Fr. Keegan (guest star Peter Outerbridge) and Detective William Murdoch (Yannick Bisson) in episode 815, “Shipwreck.” Photo: Christos Kalohoridis © Shaftesbury
In its eighth season, shown in 110 countries, Murdoch Mysteries (CBC) is often praised for the detective’s use of innovative crime-solving technologies. But the series offers more: a study of how its central characters work through all that is new in their time. As in our own, much in late nineteenth-century Toronto was new, forcing the main characters into perplexing situations.
Yannick Bisson (Detective William Murdoch) says about the character that “an ongoing theme with him was to constantly observe what he believes to be true, whether it holds up or not” (FAJO Magazine, Jan. 10, 2013). Clearly related to his professional life as a detective, the statement also explains how Murdoch makes personal decisions, of which perhaps the most significant has been whether or not to marry the woman he loves (Dr. Ogden)—herself a woman of integrity. He is Catholic, she is not, and they must both wrestle with such issues as abortion and divorce. Wrestling with moral issues distinguishes all of the main characters and helps to raise this series above the ordinary.
Detective Murdoch wants to find the truth as a detective and as a person.
It’s an interesting part of life that none of us can deny. Part of what we set out to do with our show is to service all of the things that appeal universally. One of the things that is universally appealing, obviously, is a man and a woman that are somewhat destined to be together and how they work that out. Logistically, it’s been tough because we’ve had to stretch it out for many years. None of us expected to be this far down the road. We’re about to start season nine. It’s such a rare thing for these shows to go so long.
Do your own values figure into the character?
Well, sure. It’s always been interesting to me because I think the character of Murdoch isn’t really just a reflection of me. The way my writing team and I have seen it when we’ve had this conversation is that William Murdoch is sort of our best selves. He’s our ideal self in any sort of crisis. He’s sort of the eyes of the audience. He helps to guide the audience through the ebbs and flows, so I like to think he’s our best selves in the worst situations. He’s honest, he’s forthright, he stands by his principles, he’s forward-thinking, but he hangs on to tradition. That’s sort of been my take on it and certainly collectively what we’ve built with him.
Popular culture has many characters who aren’t like that.
I’ve noticed that in a lot of the more popular shows at the moment the characters are very reprehensible, but you’re sort of drawn into the show. You have guys that cook drugs, you have guys that are informants, you have a president that’s devious—all these different things that make up these big cable shows right now—some pretty wacky characters. So for us to have been able to have appeal and to last so long with somebody who’s a fairly straight arrow is unique and kind of fun.
The denominations of the two main characters…
Different characters speak about it in a positive connotation, and sometimes negative, where [Murdoch] gets called a papist at times. At the beginning of the series, it became clear that William Murdoch was always going to be faced with a glass ceiling. He would never be able to rise above the position of detective, so that very much is the reality that he lives within and deals with daily. She [Dr. Ogden] would be more—we sort of thought of her as being more—I don’t want to say atheist…But she’s not in sync with the constraints of male-dominated religious society as well as political society.
We see characters making hard decisions that give them humanity and integrity. Is that why people love the show?
I would say that’s my number one compass: your own personal integrity, fighting and striving to be true to yourself and true to your beliefs.
Shannon Hengen is a writer based in Sudbury, Ont.
Anglican Journal News, April 17, 2015