I can already hear the trolls accuse Houdini & Doyle of race-baiting this week
With this week's episode, Houdini & Doyle is fast becoming one of my favorite shows to watch — and it isn't just due to the undeniable charisma of crime-fighting trio Houdini, Doyle and Adelaide Stratton. Although, admittedly, they are a major part of the Fox series' appeal.
This week's episode, though, gave me an even deeper appreciation for this fledgling show, because it proved that the writers aren't afraid to tackle the tough topics.
God knows I love a show with a strong voice that doesn't shy away from controversial subjects. I'm fortunate to be able to cover several shows that have something substantial to say and strive to weave such commentary into their characters' arcs.
Accordingly, I've seen first-hand how defensive certain keyboard warriors (read: trolls) get when a television show tries to open a dialogue or make a statement regarding a "sensitive" subject. Stop being preachy, I've seen them protest. Quit pushing your "agenda," they've demanded.
So, sadly, as impressed as I was with the way Houdini & Doyle devoted this week's episode to discrimination like racism, homophobia, sexism and xenophobia too, I can practically already hear the haters complaining about some perceived condescension or unsolicited social narrative.
To delve a bit more into this week's story, our trio is tasked with investigating the case of a missing pregnant woman. When her husband claims she was abducted by strange creatures, implied to be aliens, foul play is suspected and he is thrown in jail.
But Houdini cuts right to the heart of the real motivation for the husband's arrest when he presses Doyle about his disbelief, asking, "Why, because he's black?" The point here being that if the account of the crime had come from a well-to-do white man, it would likely have been accepted for fact. The entire town would be out combing the woods, probably trying to communicate with the aliens.
Houdini & Doyle opens up this thread of thought even further, though, expanding the scope to encapsulate the racial antisemitism experienced by Jewish people throughout history — and apparently experienced by Houdini as well, on the show and in real life.
When Houdini, Doyle and Stratton check into a local inn for the night, the men are forced to share a room so Adelaide can bunk alone. While they are preparing for bed, the two discuss the possibility that Adelaide's husband was gay.
Between the snide aside about Oscar Wilde, exaggerated expressions and Houdini's remark about "the thought of two men sleeping together" (as he crawled into bed with Doyle, ha!), it's clear that the men were, at the time, on the side of history that was highly prejudicial against such relationships.
As the investigation continues and the townspeople prepare to attack any monsters Houdini and Doyle discover lurking in the shadows, the duo makes their way to a cave near the original abduction site. There, they are attacked and bound by the supposed aliens.
However, upon seeing the materials these aliens used to tie them up and recognizing carvings on the wall as being from the time period all mines were shut down, Houdini and Doyle connect the dots. These aren't monsters; they are people who've been dwelling in the case for half a century or so.
When these cave dwellers — presumably Jewish — emerge, they reveal their people originally began hiding in the caves to avoid being stoned to death by those afraid of outsiders.
In reality, however, they are kind and gentle. They didn't hurt the pregnant woman. Rather, they saved her life and helped her deliver her baby. But when Houdini and Doyle convince them to join the outside world, the townspeople descend on them in an angry mob.
Who the monsters in this case are, you see, was a matter of perspective.
The real monsters, by any standard, were actually the bigots. The bigots who would presume an innocent man guilty on the basis of skin color. The bigots who wouldn't take a constable seriously because of her sex. The bigots who would shame and judge others for their perceived sexual preference. The bigots who originally drove the cave people into hiding. The bigots who would now attack and kill a group of people they know nothing about simply because they are different.
Many viewers appreciated this lesson in tolerance.
Still, I'm sure there will be those who think this episode was too "serious." Or who cry they don't want to be "preached" at with messages of supreme social relevance when they're trying to zone out to some TV. Some may even claim Houdini & Doyle has a gay and/or feminist agenda or that it was race-baiting this week.
There may be those who try to convince the world (and themselves) that things like xenophobia, racism and sexism are issues of the past and should stay there. And as long as there are people out there who lived by that misguided notion, we need every reminder we can get that they are actually alive and well — and that history does, and will, repeat itself if we never learn from our mistakes.