killers are trying to catch Murdoch out … essentially let’s do Rope.’ Pete came up with the accident part of it, really with the thought in mind that if it was out there on the street then there is some pressure on the situation. People need to get where they’re going. And one of my favourite early episodes of TV was the ‘Subway’ episode with Vincent D’Onofrio in Homicide: Life on the Street. [Editor’s note: That Homicide episode is entitled “Subway,” but is often referred to as “The Accident.”] Those things came together and started writing itself.
And then, when we were trying to figure out which character to have standing there crushed between two vehicles for five days [of filming], somebody came up with David [Hewlett] and it was genius. He was fantastic; it was such a dream to watch him make that story happen.
I was wondering how you decided on Dilton Dilbert to be the one trapped there. You needed a character that fans already knew and cared about rather than someone no one had met.
Right. And that was sort of my idea going into it, that it would be all new people, but someone in the room came up with David’s name and once they did there was no other conversation. And then we were lucky to get Angela [Vint] as well. I’ve been a fan of hers since Traders way back when so watching the two of them do scenes together was a dream.
Let’s talk about the challenges surrounding this episode. There was such a large cast of characters to juggle alongside our regulars. Was that tough to write?
By the time it gets to [production] that’s the challenge of the director. I had envisioned going around and around and around the accident and making it work inside of our backlot. [Director] Alison [Reid] and the assistant directors and the art department had to make that work. The art department had to come up with streetcar tracks in our backlot. At one point it seemed like an impossible task and Bob [Sher] was like, ‘Well, let’s give it a go,’ and that was fantastic. I did get dirty side-eye from the ADs for sure. And, when we wrote it we thought it might be a bit shorter of an episode for filming because it was all in one location but I don’t think we wound up saving any time on it. And it also wound up being one of the hottest weeks of the summer so the crew and cast were out on the backlot just broiling the entire time. But they’re total pros and troopers.
The other cool thing about this episode was when Alison pulled back it allowed viewers to see not only the full backlot but the CGI work to show the growth of Toronto.
I love that, and being able to walk down the street to where the streetcars are parked. It was a real team effort.
Those were quite the emotional scenes between Dilbert and Brackenreid.
If you’re going to care about the murder and spend an hour with the guy, we had to feel something. What is that like? You know now that your time is limited. One of the reasons that I gravitate towards Murdoch and shows like it is they’re not typically focused on the tragedies and the sadness and the loss. For the most part, you’re able to focus on the puzzle and the mystery and what the detective is doing to solve the crime. It’s really a part of the show that we don’t normally see and that’s on purpose because we want to focus on Murdoch’s own detective work.
This story required some emotional bang.
You certainly get the emotional bang when Dilbert is speaking with Mildred Ash. They flirt a bit when he says he’s admired her shorthand. Him viewing himself as just a cog in the machine. It’s heartbreaking, Mary! How could you do this?
[Laughs.] If you were dying too soon, at least I would reflect on the great thing that I thought that I would accomplish. And it is kind of heartbreaking.
Mary, people will have cried watching this episode. Are you happy with this knowledge?
I am so happy! This is one of my great accomplishments as a writer. [Laughs.] After we did the read-through and we were walking down the hall back to the writer’s room, Paul Aitken turned around with tears in his eyes. And I was just, ‘Yes, everything is going to be all right.’
That was a very patient pig that you had John Brackenreid holding.
We had the pigs and the chickens and the fire hydrant. The fire hydrant was on the bubble several times and Pete just kept rescuing it from getting cut. It was great that we were able to keep all of the farm animals and people were so delighted with that pig. It was a pretty rough week shooting but the pig really brought people’s spirits up.
Despite all of the difficulties, this episode really helped to expand the world of Murdoch Mysteries in my mind. Even the off-hand comment about the Gooderham & Worts building being a flatiron building helped me place where in Toronto we’re set.
That’s awesome and I’m so glad. It was so interesting looking up things like traffic accidents at the time. The boy whose cart rolls over in the street it was originally written as a 13-year-old with a little motor van because, of course when you think of it, there were no regulations at the time. You could drive at any age, it was all so new. And, I think, there had only been one car fatality at the time and it was kids playing in the street and man ran over a kid and was like, ‘OK, I need to be on my way.’ There wasn’t the same protocol for an accident that we have today. Or even Murdoch going, ‘Wait a second, I think there is some fishy business going on here,’ would have been very unlikely for the time.
What did you think of “The Accident”? Did you enjoy it as much as I did? And confess: did you cry? Let me know in the comments below.
Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.