Murdoch Mysteries: Simon McNabb on “Crabtree a la Carte” and Violet Hart’s intentions

Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched “Crabtree a la Carte.”

Just what is Violet Hart up to? That was my biggest query going into Monday’s new episode of Murdoch Mysteries, especially after fans noted her odd behaviour in and around William. That was just one of many questions I had for Simon McNabb, who wrote “Crabtree a la Carte,” an instalment with plenty of fun thanks to Crabtree and Margaret, a gruesome poisoning and some tense moments between Julia and William.

I need to ask you about Violet Hart. Fans have noted her odd behaviour. She went to Josephine’s grave in “Mary Wept,” and made a comment to William about perhaps one day marrying a detective like him. Should fans be worried? Do we have another Eva Pearce on our hands?
Simon McNabb: [Laughs.] As a fan, I love any character who has a strong point of view and can bring some drama to the table. What kind of drama that might be for Violet Hart, obviously I can’t disclose, but I don’t think anyone should be worried, I think they should be excited.

I’m not sure if ‘excited’ is the right word if it means something bad happens to any of our core characters.
[Laughs.] That’s fair enough. I can’t say anything specific with respect to Violet, but I hope that, like all of our best characters, that even if we have questions about her we come to understand her at the end of the day.

She is certainly diligent. She works through the night to get William the information she needs with respect to the tainted meat.
One of the things that is interesting about her, as a character from our point of view as a writing team, is that she’s really good at her job which everyone on our show is if we’re being honest. Other than on occasion, when Higgins gets lazy. But, as a young woman in a male-dominated profession, what we haven’t really done before is bring in a character who right off the bat says something like, ‘I’m not going to be your assistant forever.’ She is somebody who has ambition from the get-go and isn’t afraid to say what she wants and wants to get out of life.

A reader picked up on Daniel Kash’s character’s name as being Randall Gordon, a take on Gordon Ramsay. I didn’t even twig to that.
Yeah, that was intentional. We’ve done it on occasion in the past as well as a sly reference to contemporary personalities and people we know in the public sphere. We’re always curious about what people will pick up on and we’re happy when people do because it means we’ve built the character strongly enough that there is just a little bit of Gordon Ramsay that comes through in Daniel’s performance.

There is so much buried in an episode of Murdoch Mysteries, from the murder itself to names of characters to props and signs. You really need to watch an episode more than once.
The great thing is we have a bunch of fans who do watch the show more than once. We’re aware of that and are excited, thrilled and quite honoured, frankly, that people like it enough that they revisit it, sometimes the same night that it airs or the very next morning. That’s just amazing that people care about it that much. In the writer’s room, we think about that but also people in all the departments—the crew—really get a kick out of that fact as well. People like Craig Grant in the props department and Bob Sher, our production designer and art director, go that extra mile so that there are those extra details.

Leslie Hope has directed a handful of Murdoch Mysteries episodes. I thought she did a great job capturing the action between Crabtree and Margaret during the Madison Fine Beef Culinary Challenge. What does Leslie bring to the table as a director?
When Leslie read the script [for this episode] during our first meeting about it she told me she had never seen any of these cooking competition shows. It shocked me that anybody could miss this enormous cultural phenomenon. But she got right into it and got very excited about it and watched a whole lot of the shows [as research] and really wanted to bring that aesthetic to the way that she shot the cooking sequences and then they way they cut it together. As a director in general, I think Leslie is someone we all love to work with. She’s been on the show for a couple of years now and she is somebody who, because she has a background in acting herself, the actors really respond to and enjoy working with. She is somebody who brings an energy and a focus to set that gets the crew and everybody excited to be there.

For me, the tainted meat in this storyline reminded me of what happened with Maple Leaf Foods back in 2008.
It’s funny, that’s not a case that we researched for this episode. The case that we had at the top of our minds in terms of the PR strategy and that kind of storyline was the Tylenol case from the 80s, which was not their fault at all but they decided to come out and apologize before they knew what the cause was. It came out that it was actually a lone wolf who tampered with a few bottles. Our view and the general consensus at the time was that it was a brilliant move to take responsibility before they had to and get in front of it because once it came out they had nothing to do with it they came out smelling like roses. So we tried to mirror that up and down scenario with our tainted meat scandal.

On the heels of the happy news that Julia is pregnant came an uncomfortable few scenes between she and William. Of course, that happened in front of Violet. Will there be more moments like this as Julia moves forward?
I hope it’s not all sunshine and lollypops because if it is it gets a little boring. At the same time, I hope the audience likes the direction that the rest of the season goes in. As for their fighting in this episode, it’s the perfect example of something the fans can enjoy and be excited about because, yes there is some friction between them but it comes from a place of love and William wanting to be everything he can for Julia and Julia wanting to be the best expectant mother that she can be.

There are a lot of balls in the air as we get into the last handful of episodes of Season 11. The pregnancy, Higgins and Ruth’s engagement … I can’t imagine every storyline will be wrapped by the season finale. 
I hope there is enough of a sense of closure at the end of the season that people will be satisfied even if there are hanging questions left over. Compared to the end of last season, there will be fewer question marks hanging over the heads of our characters and the audience.

Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.