[All photos courtesy Fox, © 2016 FOX Broadcasting Co.]
Houdini and Doyle, season 1, episode 2: “A Dish of Adharma”
Written by David Hoselton
Directed by Stephen Hopkins
In our last episode, we were introduced to our titular pair as they become the Yard’s extra help in cases that involve the paranormal. Houdini (Michael Weston) is our doubter, and Doyle (Stephen Mangan) is our believer. They are put with Constable Stratton (Rebecca Liddiard), the first female constable in the year of our Lord 1901.
This episode opens on a weird flashback motif of a person screaming, and gunshots, as we see a body get buried. We flip over to a scene of a protest with women’s suffragettes. A young boy (Samuel Joslin) approaches the main protester, Lydia Belworth (Laura Fraser). With flowers in hands, he says, “You murdered me”, pulls out a gun, and then shoots her.
Considering how far behind I am, this is just hitting the highlights.
The paranormal aspect this time around is reincarnation. Doyle, for once, takes on the argument of the belief in it being a cultural thing, mentioning India as an example, while Houdini (snarky as always) acknowledges he’d “rather go once and go big.”
The right of women to be treated equal is an overall theme in this episode. From the beginning and B plot where Doyle deals with his daughter wanting to do the same things as her brother (which ends up being part of an overall ply to skip school because the children have been encouraged to bring their mothers) to the main plot of the attempted murder above (which turns out Belworth is actually guilty of murder, leading to a ‘your fave is problematic’ conversation between Houdini and Stratton).
Doyle and Houdini have another bet throughout the episode, this time on whether Houdini will be able to get a date with Stratton, who was warned by her boss last episode that – despite his sexist note that it was most likely already happening – if it was proved she was having an affair with Houdini, she would be fired.
To make the date happen, Houdini employing a number of ‘truth swaps’ with Stratton, starting with the rude “Are you a virgin?” to “Why are you a cop?” She doesn’t obviously need to be, what with her looks. “I’m ashamed to be a man,” says Doyle, while Stratton says that she waits for the day when women have nothing to prove. Oh, honey: aren’t we all?
At one point, we go on a “high” speed carriage … ramble? … and Doyle yet again has the best comebacks. When Houdini asks, “If I had stayed in school, you know where I’d be now?” when dealing with Mary’s now acknowledged skipping of school, Doyle responds, “Annoying someone in America?” And apparently the Victorian time has techno music, as it blares during a search montage. At least it’s industrial techno?
We have a conclusion that involves Houdini in drag, and in a twist straight out of a Dickens novel, the boy who attempted to kill Belworth somehow is actually her son.
What I liked in the first episode is definitely the same things I liked in this episode: Weston and Mangan have some pretty decent chemistry together, and play off each other well. Mangan especially has a field day with some great comebacks to Houdini’s attempt to control the situation. The characters, yet again, are what make this show work.
Houdini, with his interactions with Stratton, however, grated on my nerves, but that’s more due to the writing. And that’s where this episode starts to fall apart. For a show that’s supposedly trying to do right by women, Hoselton is unfortunately coming across a bit of a mansplainer in his writing. He has Stratton have these great lines about how she wants to be treated equally, but then her character is relegated to the potential love interest of one of our leads and to third string on most of the story. (Can we PLEASE have a heterosexual male and female co-lead somewhere that DOESN’T have a will they/won’t they plot arc?)
Our other female characters, also, are one dimensional caricatures with base motivations. Thankfully, most of the minor male characters can also be claimed to be like this at this point, so I’m hoping it’s just a matter of lack of screen time than anything else. In addition, the plot was … simple at best. (One would say almost ‘elementary’.)
It doesn’t help that the women all seem to be punished or be proven wrong in their claims: Mary isn’t actually after being treated like her brother, she’s just worried about showing the other kids that she currently doesn’t have a mum; Stratton is all about being treated equally and proving that she’s just as good as a man in her job, but then goes through with the date despite how it would look if she were caught by her boss; and then Belworth’s murder was because she was jealous of the man’s other relationships.
The show still has potential, but with two episodes under my belt, I’m concerned at where it seems to be heading. After all, personalty can only get you so far.
Houdini and Doyle runs on Fox on Thursdays at 9/8 Central, and is available to view on FoxNow.
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