If you haven't been tuning into Fox's new series, Houdini & Doyle, well, you should be. But if you have and you're anything like me, you've likely been enjoying trying to decipher just how much of the historical crime drama is based on the real life narrative of the show's heroes.
If you're a history buff, this may be a simple task for you. For the rest of us, though, the truth can seem inextricable from the art — Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle both lived lives so extraordinary and peculiar that it isn't that far-fetched to think all of their arcs could have happened.
Thus far, we've already seen reference on numerous occasions to Houdini's deep and abiding love for his mother. Since this was a relatively well-known fact about the illusionist, that one wasn't too difficult to slide into the historical truth column.
But when this week's gripping episode delved into Doyle's obvious daddy issues, the reality of the relationship wasn't readily apparent. This was at least partially due to the fact that Doyle was in turn drinking heavily or hallucinating every time his father popped into the picture.
So, naturally, I decided to do a little digging.
In this episode, Doyle begins to come a bit unhinged when he gets notice that someone has submitted an offer to buy his childhood home. In a moment seemingly uncharacteristic for the gentlemanly character we've come to know on the show, he began binge-drinking to deal with his emotions. He even snapped at his beloved children, Mary and Kingsley.
As he, Houdini and Constable Adelaide Stratton investigate a string of cases tied to the local insane asylum, pieces of Doyle's past start to fall into place. His own father was institutionalized for apparent delusions, aggression and perceived mental instability.
On the show, Doyle stumbles across what he believes to be a conspiracy of abuse at the asylum — the same one that housed his father. When he confronts his father's doctor, he is subdued with drugs and constraints. They were about to give him a lobotomy when Houdini and Adelaide intervene.
Unfortunately, Doyle had already been poisoned (we later find out it was by a doctor he originally believed to be an ally). Due to this, he is suffering from hallucinations and, what's worse, his body is beginning to shut down.
Thus enters the main arc about his dad. Realizing he is dying, the rational side of Doyle's psyche knows he must shock his system to counteract the poison if he wants to survive. To do so, he must induce a state of extreme euphoria.
The only way to do so is to give himself the one thing that would heal the fractured heart that plagued him from a young age: peace over his father.
A visage of his father appears. At first, they bicker just like old times. Ultimately, though, Doyle's dad admits that he was jealous and foolish. He asks Doyle if he can do the one thing he did not have the courage to do when he was alive. With that, he leans in and embraces his now weeping son.
Shortly after, Doyle awakens in the hospital room surrounded by his kids and his crime-fighting partners. He immediately calls his children to his side and directly addresses them, saying, "I was never cross with you. I was cross with myself."
The sins of the father, as they say! But how much of that backstory is based in fact? As it turns out, a good deal of it.
Doyle's father, Charles, was born in 1832. In addition to one sister, he had three brothers who all grew to be splendid successes: a revered historian, a Punch cartoonist and an art-critic-slash-painter.
Charles, on the other hand, was not nearly as successful. Although he did bear some artistic inclination, he could never make a living from his paintings. He moved to Scotland at 17, got a clerk job as an architectural draftsman and married his landlord's daughter. They had 10 children, including Doyle, seven of whom actually survived infancy.
Like the Charles portrayed in this week's episode, the real Charles was a bitter and complicated man. He was an angry alcoholic (he also had epilepsy) who quit working in his 40s, after which time he largely drifted from institution to institution. And, like his onscreen counterpart, the real Charles did die in an asylum in 1893.
Also mirroring Doyle's real-life history? His alleged mercurial moods around his children. It is posited that the strain of caring for his ailing wife, Louise, sometimes caused him to be curt or sharp with Kingsley and Mary (although, by most accounts, he was still a loving and lovable father).
So, in a word, yes — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the esteemed author, did have daddy issues in real life. Kudos once more to Houdini & Doyle's brilliant writers for spinning history into an immensely enjoyable arc tinged with both truth and fiction.
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