Murdoch Mysteries: Writer Lori Spring recalls “Six of the Best”

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

Monday’s instalment of Murdoch Mysteries was missing Inspector Brackenreid and Constable Crabtree. But what it lacked in characters on-screen was made up for with an incredible main storyline that dipped into Murdoch’s past while expanding on Watts’. The murder of a young boy brought the pair to an orphanage run by a Jesuit priest William learned under back in Nova Scotia.

The subject matter was dark, the direction by Sherren Lee masterful and the performances sublime. I spoke to the episode’s writer, Lori Spring, to get the scoop on “Six of the Best.”

We got a little bit more information about William’s past. Is it fun digging into that back story for him?
Lori Spring: It’s kind of this weird and interesting process because as this character builds year after year, it’s not like you know all this stuff in Season 2. It’s like you know every single thing about him but as this character evolves, his back story kind of fills in, in a way, out of his character. Out of the things that happened to him and out of the way that his character evolves, his back story becomes what it needs to be for him to be who he is.

You’re right. It isn’t like everybody’s sitting down and saying, ‘OK, here’s the entire back story for this character. We don’t need to learn anything moving forward because we can just refer to this page of bullet points.’
LS: I mean, there was a fair bit of information about him early on and from the outset and there were Maureen Jennings’ novels that the stuff came from. But details fill in as every season develops him more.

We also got a little bit of a peek into Watts’ background. We found out about him being an orphan but he really had this wonderful connection with the boys at the school as they were doing the investigation. I really loved Daniel Maslany’s acting and you did a wonderful job with that script.
LS: Thank you very much, I appreciate you saying that. With Watts, [Robert Rotenberg] and I also were able to have him discover that he was, in fact, that his lineage was Jewish, which was a pretty interesting twist. You kind of learn many things about the characters from the performances of the actors. All the nuances of the performances kind of start to make the characters more alive for you as a writer. You feel the character and then you’ve got a storyline that involves boys and you feel this character. Even back in ‘Murdoch Schmurdoch,’ you kind of sensed him connecting with the young boy.

You kind of sense that he had a sympathetic feeling about the boy and it’s just kind of funny, it’s kind of there. You kind of imagine Daniel Maslany as an actor into the scenes as you’re writing them and he’s brought so much to that character that is just kind of, I don’t know, it seems to happen.

Maybe it was your writing, maybe it was Sherren’s direction and the cinematography, but it felt like an old school episode of Murdoch to me and I’ll be interested to see what the viewers think. What are your thoughts?
LS: It’s funny you say that ’cause I think it’s the darkest episode I’ve written in a long time. The first episode I ever wrote was in the second season and a little boy went missing. That was a real sort of very mixed episode. It had a lot of things going on it but that was a kind of dark thread running through that. Yeah, there are dark episodes still. But this was one of the darker ones and I was able to watch the finished episode and Sherren Lee did a fabulous job and she drew really strong performances from, really sort of nuanced performances from everybody. I was very impressed.

It’s a touchy subject dealing with the subject matter that gets covered, but what is it with you and writing episodes where boys go missing or boys get murdered? What does that say about you, Lori?
LS: I don’t know, I’m not sure. It might say something about what people in the writer’s room think about me and what would be appropriate material for me.

There’s got to be a delicate hand and a deft touch with this type of storyline because it’s kind of a hot button topic. Whenever a child goes missing or is murdered, that’s always an awful thing. You need to have a deft touch when you’re writing this, don’t you?
LS: You do, and you have to mind your p’s and q’s and be aware that it’s going be a sensitive subject for people to be watching. The Murdoch audience, they know the show, they know the contours of the show, they know the tone of the show and this kind of pushes to the limit of the darker reaches of it.

What do you think when you’re seeing Yannick play this character and you see him unhinged? It freaks me out because he’s usually the guy in the room that’s calmest. If he’s losing it, that means a lot.
LS: I have to say I loved his performance. In a way, it brought the character that he plays, it re-animated the character and reminded us of the depth of the character that he’s playing. He didn’t overplay it. He contained it in a very Murdochian way. But, it exploded out of him especially in the scene in the jail cell. I was really impressed with his performance. It didn’t freak me out. It made me happy as a writer to have the script so well performed and directed.

Do you still get a thrill when you see the words that you wrote on the page being sad by the actors and actresses on set and in the broadcast?
LS: Oh, totally. How could I not? It’s done so well, but I actually was worried about this one because it was so dark and I was particularly thrilled to see how well this was executed. It was handled with a deft touch by the director. I was also worried about kids. They were great. All the kids were great. Sherren dealt with them really well.

You put forth a question, did corporal punishment, did it shape who William is?  
LS: Of course, it had to. I don’t want to, myself, psychologize the character too much because he’s not my character. Maybe it contributes to his being so buttoned down. We always thought that the Jesuit education was a part of his holding on to dear life, to his need to understand and be rational and explain and invent and he’s doing that for reasons. We’ve seen his relationship with his father. We certainly knew that his mother died in a way that was very painful for him. I think this was another part of the pain. And it’s been wonderful over the seasons, watching how his relationship with Julia has kind of opened him up, made him more confident in his ability to be emotional and attached.

What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below!

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

Images courtesy of CBC.

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11 thoughts on “Murdoch Mysteries: Writer Lori Spring recalls “Six of the Best””

  1. It was skillfully acted by the whole cast tonight. When I read the preview, I thought William might rage and roar, but I think his sad, aching anger was much more effective.

    A point on the description of the episode. The director of the orphanage was addressed as “Brother”. I think that means he would not have been a priest- a religious cleric, yes, but not an ordained priest.

    My two cents.

  2. Best Episode of the season! Extremely well written, Acted and the costumes were fabulous! Yannick Bisson was amazing in this episode. My heart ached for him.

  3. Very profound episode for most of the night, but it’s a shame the writers feel compelled to turn the B story in this episode into a farce. Does not work when you are telling an emotional story and then bring us right out of it to some silly story that deals with their version of “shades of grey”. In the earlier seasons of the show, the B story often had some relationship with the A story. Now u have shorter viewing time, and still you add a goofy back story. Frustrating for long time fans of the show who wonder at what the heck is going on while watching, and then the whole thing does not actually sync up. Profundity does not sync with the absurd most of the time. And also you’ve got a great historical story in this episode and then we get Shades of Grey 1906 from the Ruth Character. Blah…..
    BTW the Pirates episode was terrific.

  4. Great episode! The successful combination of the dramatic story connected with William’s childhood and the easier storyline of the collaboration of Julia and Ruth!
    The scenes of love and mutual support of Julia and William are amazing.
    I really liked this episode!

  5. “When you commit violence against a child, you do irreparable harm.” – Dr. Julia Ogden

    Shame on the writer(s) for allowing the child abuser to take credit for William Murdoch’s success as an adult. This one moment skewed my opinion of this episode, sadly.

    For the adult who says “I was spanked and I turned out all right”… how would one ever know what their future might have been if they had not been abused?

    [Definition of ‘spank’: to strike (a person, usually a child) with the open hand, a slipper, etc., especially on the buttocks, as in punishment.]

  6. I really loved tonight’s episode. I think that it would have been natural for anyone in charge of raising children to take credit for their success. People have to keep in mind that corporal punishment was considered very acceptable and wouldn’t have been considered abuse. We are looking at the past with a modern viewpoint. When I was in Elementary school I still remember kids being taken to the Principal’s office for the strap. … and as for the backstory with Ruth and Julia … I quite liked the juxtaposition of a “lighter” topic with the serious one. A question … was the book “Adventures of a Young Woman Abroad” actually published? If so, in what year.

    1. Whether ‘corporal punishment’ was considered to be the norm or not, abuse is abuse no matter the decade, and it is most definitely harmful to a body and psyche.

  7. Maybe its because I binge watched several episodes together online, that I noticed in Season 12 so far Murdoch and Ogden don’t work together to solve mysteries anymore? They seem to be existing in more parallel worlds? Personally, I thought their meeting of minds and the way they challenged and furthered each other with their complementary skills, was the strength, if not the heart, of the show. I miss that. The domestic moments are sweet occasionally, and at times illuminating of their personalities, but…
    (Maybe that’s just me, though because I was someone who was relieved when the baby did not eventuate last season. Up until then I was slightly annoyed that maybe they had got their usually impeccable research wrong -the infertility from butcher abortions is a separate matter to the infertility treated by modern IVF- and a little riled that they may have glossed over an important issue still being discussed in the community today). No fear, I will still be watching, but I would enjoy seeing the band back together and the mysteries that were so cleverly constructed, continue to be the driver.

    Also, while I was waiting to get to see the new season, I picked out some favourites to revisit over the Holidays. While the newer writers have produced some of my favorites: Mr Trotter (The cricket episode) and Ms Girard (the Virgin statue weeping episode); and seeing Mr Atkin, or Mr Mitchell or Ms Pederson’s name on a future script raises much anticipation for me, I did notice that many of the “greatest hits” I pulled out had Jordan Christianson’s name on them. I just wanted to say, with no disrespect to the current writers, that I think he has left quite a hole, and I hope from time-to-time you can channel his spirit too

    Bravo on still being waaaay better than the rest, and I look forward to seeing the rest of the season.

    1. I totally agree with your comment on the crime solving Murdoch/Ogden tandem. Those episodes were the best. The chemistry between the actors to bring this to life is undeniable and one of the reasons I watched the show. But now? what the heck is Julia doing at that hospital? Nothing apparently. Lots of time on her hands to write and take her cue from Ruth. She should be writing at home with her husband when time allows.

      Violet Hart is back and what amazes me is that for such a novice in the field she seems to know as much as it took Julia years to learn. Some viewers call people like me ‘traditionalists’ because we enjoy the show on its premise which has given us far more exciting episodes then those we are seeing in Season 12 and carry the show successfully to this day. The only reason I could see for the show runners to change course would be if the ratings were down and they would need to do something, but my understanding that this is not the case. It’s the same as in everything else in life why change something that works. Watts is not as entertaining a sidekick to Murdoch than Crabtree and Brackenreid (minus the digging into their private lives). I wish they could bring back ‘Pink’. A far more interesting character than Watts (to me anyway).

  8. I agree with the author of the previous review. Episodes of the 12th season are interesting, but I really want to see again the plots of the joint investigations of William and Julia. This beautiful charismatic couple is the basis of the show. I will watch the following episodes (and FOLLOWING SEASONS !!!) with the hope of seeing more of Doctor Ogden and Detective Murdoch!

  9. I am open to introducing new characters and finding out their story; after all a program that has been running for twelve seasons successfully, needs to keep developing. However, I agree with the correspondents who say that the Murdoch and Ogden working relationship is the heart of the show. For me, they have been the best episodes.
    I hope the team will find a way to bring back this working partnership.

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