Most shows take a few episodes to warm up, but Houdini and Doyle only needed two. The second episode is a marked improvement on the pilot, which premiered last week, due in large part to the dynamics between our main characters and the deepening of their personal stories.
This week, we get to see a bit more of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s home life. His wife, as we’ve already learned, is in a coma, leaving Doyle to care for their young son and daughter, and chase after various supernatural phenomena that may prove life after death. At home, Doyle’s daughter is troubled and wondering why she is forced to attend housewifery school while her brother goes to primary school with the other boys. What I appreciate about this exchange is that Doyle really has no good explanation and he knows it–he doesn’t make excuses for the way society is. This exchange introduces a major topic that is woven through the entire episode.
The crime that needs solving centers on a leader of the women’s suffrage movement in England, Lydia Bellworth, who is shot by a 12-year-old boy who insists that she murdered him in a past life. This attracts Doyle immediately, which attracts Houdini immediately, who adorably waits outside the station for him to show up. It’s a good thing they take an interest in this case because the Chief Inspector and his “thuggish” sidekick (Doyle’s words) are wonderful examples of the bigoted men who’d rather their wives quietly make them dinner than go out and make their voices heard.
Doyle and Houdini’s bromance has definitely come into a better light in this episode. It’s not necessarily explained, but I love it, so I ain’t asking questions. The two decide that they need the help of their gal pal Constable Stratton to get in to talk to the boy would-be-murderer–or rather, Houdini misses being an ass to Stratton and being put in his place by her. Doyle picks up on this, and gets roped into betting Houdini that Stratton won’t go out to dinner with him. Of course, Houdini rises to the challenge by being as much of an charming ass as he can be, and that’s a lot of charming ass.
Stratton is wonderful in this episode for a multitude of reasons. She calls Doyle and Houdini on their crap immediately when they ask if she, as a woman, would interrogate the boy for them–”so if I fail it’s because I’m a bad interrogator, but if I succeed it’s because I’m a woman.” Stratton’s got no time for your man-shenanigans, gentlemen. She also fangirls over Mrs. Bellworth for her position in the women’s suffrage movement, especially when Mrs. B ignores the famous showboating Harry Houdini and compliments her on being the first female Constable in such a male dominated industry. You go, girl!
Stratton continues to be amazing while Houdini hits on her (read: pulls her pigtails) by introducing a fun little game called Truth Trade, wherein he answers one of her questions honestly if she’ll answer one of his honestly. I love Houdini, but his first question is literally, “are you a virgin?” Like, what are you doing, sir? This is Victorian England for goodness sake! And even if it wasn’t, rude much? But Stratton takes it in stride, answering honestly that no, she’s not. He asks her later if she, as a woman, has chosen to take a job to prove something, since she obviously is beautiful enough to get married, and she answers honestly, yes. She wants to prove that women have nothing to prove. I can’t lie, I have a bit of a crush on her now. She’s seriously awesome.
Houdini doesn’t get out of this Truth Trade unscathed, either. When it’s Stratton’s turn to ask, she pokes at his abrasive persona and asks, since he has a good relationship with his mother, what his father had done to make him this way. The question clearly affects Houdini, but his answer doesn’t give anything away. Though the method may seem contrived, the Truth Trade reveals some interesting things hidden beneath the surface of both characters and I’m very much looking forward to finding out more.
The case is still afoot, as Doyle’s famous character would say, and it is a truly strange one. The trio follows the boy, who claims to be a man who died many years ago, back to the man’s old home. The boy acts very much like he’s being possessed by an adult, or, as he claims, that he’s a reincarnation of this adult man. Back at the reincarnated man’s home, they find his body, buried for years, and paintings of Lydia Bellworth, also years old. Through a series of scandalous discoveries, Lydia is revealed as a killer, undermining her position as the leader of the suffrage movement and disappointing Constable Stratton–and many other women who looked up to her.
Houdini finally asks Stratton out to dinner and surprisingly, she agrees, though only because she knew it was a wager (so she says). Houdini actually gives her some mature advice and admits that his idol, a famous magician, turned out to be a fraud too, but the cause isn’t defined only by its leaders. He then, of course, reveals that he’s still an immature child, and had cheated on his last Truth Trade, when they had traded their worst fears, using sleight of hand to make sure his was the same as hers: “to be unloved.” I am so happy that was a trick because, my goodness, that was cheesy as hell.
Poor Doyle also admits a truth to his partners during the episode: his wife is in a coma due to tuberculosis. At home, he scolds his daughter for playing truant from school, however, it appears that the source of her troubles is her mother’s absence. He has a nice heart-to-heart cry-fest with his daughter when he realizes that he’s not the only one being affected by his wife’s illness. Doyle is seriously the sweetest man.
I love that this whole episode takes on a real issue of the period–an issue that is still relevant today–instead of just letting the show be a jaunty police procedural. The tone it takes in regards to women’s rights is not patronizing or simplistic, either. Stratton calls both Houdini, who makes outright sexist comments, and Doyle, who tries his best to be respectful and mindful of women’s equality, on their double standards and mansplaining.
I’m seriously excited for more episodes to come, not only for the supernatural procedural crimes, but even more so to see where these three characters are heading.