Like many Murdoch Mysteries fans, I’ve been anxious to have some serious storyline time devoted to Rebecca James. Yes, we did get some backstory about her in “Colour Blinded,” but we wanted more. Thankfully Monday’s newest, “Jagged Little Pill,” sated our thirst for Rebecca, as she was front and centre doing a little investigating of her own after a schoolmate at the Ontario Medical College for Women turned up dead.
Though Dr. Ogden and the police considered it a suicide, Rebecca wasn’t sure. Upon more digging, she not only uncovered a secret about her friend Sarah, but her case intersected with Murdoch’s hunt for the killer of a rich man.
We spoke to the episode’s writer, Carol Hay, about the storyline, the real history behind the Ontario Medica College for Women and, well, syphilis. Also? We get a sneak peek into next week’s episode, “Bend it Like Brackenreid.”
How do you walk that line developing a character like Rebecca while staying true to what Murdoch Mysteries is?
Carol Hay: You develop character through story. In the most successful drama you inform who the character is and you explore who the character is by how they act. Rebecca not only took something on, but was going against Dr. Ogden. She was actually in her own way trusting her instincts about her friend and saying, ‘I don’t think she killed herself.’ It’s very interesting because, in my first draft, I had a much stronger scene with Ogden where Ogden basically says, ‘You’re wrong, move on.’ And everybody felt I was being too harsh because Rebecca had obviously lost a friend.
I was very happy we did a story about the Medical College and it was natural to have Rebecca stepping into her own world.
Rebecca has great enthusiasm when she’s talking about putting McInnis’ liver and kidneys into bottles.
That’s something we did in terms of character development. I liked that we introduced her very tentatively. It was period accurate. I liked that we brought her in as the cleaner in the morgue and Ogden spotting something in her and fought for her to come and work in the morgue. The idea was, when we moved to this season, she feels comfortable and can make jokes. It’s a sign of her maturity and sign of her growing confidence.
After 10 seasons of adding little bits of development to the other cast, it must be fun to create Rebecca because she’s a clean slate.
Yes, absolutely. It’s always difficult to add a new character because it’s another character to serve. It’s finding her a place in the stories that doesn’t take away from Ogden. Rebecca is very ahead of her time. She’s young and has the youthful energy, and that attitude has been really fun to write.
We also got a little bit of a history lesson with regard to the Ontario Medical College for Women and its beginnings as Women’s Medical College and its ties to Dr. Emily Stowe. It was also neat to have Emily’s daughter, Augusta, teaching at the school.
It’s true. Augusta Stowe-Gullen was at the medical college at that time. It was terrific to look into all of that. We take liberties, obviously, with the actual history. That medical college really did exist because it was thought that men and women shouldn’t be taught together. One of the scenes I wanted to explore in this episode was the medical establishment’s attitude toward women and whether they were capable of the challenges of being a doctor.
All the stuff about the coming together of the two cases, the research into syphilis and the sleeping sickness is visually all historically accurate. There was a brilliant scientist in Germany at that time who was researching the sleeping sickness at the same time as other scientists were looking at a cure for syphilis. It really was a coincidental thing.
Before Hemphell is revealed as the killer, he was showing respect to the ladies in his class. He wasn’t talking down to them.
He wasn’t a flirt, but he enjoyed teaching the women. We wanted to show that his sexism was a little more buried. It would have been easy to make him a jerk from the beginning and everyone would know was the villain.
Do you recall where the medical school scenes were filmed?
It was at a medical college in Guelph, Ont.
Julia was offered a teaching position at the college. Can you comment on how that turns out?
It’s something we pick up in a future episode. I’ll leave it at that.
Thank you to whoever added ‘automatic dishwashing cupboard’ and ‘standing bath’ to the script.
[Laughs.] That was likely Paul Aitken.
What can you say about next week’s episode, “Bend it Like Brackenreid”?
It takes place in the world of soccer and features the Brackenreid’s prowess on the soccer field. A friend of Brackenreid’s is coaching the game to decide who represents Canada at the 1904 Olympic Games. It’s between U of T and Galt, which is completely historically accurate.
Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.
Images courtesy of CBC.