One thing all Phryne fans know is that in times of trouble and turmoil, watching literally any episode of this show is like chicken soup mixed with puppy snuggles mixed with a warm blanket. Terrible, horrific things may happen in the world of MFMM but we all know that by the time an hour is up, Phryne & co. will have put it all right. And this week is a special treat, bringing the long-awaited return of Phryne’s AWOL BFF, Dr. Mac! So let’s all step back to 1920s Melbourne, and remember how things always turn out OK because of all the Phrynes and Dots and Jacks and Dr. Macs in the world.
Not sure if this lady is also as generally helpful as those mentioned above, as the episode has just started and I don’t know who she is yet. But it’s the pre-opening credits sequence so I don’t have many hopes for her longevity.
Aaaaaand so yeah, ten seconds after meeting her she gets pushed into an industrial sized machine to be chewed up in the gears. Very gory, much blood. #RIP whoever you were.
After an opening credits dance party (an important part of how this show can help what ails you: a good shimmy shake or even appreciative head bob helps get one in the mood), we’re greeted with our old pal Phryne, still not doing so great with mornings.
But of course Mr. B knows only matters of the utmost importance are reason to wake Phryne before noon, and this is no exception. Phryne drags herself downstairs to find an uncharacteristically shaken Dr. Mac. Her tweed suit is impeccable, but her expression is weary and distraught. She has not slept well, and not in a good way.
Displaying yet again (as though we could forget) that Phryne is the Best Friend Ever, she fetches them a morning tipple and then they set to work setting the world to rights. Things are about to get all kinds of sad for Dr. Mac, so let’s pause for a moment to appreciate her always lovely red hair. That dark red looks fabulous against her customary uniform of brown-y suit and maroon-y cravat. Even in times of utmost sadness, Dr. Mac refuses to serve any less than Katharine Hepburn Realness.
Dr. Mac leads Phryne to the site of the murder, because of course there’s always a murder. This week, it’s the local factory-work, machine-shop, Dickensian workhouse, important employer of so-called fallen, single women. All the single ladies know Mac, because she is there on the regular giving the Boss a shot every day for his heart and this is not a woman you fail to notice strutting past. No wonder she and Phryne are ride or die.
Boss Man is the type to need a shot for his heart, in an angry and generally poor attitude kind of way. Dr. Mac proves herself a true professional, performing her medical duty despite her apparent shock at the recent death of Pre-Opening-Credits Lady. This show has brought us some well-dressed men, but the bosses of any business are never among them. Yet another Boss Man in yet another meh double breasted suit and side-part. Frankly, that bronze bust behind him looks better.
Boss Man’s sister is as friendly and accommodating as her brother is prickly and frustrated. Have you noticed the abundance of redheads on this show? This is a GOOD THING, can never have too many gingers on TV. This redhead knows her color story (like most with this hair color, she is an autumn), as evidenced by this pussy-bow blouse complimenting her coloring most excellently. Confession: I have a secret soft spot for pussy-bow blouses and the throwback secretarial aesthetic they provide. Between the color, bow, print, and material: this is a great look. But also note, as stylish as she is, she’s second in command to her brother.
With Dr. Mac busy with her Hippocratic Oath, Phryne sneaks off to do her Photographic Sleuth. The piece of machinery where the Pre-Opening-Credits-Lady made her untimely end is easy to spot: still very bloody. And Phryne’s right there with her Brownie, snapping away.
I love how this show’s props department always takes the time to source and supply old timey cameras. Did Detectives even sneak around with Brownies tucked in their pockets? Were crime-scene shots as ubiquitous as photographic evidence is today? I guess if anyone would know, it is the stylish lady in a brocade blue coat. When your gloves match your hat, you are the type of person that knows a thing or two about the most cutting edge technologies.
Fortunately, the latest in foldable camera technology is just discreet enough to conceal in the fashionable handbag of a well-bred Lady. This Foreman type guy has no idea she was sleuthing the crime scene. Which is for the best, since we wouldn’t want him to ruffle that back-combed hair, would we. This man is literally “buttoned-up”. I like the chore-coat, but his look is saying “rules are NOT for breaking”.
Sure enough, he gets Phryne escorted off the premises because he obviously doesn’t care for unsupervised ladies wandering about. Who knows what they’ll get up to? But basically, she’s seen enough bloody weirdness around the factory to be totally on board with Dr. Mac’s suspicion that there has definitely been a murder here.
So… enter Dot, and her burgeoning second career as an undercover detective. Need someone to go undercover as a distraught pregnant single woman, an innocent single housemaid, or a desperate unemployed single woman? She’s your gal! Something about her earnest and unstudied smile and fondness for dingy neutrals just makes everyone feel they can trust her. No need to check her references, Ms. Sister-Boss, just believe her when she says she makes a mean cuppa.
And how! This other gal, henceforth known as Tea-Cart, is in charge of tea service to all the factory workers. And sidenote: I am enamored of the entire idea of ladies with carts who bring tea, sugar, and milk to workers every day at tea time. It is the most Australian thing I have ever heard of. It is also important work, and Tea-Cart has no time for lovable Dot trying to make friends. She has to get tea out to everyone. The workers need their tea. Apparently Tea-Cart also doesn’t have time to make tea properly, because everyone keeps mentioning how good Dot’s tea is compared to hers.
Dot, of course, is a total pro, both at tea-making and slyly discovering insider details from casual conversations. She also manages to look entirely adorable in a wardrobe consisting entirely of mushroom brown, so this uniform is literally made for her.
And then enter Aunt Prudence! This episode has all our favorite pals, how wonderful. Aunt P is, like Dot, well-versed in slyly discovering details of people’s private lives, she has thrown on her frumpiest smock and fur stole and hurried to Phryne’s House of Intrigue because wouldn’t you know, she has news to share about the Factory Murder.
Quelle coincidence, as a member of the Hospital Board, it has come to Aunt P’s attention that Dr. Mac is in danger of having her medical license suspended. Why? Because she has been helping all the single ladies! All the single ladies, with their sexual needs. Both in the medical way (prophylactics) and in the personal way (lesbian affairs).
Speaking of all the single ladies, Undercover Dot is still rocking her good ol’ housemaid/factory worker/tea service uniform look and looking into the aforementioned ladies. Picking up extra shifts? Secret payroll ledgers? Two different workers named “Molly”? Everything (except that last thing) is suspicious.
Trying to make sense of it all, Dot heads out for some more casual convo with Tea-Cart. She of course doesn’t smoke, but Tea-Cart does, and ciggie breaks are the perfect time to get the good gossip. And today, to also witness the gruesome death of your employer. #RIP Boss-Man.
Unfazed, Dot immediately looks around for Clues and Details. Remember when she was spooked by the telephone? Our Dorothy is growing up, into a certified BAMF. She will not be distracted by the ugly suit and bloody corpse before her. She’s been Phryne’s companion for several months now. She knows that the devil is in the details. And the details in this supposed suicide involve the Lady Boss-Sister + Buttoned-Up Foreman in the office above.
Oh, hey there Phryne. Where you been? Dot has been doing all the heavy lifting this episode. And Bert and Cec appear to be contributing nothing. You think the least they could do while Dot is working full-time at a factory AND investigating murders is go get take-out.
Apparently they are only good for car chases, Marxist rhetoric and exchanging glances when Phryne gets letters from the local prison.
The letter in question is pretty terrible, coming from the man who murdered her sister and basically presenting her a disgusting ultimatum (her support of his release for information about where he hid her sister’s body). But it’s like bad news/good news because this burnt velvet floral shawl is straight out of Stevie Nicks’ closet and Phryne should draw strength from all her future feminist compatriots.
Don’t let the bastards get you down, Phryne.
Enter Hugh, wearing the expression of terrified surprise that is like 78% of all his face ever does. No matter how many times he catches his lady love working or undercover in an abortion clinic/crime scene/stakeout, he is still shocked, shocked I tell you, SHOCKED!
Hugh’s single lady seems to enjoy her side-kick status in these high stakes games. Dot makes it clear(ish) that if he doesn’t like it, he can put a ring on it.
Another pussy-bow blouse! Love that print. Love that complementary colour cardigan. Love the way they both compliment her colouring. All around Good Look here on Sister-Boss. Also, her coif is perfect, despite (we all suspect) having just watched and/or pushed her brother out of a window. Instead of questioning Dot, why don’t you question the sister, HUGH???
From one redhead to another, we get this lovely scene of Phryne and Dr. Mac getting real among the trees. One of my many favorite things about Mac is her unapologetic menswear inspired wardrobe. Another is her unapologetic indulgence in her vices. Give me my whisky, give me my cigarettes, give me my Dr. Mac. It’s all I ask.
Phryne is also hitting all her Phryne goals. The last time she wore that sheer blouse, it was very briefly and she had a home-intruder at gunpoint. We can truly appreciate it here in the daylight, with that short sleeve shawl layered on top. As far as casual, let-me-tell-you-about-this-letter outfit goes, this one is 10/10, A+++, would wear again.
Phryne’s pondering the gross offer in the gross letter from her sister’s gross murderer and, with an attitude that could be straight out of a Sex and the City episode, Mac basically tells her to pull herself together. She’s better than that.
From picturesque outdoor nature talks to High Stakes Police Interrogation, the gal pals next meet (in the same outfits) at the police station. Jack, apparently testing the indestructible bond between two self-possessed, stylish women, has brought her in for questioning vis-a-vis the death of her patient, Boss-Man. Naturally, Phryne knows that someone as sensible and sapphic as Mac could never resort to murder. Jack, don’t you know anything about homosexuals? (no.)
Finally finding a use for her on-call two-man team, Bert and Cec help Phryne with some undercover shenanigans. As Bert does his best impression of a hat, Cec does an excellent job distracting the Foreman with an impersonation of a drunk. It’s almost like he has done this before….
I just included this post-stake out gossip sesh in the kitchen because DOT. Yeah, get it gurl. You earned that foot soak. You deserve that scone and glass of milk.
Seriously, while everyone else has been doing their regular tasks, Dot has been working 9-to-5 at the evil factory WHILE secretly detectiving AND also helping Phryne, we presume, with her mending and ironing. YOU SOAK THOSE FEET, DOROTHY.
To be fair, Phryne is also multitasking this week, helping Dr. Mac while also dealing with That Horrible Letter. Only Phryne Fisher could so ably divide her time between such an intense personal issue and supporting Mac. It’s ok though, it’s time for her crime-fighting family to spread their wings. Mr. Butler does what he does best, ask What Would Phryne Do? (WWPD?), in this instance, to Phryne herself.
As ever, it is the perfect advice. Sometimes we just need a friend to remind us how great we are.
This guy? Does not deserve anyone like that. He doesn’t get to have any friends ever again. He murders them. YOU DO NOT DESERVE TO EVEN BE ON THIS SHOW, MURDOCH FOYLE.
Phryne, after telling off the prison scum who keeps sending her gross letters, has her mojo back. Which means time to break out an ox-blood red outfit and a new hat, her version of armor. She has been moving away from cloche in the last few episodes, but these sculptural brim numbers are doing a fantastic job replacing them. Her skin is practically glowing in this scene: she is in full glamor interrogation mode.
Loving Jack behind her, all, “get it gurl”.
During Phryne-style questioning, Sister-Boss shows her true form. No remorse, no regret. She’s been running the side-business, but only because her brother was completely useless and everyone is better off without him. Sister-Boss knows her profit margins as well as she knows the colour palettes that work with red hair. I? Do not know what’s happening with the trim or the shoulder area of this bodice but the color story still works so I’ll allow it.
And Phryne is not done yet! Mr. Butler, look at what your pep talk has unleashed. Her latest interrogatee is Tea-Cart, looking borderline unrecognizable out of her uniform. She has the same apathetic slouch, and I am loving that coat. My love-hate ethical relationship with fur collars continues.
MEANWHILE, back at the factory, Undercover Dot sneaks into Tea-Cart’s locker where she finds Secret Lesbian Love Letters. All the single ladies are coming together now. Pre-Opening-Credits was dating Tea-Service, and then left her for Dr. Mac. DR. MAC LOVE TRIANGLE!
This is a lot for Dorothy to process, but there is no time. Because? Tea-Cart catches her and it’s time for creepy factory floor hide and seek!
Yeah, this is not scary at all. Chasing someone in an empty factory. You are really making your case for reasonable decision making.
Phryne to the rescue! She is running faster in heels to the scene than both Jack and Hugh.
Tea-Cart, having now gone full Bond Villain, has her fellow tea servant in her perilous grip. But of course, she doesn’t yet know that Dot is the second best lady detective in Melbourne, ergo Tea-Cart is totally screwed no matter what at this point.
Phryne manages to get in her usual display of Wonder Woman level force, this time taking an axe to a power conductor.
The voltage sends her flying, and yet, does not electrocute her?? The case continues to be made that Phryne is possibly Amazonian royalty.
Oh no! Almost met the same fate as your former lover! I hope this scares you straight. STRAIGHT TO PRISON. (not, you know… heterosexual. That would be weird).
So yes, it was Tea-Cart all along, and she would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for Phryne’s All-Star Squad. But what now of Dr. Mac? For an update, we turn back to Aunt P, currently eating humble pie whilst sipping what I presume is humble tea. She looks uncharacteristically not-bonkers in this sweet printed frock and, for once, not ten pounds of fur on her shoulders.
In what I suspect is an anachronism, the Hospital Board has recanted and Dr. Mac is no longer in danger of losing her license, because no one believes she is a murderer or a lesbian anymore. Only one of those two accusations was true (hint: the lesbian one), but I think either one would be enough to fire someone in the 1920s. But Mac is not fired! And I am choosing to believe it is because the superhero force of Phryne’s love has created a better world in which everyone is both respected and welcome.
Except Murderers. They can stay in that basement.
Turning to her other best friend (finaaaalllllyyyyy), Phryne asks Jack if she should take Sister-Murderer up on the offer and exchange her support at his release hearing for information about her sister’s murder.
It’s a tricky scene, but let me break it down: Jack knows that she has already what she is going to do, and Phryne knows that Jack knows that she has made up her mind. But Phryne wants to know what Jack thinks her made-up mind should be. Phryne wants to know what Jack knows about her. And Jack’s answer will be what he knows about Phryne, and her choices and her character. AND AT THE SAME TIME, Phryne is telling Jack what she knows about Jack, about his choices and character.
Moral of the episode: The people we love may not know everything about what’s happening in our lives, but they know us. Sharing love and support with each other is ultimately more important than political maneuvers and the machinations of sycophants and ego-maniacs, no matter how gruesome or overwhelming they may seem.