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.
Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.
Images courtesy of CBC.
Check out this footage of the 1904 fire