Murdoch Mysteries: Writer Dan Trotta dissects “Pirates of the Great Lakes”

Spoiler alert: Do not continue reading until you have watched the newest episode of Murdoch Mysteries, “Pirates of the Great Lakes.”

Alas, it doesn’t appear that Thomas Brackenreid and his wife, Margaret, will be reuniting anytime soon. Crushed upon learning he has a daughter from a past relationship, Margaret asked him to leave their home and returned her wedding band to him.

And while there was a crime committed in Monday’s episode, it almost took a back seat to the torment Thomas is going through. What’s next for the Inspector? We spoke to writer Dan Trotta to find out.

It’s been an interesting journey for Thomas Brackenreid. He’s one of those characters where when something happens, it tends to be big. This season has been no different. Do you like being able to write for these secondary characters? Obviously William and Julia, to a certain extent, are always going to be top in mind, but what about writing for characters that don’t always get these meaty storylines, like Thomas Brackenreid?
Dan Trotta: I do, personally, yeah. I think there’s, in a weird way, it feels like there’s a little more wiggle room, if that makes sense? I think there’s certain expectations we have as viewers and, I’m speaking generally even as a fan of TV shows, the main characters are often … we really do expect certain things from them. And I think there’s a more sort of rigid box that people put their main characters in, whereas secondary characters you can sort of … they’re a little more malleable. You can kinda play around with them a bit more. You can put them in situations you might not normally find them in.

And there’s just a bit more leeway with sort of where you can take them. And Brackenreid is definitely one of those guys. Particularly because the character sort of lends himself to more kind of intense experiences just because he’s kind of this brash tough guy.

So to find out that he’s done something as surprising as fathering another child, while it’s shocking, I think it’s still within the realm of believability. Whereas if the information ever came out that Murdoch had done that, in the same way, it would just be less believable.

Let’s talk about William’s latest invention. We’ve got the combination washing machine and outboard motor. Congratulations!
DT: Thank you, thank you. Yes, it’s quite an achievement. Yeah, we’re all very proud.

Is that kind of a fun notch in your belt, to write an episode that has one of William’s inventions in it and then get to work with Craig Grant on … Well I don’t know, how much do you work with Craig on something or does he just do it all himself?
DT: It’s really sort of a question of, what’s possible? Well like, this thing went through a few iterations. Initially it was like a lawnmower and then it was a bunch of different things. And then it was like, well that wouldn’t really make sense. It wouldn’t be able to power an boat. And it wouldn’t be big enough. And then, so you sort of have that conversation with Craig.

Craig is definitely there to run stuff by and just to sort of figure out what’s actually possible. And to answer the first part of your question, it’s fun. I’ve always loved that Steampunk aspect of the show. So yeah, it’s really exciting. And then to go down to the props department and see it get put together, the drawings and stuff, it’s a blast. It’s a lot of fun.

How far in advance did you know a sailboat would be involved in this storyline?
DT: Knowing that we needed a ship came up pretty early. I mean, once we had figured out that we were gonna do an episode with Dan Seavey, who is an actual character, an actual historical figure. Once we knew it was a pirate episode, it was sort of a no-brainer that we’d have a ship, I think. So, then the conversation becomes, well how big? And where? And what’s it gonna do?

[Episode director] Leslie [Hope] and I sort of got together. I hadn’t seen the ship, but she had, and she gave me the specs of it. The size of it and what we could and couldn’t do and how many people could actually be on there. That was really tricky. It’s like Pete sort of had to step in and help out because we were struggling a little bit because there was a space issue. We wanted a bunch of guys on there, you can only have a few. Just the mechanics of it became tricky. So I would say more than anything, actually, that was the thing … that was the trickiest sort of ship related bit of business.

Dan Seavey was a real guy. I didn’t realize that.
At the beginning that was a big part of the research process is just figuring out what happened that particular year. I had found him in my sort of Googling rabbit holes and never would’ve imagined that there was a pirate on the Great Lakes. I never would’ve imagined it. But it popped up and from there it was just a question of how to use him. We couldn’t make him quite as vicious as he actually was. I mean, this guy was a murderer. Straight up savage. He was pretty bad, actually. But you know, also very charismatic and there were a lot of colorful stories about him, so we sort of stuck to the lighter stuff.

Let’s finish with Thomas and Margaret. Obviously everybody wants to see these two together, and I’m not asking you to spoil anything, but I’m assuming this isn’t the type of thing that’s gonna be wrapped up neatly by next week’s episode.
DT: I would say, keep tuning in. I mean, there’s a real relationship there, I think. She’s clearly been hurt and he … I think this is a guy who has to fight through his pride. We’ve all seen hubris in this character, but I think there is a fundamental trust that at the core, that this is a good man, who obviously loves his wife and his family. That said, I mean, anything can happen.

Maybe I should just say it? I mean, Thomas gets pregnant at the end of the season. [Laughs.] Keep watching is what I would say to the fans.

What did you think of this newest episode? Did you Google Dan Seavey like I did? Do you think Margaret should forgive Thomas? Let me know in the comments below.

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

Images courtesy of CBC.

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9 thoughts on “Murdoch Mysteries: Writer Dan Trotta dissects “Pirates of the Great Lakes””

  1. What do I think of this episode? Same feeling I had since the focus seemed to have shifted to characters like Watts and Brakenreid, big disappointment. And this episode is right up there. I don’t know where the series is headed but I am losing interest big time. Of course, Murdoch is always front and centre… with Crabtree. Perhaps they should be portrayed as the power couple because Julia is certainly no longer part of it. Building a dishwasher for Julia, really, are the writers transforming her into a homemaker, something in my opinion and imagination she will never be and I don’t want to watch episodes where Murdoch is bent on making her into someone she was never raised to be, unlike Margaret Brakenreid. That’s not even funny. What the creators of the show should do is give them employees (i.e. servants) that they certainly can afford. Julia has always been portrayed as a career professional, up until now. Tending to patients in a hospital? After having been a coroner and a psychiatrist, helping Murdoch solve his crimes. Now the writers, showrunners are changing their mind. A surgeon? Showing her ‘operating’ cannot hold the same fascination for viewers as what she was doing in the morgue and the asylum. This is not a medical show. Unless it is the wish of the actress herself, and if so, perhaps she should lend her talents to another show worthy of them. Yes, for this fan the disappointment is huge and it is also the end of the line. I don’t want to see episodes where Julia is relegated to a very minor and secondary role. Realizing that it is impossible to please everybody, I have seen enough of that this season already.
    I remember Hélène saying early on in the series that ‘someone’ wanted to eliminate her character. Perhaps this is finally and sadly happening…however gradually.

  2. Love, love Murdoch Mysteries,, get rid of Julia, no way. But bring Margaret Brackenreid back. Been watching for years and love every episode. For those who have negative comments about Murdoch’s inventions, love it brings a little whimsy to the show and his inventions make us smile as we relate them to today’s dishwashers, romba vacuums etc.

    1. I love his inventions as well, I just fear that the intention in the recent ones is to transform Julia into a homemaker, that she will never be and Murdoch should know better.

  3. Murdoch Mysteries have been my favorite crime drama for many years. In seasons 1-11, the main storyline was a joint investigation and the relationship of the beautiful couple Julia Ogden and Detective William Murdoch performed by talented and charismatic Helen Joy and Yannick Bisson. Many viewers will agree that this is the biggest asset of the show, without this pair Murdoch Mysteries can not be imagined!
        Unfortunately, in season 12, attention was focused mainly on the stories of other characters in the show. Julia, and also William are less and less present in the episodes, they gradually become heroes of the second plan. Of course, the stories of Breckenried, detective Watts, Ruth and Henry are very interesting, but without the dominance in the plots of Dr. Ogden and Detective Murdoch, the show will become just a detective series and may lose its immense popularity.
        I hope that Julia and William will return to their traditional main roles again and viewers from many countries will enjoy watching the episodes of their favorite Murdoch Mysteries for many more seasons.
        Sorry for bad english – this is not my native language.
        Good luck !

  4. When I saw the episode only about Brack, I was okay with it. But I could’ve done without the Watts ep. I do like his character, but not enough for an entire ep. I’m also noticing that William and Julia are slowly becoming secondary character’s and I really don’t like that. THEY are the show! But I’m going to wait and see if there’s a William only show and a Julia only show as well. If so, I’ll be very interested to see them. I’m just not into the Ruth and Henry story lines at all. I like hearing about them in passing, but not actually a part of the show. And now, Ruth’s going to be at the hospital w/ Julia! Also, Dan Trotta joked about Brack getting pregnant. It will really make me upset if Margaret ends up pregnant, and not Julia. I hope Julia’s ‘secret’ is that she’s pg, and is afraid to tell W, because of the miscarriage. I want Violet to show her true colors and then be escorted out of the morgue. I also want MORE William and Julia scenes like in the first half of S12.

  5. I am Spanish. I hooked up with this series last summer for several reasons. The cases. The relationship between William and Julia. And some magnificent secondary characters. I will not deny that I miss the wonderful scenes between the couple protagonist. However I am convinced that everything that is happening during the 12th season is part of a plan devised by its wonderful writers that will take us to a second part of the season where our wishes will be rewarded in some way. You just have to have a little patience.

  6. I would like to know where the writer found evidence that Dan Seavey was ever in Toronto. I do historic research on the maritime history of the Great Lakes. Dan Seavey was a pirate here at that timing, BUT on all accounts that I have found, he was located on Lake Michigan and the Lake Michigan side of the Straits of Mackinac. He did go to Chicago to sell contriband to the Black Market in Chicago. He was in Alaska briefly with Captain Frederick Pabst during the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush. In 1900, Seavey was was in Escanaba, Michigan. In 1904, he was in Frankfort, Michigan. In 1908, he was arrested by U.S. Deputy Marshall Thomas M. Currier for the theft of a ship named the Nellie Johnson but was not indicted. However, I have found no evidence that he was ever in Toronto. The Wanderer was his ship, but I also do not believe that he would leave his ship behind — pirates do not usually do that. No official documents actually cited Seavey under the charge of piracy and throughout his life denied all accusations of such. I think that the writer took a lot of liberty in this story but should try to stick to historic facts since people may just believe what they see.

  7. Series 12 from the beginning has been slow to show some oomph ! Julia’s list of jobs is amazing but she was best as the Coroner in the morgue , and should return there ! Her current incumbent is boring and so arrogant. I can’t stand her.
    What has happened to W and J working together solving crimes ? Is Jannick too busy being Producer or whatever to do any real acting and has someone decided to side line Helen ? Big big shames.
    And what now for the Inspector ? Is he due for the chop ? This would be a great shame on top of all the other lack lustre episodes in this series.
    Get William and Julia doing what they do best, supported by great actors.
    And create great stories which you are good at !!

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