Murdoch Mysteries: Maureen Jennings chats about “Shock Value”

[Spoiler alert: Do not continue reading until you have watched “Shock Value.]

I love getting Maureen Jennings’ take on episodes she has written for Murdoch Mysteries. After all, she created the character of William Murdoch in her novels. Without her, there wouldn’t be Murdoch Mysteries.

In Monday’s latest instalment, “Shock Value,” we were introduced to scientists who performed experiments on their fellow human beings in the interest of education. This isn’t a new trope on TV, film, or real life, but the Kingstons brought it into sharp, and creepy focus. Add to that the re-appearance of Dorothy Ernst and her plan for George, and “Shock Value” was a disturbing story.

We conducted an email interview with Maureen Jennings to get her take on Monday’s episode.

How did the main storyline for “Shock Value” come about? Was it inspired by anything in particular?
Maureen Jennings: Two main things. A few years ago, I came across a wonderful book called Fear, written in 1893 by an Italian doctor named Angelo Mosso, who was keen to understand the interactions between our bodies and emotions. He measured the respiration and heart rate of his subject and how a gun fired behind them affected these. He also developed an early version of the lie detector. We’ve used that in a couple of early episodes with Murdoch as the subject. It is a fascinating topic that we are still exploring. For me, a direct offshoot of the issue is what motivates us to pursue tasks, praise, or punishment? I’m all for praise, myself. Also, I was very interested in the notorious experiments of Stanley Milgram in the 1960s. He concluded that people were very susceptible to those they saw as authorities and surrendered their own judgments even when asked to do something that they believed was causing another person pain.

This is one of the darker episodes of Murdoch Mysteries and pretty darn scary. Do you relish the spookier, scarier storylines?
MJ: Not me. I’m a wimp. Blame the writer’s room.

Did the pandemic affect how you wrote this episode or is writing a Murdoch Mysteries episode more of a solitary affair for you anyway?
MJ: Pre-COVID-19, we had a fun second story about basketball and we were hoping to lure one of our fabulous Raptors to come and do a cameo. It had to be dropped. FOR NOW.

There are always little things in Murdoch episodes that made me smile. Brackenreid explaining why he was eating an apple is one of them. Do you enjoy writing tidbits, knowing the fans will enjoy them as well?
MJ: I especially like historically related bits. For instance, the origin of the term basketball. (Naismith using peach baskets to catch the balls.

And we got yet another peek at William liking things “just so” when he measured the apple and banana slices for uniformity. I loved that detail.
MJ: He’d drive me crazy.

The Kingstons may be some of the most dangerous people we’ve met on Murdoch Mysteries. They use manipulation to test the human condition. Who was the inspiration for them?
MJ: Sort of the Kinseys from the 50s. The Kinsey Reports. All serious scientists who conduct experiments must have obsessive natures and coldness at the centre. But hey, we owe them a lot.

The secondary story worries me. It seems like George is going to be framed as insane and perhaps be the victim of revenge. Can you comment on that?
MJ: Keep watching.

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

Image courtesy of CBC.

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2 thoughts on “Murdoch Mysteries: Maureen Jennings chats about “Shock Value””

  1. “…the notorious experiments of Stanley Milgram in the 1960s. ”
    Thanks for the reference: I was familiar with the events, but had not been able to identify the researcher by name. I heard about it in the late ’60s but with no instantaneous reference vehicle [i.e., the internet] available at the time, I could not get any more information. When I watched the episode I immediately recalled hearing about those experiments and pointed out to my husband that this was not made up for TV, and that real experiments on the nature of punishment & reward, not to mention “white coat syndrome” really did happen.

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