It’s a very intense episode. Miss Fisher (Essie Davis) is mentoring a group of underprivileged girls for a pageant and they’re the mystery, so they’re the ones in danger. It’s the first time “Miss Fisher’s” has really done the child or youth in grave danger thing and it’s a lot. Both because the story behind the threat is… not unpredictable but nonetheless upsetting and because Davis’s ward, Ruby Rees, is one of the girls but isn’t directly connected with the main plot, yet she too ends up in danger. It’s like the show saved up all this kind of tension and unleashed it here.
The episode opens with a dead girl in the water at the beach, undiscovered. Turns out it’s one of Davis’s proteges—in addition to Rees, she’s got klepto Eva Lazzaro, pyromaniac rich girl Taylor Ferguson, and then victim Zoë Amanda Wilson. And Davis gets to be intimately involved in the investigation right away—Nathan Page is quick to point out she’s going to be a lot more effective interviewing “wayward teenage girls” than he will be alone.
The investigation leads to Ferguson’s weird living situation with reclusive wealthy, drunkard grandfather Terry Norris—Davis took Ferguson on as a favor to him—where they find out Wilson was a former maid, something Ferguson forgot to mention. So she’s immediately suspicious, but then there’s also Ben Schumann. Schumann’s the nephew of mayor Andrew S. Gilbert and, despite (or because of) his flippant attitude, has got some secrets. Davis has an amazing scene where she dresses Schumann down for the subterfuge. Seeing Davis—and Phryne—around the impressionable youths is outstanding. There’s a whole role model thing going on, as Davis assumes that role, throwing aside the traditional gender role she’s supposed to be teaching the girls, who are already going through things those propriety lessons aren’t going to help.
Hence, a judo lesson at one point, which surprises constable Hugo Johnstone-Burt but not detective Page.
Rees’s story is entirely different, with her newfound celebrity—they make the society page in the newspaper—drawing mom Danielle Cormack out of the woodwork. Turns out Davis was never able to adopt Rees because they couldn’t confirm Cormack’s fate. With her back, it’s unclear what’s going to become of Rees; Davis has one idea, Cormack another, and neither are quick to consult Rees.
Really good stuff with Cormack and Rees. Really hard, really good. The episode does a phenomenal job not leading with the exposition on how things are done in 1920s Australia, instead letting the characters lead and filling in with exposition later, if needed. Like when Ashleigh Cummings getting caught up on the goings-on. It’s expository, yes, but it also is character development for Cummings, who’s unprepared for Rees’s possible departure.
Screenwriters Jo Martino and Deb Cox do a particularly excellent job with that arc for Cummings, since Rees hasn’t really been around a lot in the show. The script goes a long way in establishing Rees and Cummings’s friendship, which was offscreen.
As usual, excellent episode. And breaks all those rules I thought the show had.
Also… no Phryne Fellow. Would’ve been inappropriate. But it’s the first episode without one.