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Murdoch Mysteries: Paul Aitken talks “Annabella Cinderella”

Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched the latest episode of Murdoch Mysteries, “Annabella Cinderella.”

Well, that as quite the road trip for Constables John Brackenreid, George Crabtree and Detective Watts, wasn’t it? I always get a kick out of road trip episodes and this one was a lot of fun, even with an accused axe murderer at the centre of the story. With Inspector Brackenreid gone from our lives for now and Julia and William back on Toronto planning to write a police handbook containing the latest forensic sciences available, it was up to the trio to collar Annabella and investigate the truth behind her case.

We caught up with the episode’s writer, executive producer Paul Aitken, for details.

It’s been a great season so far.
Paul Aitken: Yeah, I think it’s been good. I’m curious to see how it all turns out. I know how the stories turn out, but I haven’t seen it in frame.

Oh really? Is that common?
PA: It’s common for me because once we get past a certain point in the story, I like to just see it in its whole.

We’ve seen a little dip into Watt’s past, and certainly a lot more into Brackenreid’s past. As somebody that’s been with the show from the very beginning, what’s it like to dip into these back stories and find out a little bit more about these characters as we’ve been going along this season?
PA: Oh I think it’s a really useful well to dip into because you can get story ideas out of the past that you can’t if you just are going forward. There’s something you can use that’s interesting, and you can build a story around it, and it also deepens the character. I think it’s fun for the audience because they get to see and come to understand the characters in a way that they wouldn’t have in the past, and it’s also just a really useful story tool.

The story getting a peek into Watts’s history was fantastic, emotional. Daniel Maslany did a wonderful job.
PA: I thought so too. I thought that worked really well. We didn’t know Watts very well, and I think he was a bit of a mystery, and I think this grounded him. It picked up on story elements we introduced in earlier episodes. But I think it’s true with any character, if you can pull something out of the past, it’s fun to watch and it’s fun to write.

Let’s get into tonight’s episode. I immediately thought of Lizzie Borden. Was that an inspiration at all? 
PA: No, actually, it wasn’t, not at all. We came to the idea of the axe because we wanted her to be dangerous. It’s more fun if your quarry is someone who could kill you. And it also made her dangerous. You want to buy that this character could be nice and flirting with John, but at the same point would drive an axe into his back if necessary. And I think the mother aspect of it, because Lizzie killed her parents, that was a plot that seemed to work best. So first came mother, then came the axe. And Lizzie Borden wasn’t just an afterthought. We did think of referencing it, but I’d already referenced Lizzie Borden in an earlier episode in Season 3. We’ve had several women wielding axes on the show, and we can’t reference Lizzie Borden every time. But yeah, there are a lot of parallels. She killed her mother, there was someone coming into the house at the time, someone running out of the house. I can’t remember exactly what happened with Lizzie Borden, but yes. Obviously, I can see why you would think that.

It’s been nice to see Charles Vandervaart get more screen time, and clearly, you were able to touch a little bit into the fame that goes behind supposed serial killers or just killers at large, this fascination that he had with her was pretty great.
PA: I thought so, too. We’ve been trying to make this an episode for a while. And I always pictured it as the person that they are escorting to justice, and then they escape. I always thought of that person as a man. It’s kind of like, what’s that movie with Jack Nicholson back in the early 70s? He was escorting a sailor to be incarcerated. [Editor’s Note: The Last Detail.] I always wanted to make an episode like that, and so that was how it started out and then we realized that it was actually a lot more interesting if the protagonist was a female that John Brackenreid had a crush, and we could play that flirty angle. So that’s how that came about.

I did want to ask about William and Julia. There are a lot of fans out there that always want to see the two of them front and centre every episode, and in this one, they certainly weren’t. They weren’t a major part of the story, although they did have their own fun kind of storyline. Is it nice to have them in the background and not be having them do the heavy lifting? 
PA: As regards to heavy lifting, I think it’s always good if you can give your main actors a bit of a break, because so much is demanded of them, just on a humanitarian crowd I think it’s a good idea. And in terms of the story, in terms of what the audience wants, yeah, they want to see the main guys, but it’s also kind of fun and challenging for an audience to not be able to see the main guys in the main role all the time, to see someone else step up. I think it’s kind of fun to be able to do that. And I know that the audience, I think, will sort of just go along with it. Murdoch will be back next episode, there’s no danger about it, and I think it’s unusual to have Murdoch not be involved in any way in the actual mystery except at the very beginning and the very end.

Will their storyline continue? The publishing storyline? Or is that kind of a one-off?
PA: We’ll see where it goes.

What can you say about Margaret and Thomas going forward as we get closer to the end of this season?
PA: I think, obviously that will be when the season goes along, but it’s a season long story. And I think it’s a really good story. I think it resolves, or doesn’t resolve, I think, where it goes, how it goes is actually really interesting, and I’m looking forward to seeing it myself.

What did you think of this episode? Are you excited to see where Julia and William’s writing careers go? Let me know in the comments below.

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

Images courtesy of CBC.


Preview: Murdoch Mysteries carries on with an axe murderer

I think this season of Murdoch Mysteries has been just great. I know a few don’t agree with me and that’s OK. Some folks only want the “core four” to feature in every case and have everything wrapped up in a neat bow by the time the hour is up.

Me? I’m loving the deeper dives we’re getting into who Ruth, Watts, Higgins and Brackenreid in Season 12. With so many years under its belt, I truly feel like Murdoch Mysteries has become a well-rounded show boasting a wealth of riches when it comes to cast, crew and stories.

But back to the present, and Episode 11. Here’s what the CBC has released as an official storyline for “Annabella Cinderella,” written by Paul Aitken and directed by Sherren Lee.

Crabtree and John are transporting a convicted axe murderer to prison when she escapes to exact revenge on those who testified against her.

And here are more tidbits from me after watching a screener.

George and John team up
John Brackenreid has been vaulted onto centre stage now that his father has left Toronto. That’s good news for fans of he and actor Charles Vandervaart (for even more Charles, catch him Saturdays on Family Channel on Holly Hobbie). Personally, I love it when George and John are paired up. Not only is there usually a bit of comedy but I also view their dynamic as what William and George’s was back in the early days of Station No. 4.

Rachel Van Duzer guest stars
Rachel Van Duzer plays the woman at the centre of this episode. I’ll have to confirm this with the episode’s writer, but I feel like “Annabella Cinderella” is loosely based on Lizzie Borden‘s story. As for Van Duzer, she’s wonderful in this role, giving dimension to a villainous character. Her scenes with Vandervaart, in particular, will tug at your heart.

A television critic makes his Murdoch Mysteries return
Bill Brioux, a friend and veteran television critic (check out his website for Canadian and U.S. coverage), first appeared in a non-speaking role in Season 5’s “Murdoch of the Klondike.” His triumphant return is marked this Monday as “Ticketman” at the Pickering train station. I expect a Canadian Screen Award nomination soon.

William and Julia are in demand
The pair doesn’t get a lot of screen time on Monday, but they make up for it in a deliciously entertaining storyline involving police manuals and publishing.

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

Images courtesy of CBC.


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.


Preview: Murdoch Mysteries sets sail

Happy New Year Murdoch Mysteries fans! If you’re like me, much of the break after the last new episode of Season 12, “Secrets and Lies,” has been spent wondering.

How would the huge revelation that Thomas has a daughter affect his relationship with Margaret? By the close of “Secrets and Lies,” she had asked him to leave the house, throwing the future of their marriage up in the air. This week, Episode 10 catches up with our favourite crime fighters in the cheekily-titled “Pirates of the Great Lakes.” Here’s what the CBC has revealed as the official synopsis for it:

As Murdoch helps an Italian detective recover a shipload of stolen antiquities, Brackenreid considers shipping out.

And, as usual, here a few more tidbits after watching a screener of the instalment, written by Dan Trotta and directed by Leslie Hope.

Murdoch unveils another invention
This one, like the robotic vacuum cleaner, is designed for home use. William has found it necessary to build a contraption because Julia is plotting social events at the house.

History recalled
As has become the norm with Murdoch Mysteries, the show references a real-world event as part of its storytelling. In this case, it’s the 1906 eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The investigation also calls for Crabtree to go undercover, which is always a good time.

Guest stars aplenty
Paolo Mancini—playing the wonderfully energetic and passionate Italian detective Flavio Pupazzi—Jeremy Raymond, Hugh Thompson and Craig Brown (a familiar face on Murdoch Mysteries as Eddie Crawford) all get some screen time on Monday night.

Thomas and Margaret
I wish I could say that things are looking up for the Inspector and Mrs. Brackenreid, but when we catch up with his on Monday things don’t look good for any type of reunion.

Ruth and Higgins
They’re together and you know what that means. Laughs, especially when Ruth decides she wants to help her dear husband pay the bills.

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


Murdoch Mysteries: Thomas Craig talks “Secrets and Lies”

Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched the “Secrets and Lies” episode of Murdoch Mysteries.

After so many seasons on the air, showrunner Peter Mitchell can still catch me off guard. I was left speechless after Monday’s latest episode for a couple of reasons. First, we learned a lot about Thomas Brackenreid. A treasure trove of information about his past that included another woman and the daughter he didn’t know he had. And second, the result of Thomas’ past has thrown his future with Margaret into serious doubt.

Will the couple reunite? What was going through Thomas Craig’s mind when he read the script that unveiled Brackenreid’s backstory? I shot an email to Thomas Craig to ask that, and more, to him in London, where he’s performing in the play Soldier On by Jonathan Lewis.

This season of Murdoch Mysteries has been very entertaining, from creative murders in the potato cooking room to the Higgins-Newsome wedding and the Halloween episode. What’s your take on the scripts for Season 12 so far?
Thomas Craig: The episodes this year have been the usual mix of serious and slightly absurd which I think is the charm of the show, because it’s a bit of something for everyone.

What were your thoughts when you learned “Secrets and Lies” would focus most of its storyline on Inspector Brackenreid? You must have been excited.
TC: I was pleased to learn more about Brackenreid’s previous life even though him being confronted with a daughter he was unaware of was something I wasn’t quite expecting.

I was shocked when Thomas said, “I think our daughter is still alive.” What was your reaction to Peter Mitchell when you read that?
TC: I think Peter always tries to throw a bit of a curveball at the audience, so I’m never really shocked at anything he comes up with.

We’ve gotten hints at Thomas’ backstory over the years, but this one was a surprise. A daughter with another woman. Did Peter Mitchell ever give you an indication before this season that this was part of the Brackenreid history?
TC: I was never told anything about this storyline pre-shoot, but I don’t really want to know too far in advance—I like to be as surprised as anybody else.

It’s not often that we see Thomas really open his heart up. As an actor, this script must have made you happy. You’re getting to explore and show another side to this man, a side viewers have only gotten the odd glimpse of.
TC: It’s always good as an actor to explore different emotions and be put into situations that are not the norm for your character.

Leslie Hope has directed several episodes of Murdoch Mysteries over the years. What does she bring to the table as a director?
TC: My favourite directors, whether it is in TV or theatre, are always actors who direct, so for that reason I love working with Leslie. Plus, she brings so much energy and enthusiasm to the set.

It’s interesting to me how Brackenreid has softened his world views over the seasons. He’s become more accepting of many lifestyles.
TC: Brackenreid has had to evolve and become slightly more tolerant and accepting—working with Murdoch over 11 years would rub off on anybody.

Your scenes with Raven as Sarah were wonderfully touching and emotional. What was it like working with her?
TC: Raven was wonderful to work with—I felt I’d known her a long time, she was so easy and laid back. It was a really lovely week we spent together in St. Marys.

By the end of the episode, Margaret had asked Thomas to leave. Can this rift be mended before the end of Season 12?
TC: You’ll have to watch and see how things play out over the second half of the season, but it is certainly a difficult situation the Brackenreid family has found themselves in.

Murdoch Mysteries returns Monday, Jan. 7, at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Image courtesy of CBC.