Tuesday, June 28, 2016

REVIEW: Houdini & Doyle (ep. 9): Necromanteion

In Houdini & Doyle episode 9, "Necromanteion," the trio travel to Canada and meet Thomas Edison who has invented a device he claims can communicate with the dead. I don't have to tell you who believes him and who doesn't.


The episode kicks off with Houdini, Doyle and Adelaide aboard an ocean liner bound for North America. Houdini is bringing his deceased mother back to the U.S. for burial in New York while Doyle and Adelaide are off to investigate a homicidal poltergeist in Canada.

During the funeral for Mama, we get to meet Houdini's brother, played by Canadian actor and musician Justin Rutledge. While not mentioned by name, the credits show him as Theodore Weiss. While it's nice that we get to see another important part of Houdini's life, I can't help but feel like Theo is wasted here. I would have preferred him to show up in London in his professional guise as "Hardeen," a Houdini clone, who shared his brother's skills and skepticism. I can just imagine Doyle moaning, "Oh God, there are two of you?"


But Thomas Edison is the real focus of this episode. Edison uses his "Necrophone" to channel the dead and gives a convincing demonstration of the device at the scene of an alleged poltergeist murder. Houdini, a friend of Nikoli Tesla, is no friend to Edison, and is skeptical of his "glorified Ouija board." The story plays out at an estate in Niagara-on-the-Lake in Canada and features lots of spooky haunted house action. At one point, Edison's Necrophone appears to reach the spirit of Houdini's mother.

But the only person who actually returns from the dead is Adelaide's husband, who confesses he's been working with the secret service and faked his death. Speaking of Adelaide, this episode finally features a kiss between Houdini and the good constable! I'm been waiting for this, and the scene was very well played by Michael Weston and Rebecca Liddiard, who have nice chemistry. (This got a big reaction on Twitter last night -- #HoudiniAndDoyle even trended during the East Coast feed.)


Ultimately, the murderer is exposed as human and Edison destroys his Necrophone, fearing he has "opened a doorway to Hell." But one thing Houdini can't explain is the repeated appearance of a mysterious young woman who seems to be following him. She even appears (and disappears) at his mother's grave. Is she a stalker or a ghost? It looks like they're saving the answer for the season finale next week.

Just the Facts

This episode opens with a transatlantic ocean voyage. In real life, Houdini suffered from terrible sea sickness. Just the sight of a ship in the harbor would make him feel queasy. But here Adelaide is the sick one.

There's no record of a friendship between Houdini and Nikola Telsa and nothing that records his feelings on the Edison vs. Tesla competition. But Houdini did correspond with Thomas Edison. I've never read any of these Houdini-Edison letters, but it's likely the topic was Spiritualism. Edison was convinced that the medium and mind reader Bert Reese was genuine. This, of course, delighted Conan Doyle.

Edison also claimed that he was working on a device that could communicate with the dead. Nothing ever came of his "Telephone to the Dead", but the idea persists today with EVP (electronic voice phenomena). In 2013, EVP was employed at the annual Official Houdini Seance in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The medium later claimed a positive result.

Despite Edison's spiritualistic predilections, it's likely Houdini was an admirer. Certainly Edison's inventions played a large part in his world. Houdini's adopted hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin was the first U.S. city to have electric street lights. Houdini also famously recorded his voice on an Edison wax cylinder in 1914. He also kept an electric chair in his home, said to be an Edison original from Sing Sing, but more likely a dime museum mock-up which reminded him of his early days. [Read: Houdini's electric chair - the shocking truth.]

As noted, we get to meet Houdini's brother Theo a.k.a. "Dash" in this episode. (Houdini was one of seven Weiss children.) Theo was born Ferenc Dezső in Budapest in 1876. The brothers were very close and performed together as The Brothers Houdini in their youth. When Houdini found fame in Europe, he sent for Dash. There he set him up with his own escape act and even provided him with a stage name: Hardeen. Dash would perform as Hardeen throughout his life and carry on the act after Houdini died.

This episode suggests conflict between the brothers over how to handle Mama's death. While there was no conflict between Houdini and Dash (who was with Cecilia when she died), Houdini later turned his wrath on his youngest brother, Leopold, whom he partly blamed for their mother's death. In my opinion, it would have been better if the brother in this scene would have been Leopold, and Hardeen could have been saved for season 2 (if we get it).

Finally, the scene in which Houdini grieves at his mother's grave is certainly a moment that the real Houdini experienced. Houdini visited his mother's grave in Machpelah Cemetery in Queens on a regular basis. He would also say Kaddish, as we see him do here, over both the graves of his mother and father on the anniversaries of their deaths. In 1916, he dedicated a large marble excedra in the memory of his parents which still stands today.


Next Monday: Houdini & Doyle concludes with the season finale, "The Pall of LaPier."

Houdini and Edison illustration by Marco Roblin from the unpublished Edge of the Unknown II.

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15 comments:

  1. Edison and Henry Ford were close friends and Ford was anti-Semite, so Edison?

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    1. It's odd how Edison has become such a reviled figure in popular culture. I believe this is a fairly new phenomena. People on Twitter were spewing hate re Edison all during the show. Of course, the writers understand this and made Houdini an Edison hater and a friend to Tesla. Truth was, Houdini didn't know Tesla, and I expect he was an admirer or Edison, like so many at that time. But I'm pretty sure this didn't mean Houdini was an anti-Semite. ;p

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    2. Of course Harry wasn't an Anti-Semite! Ford and Edison were close,Ford was a virulent Anti-Semite, so it stands to reason that Edison might have been as well. If so, I do not see Harry and Edison being pals in real life.

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  2. I was starting to worry about the direction the show seemed to be taking, but this episode renewed my faith. The theme of contact with the dead was used really skillfully to tie the three main characters together, and I'd be lying if I said that Michael Weston didn't bring me to tears reading the kaddish for Mama.

    According to Bruce MacNab, Houdini was interested in and may have investigated a home in Amherst, Mass. that was said to have been haunted by a poltergeist, so the writers really did their homework there. Oddly enough, as a kid I would occasionally mix up Houdini's birth year with Edison's (1874 vs. 1847), and I've always thought of them as men far ahead of their times, so it was a real treat seeing them together.

    -Meredith

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    1. Oh, thanks for the info on the Amherst house. That I did not recall.

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    2. That house was in Amherst, Nova Scotia, not Amherst, Massachusetts.

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  3. This was much better than last week's episode. But I wish they had a bit more historical accuracy. Houdini drinking? Really? That's as bad as when they showed him smoking opium.

    As for Cecilia not being religious, that's news to me. She married a rabbi!!! Granted there's not a lot of detail around Houdini's thoughts on religion, or even of he was Bar-Mitzvahed..

    I still wish they's do more magic/escapes.

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    1. The series established that Houdini doesn't drink -- he's drinking milk in many scenes. This appears to have been a way to show that his mother's death has effected him deeply. Even Adelaide registers surprise that he's drinking. So I give this one a pass.

      I tackled the opium question in my episode 4 review. That is based at least in rumor.

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  4. This ep strained my disbelief a lot. The idea of Adelaide and Doyle just picking up and heading to Canada on a seeming whim (especially when the episode itself paints Doyle as being so preoccupied with his wife's condition) and way that Queens is presented as being virtually just around the block from upstate NY and Canada? Well ...

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    1. Good point about Doyle leaving his wife (and kids?). Hadn't thought about that.

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    2. I thought it was odd too. However, HH suggests that Doyle’s motivation for the trip was so that he could meet Edison and witness the Necrophone in person. He did this, ostensibly, to connect with his wife after she dies in the not-too-distant future. That’s why HH tries to tell him to focus on her now while she’s alive and not through after-death communication.

      Overall, I like this series. However, I’m starting to find things a bit repetitive. The procedural formula is becoming a little too predictable. And the killer isn’t much of a surprise anymore. By the end of the first act, in several of the episodes, as the threesome arrive at the scene of the crime, they encounter a NEW character. This new character then proceeds to either state their theory as to who the murderer is (Necromanteion), or someone describes the crime/murderer just seconds before we meet this new character (Spring Heel’d Jack) - almost as if he’s being announced.

      I don’t mean to be too critical of the series. I still like it. There’s still enough snappy dialogue and excellent production design to keep me tuned in.

      P.S.: In case the showrunners are listening… Add more escapology.

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    3. Ah ha. That's a good explanation re the wife. I'll buy that.

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  5. LOVE this show! But I have doubts about it having another season. Too bad! To the armchair TV critics out there, stop criticizing the historical inaccuracies on a show that relies on historical inaccuracies. It's a fantasy/crime procedural with characters inspired by, not based on or about, real people.

    Alas, this show turned me onto the real Houdini, and that's how I ended up here, on this site. Now I come here almost everyday to catch up on some reading. Great job and much thanks! I'm really enjoying these posts on Houdini and Doyle, and great job on reviewing the show without slamming it for what the show isn't.

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    1. Welcome! I'm very happy to hear the show has spurred your interest in the real Houdini. Thanks for finding my site and for the kind words. I also hope the show gets a second season.

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