The best episodes of Houdini and Doyle are those that address the social issues that affected the world during their time, most of which are still fully relevant today. This week’s episode might be their best yet–despite the fact that the mystery revolves somewhat ridiculously around alien abduction–because it deals with racism, sexism, and homosexuality, all in one episode. Houdini takes center stage, and one might wonder what a straight, white male would understand about racism, sexism or homosexuality, but his story is actually very interesting.
The whole things starts when a young couple witnesses what the man claims is a UFO crash and his pregnant wife is abducted by aliens. The whole aliens angle was kind of jarring since the show usually follows supernatural occurrences, not extraterrestrial, but the episode has a sort of Victorian X-Files feel, so it’s all right. Houdini, Doyle, and Stratton take a nice train ride out to the countryside town where the alien sighting took place and discover that the case is more complex than it seems–the young husband is black while the pregnant wife is white, and the rest of the townspeople, lead by her uncle, are out for the young man’s blood. Of course, when they arrive, the missing girl’s uncle is also rude and sexist to Constable Stratton. Just an all-around swell guy.
The tables are turned when the trio listens to the young man’s testimony and Houdini believes him while Doyle is the skeptic. Houdini accuses Doyle of letting his own racial prejudice get the best of him, but Doyle’s assertion that the young man may have been an alcoholic is corroborated by the town’s tavern owner. From this point on, Houdini remains very sensitive to the racial aspect of the case, argues with Doyle, and even gets into a full-on bar brawl with the young wife’s racist uncle. But why? A bit more about Houdini’s background is revealed when the trio visits a strange old woman who claims to have seen the aliens that abducted the young woman.
The old woman, Marta, recognizes that Houdini is a Slavic Jew and divulges that she is one of the last remaining immigrants in the town because they were all run out of the area by the townsfolk decades ago–some were even stoned to death. Houdini opens up to her about his family migrating from Romania to America when he was a child and she gives him home-cooked food and it’s adorable. Later, Houdini explains to Stratton why he is so sensitive to the prejudiced attitudes toward the young black man. When they immigrated, his family was the victim of racial prejudice in America, an extremely common story among Eastern European immigrants during the time. When Doyle tries to say that he also has experience with bigotry, Houdini awesomely shuts him down and tells him that his only experience with bigotry was when he was a bigot. Learning that bigotry is bad doesn’t win anyone any medals. Get woke, Doyle.
On the search for the missing young woman, the trio traipses through the countryside until they find a giant crater, very much in line with an alien spacecraft landing. Turns out that it was actually caused by a meteorite crash landing there, making the young man believe it was a UFO. That still leaves the question of the aliens who allegedly attacked the young man and abducted the woman. In a very X-Files-ish twist, it turns out the supposed aliens were in fact cave dwelling humans: the immigrants who had been run out of town decades ago and hid their families in the nearby caves. They have been living underground for a few generations so they have a whole lot of medical issues and they look pretty scary. However, they explain to Houdini and Doyle that they saved the young woman, who had fallen and injured herself, and even helped deliver her child. Doyle convinces them that they need medical care and Houdini encourages them to come back and live in the surface world where they belong.
Unfortunately, the douchey townspeople arrive just as the nice cave dwelling immigrants emerge from their hidey hole and remind them exactly why they lived underground in the first place. The young black man is reunited with his wife and newborn son (who is freaking gorgeous) and fiercely defends the cave dwellers. Houdini backs him up and Doyle makes sure that they get taken to a hospital for vitamins and medical check ups. As strange as the whole aliens-that-turn-out-to-be-cave-dwellers storyline is, the moment is emotional and impressively handled. The whole debacle also gives Houdini more depth as a character and informs his close relationship with his mother.
It’s a good thing this whole episode focused on showing what a good and understanding kind of guy Houdini actually is underneath his jerkish exterior because the B-story is all about him acting like a big jerk about Constable Stratton, as per usual. After finding out that Stratton changed her name after her husband died, Houdini has decided that he needs to know every single thing about the circumstances, assuming some salacious scandal, either financial, criminal, or sexual (because he’s twelve). After complaining that they can’t trust her if she’s not being honest with them, he steals a bunch of news clippings out of her bag and sees that they revolve around Stratton’s late husband and this Nigel guy she was meeting with a few weeks ago.
One of the clippings has Stratton’s husband, Nigel, and the known leader of a somewhat secret society of men with a certain preference (they invited Oscar Wilde to join, if you know what I mean). Excited that the scandal might actually be of a sexual nature, Houdini assumes that Stratton’s husband may have been having an affair with Nigel. Considering the time period, both Houdini and Doyle make very little judgement about the matter. Houdini merely comments that he couldn’t imagine sleeping with another man–before getting into bed next to Doyle (they’re sharing a room in the inn, don’t get too excited). The subtext is kind of hilarious.
Finally, after Stratton gets tired of Houdini’s not-sneaky spying, she confronts him. He reveals that he read the coroner’s report than claimed her husband’s death was a suicide (perhaps due to his preference), but she admits that she believes he was murdered. At that moment, they discover that Nigel has been found dead back in the city and Stratton announces that her life may be in danger as well. Dun dun DUN!
Although Houdini is a prying d-bag, I’m pretty excited that this larger story arc is starting to pick up steam. I’m hoping that the remaining episodes continue to deal with important social issues, since that is one of the show’s strongest points, and that we continue to go deeper into the characters’ backstories. This was really a very good, interesting episode, and good thing because we’re on the back nine of the season now–only four episodes left!