Ysabelle Dean

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) s02e12 – Unnatural Habits

The episode opens with Hugo Johnstone-Burt and Ashleigh Cummings on their day off, Johnstone-Burt in his civvies somehow clashing with Cummings in her regular clothes; they’re fishing and dreaming of their honeymoon.

Rude awakening when they discover a dead body in the water. Even ruder awakening when it turns out to be the latest in a series of dead girls who worked at a Catholic convent’s laundry. Somehow the convent’s abusive treatment of the girls, which horrifies touring Essie Davis and Nathan Page—the show takes a deep stab at Catholic hypocrisy (well, some of them)—but then it manages to get even worse as we slowly find out what’s happening to the girls and who’s doing it to them.

But running up against the Church means Page’s ex-father-in-law and boss Neil Melville gets involved, especially since he’s just gotten a promotion; Melville bans Davis from investigating and reassigns Page.

Also back this episode are Page’s ex-wife, Dee Smart, who’s openly hostile to Davis at this point, and her cousin fiancé Daniel Frederiksen. Miriam Margolyes is around too—turns out her cook was one of the missing girls—and has some great scenes with current girl-in-crisis Alice Cavanagh. Very nice work from Margolyes this episode. Shayne Francis and Sally-Anne Upton are excellent as the meanest laundry bosses.

There’s eventually a big action sequence where Davis and her sidekicks arm up—turns out butler Richard Bligh has been assembling an arsenal for just such an occasional—and try to save the day while Melville has the cops dillydallying in fear of upsetting the Church.

All the outstanding story threads from the season get resolved here and the episode ends on quite the tease. Writer Ysabelle Dean does a good job fitting in a bunch of content but it some of it is still very rushed. The investigation leads Davis all over the place, from the laundry to high society to the docks and so on. Nice direction from Tony Tilse, who’s really able to ratchet up the tension in that big action finale.

One of the two main villains—motivated by pure greed—doesn’t get the best performance, while the other one gets a phenomenal one. Though maybe the suspicious behavior is less obvious when the solution is confirmed instead of suspected….

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012) s02e02 – Death Comes Knocking

If this episode of “Miss Fisher’s” doesn’t have the highest body, it definitely feels like it has the highest. People get killed off throughout the runtime—and before it, actually, in flashback. The episode opens with a séance, which is automatically awesome just thinking about Essie Davis going off about séances. It’s almost a surprise she’s participating, but it turns out she’s hosting the medium (Julie Forsyth) at Aunt Prudence’s request. Everyone, including me, is surprised to discover Aunt Prudence (Miriam Margolyes) is into the spiritualist stuff.

Margolyes wants the psychic to help Teague Rook get over his World War I PTSD; Rook is Margoyles’s died in the war godson Billy Smedley’s best friend, who also carried dying Smedley off the field at the Somme. Rook is now married to Kate Atkinson, who’s Smedley’s widow, and even has his valet, John McTernan. Margoyles wants Rook to get an official commendation before he dies; the mustard gas just took a while to finally get him. Except Rook doesn’t think he deserves it. He thinks he shot Smedley, not saved him. But he can’t remember.

Hence psychic Forsyth.

Compared to the war veteran stuff—because even though it doesn’t come up every episode, the main and supporting cast of “Miss Fisher’s” are all veterans. Davis, Nathan Page, Travis McMahon, so almost half the regular cast. And this time there are the guest starring veterans: Rook, Jonny Pasvolsky as Forsyth’s manager, Nicholas Brien as a former stretcher-bearer. The Great War looms over these characters, haunting them all in different ways. It’s very nicely done by writer Ysabelle Dean and director Ken Cameron this episode. Davis’s performance in particular is fantastic.

Because once the first body drops, Davis and Page find themselves having to solve the battlefield mystery and figuring out how it relates to the present day murder and then the second one.

Along the way, Davis has time for her first Phryne Fellow of the season, Pasvolsky, who proves quite soulful once Davis convinces him of the “sanctity of the boudoir.” Good performances this episode from McMahon—who still doesn’t like conscientious objectors, which gets in the way of his investigating on Davis’s behalf—and then Rook. Rook does rather well.

There’s also a good combination of scares and laughs for Ashleigh Cummings, who finds the whole séance business disturbingly un-Catholic, as well as some wonderful scenes with Page and Davis. The show’s very intentionally toying with their chemistry at this point, rather delightfully.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012) s01e12 – Murder in the Dark

It’s truly amazing what they’re able to get away with this episode in terms of red herrings, shoehorned subplots, shock tactics, exploitative tension, and so on. Director Daina Reid and writer Ysabelle Dean put everyone through the ringer—with a couple really obvious questions left open at the end—and grinds them flat.

The main plot itself is a bait and switch, starting with a murder at Miriam Margolyes’s estate. She’s lead Essie Davis’s aunt; Davis and sidekick Ashleigh Cummings are packing to go to a party at Margolyes’s—a costumed engagement party for Margoyles’s son, Felix Williamson—when Davis gets a call from her. Their planned lunch is off, but come anyway, there’s been a murder.

Davis calls the cops, who arrive just after she gets there and we’ve met Williamson, who isn’t exactly suspicious but isn’t exactly not. Then we meet his fiancée, Kate Jenkinson, who’s performatively risqué enough to shock Hugo Johnstone-Burt but not Nathan Page (who’s preoccupied with his divorce proceedings, information he only shares reluctantly and never, I don’t think, with Davis)—before getting to victim’s father, Ken Radley. Radley goes from being grieving parent to number one suspect rather quickly, with the episode taking a break to introduce John Lloyd Fillingham as Margolyes’s other son, who’s developmentally disabled.

Except we’ve already met Fillingham… he discovered the body and Margolyes covered it up.

Throw in a subplot about Davis bringing her household over to save the engagement party, complete with hash fudge, Margoyles flipping out over the communist cab drivers, and Ruby Rees discovering—by fault of the same name—Fillingham’s still traumatized over Davis’s sister’s disappearance years before.

Now, the episode’s so effective, it’s able to get over them seemingly contradicting the information we got about the sister’s disappearance last episode. Fillingham wasn’t just there as a kid, he also says the man who took the sister is back and he killed the victim.

Distracted Page chalks it up to Fillingham’s impairment while Davis starts freaking out thinking Nicholas Bell is after her family… while Cummings and Johnstone-Burt actually do the work and save the day.

If only they were a few moments sooner….

It’s a phenomenally paced episode. The last ten minutes increase the tension second-to-second. You just want the episode to end, even on a dreadful resolution or enraging cliffhanger, but to just stop and give you a break. It’s great.

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