The "Murdoch Mysteries" were good (if a little preachy) in the series' first season. But the second season smooths out the steampunky mystery show's wrinkles -- lots of mysteries, bizarre crimes, then-cutting-edge science, and unexpected twists. And even better, the writers introduce more character development into the everyday plots, ranging from romance to "temperance."
First, Buffalo Bill's Wild West show stopping in Toronto meets with disaster when the old catching-a-bullet-with-teeth trick goes horribly awry, leaving Murdoch to figure out which of the gunslingers had a killing grudge. Then when prostitutes are found gutted around Toronto, a British detective arrives with shocking news -- he believes Jack the Ripper is alive and in their city.
And as the season goes on, Murdoch has to deal with a dead body in dinosaur jaws, a bank robbery pinned on Harry Houdini, a strangled prostitute, a girl who bled to death after a botched abortion, a professor shot through a window, a suspicious substitute landlady, lonely telegraph operators found dead after romancing "A.K.," mysterious poisonings in the Jewish community, a spree of werewolf attacks, an infuriating Mountie whose methods resemble his. Weirdest of all: a bizarre adventure involving a small boy, a robot, a dead dwarf and a Prussian.
And as they solve these various crimes, the constabulary has a series of its own problems: Inspector Brackenreid's marriage is under strain because his wife has joined the Temperance League, Colonel Crabtree searches for his mother, and the new romance between Murdoch and Dr. Ogden crumbles when he discovers a secret about her past (so he dates a beautiful young widow instead).
"Murdoch Mysteries Season Two" loosens up on the strict format that it followed in the first season, meaning we get episodes like "Convalescence" (in which Crabtree temporarily takes Murdoch's place) and lots of personal subplots that stretch over many episodes. Even better: the preachy 21st-century tone has died down, and the writers are more even-handed when dealing with touchy subjects like abortion or prejudice against American Indians.
And the writers continue to litter the show with historical personages (Houdini, Buffalo Bill) and then-new technology (X-ray machines, night-vision goggles). The mysteries are smooth, solid and usually fairly intricate, with plenty of blood, corpses and occasional psychopaths -- as well as some humorous moments (a parrot that keeps yelling, "Cochon, cochon! You are a pig! You get out of here!" at the inspector).
Yannick Bisson remains an excellent if slightly uptight detective, and we get to see Murdoch loosen up as well -- he's confronted by challenges to his feelings, his morals, and occasionally to the world as he knows it (although the lassoing scene was a bit ridiculous). Helene Joy, Thomas Craig and Jonny Harris round out a solid cast with some good chemistry, although Sarah Allen's Enid Jones (appropriately) has zero chemistry with Bisson.
"Murdoch Mysteries Season Two" sands down the rough edges of this show, and manages to introduce more character development without losing sight of all the murder and crime. Nice.