Post by urbanperegrine on Dec 21, 2015 19:16:38 GMT
Please note: These notes are written by a Yank who has no access to Season 9 episodes. Also, please forgive the apparent fantasizing about casting and so forth. Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, I am a humanist, and recently I have been reviewing the history of Ethical Culture after a chat with someone on the wiki TV Tropes. Perhaps that's why this sprang to mind.
Humanism/Ethical Culture Comes to Town
An Ethical Culture Society takes some action to establish a permanent presence in Toronto, and there is considerable pushback from some members of the community. When the new group shows no signs of disbanding, events take a violent turn.
Murdoch Time corresponds with the end of the Golden Age of Freethought, and Ethical Culture had been growing (at least in the U.S.) since 1877. This plot line could be a way to depict the early development of a more secular society from the earlier period with its more pronounced divisions based on religion and ethnicity. Although "The Great Agnostic" Robert Green Ingersoll has gone from the scene (died 1899), Felix Adler and John Dewey are living and physically near Canada for appearances if desired.
In-universe Connections to Established Canon:
- The regulars already exhibit humanistic principles in their personal and professional lives!
- Earlier episodes have touched on the pushback against modern ideas and progress, especially in the person of the temperance crusader Miss Hamilton (this plot could be an opportunity to see more of her, and to play seriously aspects of her character that have been more lightly treated heretofore). Said pushback has a distinctly moralistic tone. There may also be a kind of progression: where there had been some slight opposition to outside influences (the French dancers, ragtime music) and visitors with new ideas (Twain's visit?), with this new development it seems to conservative people that the Devil is gaining a foothold in their community and Something Must Be Done.
- Brackenreid and Crabtree are already known to be Freemasons, so it is possible to compare and contrast their group with this new one. They may bring this up themselves, or someone else may point it out to them, giving them and the audience food for thought
Basic Plot Points:
- Open with a visiting American injured in some fashion and hospitalized, possibly due to a road "accident" or a mugging. The injured man (possibly seconded by his wife) raises a complaint about the crucifix on the wall in his hospital room/ward and demands it be taken down. When others try to either calm him down or dismiss his objection, he invokes some values dissonance: "You see a holy symbol. I see a torture device with a dead body on it."
- Inquiry establishes that this man is in town to advise the members of a local Ethical Culture Society chapter. In some way, this new group has reached a stage when they can take a substantial step, such as buying a building or establishing a school. The interviews also reveal the local opposition to this development.
- The injured man recovers, and plans seem to be set to go ahead when a death scene is discovered: a crucified man in a loincloth and crown of thorns and wounded in all the ways Christ is depicted and still attached to a cross. Excellent moment for a Cerebus Call Back or Ironic Echo. For an example of the latter, when someone tells Murdoch that it looks like a crucifix, Murdoch firmly corrects them: "That's not a crucifix. That's a torture device with a dead body on it."
- Attempts to investigate this new crime bring new difficulties: Speculation runs rampant that this is a Protestant threat against Catholics (and the dead man was Catholic), that Catholics were behind it (and the dead man was Protestant), and that the terrible godless ECS was behind it and the victim was some kind of Christian (as for the victim, take your pick). The body has just the loincloth and the crown of thorns, so time must be devoted to establish in his identity (checking missing persons reports and such). The ECS members are squabbling among themselves, with some attacking religion generally and pointing to this murder as the latest example of religious zealotry gone horribly wrong, while others saying there's no need to so fully condemn all religion for the actions of a madman (possibly some members are also members of liberal churches, or were in the recent past). The local powers that be are concerned about a riot and demanding quick action.
- The dead man turns out to have been a Protestant, so there are efforts to keep that information secret to avoid starting a riot or other retaliatory attacks. Unfortunately, the secret isn't kept for long, and the news doesn't bring out the best in people. A possible way to turn up the heat still more to have an image (line drawing or photograph, depending on available tech) appear in some kind of new tabloid paper, in contrast to the more decorous verbal accounts in the Gazette. This could send Miss Hamilton and her ilk to complain about the gratuitous nudity of the corpse; all the while, they are so wrapped up in their own affronted feelings that they forget--or worse, dismiss--the fact that the man is dead. Some Protestants call the dead man a martyr, and the Catholics (Murdoch included) are understandably on edge, as are his friends and colleagues.
- A second crucified man is found; this time the cross and the body are upside down. A tense period of investigation reveals that this man was a Catholic, but no other link with the first victim. With the two Christian camps each having a victim, the angry attention of both groups falls upon the ECS folk. Citizens' groups investigate the beliefs and writings of the Ethical Culture Society, Miss Hamilton or another of her cohort pipes up to the effect of, "That's what I've been saying all along," and outraged accusations of apostasy and blasphemy start flying. (Point of historical research needed: were there laws against blasphemy on the books in Canada at that time, and if so, how often were they enforced?)
- It begins to look like the point of the exercise was to destroy the ECS and intimidate the members so they either give up on the group or leave town. Evidence for this might be in the form of a threatening letter, or the planting of effects from the dead men on ECS property or that of an ECS member. For their part, the ECS not only stand their ground, they begin to forge links with liberal religious denominations (Reform Jews, Unitarians, Universalists, and the like) as well as individual members of mainline Christian groups (including Catholics) willing to take their part. They seem ready to complete their plans.
- Climax: At least one known ECS person is kidnapped (possibly a prominent one, like the leader of the group or the chosen head of the proposed school, but at a minimum one known to the regulars and the audience). Murdoch and company must prevent them from being burned at the stake (with piles of books as part of the fuel). Two or three victims are also a possibility, depending on number of culprits. Added poignancy points if the books in question belong to a victim, perhaps hinted at when a search for this person reveals their home/office ransacked and the books missing, then reflected upon in daylight when the fire is put out and book titles are revealed on the charred remains of odd pages and spines (De rerum natura or Ingersoll's speeches perhaps among them). Aside from the symbolism and the visuals (big stunt sequence!), bonus points for Murdoch getting smoke smudges from effecting the rescue, as much for a mark of the seriousness of the events as for an in-joke about his meticulous appearance.
- Culprit(s): It's tempting to have Miss Hamilton directly involved in this, especially given her earlier remarks about burning books. Probably more dramatically useful and more like the 21st century to have her rhetoric inspire one or more other people to commit these crimes, allowing her to deny any responsibility. Her comments could prompt the investigators to confront her about it, forcing her to a) reconsider her actions, b) remember some trivial-seeming clue that leads them to the real culprits, or c) a bit of both. Possibly one or more of the culprits has relatives in the local ECS, such that they are somewhat privy to the group's activities. This could lead to a dispute among the culprits if that relative is chosen for the fire or picked up along with the primary target, with an argument about that member's fate delaying matters and buying our heroes some time.
Side Issues or B-plots:
- Investigating the Ethical Culture Society: Due to the divisiveness of religious creeds, Adlerian EC did not espouse theism or atheism. (Modern Humanism also neither requires nor forbids religious affiliation.) Also, it is likely many members come from other religious backgrounds before joining the group. Thus, the group will have a diversity of opinion, and doubts can be sown about what the group or individual members really believe. Visually, perhaps a former or practicing Catholic will react to the deaths by starting or fully performing the Sign of the Cross (giving Murdoch food for thought). Such doubts could lead to blind alleys or possibly an actual culprit in the crime. One or more characters may be surprised to find friends or colleagues who express an interest in the group or are already members in it. Such a known member can be asked for information or tasked with keeping an eye on the group.
- Murdoch and his religion: This is clearly a big one. How does he reconcile reason/science and his faith? (Is this a moment to introduce the idea of compartmentalism?) With so many of these events involving Catholic iconography and the bloody history of the Inquisition, how does he react to the stress? How well can he put aside the idea that (as a known Catholic) he could be a target of violence and do his job? What if he narrowly escapes being the Catholic crucifixion victim (not that unlikely, since he outs himself at every crime scene involving a death)? If such an attempt is made, it could be a source of one or more clues. It could also trigger a bad dream.
- A source of compromise for Julia and William: Do any of the ideas of the ECS appeal to either or both of them? If so, what does that mean for their relationship? (It could be a way to diffuse any tensions in their marriage over religious differences, especially should things change such that children are in the offing.) What about when his priest or a bishop weighs in? (Any Catholic clergy he knows will doubtless have something to say about the importance of baptism and what they perceive as the need to raise any Murdoch kids in the faith.) If his priest insists the ECS is sinful (and he might, since they aren't big believers in the supernatural), can William even associate with its members, much less join and/or allow Julia to do so without clerical censure? If he does get called on it by his priest, how would he respond?
- Secularism falsely equated with devilry/evil: Assume an ECS school is somehow at issue, either in starting a kindergarten or expanding upon one by adding classes for older children. Local opposition could focus on the fact that the ECS doesn't promote Christianity in the curriculum (in keeping with the neutral stance on both atheism and theism in the Ethical Movement), with local foes asserting that this fact means the group is nefariously out to corrupt Toronto's youth. This can be a reference to modern attacks on the secular nature of public education in America (and elsewhere?). Perhaps the American visitor, his wife and/or a local ECS member can complain about the false accusation in an oh-no-not-this-again way and set the investigators straight about what the ECS members actually believe.
- The ECS speak up and speak out, now with pushback: This includes their likely superior knowledge of what "the Bible" (as if there's only one) actually says, which of course prompts their frustrated foes to assert that the Devil can quote Scripture for his own ends. Expect lots of projection from members of the religious majority, with claims that the ECS people want to silence them and enforce their non-belief on everyone, when in fact the tyranny is coming from the majority.
- Who owns morality? Some Christians are inclined to say no one can have ethical or moral standards without a god, and they claim the supernatural divine is the source of all morality. In fact, many ethical principles thought to be Christian pre-date that religion, and the ECS group will likely say so. Of course, facts never get in the way of a good story, so this tug-of-war over goodness is a source of ongoing tension.
- Other bigotry: In real life, Felix Adler was born in Germany, raised in a Jewish family and trained to be a rabbi. For some people, the Jews weren't just a religious group, they were also a separate race, so anti-Semitism is quite likely to come up, as well as anti-German feeling. Cue the "bloody foreigners" crack from somebody. Also, surely somebody will make the remark that the Inquisition had the right idea, despite being run by "bloody papists".
- Murdoch and Lucretius' book On the Nature of Things: Of course he's read it. (According to Greenblatt, the book was suggested for inclusion on the Index of Forbidden Books, but not actually added. Instead, Church authorities said it should be read as a collection of fables. Surely Murdoch would take advantage of such a loophole and keep his own counsel about what he made of it.) Quite possibly he read it in Latin (as a Jesuit-educated Catholic, he likely can read Latin). How and when did he get hold of it? Could his mentor return, even just in a flashback memory shot or two, perhaps involving a conflict between different teachers over the propriety of exposing him to its ideas? (The Index Librorum Prohibitorum or List of Forbidden Books was a thing then and for many years afterward, and there was disagreement among Catholic churchmen about whether De rerum natura should go on the Index. Such a past conflict ties in well thematically with a yarn about a proposed school in the present.) Was this book part of what kept him from becoming a priest himself? Possibly Julia knows the book as well, and they may discuss it and/or trade quotations (rather like Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane)?
- America and Canada: Since the first ECS was founded in the U.S. (specifically New York), surely somebody is going to try dismissing the ECS group as a bunch of overbearing Yanks. Some people may seize upon this notion and cling to it, even as others of their neighbors are more open-minded when considering their ideas.
- In light of the crucifixion victims' deaths, no doubt someone will point out the difference between Catholic crucifixes and Protestant crosses (which have no body on them). Jibes at the Catholics' poor taste or some such criticism seem likely.
- Brackenreid's favourite motive, a.k.a. "Follow the money": A further complication (time permitting) might involve someone who would profit financially from thwarting the ECS group. Somebody might want to get the land they want for their building/school, or the group's resources (treasury) may be the target of an embezzler. This person might choose to egg on the other culprits as a cover for their actions.
- Bring in the Pinkertons: Or at least the one who got the referral from Crabtree. Have him guard the American from further attacks and save the constabulary the trouble.
- Speaking of Crabtree, if there's a school in the offing, perhaps he can talk (writing) shop with the person set to teach literature at the school while investigating the crime(s). Non-crime topics might include the tension between realism and the willing suspension of disbelief, coupling entertaining tales with moral lessons, knowing one's audience and genre conventions. Subtle TV Tropes shout out?
- Brackenreid and his wife can argue over priorities: which is more dangerous, ideas or people? He has a practical job to keep all the citizens safe; she can take that as given (perhaps out of confidence in him) and decide to press him to go after the troublesome ECS and their dangerous ideas that started all this (though she doesn't vote, she has said her political leanings are conservative). Cue the victim blaming. Alternatively, which deserves more protection, security or free expression? And why can't we have both?
Episode Title(s): The number used rather depends on how many episodes this plot line spans and which key events and themes are in them. A short list of possibilities:
- "Deed Not Creed" - Historically accurate phrase from Adler's ideas. Bonus points for sounding catchy and modern. Alternatively, "Deeds Not Creeds" since more than one creed gets named/involved in the conflict. (1/12/16: Research suggests Adler revised his credo at some point to "Deeds Before Creeds", so there's another version.)
- "Everything Old is New Again" - Useful for an episode in which De rerum naturum plays a part, and if somebody suggests repurposing the word "humanism" as another name for Ethical Culture and its values.
- "Think of the Children" - Useful for a tale about the establishment of a school. Children are often an excuse for censorship.
- "That Hamilton Woman" - Good if Miss Hamilton is front and center. Bonus that in real life it's the title of a biopic about Admiral Nelson's mistress, who had the same surname as the temperance crusader.
- "Auto-da-fé" - Clearly should be on the episode with the attempted burning at the stake. Possibly more effective than the other choices since the direct translation of the phrase into English is "act of faith" (which could be an alternative title).
Shout Out Character Surnames:
- Ingersoll - since he's not alive in the 20th century for a cameo.
- Roddenberry - hat tip to the humanist and creator of Star Trek, especially since his shows also displayed humanist values.
- Hecht - for Jennifer Michael Hecht, author of Doubt: A History. Bonus points for wordplay possibilities: Hecht - Heck- Hell.
- Jacoby - for Susan Jacoby, author of a number of books on freethought, including a biography of Ingersoll.
- Greenblatt - for Stephen Greenblatt, author of The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, which talks about the rediscovery of Lucretius' De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things).
Possible Stunt Casting: Perhaps a modern activist could have a small part (say, as that American in the very beginning), assuming they'd do it if asked, and assuming no other obstacles. Perhaps Seth Andrews (The Thinking Atheist podcast) or Matt Dillahunty? Maybe Greta Christina in a cameo, or a noted Canadian humanist?
- Bookend and Loose End: Recalling the cantankerous hospital patient at the start, a victim rescued from the bonfire proves to be an uncooperative patient, refusing all medical aid and disappearing from the scene. This would be easier to do if there are two or more people rescued from said bonfire, or in the confusion of the fire's spread.
- Whatever happens with the Toronto ECS group, William and Julia have some contacts in the movement. Years later, when they have a child and a need to put said child somewhere safe for a time (due to a villain, no doubt), they arrange for a term at an ECS boarding school in the States (perhaps in Boston, Philadelphia or New York). This occasion might also be the moment for one or both parents to recognize the kid(s) are growing up.
- A Christmas mention/sideplot/episode: ECS members can point out that many Christmas traditions are actually pagan in origin. Should the name "Christmas" become an issue, somebody cloud retort with Seth Andrews' point about the days of the week retaining names of Norse and Roman gods (see his 2014 video "Christmas: Behind the Curtain"). Practical sorts will observe that if the rest of the city is closed for business, there's little point in trying to act like it's just another day. Somebody should bring up the solstice, but perhaps in a humanistic way: one member says their favourite holiday decor is the candles because in response to the lengthening nights people didn't just accept the darkness, rather they applied technology (the candle) to solve the problem. "Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness" and all that. Also, a celebration with a nod toward technology might appeal to Murdoch.