Monday’s new episode of Murdoch Mysteries, “Excitable Chap,” marked the return of two favourites. Thomas Brackenreid was back from St. Louis, sporting a gold medal for soccer that he’d won coaching Galt to victory. Monday also saw James Pendrick back in Station House No. 4, first to hang out with Brackenreid because they’d bonded at the World’s Fair and then because, no surprise, he was suspected of murder in a very Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde storyline.
But rather than fall back into his routine, Brackenreid has been grabbed by wanderlust and excited by the world. No longer content, for the moment at least, being a copper, he’s gone off on an adventure with Pendrick—he was once again exonerated of killing—in pursuit of Ashmi, who’s stolen the inventor’s formula for the fountain of youth.
We spoke to Simon McNabb—who co-wrote the episode with showrunner Peter Mitchell—about Brackenreid’s departure, Nina and Crabtree’s breakup, and a peek at next week’s holiday special.
It was interesting to see Brackenreid return to Toronto with his world view opened up and wanderlust triggered. Could this be the final season for Brackenreid?
Simon McNabb: Well, anything is possible. I can’t speak one way or another about what happens to the character in Season 10 or any possible future seasons but he’s certainly developed a taste for wanderlust as a character. We, as writers, wanted to explore what it would give to him as a character and open some interesting avenues for him in the future.
We thought this was sort of an interesting way to explore with Tom Brackenreid. Maybe this is the 1904 equivalent of buying a sports car; getting back out there and having that sense of adventure.
It was interesting that you referenced Ota Benga in the episode, who was really part of the St. Louis World’s Fair.
That emerged organically from our desire to put in as much as possible from the history of the period and that was one of the headlines of the St. Louis World’s Fair. At the time, they had these pygmies who were essentially on display which is sort of shocking by today’s standards. We were sort of at the end of this tradition by the end of 1904, but it had been going on for years that people had been brought and put on display at world fairs. We saw a little touch of it last year in the Arctic episode when Crabtree meets the Inuit man and thinks, for a moment, that he’s part of the display. One of the headlines from the World’s Fair is that they had these pygmies on display and did keep them locked up. The young man that Brackenreid is obliquely referring to did go on an adventure for awhile and left the fair and wandered about as a free man and then was either recaptured or returned to the group and travelled around parts of the United States as sort of a cause célèbre.
You and Peter Mitchell shared writing credits on this episode. How did that work?
The story itself took awhile to develop in that the very basic notion of a Jekyll and Hyde story was one that has sort of wandered in and out of the writers’ room over and over again. At some point, the notion of doing it with James Pendrick as the Jekyll and Hyde figure stuck around and we were all tickled by it. And then, Pete Mitchell early in the development process for this season had a few ideas about it and broke out most of the story you see there quite quickly on his own and then brought me along to help him write it. We split it up as front half-back half.
You picked a great character to be Jekyll and Hyde. Peter Stebbings has such an emotive face.
He was such a natural fit. Peter is such a great actor when it comes to emotion and can play all sorts of different angles and elements and if you give him the opportunity he’ll play it right up to the max. I think this was the episode of Murdoch Mysteries that gave him the most room to go a little over the top. We knew he would have fun doing it, and we would have fun watching it.
I enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek reference in the script about Pendrick showing up just in time to be accused of murder.
It’s one of those things where, as a murder mystery, it’s very hard to bring back anyone without them being involved, in some way, with the murder of the episode. Sometimes we come up with a way to just have them around for the week and not accused of murder but sometimes it’s just to much fun to have them as the prime suspect. You have to wink at yourself because, at this point, the audience is pretty convinced Pendrick won’t be the killer by the end of the day.
Nina and George have broken up. What can you say about the demise of their relationship?
George’s relationships have been a roller coaster and I, for one, am in favour of it. I’ve been a sucker, since I first started watching the show, for the troubles of George’s heart. At the start of last season, we tried to challenge Crabtree a little bit when it comes to what he wants out of a relationship and life. Through the years, we have matched him up with women and all of them offered the same sort of future he imagined for himself, getting married and having a family. By introducing Nina Bloom, we forced him to challenge that. He falls for her despite having none of those things and he starts to reconsider how much he values those things or whether this very exciting love affair might be something that he likes and appreciates and wants to explore more than the conventional lifestyle.
As soon as we did that, we realized we’d have to bring in someone who represented the more traditional choice and see if he really was ready throw away the whole notion of settling down and having kids. That’s what we’re trying to explore; where he lands I’m not sure.
I laughed out loud when Julia said, ‘I’ve had better,’ after Pendrick kissed her while he was The Lurker.
That was a line written by Peter Mitchell.
What can you tease about the next episode, the holiday special ‘Once Upon a Murdoch Christmas’?
It focuses more heavily on Crabtree than last year’s special. He is sort of at the centre of the main mystery and story this year. This year he is really in the thick of what is, I think, an exciting and delightful adventure.
Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.