Rating: Murdoch Mysteries, Season 3

Onward to season 3 of Murdoch Mysteries we go, rewatching and rating each episode. Here’s our take:

  1. “The Murdoch Identity” – 8
  2. “The Great Wall” – 6
  3. “Victor, Victorian” – 6.5
  4. “Rich Boy, Poor Boy” – 6
  5. “Me, Myself & Murdoch” – 8.5
  6. “This One Goes to Eleven” – 7.5
  7. “Blood and Circuses” – 5
  8. “Future Imperfect” – 4
  9. “Love and Human Remains” – 9
  10. “The Curse of Beaton Manor” – 7
  11. “Hangman” – 6
  12. “In the Altogether” – 4
  13. “ The Tesla Effect” – 8

The average rating for this season is a strong 6.6, a bit up even from last season’s quite good 6.2. Season 3 continues to build on the series’ strengths—complex mysteries, whimsical humor, and an eye for finding Victorian equivalents to modern issues—while also striking out in some new ways. One innovation this season is the introduction of an ongoing plot surrounding the newly-introduced character of James Pendrick, a visionary inventor who keeps getting tangled up in Detective Murdoch’s investigations. Starting halfway through the season, Mr. Pendrick’s misadventures lead up to a surprise finale that changes our perception of him and the preceding episodes in clever ways.

Unfortunately, the Pendrick storyline also gives us the two lowest-rated episodes of this season, both rating 4: “Future Imperfect,” in which Murdoch and company intersect with H. G. Wells and the eugenics movement, and “In the Altogether,” in which prostitutes and pornographers are caught up in a blackmailing scandal. Each episode has its merits and good moments, but they are dragged down by the need to serve the unfolding Pendrick drama, which leaves too little room for their own individual stories to develop.

By contrast, the best episode of the season, “Love and Human Remains,” at 9, tells a story that, for all its small and self-contained scope, offers a bounty of human drama and investigative intrigue. When the bodies of a murdered couple turn up at a building site, Murdoch goes digging through the past, peeling back layers of time to uncover a story of cruelty, desperation, and, ultimately, the triumph of love over adversity. It is one of the rare mysteries where you want the crime to be solved, but you end up glad that it goes unpunished.

Honorable mention goes to “Me, Myself & Murdoch,” the second best episode of the season at 8.5, which offers a similarly tangled tale of murder, abuse, mental illness, and the unbreakable bonds of love. In this episode, which nods to the historical Lizzie Borden case, a young woman is suspected of having murdered her father with an axe, only to turn out to have multiple personalities whose different perspectives allow Murdoch to piece together an older, even more grisly crime. Guest star Anastasia Phillips gives a virtuoso performance as the young woman under suspicion, whose shifts in personality from terrified to terrifying are amazing to watch.

Murdoch Mysteries remains a pleasure to watch and rewatch.

Image: Murdoch Mysteries main cast via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

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Rating: Murdoch Mysteries, Season 2

Here we go, rewatching and rating season 2 of Murdoch Mysteries, the Canadian show about a scientifically-minded detective in Victorian Toronto.

  1. “Mild, Mild West” – 7.5
  2. “Snakes and Ladders” – 4
  3. “Dinosaur Fever” – 5.5
  4. “Houdini Whodunnit” – 4
  5. “The Green Muse” – 5
  6. “Shades of Grey” – 5
  7. “Big Murder on Campus” – 7.5
  8. “I, Murdoch” – 8
  9. “Convalescence” – 8
  10. “Murdoch.com” – 7
  11. “Let Us Ask the Maiden” – 6
  12. “Werewolves” – 6
  13. “Anything You Can Do…” – 7

Season 2 makes a strong showing with an average rating of 6.2, improving on season 1’s 5.3. While there are no truly outstanding episodes this season, there are none that really falter, either. Everything works pretty well. The characters continue to develop, building on the strengths of the first season, and this season offers further opportunities for Murdoch to tinker with technology that’s ahead of its time, for Dr. Ogden to assert herself in a man’s world, and for Constable Crabtree to pursue outlandish theories.

The lowest-rated episodes this season are a pair of 4s, “Snakes and Ladders,” about a serial killer who may be Jack the Ripper in Toronto, and “Houdini Whodunnit,” in which the titular magician is suspected of plotting a bank robbery. Neither of these episodes is really bad, but both suffer from some weaknesses. “Snakes and Ladders” turns us off because we’ve really lost interest in serial killer narratives, but it still works as an episode. “Houdini Whodunnit” has a clever heist for Murdoch to unravel, but is hampered by some uninspired guest performances, especially in the role of the great magician himself. Still, even these episodes have their moments.

The best of the season is a pair of 8s, “I, Murdoch,” in which a daring assassination in the streets of Toronto leads to an international conspiracy and an early attempt at robotics, and “Convalescence,” in which Detective Murdoch uncovers a daring plot while laid up in bed after a fall off a rooftop. Each of these episodes offers a great example of something Murdoch Mysteries does well: “I, Murdoch” gives us a steampunk-ish Victorian story of intrigue with a twist (and a clever nod to Marvel’s Iron Man franchise), while “Convalescence” lets us watch Murdoch think and tinker in a tale that is no less thrilling for being slow-paced.

This season throws a wrench into the budding romance between William Murdoch and Julia Ogden, as the devout Murdoch, who hopes to some day be a father, discovers that Dr. Ogden had an abortion when she was younger and now cannot have children. Unlike most such will-they-or-won’t-they narrative ploys, this one taps into real emotional issues and treats both characters with dignity and respect.

This season also adds some side characters to the series, some of whom we’ll see again and some we won’t. Dr. Ogden’s sister Ruby will pop up again now and then, though Detective Murdoch’s half brother Jasper Linney won’t. Physics student James Gillies makes his first appearance here, only to reappear a few times in later seasons.

Season 2 is a worthy continuation of season 1, and it prepares the way for more great adventures yet to come.

Image: Murdoch Mysteries main cast via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Chance to Watch Coverage of InSight’s Mars Landing

On Monday, November 26, 2018, NASA Television is bringing coverage of InSight’s Mars landing to a website or social media near you!

NASA JPL-Caltech Simulated InSight Landing on Mars

From NASA’s press release:

“NASA’s Mars Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander is scheduled to touch down on the Red Planet at approximately 3 p.m. EST Nov. 26, and viewers everywhere can watch coverage of the event live on NASA Television, the agency’s website and social media platforms.”

There are a few pre-landing broadcasts, and on the landing day, coverage will start early in the morning. The landing itself is expected to take place from 2 to 3:30 p.m. EST, with post-landing news conference to wrap up the event.

Wow, sounds incredible. Even though the cameras are “only” inside JPL Mission Control and the mission itself will be covered by audio “only”, it’s the closest I can get to experiencing touching down on another celestial object. I will have to make time for this!

Found via File 770.

Image by NASA/JPL-Caltech.

A WoW Mole Machine in Murdoch Mysteries?

After months of working on it, we opened up Dark Iron Dwarves last week. Yay! I’ve been leveling my new DI paladin a bit, getting a sense of the new-to-me racial abilities. They include Mole Machine, a way to quickly change locations by tunneling through the earth.

We’ve been rewatcing and rating Murdoch Mysteries for our project for a while now. A seventh-season episode, “Journey to the Centre of Toronto”, has a burrowing or boring machine that should look very familiar to World of Warcraft players.

Murdoch Mysteries s7 e11 Burrowing Machine

It’s a mole machine, right? Right!?!

WoW Westfall Sentinel Hill w Dark Iron Dwarf Mole Machine

The episode doesn’t actually ever call the device mole machine, but some of the characters do talk about hypothetical mole people who live underground. I wonder whether there are any WoWers in the writers’ room? 😀

In any case, even though the series seems to otherwise strive towards reasonable accuracy, now and then they definitely veer into SSFnal or steampunk-ish. I love the tongue-firmly-in-cheek attitude!

Images: screenshot from the tv series Murdoch Mysteries, season 7, episode 11, “Journey to the Centre of Toronto”. World of Warcraft screencap with Dark Iron Dwarf mole machine in Westfall.

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Rating: Murdoch Mysteries, Season 1

Our next series up for rewatching and rating is Murdoch Mysteries, a Canadian show about a scientifically-minded detective at the turn of the twentieth century. This show combines the spirit of Sherlock Holmes with a touch of steampunk as Detective Murdoch loves to tinker and invents everything from the lie detector to internet catfishing in the service of Victorian crimefighting. Here’s our take on the first season:

  1. “Power” – 6
  2. “The Glass Ceiling” – 4
  3. “The Knockdown” – 6
  4. “Elementary, My Dear Murdoch” – 4
  5. “Till Death Do Us Part” – 5.5
  6. “Let Loose the Dogs” – 4.5
  7. “Body Double” – 5.5
  8. “Still Waters” – 6
  9. “Belly Speaker” – 2
  10. “Child’s Play” – 5.5
  11. “Bad Medicine” – 5.5
  12. “The Rebel and the Prince” – 4.5
  13. “The Annoying Red Planet” – 10

Murdoch Mysteries gets off to a good start with an average rating of 5.3, modest but respectable. It takes the series a while to warm up as the actors find their roles, but by the end of the season our favorites are all on the screen: the thoughtful, soft-spoken Detective Murdoch; the erudite, self-assured medical examiner Dr. Ogden; the pugnacious Inspector Brackenreid; and the whimsical but good-hearted Constable Crabtree. This season mostly plays as a fairly standard police show, just set a century ago, but by the end of the season you can see the team starting to have fun with the series’ trademark of transposing modern ideas into a Victorian setting, suitably adapted to the society and technology of the time.

Most of this season’s episodes are solidly in the middle range from 4 to 6, competent but not always inspired, but there are two outliers, one in each direction. The lowest-rated episode is “Belly Speaker,” a 2, about a mentally disturbed ventriloquist who seems to be confessing to murder through his dummy. This episode was probably meant to be a tense psychological thriller that keeps the audience guessing, but it’s just a one-trick pony. One-trick ponies can be entertaining if the trick is good enough, but this one’s trick is a puppet with a bad attitude and a super annoying voice. It’s not enough.

On the other hand, the season goes out with a bang in “The Annoying Red Planet,” at a full 10, in which a dead body mysteriously lodged in a tree leads to fears of alien visitation and an international conspiracy. This episode deftly weaves together contemporary speculations about life on Mars and phantom airships with the tropes of modern political thrillers and UFO narratives. It also introduces one the series’ most delightful recurring characters in the mysterious man in (a) black (top hat), Terrence Myers.

It’s a good start to Murdoch Mysteries, showing the series’ potential while also leaving room to grow.

Are you a Murdoch fan? Got a take of your own on season 1? Let us know!

Image: Murdoch Mysteries main cast via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

A New Doctor with New Best Friends

The new Doctor Who season started this past weekend, on Sunday October 07, 2018. The big thing, of course, is that Jodie Whittaker makes her doctorial debut in season 11! I have some thoughts on it. But first, the official trailers:

Doctor Who: Series 11 Trailer by Doctor Who on YouTube

Doctor Who: Series 11 Trailer #2 by Doctor Who on YouTube

I get chills from both! 😀 Although the music choices for trailer 2 seem a little odd—I suspect I might be missing some cultural references here.

I haven’t seen the first episode yet, so I only have previously shared glimpses, various reports, and other people’s reactions to go by. Reading to the rescue, then! Below are quotes from some of the most interesting writeups I found.

Spoiler warning is in effect! (Also, because some quotes are quite long, I’ll pop the rest behind a cut.)

Read the whole post.

Is the New Doctor Who a WoW Gnome?

I was browsing some Doctor Who reading on the latest iteration of the Doctor herself when I saw this photo of Jodie Whittaker in costume:

TV Guide BBC Studios Sophie Mutevelian 13th Doctor Who 2018

The new Doctor Who is– a WoW gnome?!?

LiveJournal Cindy Love Is in the Air FGnome Cropped

😀

Images: Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor by Sophie Mutevelian / BBC Studios 2018 via TV Guide. World of Warcraft screencap cropped from one by Cindy on LiveJournal.

Some things are just too silly not to share!

Rating: Doctor Who, Season 9

We’re back at it again, rewatching and rating another season of new series Doctor Who. Here’s our take on season 9.

  1. “The Magician’s Apprentice” – 4
  2. “The Witch’s Familiar” – 3
  3. “Under the Lake” – 6.5
  4. “Before the Flood” – 6.5
  5. “The Girl Who Died” – 4
  6. “The Woman Who Lived” – 4.5
  7. “The Zygon Invasion” – 2
  8. “The Zygon Inversion” – 2
  9. “Sleep No More” – 1
  10. “Face the Raven” – 1.5
  11. “Heaven Sent” – 5
  12. “ Hell Bent” – 2

This season is a real come down, with an average rating of just 3.5, the lowest yet. There are some reasons why many of this season’s episodes don’t rate very well. The showrunners made the interesting choice of making almost every episode in the season a two-parter. (Only “Sleep No More” stands alone.) This has the potential of allowing for more expansive and complex storytelling, which pays off in “Under the Lake” / “Before the Flood,” but in other cases, like “The Magician’s Apprentice” / “The Witch’s Familiar” and “The Zygon Invasion” / “The Zygon Inversion,” what we get is an episode-and-a-half worth of story with the Doctor filibustering to fill out the time.

The lowest-rated episode of the season is “Sleep No More,” which is trying to be a claustrophobic monsters-in-space horror story with a twist, but which can’t escape the absurdity of its premise. Doctor Who has managed to make a lot of mundane things scary, from children in gas masks to angel statues to repeated words, but this was a stretch too far. It doesn’t matter how much first-person shaky-cam footage you use or how much running through darkened hallways your characters do, there is just no way to make the crud that builds up at the corner of your eye when you sleep scary.

Special mention goes to the “Zygon Invasion / Inversion” two-parter, for being not only badly written and poorly paced but also having some troubling undertones. This pair of episodes picks up on the 50th anniversary special which ended with a colony of Zygons—shape-changing aliens that can mimic other life forms—settled on Earth in human form. Here, a splinter group of Zygons refuses to maintain the charade and begins waging a violent campaign against humans and conforming Zygons. The episode ends with the rebel Zygons agreeing to remain in human form. On one hand, the reversion to the status quo is necessary if the series is not prepared to deal with the ongoing consequences of a world full of humans finding themselves living next to starfish-like aliens. On the other hand, the implications of telling a group of immigrants that they can’t live openly and must hide their identity by conforming entirely to the culture of their new home is unsettling in these days of rising nativism and anti-immigrant hate. This is not the open-hearted, compassionate Doctor Who that we are used to.

The best episodes of the season are the two-parter “Under the Lake” and “Before the Flood,” both at 6.5. In this episode, the Doctor and Clara find themselves in an underwater station where a crashed alien ship is killing the crew and turning their ghosts into transmitters. It’s an intriguing mystery that develops slowly as the Doctor pieces together the clues. This episode is reminiscent of the season 2 two-parter “The Impossible Planet” / “The Satan Pit,” with the Doctor facing off against an ancient evil that uses written language to infect the crew of the station.

This is as far as we’ve gotten in our Doctor Who rewatching project. We’ll update with season 10 when we get around to it, and we’re looking forward to the upcoming season 11 and checking out Jodie Whittaker’s take on the wandering Gallifreyan.

This just wasn’t the season for us. How did it work for you? Feel differently about the season as a whole or an episode in particular? Let us know!

Image: Doctor Who season 9 cover via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

 

I’m Still Angry about How I Met Your Mother

I realize I’m several years late to this particular party, but I have a huge problem with the originally aired final episode of the sitcom How I Met Your Mother. It’s not just that I don’t like what the episode did to the main characters and their relationships; it’s that the final episode undid much of what I liked about the series as a whole.

How I Met Your Mother is the story of five friends and their adventures as the main character, Ted, tries to find Miss Right, as told in retrospect by an older Ted to his children. A lot of the charm of the series is the way it plays with the idea of story-telling and memory: episodes often tell events out of order or literalize old Ted’s slips of memory and half-truths (a person whose name Ted can’t remember is just called Blah-Blah, all flashbacks to college-age characters smoking pot have them eating sandwiches instead, etc.). But beyond this narrative playfulness, one of the things I appreciate most about the series is that it undercuts three of the big toxic tropes about relationships that pervade so much of popular culture. Unfortunately, all three of these tropes are snapped right back into place by the final episode.

At its best, How I Met Your Mother showed that:

1. Women do not exist to serve men’s emotional needs

Robin and Lily, the main female characters of the series, are not just emotional props for the men in their lives but are fully-rounded characters with lives, careers, ambitions, desires, and foibles of their own. The Mother, who finally turns up in the last season, is also a well-developed character with her own quirks, history, and emotional life. Although they all have relationships with men, none of them exists solely to serve the needs of a man’s emotional fulfillment.

In the final episode, however, Lily is largely absent, the Mother—having given Ted the children he wanted but that Robin couldn’t have—swiftly dies of a convenient cancer of the plot, and Ted is finally free to pursue Robin at last, who gamely falls into his arms. From three full and interesting characters, the women of the series are at the end reduced to a nonentity, a plot device, and a cereal-box prize.

2. Men and women can be friends

When Ted and Robin split up after a brief early relationship, they don’t just go their separate ways. After an understandable period of awkwardness and division, they remain part of the same group of friends and develop a comfortable, even intimate friendship. They rely on one another, confide in one another, and look out for each other’s well-being. This is what reasonable people do in the real world. The idea that any relationship between a man and a woman must necessarily lead to either romance or heartbreak has robbed the world of too many potential friendships. How I Met Your Mother showed up this lie for what it is.

Until the final episode, when we discover that Ted and Robin’s friendship was just a holding pattern until they were both ready to fall back into each other’s arms.

3. A relationship doesn’t have to be perfect to be good

In fiction, the conservation of narrative detail usually means that any conflict within a couple is a sign that the relationship is either broken and in need of transformative repair or else fatally flawed and doomed to end badly. How I Met Your Mother avoided this trope by showing us how Lily and Marshal have a good, strong, loving relationship despite their conflicts, upsets, and rough patches, just like most real-world couples. The last few seasons show us how Robin and Barney, despite their own individual problems, grow together into a couple that works.

Then the final episode comes around and the need to release Robin to be scooped up by Ted means that Robin and Barney’s marriage has to come apart at the seams. After several years of the characters figuring out how to make their relationship work, one on-screen argument is enough to break it all to pieces.

As I said, I know I’m far from the first person to gripe about the show’s final episode, but the reason it bothers me so much is because it directly undercuts so much of what was good about the series to begin with. Somehow, good things that end up going bad annoy me more than things that are just bad to begin with.

Images: Robin via Giphy; Robin and Barney via Giphy; Lily via Giphy

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Rating: Doctor Who, Season 8

We have carried on our rewatching and rating to season 8 of the modern Doctor Who. Here’s our take:

  1. “Deep Breath” – 5.5
  2. “Into the Dalek” – 5
  3. “Robot of Sherwood” – 2
  4. “Listen” – 1.5
  5. “Time Heist” – 5
  6. “The Caretaker” – 3
  7. “Kill the Moon” – 6
  8. “Mummy on the Orient Express” – 6.5
  9. “Flatline” – 5.5
  10. “In the Forest of the Night” – 5
  11. “Dark Water” – 1.5
  12. “Death in Heaven” – 1.5

The average rating this season comes out to exactly 4, which is weak but not terrible. This comes in as the second-lowest-rated season after season 5, at 3.7. This season’s episodes are all over the place, which for Doctor Who is not a bad thing. Not all of the episodes work, but we appreciate the willingness to try out strange ideas, unexpected settings, and dramatically different moods.

This season also introduces Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, and it’s a bit of a shaky start. Capaldi’s intensity is a nice change from Matt Smith’s quirky detachment, but too often it manifests as anger. As that anger often gets focused on Clara, we have the uncomfortable dynamic of a young woman saddled with the emotional labor of managing a cranky older man’s moods, and one begins to wonder if someone in the production team is having a bit of a temper tantrum about changing gender dynamics in the workplace. Still, straight out of the gate, Capaldi is more convincing as the Doctor than Smith ever was.

Three episodes are tied for our lowest rating of the season, at 1.5. The first is “Listen,” an ambitiously strange episode that tries to recapture the atmospheric spookiness of the classic “Blink,” but falls flat. The Doctor is looking for a creature so good at hiding that no one has ever seen it. This intriguing setup leads to a disjointed series of maybe / maybe-not monster hunts that for some reason revolve around Clara’s fellow teacher and potential boyfriend Danny Pink. Despite some well-written and tensely-directed individual scenes, the episode remains too unfocused and too committed to the is-it-or-isn’t-it schtick to develop any meaningful narrative drive or reach any satisfying conclusion. The pieces of the puzzle lie scattered on the floor, refusing to come together and make a picture.

The other two 1.5s are the obligatory concluding two-parter “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven,” in which the latest regeneration of the Doctor’s old nemesis, the Master—now female and going by Missy—reveals that she has been hijacking dead people to make liquid cybermen out of their bodies so that she can make the Doctor uncomfortable by… you know, nothing about the plot of these episodes makes any sense, or, really, matters. Michelle Gomez has a blast chewing the scenery as Missy (and provides a valuable canonical precedent for Time Folks gender-flipping during regeneration), but as usual in this series, the Master’s overly contrived plans just come off as a juvenile play for attention. As tends to happen on Doctor Who, putting the whole world in peril actually serves to lower the stakes, rather than raise them, and this season’s ender comes off as more petty than anything else.

At the other end of the scale, “Mummy on the Orient Express” is the best episode of the season, at 6.5. In this episode, a version of the Orient Express train flying through space is plagued by the appearance of a legendary monster only visible to its victims. On one hand, this episode would have benefited from some more development. Unlike on the replica Titanic of “The Voyage of the Damned,” we never get any kind of explanation as to why a space train in the future is a replica of the Orient Express with all the guests wearing period clothing. The guest cast, though excellent, is underused, and the ending leaves a huge plot thread conspicuously dangling. On the other hand, there are a lot of strong elements. The mystery is intriguing and its resolution neatly ties up the clues. The pacing runs along smoothly, and the device of an on-screen timer counting down the mummy’s attack is cleverly used to build tension. For mystery fans, there is also a subtle nod to Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, as what seems like a train full of strangers turns out to have been assembled for a very particular purpose.

What’s your take on this season? Does Capaldi do it for you? Is “Listen” just your cup of tea? Not enthused by the mummy on the space train? Let us know!

Image: Doctor Who season 8 cover via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.