Today we’re recapping an episode of Murder, She Wrote that takes place in New Orleans. It’s the kick-off to the Mardi Gras Week mini-event, as well as an excuse to watch one of the greatest mystery shows of all time. Not that you need an excuse. And also not that this is one of the best episodes, in fact there’s a good chance that this is the worst episode…
I’m really not sure how a modern person can get through life without a cursory knowledge of Murder, She Wrote, but in case you have, I’ll help you out:
Jessica Fletcher, played by aspirational figure Angela Lansbury, was a high school English teacher for many years, until her husband Frank passed away and she retired. Between widowhood and her abundant spare time, she decided she needed a distraction, so she wrote a novel called “The Corpse Danced at Midnight.” Her idiot nephew Grady sent it to a publisher without asking her permission, and it sold, and was published, and kept selling, and now Jessica – or J.B. Fletcher – is an international literary sensation. Agatha Christie 2.0.
In between writing books and tending her little garden in Cabot Cove, Jessica solves 263 murders (actual statistic). Murder surrounds her, for some reason. It was as if when she wrote that first book, she awoke the slumbering Phonoi, Greek spirits of violent death, and drew their wrathful gaze upon people she met at book signings.
This time around, things are going to get slightly more violent than they normally do. We’re in the show’s final season, in all its mid-90’s glory, and that’s the time when writers and directors get a little crazy and do some weird stuff because they’re not coming back next year.
Ready? Let’s get started!
We open on a man in glasses running through what I would describe as more of a jungle than a bayou setting. He’s being pursued by forces unseen, and sweating profusely. But there is no hope for this man who looks vaguely like Bill Pullman in The Serpent and the Rainbow, because he comes upon a medium sized tree with a non-venomous snake in it. There’s no physical way to go around those, so he turns to his attacker and accepts his fate.
Death by gleaming machete.
Drums beat in the background. Voodoo-y drums.
Thirty seconds in, and we’re already doing a time skip? Something tells me this is going to be a cluttered recap…
Lt. Tibideaux, played by the amiably gruff G.W. Bailey, is investigating the crime scene. The body is so fresh, it’s bleeding through the coroner’s sheet. He picks up the victim’s glasses and takes a look at them, just in case people at home were uncertain if this was supposed to be the same body from five seconds ago.
Soon enough, Tibideaux is joined by investigative journalists, redhead Cynthia Broussard and Tom McCray, the reporter that doesn’t know the meaning of “compromising the investigation”. Tom and Cynthia were friends with the victim – Jim Nash, an intern at their newspaper – and they also helpfully inform us that this was the fourth machete murder in the last three months. That means that MSW New Orleans has been averaging 1.33 machete related deaths per month over one summer, which is kind of badass.
Each murder has had the same calling card left at the scene: a rooster foot talisman.
Of course, none of these three really believe in voodoo, but it’s hard to deny that somebody clearly tried to chop this guy’s head off and left a rooster foot by his body, so not believing in it isn’t going to make a hell of a lot of difference when you’re investigating it as a motive, but hey. It’s important to these characters that we know they’re not voodoo people. And neither was Victim Jim; he was convinced that the voodoo aspects of the machete crimes were being used to disguise the fact that they were about turf wars between supper clubs.
Tom insists that it’s worth looking into, and that he’s not going to rest until he’s uncovered all of the corruption in New Orleans (pfft, good luck). Lt. Tibideaux tells him if he keeps talking like that, machete victim number five isn’t going to be much of a surprise.
The next day, at the Broussard mansion in the heart of New Orleans, Jessica Fletcher has ensconced herself in one of the best libraries of local history in the city. Jessica isn’t like Perry Mason or Columbo, she doesn’t take her sweet time getting involved in the action. The show knows what the audience is there for, and it ain’t compelling side characters. Five minutes in, if there’s no Lansbury, it’s channel changing time.
Pacing around the towers of books is Lt. Tibideaux, who’s come to ask Jessica about Victim Jim. Apparently, the last note in Victim Jim’s social diary was to pick up J.B. Fletcher for dinner. This was because Jessica had gotten Victim Jim’s name from the AP in New York, and was asking him about voodoo crimes for her next novel. Why we establish all of this instead of saying that Journalist Cynthia (Jessica is staying with the Brossard family after all) introduced her family friend to a colleague with the necessary expertise is kind of baffling. Streamlining is not this episode’s strong point.
There’s nothing for Tibideaux to concern himself with, though he does warn Jessica that “the most interesting thing about contemporary New Orleans is that it has the highest murder rate in the country.”
Notably, between 1993 and 1995, New Orleans really was the murder capital of the United States, with 85.8 murders per 100,000 residents. The current murder capital is St. Louis, with about 49.9 murders per 100,000 residents. The highest murder rate of all time belonged to New Orleans between 2007 and 2009, spiking at 94.7.
Anyway, Tibideaux is taking his leave when he crosses paths with the lady of the house, Emily Broussard-Renwyck, played by Elizabeth Ashley. They chat about background information for a little while, emphasizing that Emily’s family is well-respected, and that she recently married former senator Brent Renwyck.
Tibideaux exits, and Senator Brent enters, noting that it “looks like Hurricane Andrew” went through the library. That’s not funny, Senator Brent. People died.
Elizabeth tells her new hubby that Jess is looking for a biography of Marie Laveau, legendary Voodoo Queen, and they haven’t been able to find it. Luckily, Senator Brent remembers that he put the book in a chest of drawers for some reason. I guess he was reading it one night, and the voodoo scared him, so he hid it where it couldn’t get at him? Like when you throw a Stephen King novel in the freezer.
He reaches into the drawer, grabs the book, and winds up with a nasty splinter.
“I guess those old-time carpenters get more reputation than they deserve!” He jokes.
As someone who restores antiques for a living, I have decided to let this whole thing go. Nobody wants to read an essay on drawer maintenance right now, and Senator Brent needs that splinter for plot-related purposes.
Just… letting it go…
That chest of drawers is not a real antique, by the way.
Time to introduce another new character! This time, it’s housekeeper Yvette, who has been with the Broussards for a very long time, and is played by MSW regular Olivia Cole. Every time Jessica found her way to New Orleans, she ran into a different character played by Cole. Anyway, turns out everyone’s excited because Yvette’s daughter Priscilla will be singing at the opening of Senator Brent’s new nightclub.
Speaking of the nightclub, Senator Brent has to go check on things, so he’s going to exit the scene now. Emily follows him to the door for a quick private word while Jessica and Yvette chat in the library. I tell you, this house’s foyer is like a traffic jam of side characters and exposition. And we are in no way done meeting all of the many confusing characters.
Okay, so the day before, Emily had tried to withdraw some money from one of her and Senator Brent’s joint accounts, but the bank said there wasn’t any money to be withdrawn. And that, as every woman who did not grow up wealthy knows, means your man spent all your money and it’s gone forever. But Emily is less cynical about these things, and chooses to believe Senator Brent’s explanation that the last week’s unexpected rain did water damage to the club and there were a ton of repairs and he forgot to mention it, and all the other accounts still have money in them.
Feel free to raise one eyebrow and go: “Mmm-hmm.”
Emily says that all she wants is for him to be frank about what’s happening with their money and not shield her from the realities of the club’s costs. (Senator Brent has somehow spent literally all of your money, Emily. Every penny in the proud Broussard legacy is gone.)
Naturally, Senator Brent just tells his wife to trust him, and she says of course she will, and they kiss.
Meanwhile, we head across town to a small voodoo-themed curio shop. It’s here we catch our first glimpses of a key villain, and one of the more helpful side characters. Ralph Danton and Vera Wells. They’re a very different kind of couple than the one we last saw, because we’re introduced to them while Ralph is beating up Vera for talking to Victim Jim before he died. According to Vera, she and Victim Jim were just friends, but Ralph thinks that investigative reporters do not make friends with the girlfriends of known underworld enforcers for no reason. And while he may have a point, he’s still the worst person ever.
Vera insists that even if that was the case, she never told Victim Jim anything that could hurt Ralph.
Ralph starts going through her bag, because he’s just a swell guy, and says that “Roussel” isn’t going to buy her story, which means that Ralph can’t buy her story.
“What kind of questions did he ask you?” Ralph repeats menacingly.
“No questions,” Vera says, “no answers. I swear.”
Ralph finds a plane ticket to Los Angeles in Vera’s bag. People don’t skip town if they’re not in trouble, Ralph suggests. (Maybe an abusive boyfriend with underworld connections is threatening her life?)
Vera explains that she’s enrolled in a nursing program, and – shockingly – Ralph does not believe her.
He grabs her by the hair and goes to slap her when the bell at the shop door rings, because Jessica has happened onto the scene. Ralph relaxes and pretends to be all sweetness as he leans toward Vera and whispers that if she wants to live, she’d better not leave town. He smiles unctuously at Jessica as he slips past her and out the door.
She looks concerned.
Vera asks if she can help her, and Jess says she’s not sure which one of them needs help, but the reason she’s here is she’s looking for someone named Callie. Unfortunately, Vera tells us, Callie died a few months ago.
Darn. Apart from being very friendly, Callie had helped Jessica on a book before, and she was hoping to get some more info from her about a deadly herb called Anacycla Lupus. It’s totally made up, by the way, so don’t go rushing out to buy any for your next murder spree. Anyway, Jessica first heard about it when she was in Jamaica, and it’s totally illegal to sell in the United States, but she had some questions about it for her new book.
Vera says that there are a couple of places you can find it.
Jessica is a super meticulous researcher by this point in the series for some reason. She never just makes stuff up, she always has to triple check that it’s possible in real life and do things like buy the illegal poison her killer is going to buy, even though she has a perfectly good imagination. Something that cannot always be said for the writers of Murder, She Wrote.
Apparently, Callie had also promised to take Jessica to the Goula Ruins for St. John’s Eve, the major event in the voodoo calendar. (The St. John’s Eve sequence, and voodoo itself, plays a very minor role in this episode. It’s also more like 70’s horror movie voodoo than anything remotely realistic, so heads up before we get to the secret midnight ritual.)
Vera is another character who doesn’t believe in voodoo, but she tells Jessica to come back at sundown, and she’ll try to arrange something.
We’ve gotten quite a few side characters to keep track of so far, haven’t we? Lt. Tibideaux, Journalist Cynthia, Annoying Tom, Emily, Yvette, Senator Brent, Ralph, Vera – let’s go get at least four more!
Starting with Priscilla, Yvette’s daughter who’s been living in New York.
Priscilla is being played by Anne-Marie Johnson, an actress my generation knows best as Donna Cabonna from That’s So Raven. She’s rehearsing at Brent’s new nightclub, with a band that includes pianist Charlie. Charlie is important, so don’t forget him.
Senator Brent comes by to see how everybody’s doing rehearsing songs, sweeping floors, and washing glasses. His style of management and ownership is to come in, smile and wave, and leave. There is no way such a hands-off approach will backfire on him, I’m sure. He nods along cheerfully as he watches Priscilla perform, despite the fact that she’s not at her best because she’s distracted by emotional baggage.
In fact, she asks Charlie if everyone can take five while she makes a phone call.
Senator Brent stops her for a second to say how happy Emily and Yvette are that Priscilla is going to be singing at the opening. He’s polite enough about it, it’s not weird or anything, but Priscilla is simmering with disdain and pushes past him to make her call. Considering this is the first time they’ve met, she seems to have awfully strong feelings about the bland, money-burning Senator Brent.
Turns out, Priscilla’s urgent phone call is to Emily Broussard. (Funny, she didn’t mention that to Emily’s husband two seconds ago…) She says she has to see her as soon as possible. Emily suggests they get together for lunch after the opening, since there’s so much going on, but Priscilla insists it has to be today. Emily agrees because she’s very fond of Priscilla; Priscilla’s mother having worked for the Broussards for several decades.
After Priscilla ends the call, Emily turns to Yvette and says that stuff is probably going on.
Yvette looks apprehensive and secretive.
Meanwhile, back at the club, Priscilla is on the verge of tears as she holds the receiver for the kind of emotional support only an inactive phone can give. Charlie comes over to check on her, and we’re treated to this chestnut:
“Oh, Charlie. I think I’m going to do something I hope I don’t regret.”
At least you aren’t definitely committed to doing something you know you can’t take back.
Charlie, old family friend that he is, assures her that her instincts are always flawless and that she should follow her heart. Priscilla says it’s just what she needed to hear.
Over in the backroom office – which is ridiculously nice for a nightclub – Senator Brent is having a meeting with the shadowy Roussel, creepy crony Mal Carter, and Ralph Danton of the-guy-who-hit-Vera notoriety. Ralph is watching out the window, while Mal stands around all creepily, and Roussel and Senator Brent talk business.
This is not a group you want to find out your fiscally irresponsible husband is hanging around with. Emily is in for some tough news.
Today, Senator Brent is supposed to sign a contract that says if he dies, the club will go to Creepy Mal. All of the legal documents are using Creepy Mal as a strawman, since Roussel is… a controversial figure. I’m putting this gently because I like Roussel for no real reason, except that he has an old-fashioned face and a way about him that reminds me of the gentleman gangsters from the 1940’s.
Unsurprisingly, Senator Brent is reluctant to sign a document that basically amounts to “Permission to Murder Brent Should He Displease You.” He says it’s because there’s no protection for Emily, obviously thinking that nobody would ever actually murder him in the murder capital of the United States. Didn’t Senator Brent used to be in politics? Shouldn’t he have thought of all of this?
Roussel helps the conversation out.
Apparently, while Senator Brent was in office, he was known as “Honest Brent of Louisiana” which is a godawful nickname, I mean, really. (They should have named him Gabriel Renwyck, it sounds substantially more New Orleans-y, and can be shortened to “Honest Gabe.”) Also, all of that money that’s supposed to be in Emily’s bank accounts? It’s not tied up in the club, or being spent on rain repairs. It’s just gone forever, because Honest Brent decided he was smarter than the stock market. Roussel – who owns several clubs around the city – found out about this and suggested that Senator Brent sink the remaining portion of Emily’s fortune into his newest nightclub venture, earn back what was missing, and call it a day.
Senator Brent fell for this, because he’s an idiot.
As for the contract, Senator Brent argues that he won’t sign it, and there’s nothing Roussel can do about it, because if the city finds out that Creepy Mal’s participation is fraudulent, Roussel will lose all of his money. Roussel counters that the press will also out all of Senator Brent’s financial disasters, discover that his business application was essentially perjured, shame his wife publicly, and reveal the horrible truth to Emily. And all of that would be before Roussel took the losses out of Emily’s family antiques.
Roussel is willing to gamble the money. Is Brent willing to gamble his reputation?
Senator Brent signs the documents.
While that’s being taken care of, Ralph asks his boss to come over to the window so that he can show him investigative reporter Tom McCray hanging around on the other side of the street. Tom was good buddies with Victim Jim, the gangsters all recall. Roussel tells Ralph to follow Tom.
“Wait, though,” you ask, “Isn’t Tom just following Roussel? Why would Ralph need to follow him?”
To ensure that if Tom follows Roussel anywhere incriminating, Ralph can kill him right away. It’s like Tom is now the ham in a sandwich of danger. Also, Ralph will follow Tom to see what else he’s up to, and who else he might be meeting with. It gives them a better scope of who has eyes on their shady voodoo murders.
Speaking of shady voodoo murders, Jessica is hard at work on her novel about them back at the Broussard mansion. She’s continuing her research into Marie Laveau by reading the book Senator Brent shoved in that drawer. Behind her, Yvette is making an effort to try and keep the library as orderly as possible, despite Jess’s constant rummaging.
In the center of the book, Jessica finds an old photo of when Emily was a little girl. The family chauffeur is holding the car door open for little Emily, her father, and a young Yvette. Yvette seems strangely put-off by the image, but says that it was taken when she first started working for the Broussards as Emily’s governess. Jessica calls it a lucky find.
“What’s lucky is you being here, Mrs. Fletcher,” Yvette says, not understanding that Jessica ups the likelihood of a violent death by a considerable amount. “Miss Emily is going to need a friend.”
Emily herself shows up just in time to gush over the old photo, noting that her dad looked super dandified on picnic days. She says Senator Brent’s kind of the same, and laughs about men and fashion as she tucks the photo back in the splinter drawer.
In the background, Yvette quietly leaves the room so that Cynthia can enter and change the subject. There’s a lot of character tag team moments because there are so many people involved in this story. Too many people, honestly.
Take Emily’s daughter Cynthia, whose nose for news, curly red hair, and expressive face give her an undeniably likeable quality. Unfortunately, she’s totally pointless.
Currently, she’s making a delivery on behalf of Victim Jim’s estate, sort of. She and Tom were packing up their dead colleague’s desk when they came across a packet of newspaper clippings addressed to Jessica. So Cynthia brought them to the house for her.
Jessica, in slightly poor taste given that Victim Jim died like two days ago, says that getting the clippings is going to save her life. Tragic that cutting them out couldn’t have saved Jim’s.
Cynthia also asks Jessica to meet Tom at the Café Du Monde at 3:00 so that he can “fill in some of the blanks” for her. Then Cynthia leaves, because her character exists for brief transitional actions. It’s kind of a bummer, because she’s got a really dynamic face.
After she’s gone, Emily lets us in on some of the awkwardness floating around. Turns out Cynthia is madly in love with Tom, but while Senator Brent was in office, Tom used to shred him to pieces in the paper. Because nothing keeps an honest man honest like unrelenting pressure from the media to fulfil campaign promises at lightning speed. Good job, Tom! New Orleans needs more men like you!
Jessica tells Emily that Tom only did all of that stuff because he respects Senator Brent, and that Emily is sensitive because she doesn’t want to see her man get hurt.
Emily should murder Senator Brent. That would be funny.
3:00 immediately rolls around, because we’re packing a lot of activity into one day for no reason. Jessica goes to meet Tom, and the café around them is full of souvenirs and tacky t-shirts. Just the kind of place locals like to eat. (Okay, in fairness, despite how touristy it is, some locals do like to eat at the real Café Du Monde because there’s a fifty percent chance of it being beignet heaven. There’s also a fifty percent chance of you getting a squishy rectangle of semi-raw dough, especially if you go during peak hours, when you’ll be waiting forty minutes to get a seat, surrounded by a bunch of people who can’t say “café au lait” and send one of their friends to find a bank machine because they didn’t realize it was cash only, despite all of the prominently displayed signs that read “Cash Only.”) Sitting just behind them, during a really bad job of keeping a low-profile, is Ralph Danton. He’s wearing a bright red shirt.
It turns out, that envelope of clippings there was one with an appointment scribble on it: Goula Ruins, 7pm.
Jessica takes this to mean that Victim Jim was meeting someone at the Goula Ruins at 7:00 on the night of his murder. That’s… helpful, Jessica. Thank you.
She also notes that he was supposed to pick her up at 8:00, and called to confirm at 6:00, saying he would be coming straight from the newspaper. So whoever lured Victim Jim to the ruins must’ve made the phone call after 6:00! Quick, go tell Lt. Tibideaux so he can subpoena the newspaper’s phone records and try to narrow down where the call came from!
Tom adds that Victim Jim called him at 6:30, all hyped up. That narrows it down even more! This is great!
“Tom, if you can figure out who made that call…” Jessica says.
“Then maybe we can figure out who suckered him to the ruins!”
…wait. No. GO GET THE POLICE, YOU GUYS. There is no reason not to give them this information, and it’s the kind of lead that they’re much better equipped to track down. Why entrust this to some wavy haired reporter with a slimy fake drawl? Tibideaux seemed pretty on the ball to me.
Jessica finally notices Ralph, recognizing him from that morning at the curio shop. She describes him to Tom, who asks if he’s wearing a heavy medallion. Jessica nods.
“That’s Ralph Danton, Frank Roussel’s hired muscle. I wish to heck I could get rid of him, I’ve got a meeting with Brent Renwyck this afternoon.”
Suckered? Heck? Are you a hardboiled investigative reporter shining a searing light on corruption, or are you Archie Andrews? You cannot be both.
Jessica offers to distract Ralph for Tom, and Tom agrees. Tom agrees to let a retired English teacher handle a known murderer on his behalf. Now, I’m not saying Jessica can’t handle herself, but I do object to the principle of letting her handle this. Ralph Danton cuts people’s heads off with a machete, or so all the evidence would indicate. He beats up his girlfriend. He’s not going to react well to this.
Cowardly Tom, as he will henceforth be known, throws a twenty on the table (how many beignets did they eat?!) and ducks out of the restaurant. Jessica, meanwhile, positions herself directly between Tom and Ralph, forcing Ralph to jostle her if he wants to pass by. When Ralph tries to move around her, she starts shouting at him in a thick Southern accent, because, um, New Orleans?
She concocts this crazy accusation of Ralph following her all around town, and she demands to know why. Like, she makes up places she’s been and claims he was there, and draws a whole lot of attention, and pretty soon the waiter is there asking if he needs to call the police, and Ralph slithers away.
Jessica thanks the waiter with her normal accent, and the waiter is like: “Huh?”
I find it to be a very odd distraction, to be honest. The fake accent, the style of accusation, it’s unnecessarily complicated. And I watch Mission: Impossible. My tolerance for needless complications is pretty high.
Hey, while we’re on the subject of needless complications, do you remember how upset Priscilla was when she phoned Emily a few scenes ago? Well, now we get to find out why!
Priscilla is at the Broussard mansion, reading out an anonymous letter she recently received alleging that Arthur Broussard – Emily’s father – had been having a decades-long affair with Yvette, and was Priscilla’s biological father. If Priscilla needed proof, she should look into who paid her tuition at Julliard, and she would find that it was none other than Arthur Broussard. Priscilla pronounces it “Bruh-zard” for some reason.
Emily is, understandably, blindsided by this. She points out that it’s an anonymous letter, and as much as she loves Priscilla, she thinks that it’s a cruel joke or a scheme of some kind. Priscilla venomously spits that what Emily can’t believe is that her father was so arrogant he slept with the housekeeper and then, after she got pregnant, kept her on as a housekeeper.
Julliard called to confirm the records that morning. Arthur Broussard did pay Priscilla’s tuition.
Priscilla demands half of Arthur’s estate – which is half of zero, thanks to Honest Senator Brent. Emily says that she’s more than happy to give Priscilla what she’s entitled to, but she has to at least confirm this claim with Yvette.
Conveniently, Yvette pops out of the shadows and says that everything in the letter is 100% accurate. After Emily’s mother died, Arthur was lonely. He was the only man Yvette ever loved.
Time for some more oddly structured dialogue from Priscilla:
“Emily, I know it’s in your nature to cooperate. But if you don’t? I guess I’ll have to sue you. And I don’t have to tell you what that could do to your family name.”
Dear whoever wrote Priscilla’s dialogue, perhaps you should have listened to how humans make sentences? It might have helped.
Actually, a quick hop over to IMDB tells me that this tangled web of tiny scenes between extraneous characters was penned by Cynthia Demming and William J. Royce, a duo who worked together often on In The Heat of the Night and later on Diagnosis Murder. (Oh my god, I forgot about that show, we’re totally watching Diagnosis Murder sometime! I don’t care if you don’t want to!) The In the Heat of the Night connection explains why things are going wrong here in the style that they are. That show was an ensemble.
Also interesting to note, Ann-Marie Johnson (Priscilla) was Althea Tibbs over on In the Heat of the Night. Should’ve maybe mentioned that before That’s So Raven.
Up next: Ultraviolet Voodoo Party!
Thanks to Batman Forever, ultraviolet lights were all the rage in 1995 filmmaking. It was a fad that quickly died down, because it didn’t actually look cool. In this scene, the white costumes of voodoo revellers at the Goula Ruins are glowing slightly as the ultraviolet light mingles ineffectively with the torchlight.
Jessica and Vera are watching from some bushes while Jessica takes notes. It’s not totally clear if they’re allowed to be there or not, but they probably have permission and were told to keep at a safe observational distance. Vera notes that voodoo makes her uncomfortable.
So is everyone clear that the majority of characters don’t like voodoo? For some reason, it’s important to make it obvious that this is more of a crazy superstition than an actual religion. Keeping things super respectful and doing our homework over on Murder, She Wrote.
You know which character does believe in voodoo? Ralph Danton. He’s lit like Dracula, with a beam of light across his eyes and the rest of his face in shadow, as he winds through the ceremony. Jessica notices him at once and asks Vera what he might be doing there.
“That’s a dangerous question,” Vera replies.
“Mr. Danton seems like a dangerous man,” Jessica nods.
She wants to know what’s been going on between Ralph and Vera, and Vera says (somewhat evasively) that she got too close to one of the voodoo murders Victim Jim was writing about. So close, she wanted to run away. But Danton won’t let her go. That crazy medallion he wears? That’s not disco jewellery. It’s pure silver and there’s a machete stamped on to it. The machete warns you to stay silent.
There is a man who has been closely linked to the machete murders for a number of extremely valid reason wandering around with a picture of a machete on him?! Arrest him! Bring him in for questioning! Search his addresses and storage lockers for machetes and test the machetes for human blood! What is everyone doing, eating beignets and making inappropriate hurricane jokes?! Catch this killer!
Ralph gets dangerously close to seeing the two observers, and Vera declares:
“Oh Lord, Jessica, I need to get the heck out of here.”
Ugh. It’s like “Donnie and Marie and the Curse of the Voodoo Ruins.”
Jessica and Vera leave, and in the middle of the voodoo dance, Ralph does his best Voodoo Laugh but falls woefully short of the legendary Geoffrey Holder, originator and master of the technique.
So, back when Cowardly Tom said he had a meeting with Brent Renwyck this afternoon, what he meant to say was: “I’m going to go ambush my girlfriend’s stepfather at ten o’clock at night.”
Senator Brent’s pretty cool about it, and says that it’s largely because of Cynthia he’s being so nice to Tom. Since leaving the senate, he hasn’t done any interviews, and he wasn’t particularly fond of doing them when he was in office. But he gives Tom a giant snifter of brandy and says he’ll answer some questions.
Instead of starting with some softballs to butter up his subject, Cowardly Tom goes straight for the jugular and asks why Jim Nash’s investigation into a gangster like Frank Roussel would cause any kind of problem for Senator Brent.
“Jim Nash is dead,” Senator Brent reminds everyone.
“You’re looking at his ghost, Mr. Renwyck,” Tom replies.
Creepy Mal Carter, meanwhile, has chosen this exact moment to hang around Brent’s door and eavesdrop. While he wears sunglasses inside and a bright red carnation pinned to a baggy cream blazer with something that looks like a pearl-head eyedropper. The 90’s; what a time to be alive!
Not knowing that one of Roussel’s top goons is listening in, Tom boasts that he has all of Victim Jim’s tapes and papers, and he’s on the cusp of discovering what led him into the Bayou. Tom apparently doesn’t realize that these things are like recipes – follow the same steps as the last guy, and you’ll get the same result.
By the way, Senator Brent’s office has a giant bottle of absinthe in it. In case we weren’t sure if we were in New Orleans.
Tom tells Senator Brent, and Mal (unintentionally), that Victim Jim had transcripts from “a computer hacker friend of his” of Emily’s accounts – hang on. Tom, who is dating Cynthia, knows that all of Emily’s money is gone, and instead of gently warning his girlfriend and her mother, he’s confronting Senator Brent? Tom can go to heck.
The two of them then go over a lot of stuff we’ve already covered. The end result is Senator Brent doesn’t tell Tom anything he doesn’t already know, and he doesn’t confirm any of Tom’s theories. Despite this, Creepy Mal is not pleased at the outcome of this conversation. And Tom is pretty on the money about The Brent Situation, except for little details like the contract and whether or not Senator Brent is aware that Roussel is behind the machete murders by way of Ralph Danton.
After the conversation is over, Cowardly Tom leaves the club.
And Creepy Mal calls Roussel to tell him there’s trouble.
The next day, Jessica and Emily are having a nice brunch and discussing The Priscilla Claim. Jessica called a good friend of hers at Julliard, maybe that Russian ballerina she helped defect a few seasons ago, and got the scoop on Priscilla’s tuition. It was paid by Arthur Broussard. But, Jessica points out, that’s not at all conclusive, and just to protect everyone, Priscilla should have a DNA test. Emily, not knowing how DNA works, says that it would be impossible because Arthur was cremated.
(Psst, Emily, you have some of Arthur Brussard’s DNA. They could check Priscilla against you.)
Emily excuses her clouded thinking, saying she just doesn’t know which way is up since Priscilla showed her that letter.
That letter. Jessica doesn’t like it. Why is it anonymous? Who wrote it, and with what motive? Other than Yvette, who could have known such a thing, and why come forward without coming forward at all?
“Your father liked the word ‘Bamboozled’, remember?” Jessica smiles warmly, and Emily laughs. “Don’t be bamboozled. Look to yourself, not to Brent or anybody, and take charge of your own life.”
That reminds Emily, she still hasn’t told Senator Brent about all of this, and she is not looking forward to that conversation.
I am, though! Let’s watch!
Senator Brent starts off the proceedings by freaking out and being classist. Housekeepers and their daughters are not trustworthy sources of information, Emily! Maids steal! Only the middle class and up can afford to have ethics, everyone else is just scrambling for the fastest ways to trick you out of your inheritance! Not like Honest Senator Brent, who would never dream of taking your money…
Emily trusts Yvette, though. Yvette has been like family. And if Priscilla does have a case, she and her mother are entitled to compensation.
“From what money?!” Senator Brent shouts, before catching himself. “Everything’s tied up in the club!”
“Not everything,” Emily replies, “Unless there’s something you haven’t told me?”
Senator Brent looks shiftier than the bottom row of a keyboard, but he shakes his head. Emily then announces that she’s arranged for an audit of personal and business assets.
Ha ha, awesome. Good luck, Brent!
He flips out and accuses Emily of not trusting him, which is a pretty big red flag. Emily doesn’t notice, because…?
“You’ve spent your life getting things done for other people. Now you are finally doing something for yourself and for us. Tonight’s your opening night. Let’s not spoil it.”
Speaking of opening night, Charlie is serenely warming up at the piano out front, and we’re treated to a nice shot of his awesome horseshoe ring made of diamonds. Man, jazz musicians have the best accessories.
Priscilla is nursing a drink at the bar, which shouldn’t be selling anybody alcohol because they’ll need it to make sure they don’t run out on opening night, but whatever. Senator Brent hired a terrible bar manager. Big shock.
Priscilla is nursing a drink at the bar, which shouldn’t be selling anybody alcohol because they’ll need it to make sure they don’t run out on opening night, but whatever. Senator Brent hired a terrible bar manager. Big shock.
Senator Brent himself storms out of his office, where he was just having that super private conversation with his wife, even though the office has like zero privacy as we learned from Creepy Mal’s eavesdropping antics. He heads straight for Priscilla and warns her that what she and Yvette are trying to do is a crime called Conspiracy to Defraud. That’s pretty rich, Senator. Do you want everyone to start having conversations about fraud? Because that’s a thing that can happen.
Priscilla flinches as he shouts at her, and gets a sympathetic look from old Charlie.
That night, the band is playing very weakly and Priscilla’s mic is way too loud and she doesn’t sound very good. She’s wearing a really unflattering white silk dress and a crown of glitter-covered gardenias. Actually, not so different from what recent Julliard grads wear today. I guess glittery flower crowns are an ever-present bane of mankind.
Creepy Mal is drinking a giant glass of red wine over at the bar, and toasts Senator Brent menacingly as Brent passes by on the way to his office.
While he does that, Cynthia joins Jessica and Emily at their opening night table. She awesomely asserts that she thinks the whole paternity claim thing going on is ridiculous, then refers to Priscilla as “Aunt Priscilla” and makes an amazing mean girl face at the band.
For a very brief sequence, we get to watch Yvette work a ritual on a doll that looks like it’s either supposed to be Brent, or Mr. Bill from Saturday Night Live.
You know who I thought was interesting? Roussel. It’s high time we caught up with him.
He’s speeding down the streets of
Los Angeles New
Orleans in the back of his limousine, chatting with Ralph, who tells him that
Vera brought a friend of Victim Jim’s to the Goula Ruins. Roussel says that
Ralph has managed to turn a little problem into a big problem. The impressive
high tech car phone rings.
Roussel answers. It’s Senator Brent. Poor, foolish Senator Brent. Senator Brent who is about to tell Roussel about the audit.
He also asks for a quick infusion of cash, to throw everybody off the trail until the club starts making money.
“The bank’s closed, Senator.”
Senator Brent gets angry and says if the audit goes through and Emily’s lawyers find the money missing, there will be no way to prevent the reality of the arrangement with Roussel from reaching the District Attorney’s office. He hangs up the phone angrily.
Unsurprisingly, Roussel follows this conversation up by calmly placing a phone call to Creepy Mal Carter.
Back at the club, Senator Brent strolls out of his office all smiles to check on Emily, Jessica and Cynthia. He pulls Emily aside to tell her that they need to go home right now. How would you like a new life in Mexico, baby? You’re always saying you could eat carnitas every day, here’s your chance!
Emily is confused as her husband desperately whisks her away from his highly anticipated club opening. Sure, not every character should be as good at deduction as Jessica, but they should still be capable of guessing obvious things. There’s a balance to this stuff.
At the same time the Renwycks are hurrying home, Charlie announces that the band is going to take a break. Priscilla tells him that she’s going to get some air.
The action moves to the Broussard mansion, where the wall clock ticks loudly. Its pendulum counting down some unknown fate with every golden swing. Brent Renwyck stands alone in the study, pouring himself a drink from an endless array of crystal decanters.
Outside, a gloved hand reaches for the handle of the French doors.
Senator Brent turns and looks at the intruder with surprise.
“What are you doing?” He asks, more puzzled than frightened.
The killer unzips their jacket and pulls out a long needle, moving ever closer to their victim.
A cry of agony.
The brandy glass falls from his hand and crashes on the floor, ruining a perfectly good rug.
Later that evening, Jessica and Cynthia are rolling in after a night of gossip and subpar jazz. They hear Emily shriek, and rush to the study, where they find her sobbing over Senator Brent’s body. (I know it’s hard now, Emily, but you’ll feel less badly about his being dead when you talk to the bank.)
Cynthia rushes to her stepfather’s side to take his pulse and confirm he’s dead. Emily is also taking his pulse. They’re both checking all of his veins and nothing is pumping. Brent Renwyck is completely dead.
Beside his head lies a voodoo doll that looks a lot like him.
Jessica puts on her murder-solving expression.
So! We are over halfway through this episode before we get to the murder, which is not cool. I mean, yes, Victim Jim bites it in the first five minutes, but I didn’t notice anybody working too hard to solve that. Murder, She Wrote is a mystery series, not a crime series, and I have literally no questions about what’s going on. Nothing feels mysterious here.
Anyway, Remember Lt. Tibideaux? The only person in this episode who can legally do something to interfere with criminals and punish murderers? He’s back to take statements and investigate the death.
Turns out Emily couldn’t handle hearing about their impending financial problems, so she went upstairs to take a bath. When she came back down, she found the body.
Tibideaux says that Senator Brent died of a massive heart attack, and there were no marks on the body except a puncture wound on his left hand. The splinter from the drawer, Emily suggests.
Cynthia briefly reappears to say that Yvette isn’t anywhere in the house and there’s no sign of where she might have gone. She then decides it’s time for Emily to lie down and escorts her mother upstairs.
Now alone with Tibideaux, Jessica lets her claws out a little bit, and asks if the coroner’s first diagnosis was a heart attack, why was homicide wasting time with prints and pictures? Was it because of the voodoo doll?
“You’re real tight with Tom McCray, Mrs. Fletcher,” (in New Orleans, one beignet date to talk about newspaper clippings and machetes means you’re engaged) “So you know this wouldn’t be the first time voodoo has taken the rap for the bad boys.”
Jessica guesses that the cops are probably testing the brandy snifter for toxic substances, and Tibideaux is all: “Yup! Stop interfering now, thanks!”
But Jessica is physically unable to stop interfering. As soon as Tibideaux leaves, she spots something on the carpet. A white flower petal covered in silver glitter. She should probably take that straight to the homicide investigators twenty feet away from – oh, she’s putting it in her pocket.
That is against the law, Jessica.
Behind her, not that we really care, Tom is comforting Cynthia with kisses. Tom is garbage, Cynthia, all the men this episode are garbage. Did you know he knew your stepfather had secretly spent all your mother’s money and he wasn’t going to tell you because he wanted to print the story first? Garbage.
Jessica makes up a story about leaving her handbag at the club, and heads back over there to try and get some answers. But… do we really care who killed Senator Brent? I mean, it was Senator Brent, you know? Who’s going to miss him in the long run?
Charlie is relaxing with a beer when Jessica arrives. He already knows about Senator Brent.
“Yvette called,” he says, “hell of an opening night.”
I think you mean “heck of an opening night”, Charlie. And also, Yvette hasn’t been at the house all night. Cynthia was looking everywhere for her and the police wanted to speak with her, so how could she have called to tell you Senator Brent was dead?
Is Charlie hiding something, or is Yvette? And does it matter?
Not according to Jessica, who blows all of this off and asks where Priscilla is. Charlie motions to a table in the corner, where Priscilla is wearing one of those weird sparkly Star Trek: The Next Generation swathes of fabric. It’s wrapped around her like a rescue blanket.
Before she can get to the table, Jessica bumps into Creepy Mal Carter, because getting from any one place to another in this episode is like doing the American Gladiators course, but instead of giant foam obstacles, you have to talk to an endless parade of side characters who give you tiny pieces of string that come from a giant ball of loose ends. Kind of like an RPG.
Creepy Mal is toned down this evening. He’s still wearing the baggy cream blazer, but he’s lost the Joe Cool sunglasses and the bright red carnation. This is Mal off the clock. Still creepy, though.
“Poor Emily. She must be broken up.” Creepy Mal mumbles with all the emotion of an android who just got a Botox treatment.
Jessica is just like: “Do I know you?”
Creepy Mal nods to himself, pulls his sunglasses out of his pocket – it is 2:00 in the morning, Mal, you look like an idiot – and heads into the night.
Finally, we’ve made it to Priscilla! Level One: Nightclub is complete, would you like to continue to Level Two? Jessica selects yes, and sits down across from Priscilla. The flower crown sits on the table between them. The petal from the crime scene matches perfectly when Jessica places is it among the gardenias.
Priscilla’s story is that she followed Emily and Senator Brent while she was on her break. (The Broussard mansion is within walking distance of the club, somebody mentioned that in passing earlier.) She wanted to talk to them about taking half of their money, but when she got to the house, Senator Brent was already dead.
So much of this doesn’t make sense, but I’m going to jump ahead with a mini-spoiler and reveal that Priscilla is actually telling the truth. Despite the fact that Senator Brent had to tell Emily about their money problem, fight with Emily about their money problem, unwind in the study with a brandy and get murdered before Priscilla got there, and despite the fact that Priscilla left less than a minute after the Renwycks (let’s say a five minute drive and a fifteen minute walk, because the band was on a break and she had to get back in time to sing), and despite the fact that the killer had to get away without a trace before Priscilla got there, yes Senator Brent was already dead when she arrived.
“Which door did you use?” Jessica asks.
Seriously?! That’s what’s bothering you about this?!
The French doors, Priscilla answers. The front door was locked.
Jessica mentions the voodoo doll, and it turns out it wasn’t there when Priscilla saw Senator Brent’s body. Which means that somebody was there between the time Priscilla came upon the victim, and the time Emily found him and the police were called.
Is the Broussard mansion like a time anomaly where minutes are hours and hours are minutes?
Anyway, it’s looking like Yvette was there after Priscilla, meaning that though she left the doll, she didn’t kill Senator Brent. What?! But all of us were so sure it had nothing to do with all of that foreshadowing of Senator Brent’s death in the scenes with Roussel!
The best thing to do here, according to Jessica, is for Priscilla to turn herself in and explain her story.
As for Yvette, Jessica has an idea of where she might find her:
At the Goula Ruins, doing more voodoo.
This time she’s working a spell on a doll that looks like Priscilla, with a little flower crown and everything. Jessica comes up behind her with a lit flashlight, and it’s time for more dialogue that people would never say.
“The goddess of the wind will tell you Priscilla has gone to the police,” Jessica says somberly.
“Oya knows Priscilla has done nothing wrong. The goddess will protect her.”
Just quickly, Oya isn’t a goddess, she’s an orisha.
Jessica brings up the voodoo doll found by Senator Brent’s body, and it’s time to get some serious déjà vu. Yvette explains that she saw Priscilla following Senator Brent and Emily, so she followed her. (Wait, there’s more.) By the time she got to the house, she saw Priscilla running away and an already-dead Senator Brent on the study floor. Yvette left the doll, not knowing how Senator Brent had died, so that Priscilla wouldn’t be accused of anything.
So everybody keeps finding Senator Brent already dead in the study, but somebody had to have killed him. Who could it be?
Never mind all that, because it’s time for another scene with Ralph and Vera.
As Vera’s closing up… wait, what is the timeline here? What kind of curio shop closes after a nightclub does?
I give up.
Okay, Ralph comes into the shop and tries to kill Vera for being a liability. Vera clocks him with a wooden idol and makes her escape. It tries to be atmospheric and tense, but meh.
The next morning, Tibideaux comes to arrest Yvette despite having no evidence against her, except a creepy doll she owned being in the house she lives in, and a statement from Priscilla about the pending lawsuit against Emily because of the paternity thing.
Priscilla is devastated as the police take her mother away, shouting after them that she only mentioned that stuff in the interest of cooperating with law enforcement.
Yvette looks stoic and resigned.
A lot of stuff is about to get crammed into not a lot of time to finish off this episode, so get ready.
First, Vera heads home with a bag of groceries to find Ralph lurking around her apartment.
Thankfully he doesn’t see her, but it scares her enough for her to call Jessica.
Jessica meets her at the Café Du Monde, so I guess she wanted to roll the dice on some more soggy beignets. Vera reveals that Roussel has someone in the police department, and that would have been useful information at the beginning of the episode to help the audience understand why none of these characters were going to the police.
Tom arrives, as Jessica has decided he’s the perfect person to air all of Roussel’s dirty laundry. He’ll probably be killed, but nobody likes Tom except Cynthia.
There’s some new information about tracking down the last person to call Victim Jim (are we seriously trying to get justice for Victim Jim? He was killed by the mob. There’s not going to be justice there). Turns out it was what Tom calls a “lady dentist”, meaning a dentist who only treats women, one could suppose. Other anomalous outgoing calls from that number were made to Frank Roussel’s limousine. Jessica and Vera quickly deduce that the dentist’s number was cloned onto Ralph’s cell phone.
Ralph killed Victim Jim! What a twist!
In other news, the autopsy on Senator Brent revealed no toxic substances, so it’s back to being a heart attack, and they’ve released Yvette.
Why did they even take Yvette in? We’re cramming so much into this ending, it would’ve been nice to have some breathing room.
Time for a “That’s it!” clue.
Jessica notes that Senator Brent borrowed money from Roussel and Emily and couldn’t pay either of them back.
“Sounds to me like Mr. Renwyck’s right hand didn’t know what his left hand was doing.” Vera says.
Right hand, left hand! Vera, that’s it!
But before we can go deal with that, there’s a quick phone call conversation with Tibideaux where he insists that the case is closed, and also informs us that the body was not screened for Anacycla Lupus, and there was a splinter in one hand but also the weird puncture mark on the other. Two separate punctures. But the case is definitely closed, because natural heart attacks can’t lower your conviction rate or raise your crime rate, so let it go, Jess. Be cool.
A quick stopover at the Broussard mansion, where Jessica finds a souvenir menu from the club opening, with a drawing of a pimped out horseshoe in the middle. She compares it to a detail in the old picnic photo, and it seems to satisfy a hunch of hers.
She tells Emily that she’s going to go see a man about a horseshoe ring, and an oddly shaped pin, and she really hopes it doesn’t turn out it’s the same man.
Emily just wanders off with her glass of bourbon. Go on, Emily. Take your time.
Yvette watches Jessica leave the house. She seems apprehensive. She’s seemed apprehensive for like 90% of this episode though, so after a certain point you kind of have to stop taking note of it.
To the club!
Let’s deal with the first, most important mystery that everybody is dying to know the answer to: Is Priscilla Arthur Broussard’s daughter?
She is not.
Turns out the family chauffeur in that old photo of the Sunday picnic? That was Charlie. Wearing his horseshoe ring, just as he wears it now. He wrote the anonymous letter, and he convinced Yvette to lie about an affair with Arthur Broussard.
Arthur paid for Julliard because he believed in Priscilla’s talent. (Just go with it.)
Yvette shows up to confirm all of this, and to express her deep regret at participating in the scheme. She wanted Priscilla to have everything, and she didn’t realize how much pain it would all cause.
Neither Yvette nor Charlie killed Senator Brent.
So who did?
The man strolling out of the back room with Roussel. Creepy Mal Carter.
None of us guessed that!
See, on the night of the murder, Creepy Mal didn’t take his carnation off to look more casual. He took it off so he could kill Brent with his crazy eyedropper pin, because it’s always full of Anacycla Lupus. Funnily enough, it’s full of Anacycla Lupus right now, and in a mad frenzy at being caught, Mal lunges forward to stab Jessica, but is stopped just in time by the New Orleans Police Department. Turns out, Ralph Danton turned snitch and told the cops all about who orchestrated the machete murders. He also confessed to being Creepy Mal’s Anacycla Lupus connection. Creepy Mal and Roussel are under arrest for a number of things, not least among them the attempted murder of J.B. Fletcher.
With everyone at the Broussard house gathered around to say goodbye to Jessica, Emily gets a phone call from her lawyer. He tells her that the contract Senator Brent signed with Creepy Mal is null and void because Emily was legally joint owner of the club, and she never gave Brent her power of attorney.
The nightclub is hers and everything is back to normal!
And that’s that!
Phew! Next time we watch a Murder, She Wrote, remind me to pick one of the good ones!