Acorn Media // 2011 // 598 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // May 10th, 2012
"Do you have any vague impression that you've gone slightly crackers?" -- Inspector Thomas Brackenreid, to Detective William Murdoch
For Detective William Murdoch, Season 4 is a rough go. His beloved Dr. Julia Ogden has left Toronto -- and her post as coroner -- and she's pledged her heart to a doctor. Murdoch's not getting along with her replacement, a Scotland Yard man who reluctantly moved to his wife's native land.
Murdoch is a very proper, very dedicated, and very successful (at least in terms of solving cases) Toronto detective in the last decade of the nineteenth century. With hints of steampunk and parody, Murdoch made the move from Maureen Jennings' novels to television, with all the multiple production credits of international television sales.
Murdoch Mysteries: Season 4 contains thirteen episodes on four discs:
* "Tattered and Torn" -- A concrete block filled with body parts turns up. Some of the parts belong to Toronto's Citizen of the Year. Meanwhile, Murdoch (Yannick Bisson, Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye) clashes with Dr. Francis, the new coroner. Victor Garber (Alias) plays Murdoch's predecessor.
* "Kommando" -- A dead soldier with a "rotated" head is found, and other casualties will follow in his unit.
* "Buffalo Shuffle" -- Murdoch's off to Buffalo to help Dr. Julia Ogden (Hélène Joy, Durham County) track a killer in a children's hospital. A reporter challenges Inspector Brackenreid (Thomas Craig, Hidden) to solve the case of a burglary in the police station in Murdoch's absence.
* "Downstairs, Upstairs" -- Murdoch and Constable George Crabtree (Jonny Harris, Young Triffie's Been Made Away With) are investigating a murder in a wealthy household. Julia returns to Toronto -- she's a family friend of the deceased -- and promptly makes a Jell-O mold of a wound, angering Dr. Francis.
* "Monsieur Murdoch" -- A hotel room key provides a clue to a disappearance, and Brackenreid decides to run for alderman. Murdoch invents wire photos and "paint by numerical value."
* "Dead End Street" -- Murdoch sees a crime scene replicated in miniature in a streetscape dollhouse. The streetscape, it turns out, was built by a "feeble-minded" woman. Now, Murdoch has to figure out both whodunnit and who died.
* "Confederate Treasure" -- The weighted-down skeleton of a former Minister of Defence rises after thirty years, sending the police on a treasure hunt with Murdoch's newly invented sonar device. Current Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper guests.
* "Dial M for Murdoch" -- George tries to keep telephone operator Miss Moffatt at her switchboard -- and away from crime scenes -- after she overhears a murder.
* "The Black Hand" -- A ladyfriend of Murdoch's turns to him for help when her fiancee disappears. Meanwhile, a gypsy puts a curse on Brackenreid after he makes a politically minded roundup.
* "Voices" -- Murdoch is reunited with his sister, the reverend mother, when nuns discover there's already a body in the grave dug for one of their own.
* "Bloodlust" -- Why was a "young thing" found drowned and bloodied in a pool at a girls' school? When Julia discovers the girl was bled, George suspects a vampire, since the case resembles the newly published Dracula.
* "The Kissing Bandit" -- Julia's sister Ruby turns up in Toronto to witness a bank robbery and attempt to play match-breaker between Julia and her fiance.
* "Murdoch in Wonderland" -- When the mock turtle is thought dead at an Alice in Wonderland-themed costume party, Murdoch (the Mad Hatter) is the prime suspect. Worse yet, he's down with an inconvenient bout of amnesia -- and Julia's wedding is imminent.
Spoiler Alert! I reveal a bit about late-in-the-season plot points ahead.
If you're hoping everything will work out nicely by the end of Murdoch Mysteries: Season 4, you're in for a disappointment. The last episode has a few surprising twists, helped along by a murder frame, and the season ends on a cliffhanger. You know Murdoch will be back, but it's clear that a perfect resolution isn't an option.
That said, I've reviewed one previous set of Murdoch Mysteries, and the writing on this series seems just a tad sharper, suggesting that Murdoch Mysteries is a show that keeps evolving for the better. Fans may be disappointed when it looks like Murdoch won't end up with Julia -- and who wouldn't be, given the way they just seem to share thoughts when on a case? However, the season's dramatic moments, touching on issues ranging from the treatment of female crime victims to military atrocities, all hit home gracefully. Moreover, quite a few of the stories had endings I didn't expect.
The series still revolves around the relationship between Murdoch and Julia, and the strong chemistry between stars Yannick Bisson and Hélène Joy. It's an oddball chemistry -- I can't think of anyplace else where correspondence on a dismemberment case could seem romantic -- but that makes it visible even in the episodes where Joy is barely present. Unfortunately, some of their like-minded traits are the stubbornness and reserve that keep them apart. As usual, Murdoch is still the amateur inventor, providing a few nifty The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.-style gags, but Murdoch Mysteries is turning out to be more than gags.
Part of that comes from giving the ensemble more to do. Thomas Brackenreid, Murdoch's grumpy superior, gets to run for office, leading to a memorable confrontation with a gypsy wise woman. George Crabtree, Murdoch's leg man, starts writing a novel. More importantly, while both men stood around watching Murdoch be brilliant before, they're both showing their own considerable detective skills more here.
Picture quality is sharp and clear on the recent production. Extras include a teaser trailer for the season that fortunately keeps the surprises secret, a look at Yannick Bisson's first directing gig, Stephen Harper's stint on the Murdoch Mysteries set, and alternate scenes from the season finale (not sure, but things could have been recut to make it final if need be, I guess).
Some viewers might not like the way Murdoch Mysteries tries to put a modern veneer on its Victorian drama with effects and flashbacks. That sequence that zooms around an old-time photo to suggest locations could make one seasick.
IMDb notes that for Canadian viewers, Season 4 was accompanied by an online Murdoch Mysteries serial. Too bad they didn't include it on this DVD set.
Mystery buffs looking for a show that could still hold a few surprises should check out Murdoch Mysteries. If you're planning a marathon viewing, it lends itself well to power watching. The strong episodes in this set hint at a show that's still building steam and could be around for a while.
Review content copyright © 2012 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 598 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Alternate Scenes