Murder She Wrote: Murder Through the Looking Glass

In the fourth season of Murder, She Wrote towards the later middle of the season was the episode Murder Through the Looking Glass.

The car we see in the opening title pulls up at the peer and two men get out. The older, grey-haired one pulls out a gun and tells the other to face him.

The man who is about to be shot asks who it was who ordered the hit, but the hitman says that it would do him no good and then shoots him twice. The shots are off-screen while the camera pulls in on a headlight. In theory, this is supposed to be to shield the viewer from witnessing even simulated violence. In practice, I suspect that it’s a heck of a lot cheaper to just film a headlight and put the sound of two bullets and a splash over it in post-production than it would be to use special effects and do a stunt.

The hitman gets back in the car and drives off.

The scene then changes to a sign saying that the guest speaker of tonight’s meeting of the New England Booksellers’ Association is J.B. Fletcher. She leaves amid thunderous applause, and accepts the organizer’s invitation to get some coffee up the street. As they’re going to the coffee place, the hitman suffers a heart attack and crashes his car next to her. He asks for a priest, and Jessica calls out for one. A priest actually pulls up in a car, across the street, and she calls him over. The hitman, in his delirium, he seems to mistake Jessica for the priest and gives her his dying confession. “I killed a man tonight: Karl Kosgrove from Farmington. H&H.”

He then slumps over dead, and the priest gets there. He asks what the man said, and Jessica merely says that he asked for a priest. The priest checks the hitman’s pulse and pronounces him dead. Jessica widens her eyes in shock, and we move onto police headquarters the next day. There we meet the police detective for our episode.

His name is Sergeant Cooper. He’s telling a woman named Edie the story of how he insulted her sister the previous night. From context, Edie’s sister is Cooper’s wife, and she’s left their house and he doesn’t know where she is and is trying to find her. Jessica walks in and talks to him about the man who had the accident last night whose death she reported to him half an hour ago. Yeah, that doesn’t make sense to me either, but it’s going by very quickly and I think that they’re just trying to get it over with as quickly as possible.

Anyway, Jessica is surprised to hear that he didn’t have any identification on him. He was driving a car so he should have, at least, a driver’s license. Unless, she adds, he wanted to conceal his identity because he was a professional killer. Sergeant Cooper is amused by the idea that he was a professional killer and wonders where Jessica got that idea. She said from his dying confession—he said H&H, which according to her research means “head and heart”; a bullet in both places is the mark of a professional killing.

She doesn’t explain why the assassin’s union—or would it be a guild?—would have this standard. I suppose the idea of two bullets is to ensure that the victim can’t possibly survive, but why not two bullets in the head and two in the heart? If the idea is that they only need two in order to show off their skill, why not one?

Be that as it may, why would a professional killer benefit from not having identification on him? If he’s arrested for the murder he just committed, not having ID will not help him at trial. If he were pulled over for a traffic violation, it could get him in extra trouble for not having his driver’s license. I can see why he might have a fake ID, but not why he would have no ID.

Be that as it may, Sergeant Cooper finds Jessica’s very amusing. Jessica makes clear her expectation that the police will investigate, starting with Carl Cosgrove in Farmington. Cooper is in the mood to humor her, so he dials directory assistance to get Cooper’s phone number and calls it.

At the residence that the phone number reaches, a woman dressed in black comes down the stairs and answers the phone.

She says that she’s Mrs. Cosgrove and that Mr. Cosgrove is alive and well. Cooper asks to speak to Carl but Mrs. Cosgrove says that he can’t—he was working in the rose garden and had an asthma attack, but she can have him call Sergeant Cooper when he recovers. Sergeant Cooper says that that won’t be necessary.

Jessica is satisfied, and the episode ends only 8 minutes in.

Just kidding.

Since Sergeant Cooper will not help, Jessica takes a taxi over to the Cosgrove house to investigate for herself. The house has a gated driveway with a security guard at the gate. As he talks with her and asks if she has an appointment, several people inside watch the security camera footage of this in some sort of command center.

What has Jessica stumbled into? On the other hand, when you hear the dying confession of a professional killer, it’s probably not something ordinary. Still, this is one heck of a control room. They’ve got a super-computer in the corner (look at all the blinkenlights) and also some very serious grey drapes to keep the tone somber.

The security guard is reluctant but calls the command center to ask what to do. The youngest one says that perhaps they should ask “Adams,” but the middle one (the one with the mustache) who seems to be the most authoritative says that Adams isn’t here. The one in the tan sport coat says that a woman this persistent could be trouble, and the authoritative one with the mustache says, “Let’s get this over as quickly as possible.” After being told she can go in, Jessica thanks the security guard and for some reason gets back into her cab, which then pulls up to the house.

I find the houses in Murder, She Wrote very interesting. There was a lot that they were trying to convey with an establishing shot. At least, normally. In this case, I’m really not sure. This sort of estate is a strange place in which to run a… well, whatever this is. And whatever it is, who is supposed to live here? As a cover story, I mean? A gated property with a security guard manning the gate is no trivial matter, but it’s hardly enough to keep out an attacking force. On the other hand, if the purpose of the security guard is not to defend against direct attacks, what purpose does he serve? If people don’t know what’s here to attack it, the security guard would, if anything, draw attention.

Jessica comes to the front door and Mrs. Cosgrove lets her in. Jessica apologizes for Sergeant Cooper’s phone call, as if somehow the problem was Sergeant Cooper’s manner and not the call itself or Jessica’s refusal to believe Mrs. Cosgrove. There’s some chitchat and Jessica says, suggestively, that the police have reason to believe that something happened to Carl Cosgrove. Mrs. Cosgrove replies that it’s time to introduce Mrs. Fletcher to her husband, and leads the way upstairs.

That’s one heck of an asthma attack.

When she introduces Jessica, he weakly waves his hand. Jessica expresses her condolences on his asthma attack. While she’s doing this, the shot changes to the other side of a one-way mirror in the room, where the same people who were in the control room are watching:

The mustached fellow in the grey suit asks if Jessica buys it, and the man in the tan sports jacket expresses the opinion that Jessica isn’t even slightly fooled. Mrs. Cosgrove then leads Jessica out to show her the rest of the house (for some reason). Once the door is closed the man pretending to be Carl Cosgrove—his name turns out to be Señor Delgado—gets up and talks to the mirror, saying that he does not like role-playing. Mustache Man acknowledges this, but says that it’s sometimes necessary for security. Another man walks in—he appears to be some sort of aide and refers to Señor Delgado as “Comandante”. They speak in Spanish and he translates, despite Delgado seeming to speak English perfectly well.

Delgado feels uneasy in the house and wants to return to Washington. Mustache Man says that this cannot be arranged, but they will bring him back to Washington the next day. Delgado demands to speak with Adams but is told that Adams is in Washington arranging the security for his appearance before “the committee”. Delgado says that he doesn’t believe them, and on that bombshell the scene fades out.

We’ve gotten some definite clues about what Jessica as stumbled into, though I’m not sure that they make sense. Delgado is some sort of South-American dictator, or at least military figure. It doesn’t make sense why a South American dictator would be hiding out in a safe house, so presumably he’s a military commander who has run away from his country to testify in front of congress that… who knows?

This is apparently a safe house run by some government agency. Why they let Jessica in and why they picked Delgado to pretend to be Carl Cosgrove, I can’t make out. Perhaps it will eventually be explained.

The next scene is of Jessica in her hotel room. A desk clerk recognizes her as she walks past and tells her that Father Francis was looking for her. He left a message for her to meet him at his church, Saint Jerome’s, which is only two blocks away.

Jessica goes there directly.

Fr. Francis calls out to her by name as she’s walking along the nave of the church, which startles her. She asks how he knew her name. He says that he described her to the desk clerk who identified her. He asked her to come because he wanted to know what the dying man said in his confession, as the confession was meant for a priest. Jessica acknowledges this and, knowing nothing about how the sacrament of reconciliation (“confession”) works, tells him.

He responds that a parishioner who is a police officer told him that the man who died was identified as a professional killer from another city. He asks if the confession included who hired him to kill Mr. Cosgrove.

Frankly, this isn’t a great impression of a priest. (It’s pretty obvious by now that “Fr. Francis” is not a real priest.)

Jessica says that no, the killer didn’t say, and she just met Mr. Cosgrove and he seemed very much alive.

“Fr. Francis” then asks if she’s sure that it was the Mr. Cosgrove. Jessica starts to ask him what it is he wants to know, but they’re interrupted by the actual pastor of the church who calls out, “Anything I can do for you, Father?”

“Fr. Francis” replies, awkwardly, “No. Thank you very much, Father.”

He then turns back to Jessica and explains why he wasn’t recognized, “Father Sweeney. His eyes aren’t what they used to be.”

Jessica replies, “Well, in the words of Saint Thomas Aquinas, we are much as we see. Faith is sight and knowledge.”

“Father Francis” grins, thinks for a moment, then replies, “and the old boy certainly knew what he was talking about.”

You’d think he’d be better at imitating a priest than this if he took the time to actually get black clothes and a roman collar. They’re laying it on pretty thick, but I suppose it’s for an audience who knows nothing about priests. Or Saint Thomas Aquinas. I mean, you don’t even need to have read any Saint Thomas to know that this isn’t a quote from him. That said, Saint Thomas isn’t a great choice to catch someone up on—if you’re not making the quote obviously impossible—since he wrote so much you have to be a Saint Thomas scholar to recognize every possible quote from him. That said, it’s not even a great test since it’s rude to correct somebody on a misquotation, and a person may let it slide out of politeness rather than ignorance.

The actual pastor of the church then gets a message from a boy in a cassock and surplice who apparently wears them to do office work:

The message turns out to be that there is a phone call for a Mrs. Fletcher. The priest asks if Jessica is Mrs. Fletcher, and tells her that she can take the call in her office. When she takes the call in her office, she notices the nameplate that the camera zoomed in on which says, “Reverend Paul Kelly.” This is for the slow witted, I assume, though given that they think that churches employ 10 year old alter servers in full vestments as office secretaries, perhaps they thought that they were actually being subtle and the nameplate was necessary.

The phone call turns out to be from Sergeant Cooper, who knew where to find her from the desk clerk at her hotel. He would take it as a personal favor if she came down to police headquarters immediately because they just pulled a body out of the Connecticut river with two bullets in him, one in his head and one in his heart, and his ID says that he’s Carl Cosgrove of Farmington.

Jessica arrives at the police station and there is some banter between her and the sergeant, but she explains what she found in Farmington and Sergeant Cooper says that it’s time for a house call.

When they’re let in, the fellow in the tan sportscoat says that Mrs. Cosgrove is not at home, but he’s her brother and asks if there’s anything he can do. Sergeant Cooper starts to go up the stairs to look around, but his way is blocked by the Spanish assistant, then Tan Sportscoat pulls a gun on Cooper. Mrs Cosgrove comes out and checks Cooper’s badge, then Mustache Man comes out and asks everyone to join him in the living room.

In the living room Mustache Man says that their insistence on coming might have compromised the security of a DSS safe house. Jessica is unfamiliar with the acronym DSS, and Sergeant Cooper explains that it stands for “Department of Special Security”—which is a made up department, explaining why Jessica never heard of it. Mustache Man is angry with Sergeant Cooper for coming to the house as DSS authority supercedes local authority, but since he has no idea why Sergeant Cooper is there and Sergeant Cooper couldn’t have known that it was a DSS safe house, this makes no sense.

There’s some banter where Jessica deduces that the “Carl Cosgrove” she saw was their house guest and Mustache Man says that he expected no less deductive ability from a mystery writer who outwitted a KGB agent to help a pair of Russian ballet dancers defect (a reference to a first season episode). Jessica surmises that they have a file on her and he rattles off a bunch of harmless facts about her like her maiden name and marital status. Jessica is deeply upset by this recital of information that might as well have come from the jacket cover of one of her books, for some reason. Anyway, they finally get to who “Carl Cosgrove” is—a house identity that they all use when they go out on house business. Sergeant Cooper then shows a picture of the stiff, and it turns out that it is Adams. “Mrs. Cosgrove” then cries at Mustache Man that he lied—he had said that Adams was on assignment in Washington. Tan Sportscoat then says, “Meeting with somebody he didn’t know in a deserted parking lot was stupid. You should have stopped him.” Mustache Man replies, “I didn’t know anything about it.” He then reminds them that they’re secret agents in front of non-agents. Tan Sportscoat takes Mrs. Cosgrove out for some fresh air.

Why they’re blaming Mustache Man is very non-obvious. He was clearly Adams’ subordinate. Also, how did Tan Sportscoat know that Adams met with somebody he didn’t know in a deserted parking lot when Mustache Man didn’t? This seems like a pretty typical Murder, She Wrote slip up, though you never can be 100% certain. There’s some more banter between Mustache Man, Jessica, and Sergeant Cooper. The only really interesting part is when Cooper asks if Mustache Man and Adams were friends, and Mustache Man replies, “I found his company bearable… most of the time.”

We still have no explanation for why on earth they used the person they’re guarding as a pretend Mr. Cosgrove to try to fake Jessica out. For that matter, if Mr. Cosgrove was a name that they all used when going out, why did Mrs. Cosgrove pretend that “Mr. Cosgrove” wasn’t home? Why didn’t she just fetch one of the men who had a driver’s license that said “Mr. Cosgrove” on it to the phone?

Come to think of it, why did every agent in the house use the same fake ID? It would get very awkward if they had to come into contact with the same person twice—by all pretending to be the same person, they would need to coordinate who they met so the rest could avoid them. If everyone had his own ID, it would simplify their safe house business and also provide an explanation for why they would pretend that Mr. Cosgrove was just fine without actually getting him because Adams was out.

Be that as it may, the scenes at the safe house are done and Jessica goes back to her hotel. Incidentally, I really love the hotel rooms in Murder, She Wrote:

Jessica had to walk down the hallway inside her hotel room to get this this enormous living room, btw. To be clear, I don’t mean the hotel hallway. Inside of her hotel room was a hallway past other rooms to get to this one.

The New England Bookseller’s Association sure put her up in style.

She notices the beer on the table and “Father Francis” walks out of the shadows and says that they need to talk. Jessica suggests that he talk to the police and explain why he broke into her room, but he merely says that she nailed him on the quotation in the church. He had to look it up—it wasn’t Saint Thomas Aquinas, it was Henry David Thoreau.

I’m actually quite surprised that this was a real quote—I mean apart from it being very stupid. “We are much as we see. Faith is sight and knowledge” doesn’t mean anything. Actually, it’s a slight mis-quotation. The real quotation is “We are as much as we see…” That doesn’t make sense either, though. And it’s not just that it’s taken out of context. Take a look at the quotation in context (it’s from the seventh volume of Henry David Thoreau’s collected writings):

How much virtue there is in simply seeing! We may almost say that the hero has striven in vain for his pre-eminency, if the student oversees him. The woman who sits in the house and sees is a match for a stirring captain. Those still, piercing eyes, as faithfully exercised on their talent, will keep her even with Alexander or Shakespeare. They may go to Asia with parade, or to fairyland, but not beyond her ray. We are as much as we see. Faith is sight and knowledge. The hands only serve the eyes. The farthest blue streak in the horizon I can see, I may reach before many sunsets. What I saw alters not; in my night, when I wander, it is still steadfast as the star which the sailor steers by.

To be fair, the passage as a whole is merely wrong, not meaningless. But the part about “faith is sight and knowledge” is meaningless, especially when you realize in context that he’s talking about literal eyesight since the whole is a panegyric to eyesight.

Anyway, the real reason I assumed that it was not a real quote was not that it’s meaningless prattle, but that if you use a real quote you might accidentally get something that two people said. I’m quite certain that Jessica never read so much as a word of Saint Thomas Aquinas, and frankly it would be a bit shocking if she even knew who he was. Even having heard of his name is a bit of a stretch. Since she could have no idea what he’d actually said, for all she knew Thoreau got it from Aquinas. No, if you want to catch someone out on a quotation, you should make it up yourself so you can be sure it’s not real.

Anyway, Father Patrick reveals that he works for the DSS in internal affairs—investigating all the other DSS agents to keep them honest. Jessica asks if he can show her identification, and he laughs—he can, but it all says, “Father Patrick Francis”. He asks if they can go outside to talk and Jessica agrees but only somewhere with people around. He very readily agrees to that suggestion and asks her to name the place. She picks a public park.

I like this turn of events. Finally having a good guy in the story is pleasant. Also, I like that he recognizes the difficulty of proving who he is and takes steps that demonstrate trust and make Jessica feel safer, such as going someplace public and letting her pick the place. It doesn’t prove he’s telling the truth, but it’s consistent with him telling the truth and also with being able to see things from her perspective. That’s a good trait for a character to have.

They go the park and he gives Jessica some backstory.

Last week Adams called internal affairs and said that he suspected that there was a traitor in the DSS safe house. We get a bit of backstory on the people there; Mustache Man was passed over for promotion for a younger man. Tan Sportscoat was a hotshot recruited off of an Ivy league campus, but hasn’t gone anywhere because of his lack of leadership material. The young timid guy is young and timid. Delgado, not that I can see how it matters, is actually the leader of a revolution in his country here to ask Washington for more money for his revolution. Sanchez is his bodyguard, factotum, personal servant, etc.

He then tells what he knows about Adams death: Adams telephoned “Fr. Francis” last night and told him that he heard from an informant who would reveal the traitor. They arranged to meet at the Trinity College parking lot, and Adams told no one about this. It didn’t smell right to “Fr. Francis” so he persuaded Adams to wear a tracking device. Adams spoke to the so-called informant briefly then got in his car and they drove off. “Fr. Francis” followed at a safe distance but well within range of the tracking device. As he was going over the Connecticut river, the signal suddenly stopped. He retraced his steps but couldn’t pick it up again. He waited a bit but then saw the “informant’s” car, so he tailed him back to the city, only to see him crash in front of Jessica’s hotel.

Jessica then asks what he wants, and he wants her to do the investigation for him, since the people in the safe house will just close ranks if he shows up and identifies himself as being with internal affairs. Jessica absolutely refuses to be a spy for him—despite that being exactly the same thing as investigating the murder that she wants to investigate.

In the next scene Jessica is in her hotel room and runs in a bath robe to catch the phone which is ringing.

It turns out to be “Mr. Secretary.” She does remember meeting at at the cocktail party at the state department, and—short story even shorter—in the next scene she’s being prepped for going into the safe house to dig up what she can. This includes a lipstick that is actually an emergency beacon.

Interestingly, the cover Jessica is using is that she wants to gather information about the safe house for an upcoming book and has pulled strings with friends in Washington to get her access. I do like this twist on what really happened—that Washington used their connection with her to get her to do it. It’s got a nice plausibility to it, though, given that within the world of Murder, She Wrote Jessica is a literary titan who routinely attends everything, everywhere, and knows everyone. She certainly could pull strings to get access, if she wanted to.

Mustache Man is reluctant, then Tan Sportscoat (now wearing a sweater, and his name was revealed to be Van Buren, but for consistency I’m going to keep calling him Tan Sportscoat) comes in and he and Mustache Man bicker until a call comes in from the gate that Sergeant Cooper is there and wants in to discuss a development in Adams’ murder. (Incidentally, Mustache Man’s actual name—or at least code name—is Jackson, but again I’m going to keep using the name I first had for him since we learned his name pretty late in the episode.)

The new development is that Sergeant Cooper ran Adams’ prints and he had a rap sheet a mile long. This isn’t a development, though, since this is just leftover from a previous cover identity. However, while Cooper and Mustache Man are bickering, a real development happens:

Sanchez can’t wake up Delgado, and not in the “he’s sleeping very deeply” sense. As opposed to Timid Guy, who is sleeping pretty deeply but quite alive. We’ve got a second murder on our hands. I guess it’s convenient that Sergeant Cooper is on the premises.

Timid Guy wakes up and hears from Sanches that Delgado is dead and runs off to bring the news to Mustache Man. Everyone runs out of the room except for Jessica, who goes and activates her lipstick beacon for some reason. “Father Francis” picks up a walkie talkie and tells everyone to surround the house. Then we go to commercial break.

When we come back, Sergeant Cooper is yelling into the phone that he needs the homicide team. The camera then pans over to the next room where Timid Guy is being interrogated. He admits he fell asleep, which had been a problem before, but those times were late at night. That’s why he thought switching to taking a morning shift would be a good idea. But it didn’t work, even with an entire thermos of black coffee.

Cooper then interrupts and starts his own line of questioning, which leads to how Timid Guy saw saw Sanchez shaking Delgado, but couldn’t actually see what he was doing, so Cooper leaps to the conclusion that Sanchez strangled Delgado while he pretended to try to wake him.

Jessica decides to confront Sanchez, says that he was more loyal to his Comandante than to the revolution, and asks if he would be so even if Delgado was stealing money meant for food for the people and to fund the revolution. Sanchez angrily says this was a lie, that Delgado was a good man, and that he never would have stolen from his people. I’ve no idea what the point of this is, since Sanchez is literally the least likely suspect in the building (after Jessica).

Francis and Cooper come and arrest Delgado for the murder, but Jessica isn’t buying it. Sanchez could have had no way of knowing that Timid Guy was asleep, and it seems more than a bit foolish to kill Delgado right in front of someone watching him. Francis says that Sanchez was the only one who could have done it, but I don’t see how this was the case since they have no idea what happened while Timid Guy was asleep.

Jessica is more bothered that this wouldn’t link the murder to the murder of Adams, and she’s convinced that there must be a link.

A little later Mrs. Cosgrove talks to Jessica and plaintively says that Adams would never have let this happen. He was omniscient, I suppose, except when it came to obvious traps. Jessica suggests that the impossibility of killing Delgado with Adams around might be why he was killed. Mrs. Cosgrove wonders why he went off on his own without telling anyone where he was going and Jessica replies, “I don’t think he meant to hurt you. I think he wanted to prevent any possibility of a leak by not confiding in anyone.”

Then she realizes what she just said and we get clue-face:

So, the good money is on Tan Sportscoat’s remark about Adams meeting someone he didn’t know in an abandoned parking lot being a real slip.

Jessica anounces that she knows who killed Adams and Delgado.

We next see her in the murder room.

Yup, the murderer is Tan Sportscoat (now wearing a sweater). To seal the deal, he says, “You wanted to see me?” (I can’t recall a time that Jessica wanted to see someone with less than 5 minutes to go in the episode who wasn’t the murderer.)

Jessica asks Tan Sportscoat if he’ll give her his opinion on a theory she has: the killer was assigned to the safe house and felt his career had reached a dead end. He was restless, and Delgado’s country contacted the killer and offered a large sum of money for the assassination of Delgado.

Oddly, Tan Sportscoat doesn’t stop her here and ask how on earth the head of some South American country would be aware of the personnel in a safe house in Connecticut, to say nothing of how they would know that Delgado would be assigned to this safe house ass presumably the DSS has more than one. Both of those seem effectively impossible, ruling out this theory, but we hear not a word about this.

In fact, he says nothing and Jessica continues. First, the killer had to get rid of Adams, who kept a very watchful eye on the safe house. Which meant the killer had to contact a hit man.

Also oddly, Tan Sportscoat doesn’t object that Adams wasn’t omniscient and could hardly personally watch the safe house 24/7, so there was no need to kill him. Instead he observes that Mustache Man had access to the department’s list of hit men. Jessica pounces, saying, “Oh, you know about the list?” He replies that he’d heard of it.

He asks how Mustache suckered Adams, and Jessica says it was with a scenario. First, creating suspicion about a traitor in the ranks, then having the hitman contact Adams with an offer of information of who it was. Tan Sportscoat says that he didn’t think Mustache had it in him, and Jessica says that he didn’t—she’s talking about Tan Sportscoat. He then walks over to the mirror and asks who’s behind it—the cop or the internal affairs man. Jessica replies, “both.”

This is a very strange setup. I can’t see how it accomplishes anything for Jessica to accuse Tan Sportscoat with people watching from behind a mirror instead of being in the room with them. For that matter, why does the safe house have a room behind a one-way mirror at all? If they want to be able to observe the person that they’re guarding, closed circuit TV would work perfectly well and be less cumbersome. Plus if they had closed circuit TV throughout the house they could then watch the person that they’re guarding at times other than when they’re sleeping. And they do have closed circuit TV watching the gatehouse. (Presumably the answer is that the plot wouldn’t work with closed circuit TV since that would almost certainly be recorded on 24 hour loop, making the murder impossible.)

Be that as it may, there’s an interesting twist that comes up: Tan Sportscoat says that he can account for his whereabouts during every minute of Timid Guy’s shift. Jessica replies that he didn’t kill Delgado during Timid Guy’s shift, he killed him during his own shift, then made it look like Delgado was still sleeping so that Timid Guy would assume Delgado was still alive and everyone would think that Delgado was killed during Timid Guy’s shift (Tan Sportscoat had been drugging Timid Guy’s coffee and increased the dose today).

He replies, “Well, your theory… turned out to be better than I thought.”

“Father Francis” asks him why he did it, and he replies that Jessica got it right—for the money. Jessica gives him a disapproving look, and he asks her, “Or would you prefer if I did it because I believed in a cause?” Jessica says, in her dour way, “Either way, it was murder.”

Oddly, this is not the end of the episode. There’s a final scene at police headquarters where Sergeant Cooper tells Jessica that Mr. Francis called and Tan Sportscoat is singing like a bird about the people who paid him to murder Delgado. This is interrupted, briefly, by a call from his wife, to which he habitually replies, “I can’t talk now, Norma” then goes back to talking to Jessica. She interrupts him to point out that he’s been trying to get in touch with his wife for days, and he realizes what he did and asks somebody to trace the call. Then we go to credits:

This is a really weird episode. On the face of it a spy-thriller should mix well with a murder mystery, but I’ve never heard of that being done in a way that isn’t just a spy thriller. This episode is, of course, not really a spy thriller. It only pretends to be one as a red herring for the murder mystery. Still, that takes enough time away from the episode that it doesn’t feel like a murder mystery.

For one thing, there isn’t really much of an investigation in this episode. Much of Jessica’s time is spent uselessly trying to figure out who the hitman killed, only to have that eventually revealed by forces outside of her control. Another large chunk is figuring out the identity of the pretend priest, but he turns out to be another investigator, and investigators are (in legitimate mysteries) outside of the mystery.

Of course, ultimately, it turns out that the spy thriller is a red herring and this is a murder mystery, but we only get the murder to investigate 10 minutes from the end of the episode. Better late than never, but it robs a lot of the fun, especially since Jessica knows who did it 5 minutes from the end of the episode. The problem with using the appearance of being the wrong genre as a red herring is that, “it only looks like it’s in the wrong genre,” is still not in the right genre for most of the episode.

The story also had a lot of problems with its plot, too. The way everyone at the safe house stonewalls about Adams’ death makes no sense. They’re running a safe house on US soil, not a fake business in foreign territory. There’s no one they need to convince that nothing has happened. Moreover, there’s no real reason for the agents to be under cover at all, but still less is there a reason to have them rotate through the same cover identity. However, given that they rotate through the same cover identity, there was absolutely no reason to pretend that “Carl Cosgrove” was having an asthma attack. Since any man there could be Carl Cosgrove, one of them should have been. And if not, there was no reason to say he was having an asthma attack rather than just saying that he’s on a business trip. And given that they said that he was having an asthma attack, why on earth did they pick Delgado to play Carl Cosgrove? In the entire house, only two men did not have ID which said Carl Cosgrove, and they picked one of them. In the house, only two people did not speak English natively, and of the two they picked the one who spoke English worse. Also, in the house, everyone there is guarding one person, who is being kept in the house anonymously, and that’s the guy they picked to introduce to a stranger??? In what way did picking Delgado to pretend to be Carl Cosgrove make even a shred of sense?

Next, and though it’s a comparatively small thing, why did they have Tan Sportscoat say that Jessica didn’t buy Delgado-as-Cosgrove for a minute? She seems to have dropped the matter when we see her next and in fact she protested to “Father Francis” that Carl Cosgrove seemed very much alive when she saw him. As far as we can tell, she did buy it.

The parts with Father Francis were laid on thick, but were fine, if more spy thriller than murder mystery.

We run into problems, again, when we get to the background on the people at the safe house. First, only two of the five people assigned there have anything like a motive to murder Adams (since Adams didn’t order the hit on himself). Of the two, Mustache Man’s motive is a bit weird. Supposedly he’s jealous that a younger man was chosen for promotion ahead of him. The thing is, Adams doesn’t look like the younger man:

To be fair, Robert Reed, who played Mustache Man, was 56 at the time of filming while Kirk Scott, who played Adams, was 52. That’s not much of an age gap, though. Also, we’re told that Jackson was shunted aside when Adams was put in charge of the safe house, but how long are agents assigned to the safe house for? And how much can being in charge of a safe house be worth killing for? It’s basically a high (ish) security secret one-room hotel. Apart from when the head of it gets assassinated, the routine must be very dull.

Speaking of which, I can’t help asking again: why on earth do these people have cover identities? They’re just running an extremely small hotel that, presumably, they all live in. They don’t need to go to work, or really to go to anywhere. Is it really critical that they have a fake ID when they go to the grocery store or the hardware store, or run out to the drug store to pick up some extra toothpaste when they’re running low? Can’t they just pay in cash and not need an ID at all?

If this safe house was the home of a couple who was stationed at it, I can see why they’d have fake ID, just so that the people aren’t really traceable when they get reassigned because somebody’s name needs to be on the deed to the house. But in this case everyone had a unique code name despite most of them would not be listed on any official documents, plus they had the “Carl Cosgrove” fake identity to use when going outside of the house. No matter which way you look at it, it seems to serve no conceivable purpose. It’s intrigue just for the sake of having something more complicated.

Speaking of things just for the sake of having something more complicated, Sanchez being suspected of Delgado’s murder makes no sense. Granted, motive isn’t everything. Still, it’s a lot, especially when it would have been utterly idiotic to kill Delgado in the way he would have had to do it then when he could have killed Delgado at any time. It’s not even slightly plausible, and just makes Francis and Cooper look like idiots. That’s especially unfortunate for Francis since he started off seeming intelligent.

But that brings me to Cooper: why was he part of the episode? Does Murder, She Wrote simply have to have a policeman in every episode because of some sort of clause in the contract with the studio? He served no purpose that I can see. He didn’t even help Jessica find Carl Cosgrove of Farmington—he used directory assistance to find the number. He did tell Jessica about Carl Cosgrove being pulled out of the Connecticut river and give Jessica a ride into the safe house the second time she went there, but she just as easily could have taken a taxi after reading, in a newspaper, about the body being found.

So, was there anything good about this episode?

Yes.

I really liked how they snuck Jessica into the safe house. Pretending that she pulled strings in Washington to get in when Washington pulled strings with her to get her to go was a very nice twist. It was also a clever cover story because it was both plausible and gave her a reason to snoop and ask questions. It also played nicely into the character of Musctache Man who is inclined to defer to his superiors on everything and to do what he is told without question. This is somewhat marred by the fact that she didn’t actually do any investigating under her cover story, though.

I also liked the twist where Tan Sportscoat had given himself an alibi for the entire time that Timid Guy was on duty. This was diminished by the statement of the alibi and Jessica’s solution taking only 46 seconds from start to finish. It’s the sort of difficulty which should have taken most of an episode to unravel, or at least should have posed some sort of challenge that Jessica would need to think about. They could easily have cut Cooper’s part to make more time for this. It would have been a much better use of time.

I also like the beginning of Tan Sportscoat’s confession at the end. After she broke his alibi, he said, “Your theory… turned out to be better than I thought.” A moment later, after Francis asked him why he did it, he replied, “She got it right.” The calmness in being caught aligns with the way both murders were cold and calculating. They also contain a certain amount of respect at being bested by a superior intellect.

There were also a few comedic moments that were enjoyable. For example, when Jessica activated her lipstick beacon, she first tried the motion on her actual lipstick, but all that happened was lipstick came out. Not high comedy, but it was fun in the moment, and I think helped to distract from there not really being a reason to turn on the emergency beacon. Cooper’s arguing with his various female relatives and in-laws, followed by habitually hanging up on his wife when she finally called him, was mildly amusing.

Overall, I’m not sad to see this episode over. I don’t watch Murder, She Wrote for spy thrillers, and certainly not for nonsensical spy thrillers. I think that main lesson of this episode is that it’s good to stay within one’s genre, and very good to at least stay within a genre one can write competently.

Next week’s episode will take place in a vineyard, which is certainly more promising than a spy thriller.

Thoughts on Dr. Thorndyke

I recently finished the first book of Dr. Thorndyke short stories, by R. Austin Freeman. It included stories such as The Man With the Nailed Boots, The Moabite Cipher, and The Message From the Deep Sea. Not included in this edition were the pictures which were included with the original (famously, the stories would include pictures of what Dr. Thorndyke would have seen through his microscope, etc).

They were… interesting. Much less so for themselves, frankly, and much more so as history. As I mentioned in Dr. Thorndyke’s Scientific Wizardry, the stories as mysteries are often very noticeably contrived to make the wizardry possible. The writing is perfectly workmanlike, though it is not inspired nor does it try to be. Freeman’s main interest was the scientific aspect of the stories.

In the novels, where more is required between scientific deductions because the case must take longer, there was often a victorian, flowery melodramatic romance added, at least in the novels I read, which were the first three. I suspect that Freeman (who was born in 1862) enjoyed flowery Victorian romances as a young man and so wrote them when he had the chance.

I would definitely recommend the short stories to anyone interested in the history of detective fiction. Dr. Thorndyke was, apparently, enormously popular at the time and thus had a significant influence, though I think that the modern stories which are most similar—police procedural TV shows involving extensive crime scene analysis—have no direct influence from him. I think it was more a case of convergent evolution; the police procedurals trace their influence most directly from Dragnet, which (so far as I know) was not influenced by the Dr. Thorndyke stories. If anything Dragnet (which started as a radio drama in the 1950s) was influenced by American hard-boiled detective stories, and in any event focused on the details of police procedure rather than on evidence and logical deduction.

So far as I’m aware, Dr. Thorndyke has, other than as a historical curiosity, largely disappeared beneath the sands of time, and I would venture to say deservedly so. I can’t imagine myself ever re-reading one of these stories for pleasure and I wouldn’t even have known about it except for an off-hand reference to Dr. Thorndyke in Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter novel, Have His Carcass. (Which, incidentally, goes to prove the value of pop-culture references in stories; they can help the study of history immensely.)

Bishop Barron And Jonathan Pageau

There are a lot of conversations which happen on YouTube, and by and they can range rather widely in quality, though most aren’t nearly as good as individual videos are. This conversation between Bishop Barron and Jonathan Pageau was on the very high end of quality:

I watched it about four times, if I recall correctly. There are a great many interesting things that they bring up. The theme, fairly later on, that the main purpose of humanity before the fall was priestly—to lead all of creation in the right praise of God—was quite fascinating. Also the detail thrown out which I had never considered before that Eden had to be an elevated place because several rivers flowed from it in different directions, and of course it is on mountains where God is so often worshiped and encountered.

I also liked Jonathan’s observation that the people who want to make the Church worldly will inevitably fall away because they will, at some point, realize that they don’t need to go to Church to be worldly, and will stop going. This may be described as a particular instance of how the meek will inherit, but it is something we are seeing. On may, in particularly strict times, attract followers by promising laxity, but it does not work at all in lax times. You can see that in how many of the largest women’s religious orders which modernized and wear frumpy clothes from k-mart are collapsing but the traditionalist religious orders who are more cloistered and habited are flourishing.

Earlier on there was an interesting discussion of atheism, and how it can have something of a cleansing quality when catechesis has gotten too bad. I think that there is something to this; atheism can serve as a fire to burn away dead wood. Though I think that much of the new atheism was really about being anti-Islamic in the aftermath of 9/11, you can see that to some degree this has happened anyway. You don’t find many unthinking Christians these days, nor are there nearly so many merely cultural Christians. This is to the good; Christianity must be entered into as a whole person, mind with the rest. And merely cultural Christianity is a desecration.

It’s a really fascinating conversation that very much rewards listening to. Both men are quite sharp, in addition to being quite knowledgeable, and I very strongly recommend it.

I’ve Never Been Nostalgic for Star Trek: The Next Generation

I recently looked up a few clips of Star Trek: The Next Generation and noticed, to my surprise, that it evoked no feelings of nostalgia whatever. This is curious because I was watching it at the same time as I watched Murder, She Wrote, which certainly evokes nostalgic feelings. (Murder, She Wrote ran from 1984-1996, while ST:TNG ran from 1987-1994.) Moreover, I liked The Next Generation back when I first watched it.

There might be various reasons for this. Science fiction may be less conducive to nostalgia because it is supposed to be set in the future. Since different science fiction stories are set in the same future (ours) and thus contradict each other, there is a certain degree to which it is simply impossible to suspend one’s disbelief, and hence to enter into it in a way conducive to nostalgia. This may be related to how the costumes have changed with current fashions, and possibly a great deal more how the computer technology of the day is largely an extrapolation from current technology and thus becomes horribly dated and in no way plausibly The Future.

Of course, if that were the issue that it should be even less possible to feel nostalgic for Star Trek than for Star Trek: The Next Generation. But, at least for me, it’s not. In some ways I think that the original show has aged better than its successor despite its successor having far more accurate technology. The original was simpler and had something of the utilitarian feel of a navy warship. Much of it was almost cartoonish (in the sense of abstract but representational art). It was almost like a sketch of the future rather than a fully done painting. TNG was, by contrast, more filled out and directly representational. You can see this in how they ate colored cubes, cylinders and such-like (the futuristic food was probably variously food-colored marshmallows, to give you an idea of what it looked like if you haven’t seen it). In TNG they just ate normal food produced by a “replicator”. The result was that you are inclined to take TNG more at face value. The problem with taking TNG at face value, however, is that it was a heavily armed and armored diplomatic science vessel upholstered something like a luxury cruise ship that also had a school and a daycare, whose saucer section could separate from the main part of the ship for combat because it makes no sense to bring the daycare into battle, but they never separated after the first season. (For that reason; looking it up they did separate it during the battle with the Borg and Wolf 359 for tactical purposes, i.e. to have two targets).

Another possibility is that Star Trek: The Next Generation was an episodic show with inconsistent characterization. It’s hard to feel nostalgic for characters who one didn’t feel like one knew because they could (and did) change so much from episode to episode. Murder, She Wrote was episodic, but Jessica was mostly a consistent character—as were any of the other characters that did recur. Plus there were elements that were just consistent, even if the show is (somewhat) incorrectly described as formulaic. (This spoof is highly recognizable despite actually describing very few of the episodes.) The only thing that was really reliable in Star Trek: The Next Generation was the technobabble.

Which gets us to what I think is the real reason I don’t feel nostalgic for the show.

Star Trek: The Next Generation just wasn’t very good. Bureaucrats in Space are not really more interesting than bureaucrats are anywhere else. The writers didn’t really care about quality, as far as I can tell. Legend has it that the technobabble was filled in by consultants after the script was written, with placeholders in the script for the technobabble. The ship itself was nonsensical; no one who could conceive of the greatest warship of the federation being a science daycare could not possible care about quality.

In some ways nothing sums up the approach of the series so much as the episodes Best of Both Worlds parts 1 and 2. They started with a neat idea that they didn’t think through at all, painted themselves into a corner, then used technobabble that made no sense to get themselves out of it. (The Borg were a hive mind, not a computer; they should have had no problems at all with reconciling different impulses since their hive mind was always the summation of many individual minds.)

It’s almost enough to make me want to watch Chaos On the Bridge.

The technobabble could have been forgivable if there was some reason to forgive it, but there never was. I think that this might be part of the reason that the Q episodes were, generally, the best episodes: the Q episodes didn’t have technobabble. It’s not that the technobabble was bad in itself, but it was cheating. Q threw all rules out the window, so the episodes with Q in them were the rare episodes in which the writers didn’t cheat.

That may be the real key, here. Murder, She Wrote, for all of its flaws, was written in earnest. If the writers made mistakes they were honest mistakes where the writers didn’t notice. They occasionally had Jessica trick the murderer into confessing, but Jessica at least figured out who it was she needed to trick on her own, and generally legitimately. She never made up a way to extract fingerprints from thin air, only to forget about it in later episodes. She never just added tachyon particles to the murder weapon and suddenly the murderer was in prison, already convicted.

In short, I don’t think it’s possible to feel nostalgic for something that the writers didn’t take seriously.

A Fascinating Video on the Historical Context of National Socialism

TIK recently put out a very interesting video on the history of the German revolution of 1918 and the context of how the socialists gained power then split into multiple groups during the power struggle in the aftermath. This leads directly to how Hitler conceived of National Socialism, and by putting things in this context it makes a lot of World War 2 make more sense. It is very much worth watching. (And don’t be put off that its title mentions the Weimar hyperinflation or that it’s episode 2, it’s not really about either and stands very much on its own.)

It’s Weird What Works, Sometimes

A long-running struggle in my house has been teaching children that if I ask them to relay a message to someone, they should not stand where they are when I’m talking to them and shout across the house. So far I’ve managed to progress to where they will walk several feet in the direction of where they think their sibling is and then yell.

I’ve recently discovered that if I ask them, “please walk over to where [your sibling] is and then tell them [message],” they actually do it.

Sometimes it’s weird what works.

Attracting Women With Purpose, A Response to @BASSFZz ​

In this video response I look at some of the things that BASSFZz has said about “having a purpose” and its relationship to men attracting women, and how this sort of advice needs to be understood like advice for interviewing for a job—how to not screw up if you’re already qualified for the job.

The two BASSFZz videos that most prompted this were:

and:

Bureaucraaaaaats iiiiiin Spaaaaaaaaace!

In a climactic scene in the episode Ensigns of Command, Picard manages to out-maneuver the Sheliak who are intent on clearing out human settlers on a planet in Sheliak space (by accident; a settlement ship went way off-course 90 years ago and these are their descendants). They have given 3 days notice as required in a treaty, but it will take 3 weeks to clear out the settlers due to some technobabble. The Sheliak intend to wipe out the remaining humans after 3 days, but Picard finds a way to get the time he needs:

The episode, overall, is a good one. It primarily focuses on Data and the theme of Data trying to understand humanity and also to be human, though he cannot be human since he is an android. This scene, though, really encapsulates the difference between Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Captain Kirk had regulations used against him, though even this was rare. Kirk never defeated an enemy by reading a contract more closely.

I’m not really sure what to make of this. Next Generation had things going for it but somehow always managed to be, as my mother put it, bloodless. Data was, in many ways, more human than the rest of the crew. In 1984, I am told, there is the image of the future as a boot stamping on a human face—forever. Star Trek: The Next Generation softened this to a dress shoe placed firmly but no more than firmly on top of a human foot, except on Sundays and Saturdays from 9am-4pm and alternate Wednesdays from 7pm-9pm.

I’m not sure what made TNG the way it was. Presumably Gene Rodenberry should take much of the blame. I can’t help but think that TNG was also a product of its time, though, which makes me wonder what about the late 1980s and early 1990s produced this.

Updated All-Cause Mortality Stats for the USA

It’s been a while since I wrote about all-cause mortality for the USA, and I’ve been meaning to write an update. With the curious incidence of the omicron variant (if that’s what’s responsible), this has become more timely. So, first, here’s the most recent all-cause mortality data for the USA:

And let’s zoom into the last year and a half:

As you may notice, the average and upper-bound threshold lines are thicker than they used to be; this is to better represent the statistical uncertainty involved in them. Please note that the last two weeks are almost certainly under-reporting of deaths, because the USA is bad at reporting all-cause mortality until about 4 weeks later (a week only makes it onto the chart when the last day in the week is 10 days ago, but even so the first few lines on the right always under-count, though by how much varies). I’m not sure why we’re so bad at it, but we are, so that’s the grain of salt with which to take those last numbers.

Looking at these graphs, it seems like not much is going on in the last few months. Mortality is slightly raised from normal, but not by very much. It’s still the case that if you scales the y-axis not to the highest number of deaths per week but to the US population (329.5 million, as of 2020), the weekly all-cause mortality would barely be distinguishable from the x-axis, i.e. you wouldn’t be able to visually tell that anyone is dying at all.

Now let’s consider COVID-19 statistics (also from the CDC):

As it says in the graph, the red line is the 7-day average for daily new cases, and the orange line is daily new hospital admissions for COVID-19. Let’s also look at the daily deaths the CDC attributes to COVID-19:

The orange line is the same daily new admissions for COVID-19 (and thus the same line). The red line is 7-day average of deaths attributed to COVID-19. As I’ve mentioned before, this is intrinsically a less reliable number since reasonable people and indeed reasonable medical guidelines can differ as to what the cause of a death is in the case of multiple interacting causes. To give an example, if someone has COPD and catches COVID-19 and dies, which killed him? He’d have eventually died of the COPD, but died earlier than if he hadn’t caught COVID-19. Both answers are reasonable, and the logic behind them is lost when these are aggregated into statistics. That’s why all-cause mortality is so important—everyone diagnoses death itself the same (the exceptions being statistically irrelevant).

All that said, the CDC’s statics on COVID-19-attributed deaths are still interesting to look at, over time, since the judgement as to the attribution of the cause of death is likely to be the same, over time. It’s not guaranteed, of course, but it is likely in the absence of large cultural shifts.

These various graphs are interesting, but the one I find the most interesting is the bottom one—COVID-19 attributed deaths vs. COVID-19 attributed hospital admissions.

Naively, you would expect the two graphs to look very similar but with a slight right-shifting of the death line since people tend to be admitted to the hospital then die some number of days later. Similarly, once the prevelance of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the population goes down, you’d expect the admissions to start going down and then the deaths will start going down a bit later as the people who were already admitted who are going to die, do so. And we in fact do see this relationship from roughly September of 2020 until about March of 2021. It’s wider than we’d expect to see—somewhere around a month—but it’s there. The line of deaths that we’re looking at is a 7-day average, and the hospital admission line is too smooth to not be some kind of average, so possibly the horizontal distance between them is partly just about how the statistics are collected rather than reflecting the real day-to-day numbers.

After March of 2021, the relationship we would expect to see breaks down. Around April of 2021 we see a spike in covid-related hospital admissions while there is a decline in covid-attributed deaths. In June through august of 2021 we see the relationship seem to come back, but the distance between the bars is now bigger, and the lines no longer have the same basic shape. Hospital admissions also spike much higher relative to the previous trough than do deaths (bear in mind they’re not on the same scale, so their heights can’t be directly compared, only their shapes can be compared). Then the falling in admissions actually lines up, for a while, with the fall in deaths, which it shouldn’t. After that, there is no apparent relationship between the two.

If you look back at the graph of daily cases, the hospital admissions actually coincides much better with it’s 7-day average daily-cases line. I don’t know of a great explanation for that; it’s just interesting to note that hospital admissions track positive COVID-19 tests far better than they track deaths. (Again, the y-axes are very different so you can’t compare the lines and hospital admissions are a drop in the bucket of positive COVID-19 tests so you can’t attribute the rise in positive COVID-19 tests to increased hospital admissions.)

As before, my main conclusions are that the USA’s all-cause mortality data is hopelessly laggy and that the other data available still doesn’t support any obvious conclusions. We’re very clearly not facing any kind of existential threat and anyone who tries to take emergency powers appropriate to an existential threat should be thrown out of office as soon as possible. Beyond that, I think that SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 continue to illustrate how little we know about the natural world.

Characters Above Suspicion

A question that comes up in mystery stories is having characters who are above suspicion. In golden age mysteries it was extremely popular to make precisely these people the murderer. Sometimes it was even a game to try to make the murderer as far above suspicion as possible. I am coming to think that this is a mistake, though, or at least that it can be.

Casting my eye over my favorite mysteries, the most interesting characters are usually the ones who are above suspicion. These are the people who are affected by the mystery but are not part of it; they’re the most interesting because we can take them seriously. People who are under suspicion are part of the mystery and thus everything that they do, say, and (appear to) think is all suspect.

To be fair, this is at least partially remedied upon re-reading. Knowing who is and who is not false lets us take the true characters seriously. However, this is only a partial remedy because the other characters in the story cannot trust the suspected characters and thus cannot form meaningful relationships with them.

Now, it is necessary in a mystery story to have suspects, and the plural is important. I’m not trying to suggest that one should do without them. Worse, if one had no suspects then everyone would be a suspect. The key, I think, is the distinction between suspect and non-suspect. Some people must be seen to be under suspicion, and others must be clearly elevated above it in an authentic way. But how to do that, especially when the game in golden-age mysteries was to elevate the murderer above suspicion as much as possible?

Obviously recurring characters help a great deal in this. No one suspects Amos Tupper or Seth in Murder, She Wrote since we know that they’ll be back in future episodes and that Cabot Cove wouldn’t be the same without them. It is also typical that people who were called into the mystery after the crime was committed are above suspicion, hence the police and the detective usually are. This is not always so, though; occasionally people who show up later were there before, secretly. Newcomers are actually above suspicion when they have what makes anyone above suspicion: an alibi.

Of course, in mysteries, alibis are made to be broken. The more cast-iron the alibi, the greater the glory in breaking it.

Some alibis simply stand, though. Being seen continuously in front of unimpeachable witnesses from before the last time someone was seen alive until after they were found dead is, in fact, unbreakable. As long as it wasn’t murder by poison, booby-trap, or anything else that doesn’t require the murderer to be present.

And it doesn’t rule out accomplices.

So, other than a character being a recurring character, is there a way to make someone above suspicion so that the reader can take them seriously and the characters can form meaningful relationships with them?

I think that there is, at least sufficient for our purposes: the author can treat the character as above suspicion. That is, not only is the character established to have a good alibi, but the author proceeds on that basis. The character is given development and other characters form meaningful relationships with them. The possibility of their alibi being breakable, for the wrong time, or irrelevant because of an accomplice is simply never brought up. In effect, the author gives the detective confidence in the character and this allows the desirable consequences.

The example of this which comes to mind most readily is the character of Dean Letitia Martin in Gaudy Night. Harriet tells the dean that she simply refuses to consider her a suspect because the dean is too level-headed. Dean Martin objects that this isn’t really valid, but doesn’t otherwise object since she knows herself to be innocent. And the story proceeds with Dean Martin being an interesting character.

(What brings this to mind is that the character of Rhodri Ap Huw, in my favorite Cadfael story, Saint Peter’s Fair, was partially wasted because Ellis Peters held him out as a suspect.)

Modern Disney Cartoons’ Weird Idea of “Perfect”

Being the father of a little girl I am more aware of Disney cartoons than I suspect most men my age without a daughter are. Due to this knowledge, I couldn’t help but notice that a common theme in Disney princess movies is how some woman or other tries very hard to be “perfect” but can’t be “perfect” and needs to find out how to be “loved” in spite of being “imperfect”.

I’m using the scare quotes because they keep using these words, but I don’t think they mean what they think they mean. (Princess Bride reference.)

As far as I can make out, the concept of “perfect” that they are using is, roughly, “completely convenient.” It tends to be phrased in terms of “doing what she’s supposed to” except this isn’t meant in a moral sense—it is never used to describe being a saint. Instead it seems to be something along the lines of, “never disappoints anyone.”

By contrast, as saint tends to disappoint a lot of people because the saint lives according to God’s will, not according to human wills. Of course, by the same token, the saint also doesn’t need human beings to love them. The saint can pray for people who are busy stoning the saint to death because the saint really disappointed them.

This is, incidentally, what made Frozen such a shockingly Christian movie. Elsa gives up trying to be a “good girl” and becomes the villain, then repents when she realizes that both were mistaken and the real answer is love—in the sense of agape, the generous love of God (to will the good of the other for their own sake). I’ve no idea how they accidentally did that, though. It is very much the exception to the standard Disney plot. The typical Disney movie tends to focus on some overbearing figure in a girl’s life with too many expectations of her, and after she rebels, the authority figure eventually relaxes and only presses on her expectations she can actually fulfill. Then they get along.

This is an improvement in a relationship, so it’s not wrong. It’s a little disappointing that its sights are set so low, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it is roughly the counterpart fantasy to the boy into whose lap adventure and heroism falls, and then he’s regarded as a hero and people now treat him with respect. In both cases the fantasy is about life (by which I mostly mean the people around one) magically getting more convenient.

It would be nice if they could use words correctly, though. “Perfect” does not mean “useful” or “convenient.” I get why the authority figure might misuse these terms—to cover their own imperfections—but it would be far better if the heroin would repudiate this mistake rather than ask the authority figure to not reject them despite them not being maximally convenient with the words “love me even though I’m imperfect”. But Disney is not a Christian company so I can’t really expect them to make Christian movies.

It was really cool that they somehow did, that one time, though.