Anthony J. Sharpe

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012) s03e05 – Death & Hysteria

Even for an episode dealing with institutionalized misogyny, which are often the heaviest “Miss Fisher’s,” Death & Hysteria is close to the heaviest because it’s about a group of women being persecuted and threatened with forced hysterectomies for… enjoying orgasms. Ysabelle Dean’s script never gives a full exposition dump—in fact, the foreshadowing to what’s going on is just an expression from Tammy Macintosh—but once it’s clear what’s actually going on, the whole episode changes gears quite a bit.

It starts with Essie Davis very suspicious of doctors Philip Quast and Damon Gameau, who have set up in Miriam Margolyes’s house and turned it into a sanitarium for women suffering “female hysteria.” Margolyes—Davis’s aunt and one of the show’s most successful recurring characters—is loaning it to them following Quast’s successful care of her son, who’s recently passed away. We met the son in an episode first season. It’s real sad, particularly since we find out about it three weeks or so after his death; we don’t get to see Davis’s mourning, for instance. Instead, she’s just suspicious Quast is taking advantage.

Quast’s immediately suspicious because he and sidekick Gameau don’t charge any fees—they only take donations from their patients, who are exclusively wealthy women. More, once one of the patients dies, it turns out they’re also really big into getting estates left to them. For various reasons, no one is being forthcoming in the investigation—Quast and Gameau immediately lawyer up (a perfectly icky Gareth Reeves)—and Nathan Page’s breaking in a new constable, Henry Hammersla, who screws up the investigative team.

Hammersla believes women are inferior to men and doesn’t think Page ought to be listening to Davis, much less telling him to work with Ashleigh Cummings (Hugo Johnston-Burt doesn’t appear this episode, off somewhere fishing and trying to figure out his life).

It’s a complicated mystery, with lots of unsettling historical details about the “medical” treatment of women in 1920s Australia, high society or not.

The best part of the episode is Margolyes and her mourning arc. The show may’ve skipped the straight drama but integrates its aftermath quite well here, also giving Travis McMahon some to do. Davis had McMahon and Anthony J. Sharpe helping out Margoyles and there’s some wonderful stuff with McMahon and Margoyles.

There’s also a fantastic moment when Macintosh embarrasses Page for Davis’s benefit. The episode ends positive but it’s a heck of a trip getting there.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012) s02e13 – Murder Under the Mistletoe

Murder Under the Mistletoe is the “Miss Fisher’s” Christmas (in July) special I obviously needed but didn’t know I needed. The episode opens with Essie Davis taking the girls—Ashleigh Cummings, Miriam Margolyes, Tammy Macintosh—to a ski lodge; Southern Hemisphere, snowy summers. But when they get there, of course there’s a murder—people are finally giving Davis crap for finding murder wherever she goes—and then they get snowed in. So everyone’s trapped up there with a killer.

Lots of great suspects—Simon Burke, Greg Saunders, George Shevtsov, Alicia Gardiner, Sylvie de Crespigny. There’s also teenager Emily Milledge, who proves you can be Goth in the 1920s. There’s a big backstory—there was a mine collapse in 1919 and it killed a bunch of the workers; widow de Crespigny married mine co-manager Burke; who does he co-manage the mine with—Margolyes. There’s a lot of good Margolyes stuff this episode. Anyway… Milledge is de Crespigny’s daughter.

There are secrets and flashbacks and Ruby Rees coming home from school early and having to hang out with the boys (Richard Bligh, Travis McMahon, and Anthony J. Sharpe, which is adorable). Plus Macintosh gets a bunch to do and not just doctor stuff.

Great direction from Tony Tilse, really fun script from Elizabeth Coleman.

Nathan Page and Hugo Johnstone-Burt brave the snow storm to get to the lodge and assist in the investigation, but the episode focuses on the multiple suspects and the entire cast being in grave danger. There are numerous murders throughout, including one with a complicated Rube Goldberg setup to get the job done.

Really good villain.

Great postscript with the titular mistletoe figuring in.

It’s a perfect Christmas special.

Also—there’s a John Noble cameo; he plays Margoyles’s since deceased husband in the flashback scenes. It’s very cute to see Margoyles opposite a husband.

Oh, and Cummings—she’s doing the full investigating again. “Miss Fisher’s” season two—with this episode as its victory lap—did a lot of character development on Cummings. Did a little on everyone else, but a lot on her and rarely spotlighted it, just let it happen. Very nicely done indeed.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012) s02e09 – Framed for Murder

I’m not just interested this episode because it’s all about the silent movie industry; it’s right at the transition to sound, which means we’re in the late twenties and Black Tuesday is approaching. I’m terrified what it’s going to mean for “Miss Fisher.” Especially when you consider this episode is all about one of Essie Davis’s investments, childhood friend Hamish Michael’s Australian movie studio.

Michael’s trying to keep the local film industry going even though the Americans are trying to takeover. Craig Hall’s the potential investor from the United States; he’s the most problematic thing in the episode because his American accent is bad so it’s hard to take him seriously.

The leading man on Michael’s historical epic ends up murdered and so Davis is investigating as investor, not as private detective. Means she gets to do things like take over directing when she wants to take over directing. It’s awesome. Also a smooth way to get her and Nathan Page working together for the first time in a few episodes without tension.

Well, without professional tension. There’s still personal tension, thank goodness, and the first Phryne Fellow in ages.

The movie studio setting gets everyone involved, from Ashleigh Cummings’s movie trivia helping solve the case (she also proves herself a more diligent investigator than beau Hugo Johnstone-Burt, which is concerning but not surprising) to Travis McMahon and Anthony J. Sharpe having to fill in as actors.

Chris Corbett’s script is geared to be amusing, but the guest stars help a lot. Constantly suspicious Michael is adorable, as is script girl Jane Harber, who’s got a photographic memory. Richard Sutherland’s funny as the asshole director and James Beck turns out quite good as the American actor slumming in Australia.

Stephanie King’s fine as the leading lady but doesn’t have a lot to do.

More than enough excellent support to make up for Hall.

And the action-packed resolution is dynamite; great direction from Peter Andrikidis.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012) s02e05 – Murder à la Mode

It’s kind of a Dot (Ashleigh Cummings) episode. At least more of a Dot episode than the show’s ever had before. Not only does she get a real subplot with beau Hugo Johnstone-Burt, who’s very taken with the outfits he sees around a fancy dressmaker’s (at least the ones modeled on half-French model Freya Stafford), but she also gets a personal style arc. And she gets to be dotted on in the dressmaker’s salon; not just champagne but an evening gown of her own.

The mystery involves the investor of the saloon turning up dead and pretty much everyone there being a suspect. Cummings and Essie Davis are there shopping, which makes it convenient when Davis has to get investigating. Nathan Page and Johnstone-Burt show up quick and the initial investigation is Page and Davis together. Lots of flirting on the crime scene this episode. Quite delightful.

So the victim, Heather Lythe, has a philandering, much younger husband, Mark Leonard Winter, who’s a suspect and appears to be carrying on with Sibylla Budd, who designs for the salon but sister Heather Mitchell has the final word on everything. Then there’s seamstress Tessa Lind who might also be carrying on with Winter or doing something else entirely. Lots of fashion, lots of intrigue.

There’s also a bit of fun for Travis McMahon and Anthony J. Sharpe, who find themselves tasked with intercepting Lind’s something else entirely in an amusing sequence.

Davis has a lot of fun shopping for the clothes and selling Cummings on the idea of caring about clothes, which writer Kristen Dunphy is able to turn into a rather nice C plot. There’s so much mystery, so many avenues Davis and Page end up investigating before they get to the right one. Everyone’s trying to pull something over on everyone else as it turns out. Or they’re confused about what someone else is pulling over on them.

The final resolution is one of the better reveals the show’s had in a while, particularly because it gives Davis a worthy adversary. You actually worry about her in the suspense sequences instead of being sure she’ll be able to prevail. There’s an X factor to the villain here and it takes a while for all the be revealed. Along the way, lots of danger.

It’s a particularly interesting investigation episode, with Cummings getting something more a big plus.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012) s01e05 – Raisins and Almonds

After the lackluster previous episode, the show’s back on track with this one, which almost showcases what material “Miss Fisher’s” works best with.

For instance, there’s not time for the whole supporting cast. Nathan Page doesn’t get a whole bunch to do this episode, but he gets to do all of it with Essie Davis. The Jack and Phyrne banter—which gets soulful here—is a must.

There’s also no B plot. There’s a C plot—which, yes, technically would then just be the B plot but no—involving Anthony J. Sharpe getting engaged and partner Travis McMahon basically throwing a fit and trying to push him out of the business because no girls. Ashleigh Cummings figures into it as well—Davis puts Cummings in charge of a lot of the investigation logistics this episode—and it’s got a rather nice resolve.

The main mystery needs to have some heart, something for Davis to connect with. Here, it’s the death of Jewish guy in a bookshop (private lending library type of bookshop), which leads to Davis discovering how her own gender presumptions are dangerous, how love doesn’t conquer all, and a bunch about pre-Israel Zionism could splinter families. Not to say “Miss Fisher’s” needs some engaging history to click but actively avoiding engaging with the history clearly doesn’t work (see last episode).

There’s also a great action sequence where Davis, retained to prove the bookshop owner’s innocence—after Davis was the one who basically got suspect Kat Stewart arrested in the first place—is snooping around the closed bookshop and runs into a fellow prowler, which leads to a chase scene complete with throwing knives and gunfights. Excellent stuff.

Most of Davis’s investigation involves Phyrne Fellow #2 Tim Draxl. He’s the secretly Zionist son of definitely non-Zionist Brian Lipson, who hires Davis to prove Stewart’s innocence. Lots of chemistry for Draxl and Davis, also lots of exposition as the case leads to the mystical with the Kabbalah. But also to science, which brings Dr. Mac (Tammy Macintosh) back for a welcome return.

There are a bunch of great one-liners for Davis and a couple excellent reveals in the wrap-up. The science mystery is cool (both as a surprise and in terms of historical accuracy) and the villain, while not unpredictable, is great.

And it ends with just the right moment for Davis and Page.

It’s an excellent episode.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012) s01e02 – Murder on the Ballarat Train

This episode takes place soon after the first, with communist taxi drivers Travis McMahon and Anthony J. Sharpe not yet full-time in Essie Davis’s employ. Well, they don’t know they’re in her full-time employ yet. They realize it in their second scene, when she gets them a new car and they start hanging out at Stately Fisher Manor. They also break in the new butler, Richard Bligh, who’s got no idea what he’s in for with Davis.

Davis isn’t at home because she’s on a train trip with maid slash sidekick Ashleigh Cummings. They don’t get through the night before some very strange goings on, including a missing passenger—Abbe Holmes.

Thanks to Davis’s prodding—and name-dropping copper Nathan Page whether he likes it or not (spoiler: he does not like it but he quickly appears to change his mind)—they discover Holmes isn’t just a vanishing lady, she’s a murder victim.

And a rich one.

She’s been traveling with daughter Maeve Dermody, who hires Davis to officially investigate, which leads to a lot of fun scenes with Davis and Page. They’re really ratcheting up the flirtation between the pair this episode, with Page turning to Davis for the more difficult aspects of the case—like tween Ruby Rees, who’s been found with the rich lady’s jewels (but isn’t a murder suspect because she doesn’t have the strength to get the body where they find it).

Who does have the requisite strength? Dermody’s cousin, beefcake Dale March, and her fiancé, David Berry. Davis investigates them both—with some excellent chemistry opposite March, both performances and script (courtesy Elizabeth Coleman and Deb Cox).

There’s a great subplot involving mentalist turned criminal Jacek Koman, who manages to be dangerous while buffoonish; it gives sidekick McMahon a fine showcase too.

The solution’s only somewhat unexpected—thanks to another “strong enough” suspect, Mike McLeish, who lost his wife due to Holmes’s bad medical conduct years before—but it’s not the point; Davis and company doing the investigating is the point and it’s a big success in that department. Davis has got some awesome lines throughout, not just for laughs, but also for character development.

The episode ends with another cast regular cast member joining and the slightly surprising implication Page is still married. Just off his behavior, it seems like he’s maybe a widower but… we’ll see.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012) s01e01 – Cocaine Blues

Of course, “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” is based on a novel. How did I miss it was based on a novel… Not because Deb Cox’s script ever feels too much like an adaptation—quite the opposite—but because it does such a good job setting up the supporting cast. Lead Essie Davis meets her eventual team of detecting irregulars through this episode’s main plot, so it’s never quite for sure she’s putting the team together. Not until the end, which is a glorious celebratory scene, rewarding characters and viewers alike for the rather intense third act.

The third act is also where the show reveals Davis isn’t just a wealthy woman with a title, a big heart, and an analytic mind for solving crime, but she’s also basically… Catwoman. If Catwoman had more of Batman’s wealth, anyway. Davis (or, more likely, her stunt double) needs to get into a second story window so she scrambles up and then leaps through the air, catching the fire escape landing or whatnot. Even more impressive is how Davis makes it seem totally reasonable not just for the character, but also in her evening gown and heels. Because the show’s already confidently established Davis is a badass, but it wasn’t clear she was a no-power superhero levels of badass.

The mystery involves the death of Davis’s friend’s husband. Miranda Otto plays the friend, who’d invited newly arrived in Melbourne Davis over for lunch. Also at lunch is Miriam Margolyes, as Davis’s aunt. Margolyes is a delightful prude, constantly horrified at Davis’s modern ways. The show’s set in the 1920s, very Gilded Age. Gorgeous production design and costumes.

Davis starts investigating the case because she’s good at solving mysteries, which is nice. Davis is active throughout the episode, getting ahead of cops Nathan Page and Hugo Johnstone-Burt not out of their incompetence but due to her own excellence. She’s back in Australia, we soon learn, because her sister’s murderer, Nicholas Bell, is due to get out of prison soon; Davis visits him and lets him know if he gets out, he’s dead. At best.

Outstanding scene.

Lots of good supporting players in addition to Margolyes, particularly maid Ashleigh Cummings who’s afraid to use technology because the Catholic Church told her it was bad. Tammy Macintosh is great as Davis’s friend and Dr. Watson (Macintosh too is a doctor).

The show says a lot about class and gender, showing it in the context of the 1920s and how that period allowed for less patriarchal restrictions in many ways (so long as you’re rich enough and White enough). It’s not just about Davis being the hero for the women in the story—Cummings, Otto, Macintosh—but for the men as well. 1920s European dancer himbo Kristof Piechocki is most definitely a don in distress, for instance. And although communist activist taxi drivers Travis McMahon and Anthony J. Sharpe do the right thing, it’s Davis whose influence turns them into sidekick do-gooders.

With a surprise finish—though with just the right hint to the audience—great characters, casting, production, “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” is off to a fantastic start.

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