Welcome freaks and geeks! After the last few episodes’ worth of grim, grimmer, and grimmest we fiiiiiiinnnnnnaaaaallllllly get some fun this week. I mean, there’s still a gruesome murder but also Phryne goes full undercover as Fern, Rural Circus Employee which means so many sequins and wigs. We also get to meet Phryne’s dreamiest ex, Jack’s amazing first arrest, and get a few Formative Phryne flashbacks. Welcome to the big top, you guys!
As per ever, this isn’t Miss Fisher’s Adventures At The Big Top, so in short order we find our pre-opening-credits murder victim. And this week, it’s a lot of look:
The half-man, half-woman freak show performer Miss Christopher (an uncomfortable look into the 1920s view on intersex individuals) has been strangled, stabbed with four throwing knives, wrapped in a boa constrictor, and stuffed into the magician’s disappearing cabinet. Basically, everyone’s a suspect. What else is new.
I’ll tell you what’s new! This guy. No, not Mr. Butler, the tall drink of water he’s giving the once-over to. Who could he be??
It seems like forever since we’ve had a pin-up worthy paramour on this show, and the flirtation with Jack has plateau-ed post restaurant undercover kiss. The perfect time for a strong handsome figure from the past to enter all of our lives.
After the exceptionally sad dealings of the last little bit, it’s a delight to find Phryne, Dot and Ragamuffin Jane enjoying some good ol’ fashioned batter licking. Jane and Dot look like the picture of sensible kitchen maids enjoying their just desserts after a hard morning over the stove, cardigans and pigtails reassuringly in place. As much as I give Dot a hard time for her neutrals, they are very her. When she’s in the kitchen, she visually belongs. They are less washed-out and muddy, more warm and safe.
Phryne, with a gold floral top with tulip sleeves, her signature red lipstick and drop earrings, looks closer to a Marie Antoinette level of indulgence. She’s more of a kitchen-interloper. She recognizes that this is Dot’s safe space, and that is ok. Because: batter!
But some things take priority over female kitchen bonding, and here is one of them: a blast from Phryne’s past known as Samson the Circus Strongman. I am not going to dance around this: Sam is 100% pure Australian beefcake. He is built like a brick house. He is one Cyndi Lauper song away Terry Crews-level feminist babe.
He’s also as emotionally stable as a rock AND dressed to the nines in the sort of custom-made three-piece suits mandated by a physique such as his. Sam’s here because a) the circus is in town! and b) he needs Phryne’s help investigating Miss Christopher murder. Sensitive man that he is, he knows the circus is still v triggering due to its involvement in Phryne’s sister’s childhood disappearance. How many murders are too many murders for Phryne?
Sam’s only asking because of Detective Terrible-At-His-Job, who is the official lead on this investigation. Ugh, hasn’t everyone realized by now the only Detective required in the city of Melbourne is Jack Robinson? Come on, now.
Detective Terrible is interloping in Jack’s office, looking like he is doing police investigation business, but he’s not. He’s only been on screen for 30 seconds and already he’s decided not to pursue any leads and go for a drink with Hugh instead. Never trust a man in a yellow tie.
Phryne and Sam leave the station, realizing Jack is playing second-fiddle to Detective Terrible-At-His-Job and is not going to help them. Phryne learned long ago that police are generally useless (although she’s warmed up to Jack considerably). And just like that, decision made: time to stop running from the past, and head back to the circus.
Also, possibly influencing her decision: Sam is THE CUTEST.
Now, we get into the really good stuff. Because to go under-cover at a circus, one must have the right outfit. Thankfully, this is Phryne Fisher we are talking about. The options are there. Curly wigs? Maybe. Turquoise feathered bra? Sure. Dot in a fur stole? WHY NOT.
The look they decide upon for “Fern, Rural Circus Employee” is… YES. A+++ 100 emoji.
I approve. Sam approves. Dot and Jane have been living with her long enough to no longer be surprised.
Time to run away to the circus, and investigate some suspects! Bring out this week’s day players!
First up, Phryne/Fern meets the Ringmaster, Mr. Jones, who is in discussion with this nervous and unhappy lady. Wild hair, pale shift, loose silk robe: this woman is wearing the outfit of someone in emotional dire straits.
Phryne gets her job, but Miss Parkes doesn’t seem too concerned. Just, you know… deeply depressed.
Next is this vision in pleated black pants, red military style vest, fierce stage make-up, and decorative living snake accessory. I’m both terrified of Snake Lady Doreen and partly want to go out for drinks with her and Dr. Mac.
Phryne, her full BAMF-ness hidden within the facade of Fern, Rural Circus Employee, gets the full “watch your back honey or I might kill you with my snake” treatment.
And finally, because there’s always exactly three suspects per episode, meet Phryne/Fern’s new boss, Mr. Sheridan.
Knifey is very standoffish under the fully buttoned vest and open collar of a showman, but naturally Phryne/Fern wins him with his condifences, sparkly figure skater outfit, and whiplash braid. Almost as if he has something to hide…
Distraught rigs Phryne/Fern out in a full costume (possibly a head-dress????) for her new role as Lady Who Gets Knives Thrown At Her.
It doesn’t take long with Phryne using her amazing conversational techniques (sit lower than your suspect to make them feel they are in control, let them lead the direction of the conversation, etc) for Distraught to open up and share the dirty secrets of the circus. Who Miss Christopher confided in, who she was upset with, and who was sleeping with who. As with every other workplace ever encountered on this series, everyone is secretly sleeping with everyone.
Sideplot: On their way to get a drink, Detective Terrible and Hugh stop a break and enter/alleyway assault. Detective Terrible whips out his gun, for reasons completely unknown.
Poor Hugh is like “Who is this guy? What is happening?? Can we go back to the station now? Why don’t I get to be in the circus plotline? How long until my boxing-themed episode???”
Jack, sneeringly unimpressed with the continued non-investigation of the circus scenario, insists that they must do at least one piece of police work. So they go arrest the most frail and vulnerable person they can find, namely, Distraught. Ugh, Detective Terrible, stop living up to your name so well.
Now style-wise, I’m a big fan of Distraught’s silk shift with embroidery/pastel cardigan/unwashed hair look. This lady is like the girl in high school who was too distressed about her shifty homelife and personal angst to give a shit about fashion, but was waif-y and pale enough to be pretty whilst dishevelled.
So then SOMEHOW Phryne persuades Jack to let her talk to the detained Distraught…
…who explains that she didn’t murder her husband. She has epilepsy! Plot twist!
Oh and also? Miss Christopher wasn’t pretending. She had a penis for real. And was sleeping with the Magician. The latter fact I am even more impressed with. Let’s all aspire to secretly sleep with Magicians.
Phryne savours her victory, once again establishing that in the food-chain of murder investigations, Lady Detectives rank higher than Inspector Detectives. Never underestimate her. She can work a suspect and a braid like a boss.
Let me show you what a strong woman looks like, Jack. And also a strong man. They don’t dwell on it, but Jack refers to Miss Christopher as a ‘hermaphrodite’, taking the new facts into consideration dispassionately. Better than calling her a transvestite, I say. Which I am not sure applies anyway. Transvestite never applies to anyone, to be honest. Let’s all take this time to educate ourselves about how best to talk with the Miss Christophers of today in a respectful way.
Sideplot: The lady who almost got robbed is Elsie. Elsie is a gem. Elsie is an alcoholic. Elsie is Jack’s first arrest. Let’s all appreciate what a wonderful gift Elsie is.
Hugh escorts Elsie home. Hugh interrupts someone attempting to rob Elsie’s home. Hugh gets shot. Elsie jokes and berates him. Let’s all appreciate what a wonderful gift Elsie is.
Dot gets a phone call. Dot answers the phone now! Dot rushes to Hugh’s side. Let’s all appreciate what a wonderful gift that Dot is.
Meanwhile back at the circus, Phryne sets her observational skills on the backstage area, hunting for clues. The vanishing cabinet in particular dominates her attention. How does one vanish? What is the trick? Where are the answers?
She is compelled to try it herself, but the mystery is gone. Sometimes a box is just a box.
Phryne’s clear-sightedness is both a curse and a gift. When you know the trick, you can find the courage to have knives thrown at you. Luckily, this makes you brave enough to stand in front of a hundred of people with your figure-skater décolletage (and purple camel toe) on full display.
After a long day of dodging knives and breaking into locked strong boxes, you just want to put on your shiniest dress, pour yourself a drink and stare at the well-defined jawline of a beautiful man.
They are also talking, something she usually does with Jack. Perhaps with all the Janey murder feelings floating around, she just wants to confide in a man of strength who leaves town at the end of the week. MORE SAM. SPEND AS MUCH TIME AS POSSIBLE WITH THIS SENSITIVE STRONG MAN.
As per ever, Phryne does all the damn work and finally, the real police follow up on her findings. This week, it’s her tip that the bank notes she found were indeed stolen. They’re able to prove this by comparing the stolen bank note serial numbers to their ledger of stolen bank note serial numbers. So simple! Police work: not hard, and mostly involving ledgers.
I primarily wanted to include this scene because this is the first time we get a top down view of the police precinct’s impeccable hair parts. Great work here by the MFMM Combs Dept.
Jack, who has realized that relying on Detective Terrible will only result in two, possible three more murders, takes this case in hand. The man can’t help but get involved, as he is a very guiding and naturally nurturing person who, incidentally, would never wear a yellow tie. You can trust him, and Elsie definitely does. Except when Jack tells her her son is dead. Then he is definitely a liar.
Plot twist! Elsie’s right about her son. Distraught gets one good look at the picture in Elsie’s locket and recognizes him as a dude working at the circus.
Jack and Phryne dig up Elsie’s son, who is indeed Totally Not Dead. While Jack is distracted by the mechanism used to escape a coffin (“how clever!”) Phryne steals his car. If that is not a perfect illustration of their two personalities, I don’t know what is.
Phryne corners the Not-Dead-Son. It’s good to see her pearl-handled pistol out and about again. I’m not much of one for guns, but it just looks so effective.
Detective Terrible gets the drop on her though. So apparently he’s not so much terrible at his job, so much as he’s corrupt. Six of one, half dozen of the other.
Aaaaaand for those of us wanting to know whodunnit, here’s what I think happened: Ringmaster Mr. Jones, Detective Terrible, and Not-Dead-Son all robbed a bank and Miss Christopher found out? Not-Dead-Son faked his death to escape prison, and he had help from none other than Murdoch Doyle, the suspected murderer of Phryne’s Sister, who is now on the lam???These dudes are going to shoot Phryne even though two out of three of them vote “No”???? None of this shall stand. Phryne will not allow it. You will bend to the power of the heavy sideshow eye-liner.
Sam adds his vote to the “don’t kill Phryne” poll, voiced via silent-yet-strong violence.
Sam the Strongman: a fellow of few words and many choke-holds.
If you were wondering if a shovel is effective in bashing in Detective Terrible’s kneecaps, Phryne’s here to let us know that YES IT IS. I judge this to be definitely on par with her legendary 2×4 assault, not quite as improbable as the time she took an axe to a power conductor, and about equally badass as her ninja parkour throwdown.
Personally, I think she should have garotted him with her Rapunzel braid, but to each her own. In the heat of the moment, it’s best to go with ones first instinct and pointiest available makeshift weapon.
Not-Dead-Son, who is in fact Not-Terrible-Son, is reunited with his mom.
He is definitely going back to jail, but at least he got to surreptitiously leave his mom a few gifts while he was out.
Phryne goes home, leaving her circus life to move on to the next town without her. She snuggles into very cozy loungewear, the kind of outfit you wear when you need a warm bath and a hug. The kind of outfit when you are facing a future where the murderer of your sister is on the loose and you couldn’t stop it. A very “me-time” outfit.
In one last flashback, it’s revealed that Janey went missing while L’il Phryne was distracted by the Magician and the Vanishing Cabinet. The cruelest irony of all. Always one to be distracted by mystery, Janey’s vanishing act is one Phryne has never solved.
Jack, a fellow lover of puzzles, has also had to face the guilt that sacrificing people in your life in the pursuit of justice brings. His particular guilt (revealed in future episodes!), is a little different, but it is clear in this scene that he empathizes with Phryne. He’s not vanishing anytime soon, and he will always help her figure out the mystery.
Moral of the story: Strength looks like different things to different people. Don’t be afraid to look weak. Vulnerability is its own kind of strength. And if you ever need to go undercover literally anywhere, Phryne’s got the exact perfect outfit/wig.
Special announcement: As we all know from numerous binges of the full series, the final two episodes of season one work best together. So, we’re working hard on a super season-ending megarecap comprising our take on both “Murder in the Dark” and “King Memses’ Curse”. Because of the number of outfits, plot twists, and smoldery looks involved, we will need more than our usual two-week time period to put this together. So: come back for the full season-ending, Cleopatra-costumed, paralyzing-murder-milk two-in-one recap on Saturday, December 17! xoxo YKYLF