[Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched “The Ministry of Virtue.”]
Christina Ray is one of two new additions to the Murdoch Mysteries writer’s room for Season 14. No stranger to Canadian television, Ray has penned and/or produced for series like The Collector, The Best Years, The Pinkertons, Blackstone and Tribal. And, on Monday night, she turned in one heck of a script for Murdoch.
Amid a main storyline about arranged marriages was a tragic blow to the Watts/Jack relationship, as well as a major jump forward in Miss Hart’s bond with Arthur Carmichael. We spoke to Christina Ray, via email, about “The Ministry of Virtue.”
Welcome to the Murdoch Mysteries writer’s room! Give me your backstory. I know you’ve written for shows like The Pinkertons, Blackstone and Tribal. How did you end up in writing in the Canadian TV industry?
Christina Ray: A lot of Canadian writers seek their fortunes down in L.A., but I did the opposite. After winning a screenwriting award in Austin, Texas, I married a Canadian and moved here. I have no regrets. I love Canada.
And how did you end up on Murdoch Mysteries?
CR: Iâ€™d worked with executive producers Paul Aitken and Peter Mitchell years ago when we were developing a show about Bulgarian vampires. Alas, that show never came to be and the world will forever be deprived of our Bulgarian vampire brilliance. Flash forward 10 years and I get called in to an interview for Murdoch. I was thrilled by the prospect of working with Peter and Paul again, because they are such witty, fun and generous collaborators.
Where did the idea for the main storyline, arranged marriages, come about? Was it inspired by research you did or was it pitched in the virtual room by someone?
CR: Executive producer Simon McNabb had discovered an article published in The Globe and Mail in 1906 about “Salvation Girls,” women whoâ€™d been convicted of various offences in England who were offered the chance to start new lives in Canada as servants, wives and mothers. This was an actual program sponsored by the Salvation Army at the time, and we felt the concept of mail order brides was a juicy one to explore as a Murdoch storyline.
Detective Watts has evolved into a complicated character and he does a lot of heavy lifting with story in this episode. What’s it been like writing for him? Daniel is fantastic in the role.
CR: I loved writing the Watts and Jack scenes. The arc of their relationship is especially heart-wrenching in this episode. Watts is wonderful, quirky and complex in a way that is quite lovable. Itâ€™s compelling to watch him navigate the difficult reality of a being gay man at a time when his very identity was against the law.
Miss Hart is another interesting character on Murdoch Mysteries. People love, or hate, her. What’s your take on Miss Hart? Is she just misunderstood?
CR: Violet Hart is a sly, feisty survivor. Despite the challenges of being a woman of colour during the turn of the century, she pursues the life she wants, and I admire her moxie. Sheâ€™s surprising and mysterious. Her personal dynamic is unlike anyone else in the show. Sheâ€™s definitely polarizing, but I love her character.
Miss Hart and Arthur Carmichael shared a kiss that was not shown on-camera. Was that a reflection of the shock of the time? Was it written in the script that way or was that a decision director Mina Shum made?
CR: You can thank COVID-19 for that! I would have loved to have shown the kiss on screen, but the pandemic affected our creative choices. As one of our many pandemic related precautions this season had a ‘no kissing’ rule! Many other precautions were taken to keep everyone in our cast and crew safe: daily health check questionnaires, temperature checks, location disinfection, mask requirements, etc. Shaftesbury really knocked it out of the ballpark when it comes to finding a way to continue production during this crisis.
Jack Walker’s butcher shop was vandalized and he and Watts broke up. How could you break them up?!
CR: The course of true love never did run smooth, said Shakespeare. The fact the audience cares that we broke them up is exactly why we broke them up! Itâ€™s called drama. Hearts and flowers all the time would be dreadfully dull. All I can say is weâ€™re not done with Jack and Watts. Stay tuned for future twists and turns!
What kind of writer are you? Do you prefer a noisy coffee shop (remember those?) or a quiet room? Do you like to play music while you write? What works for you?
CR: I could never work in a noisy coffee shop. I like a quiet room, with as few distractions as possible. I do listen to music, but it canâ€™t have lyrics. No words, just instruments. I need to hear the dialogue thatâ€™s going on in my head without interruption. I love all kinds of music, but while Iâ€™m writing what works for me is to listen to ambient electronic grooves like Fila Brazilia, Tosca, or Kruder and Dorfmeister.
Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.
Images courtesy of CBC.