S01E01 The Murder of Sherlock Holmes

We meet Jessica Beatrice Fletcher for the first time as she makes the transition from a widowed high school English teacher in the small town of Cabot Cove, Maine to an international bestselling author. With thanks to her nephew Grady Fletcher, Jessica’s manuscript is published and she’s thrown into the world of celebrity talk shows, the wealthy, and inevitably murder. Using her meticulous attention to detail, she successfully solves the murder, but at a great personal loss.

SEASON 1 EPISODE 1
US Air Date: Sunday 30 September 1984
UK Air Date: Saturday 19 May 1985

WHAT’S GOING ON, 1984-1985?

  • I was born! 🙂
  • The first .com is registered and the first version of Windows is released Ver 1.0
  • Recession continues to be a problem in the US and 70 US Banks fail in just one year
  • CD’s  were introduced

INDEPTH

The first ever episode of Murder She Wrote (MSW) is a great play on literature and sets the theme for the entire series. The title itself pays homage to the great fictional detective, Mr Sherlock Holmes (I’m a huge fan, by the way), and from whom countless other characters, including Jessica herself (as well as Miss Marple and Poirot – yes, I’m also a Christie fan) have emerged. The episode is loaded with literary references, which in conjunction with the title, Murder, She Wrote, gives us insight into the entire series.

We begin in the small seaside town of Cabot Cove, Maine during the dress rehearsal of a play uniquely 🙄 entitled, “Something Terrible”. We meet Jessica Fletcher and her two friends (Mrs Lois Hoey and Mrs Eleanor Thompson) who typify the well-meaning, but prying elderly spinster, wife or widow. Within just minutes, Jessica demonstrates her incredible prowess without even knowing it. After watching just the first act of the rehearsal (or parts of it), she casually reveals the “uncle” to be the killer in the play and plunges the play’s initially dismissive (and slight rude) director into doubt over his entire production, on the night before opening 👏🏾.

“Something Terrible” this way comes; JB Fletcher & a strewn of dead bodies 🙈

We’re then taken to the opening credits which sees Jessica going about her usual day to day life in Cabot Cove; jogging, riding her bike, fishing, teaching at Cabot Cove High School, and of course, typing.

She later gets a call from her bumbling nephew Grady Fletcher, who by the sounds of it can’t hold down a steady job as an accountant. During his last visit to dear Aunt Jess, he’d read a story she’d been writing to help her cope with the (by the sounds of it, fairly recent) death of her husband (and Grady’s father’s brother) Frank Fletcher. Grady informs Jessica that he loved her manuscript so much, he passed it onto his friend, Kitty (Kitt) Donovan (the first of his many failed relationships love interests), who works in PR at Coventry House Publications. The book is so good, he says, they want to publish it.

“That’s the trouble Aunt Jess. You’ve never dreamed and it’s about time you did!”

The telephone conversation here between Jessica and Grady is an interesting one. As the series progresses, we learn that Jessica is pretty much all the family Grady has. With each appearance, his bumbling and insecure nature becomes more apparent and he relies on his aunt for her advice, encouragement and her ability to get him out of the many scrapes he finds himself in. In this first episode, however, it’s interesting to note how Grady is the source of support. He tells his aunt to have confidence in her abilities as a writer and to “dream” for once, suggesting that Jessica had been a pretty ordinary small-town wife, widow and teacher with little or no aspirations. The absence of her humdrum busybody friends, Mrs Thompson and Mrs Hoey from later episodes, implies that Jessica moves away from that small-town elderly widow to the strong and confident woman we know her to be.

Wikipedia, Pan Twardowski & devil by Michał Elwiro Andriolli

There’s also a further argument here that could suggest that (minus the subsequent deaths that take place), the death of Frank Fletcher was the best thing that could have ever happened to Jessica. Through Frank’s death, Jessica was able to discover her talents, travel the world and meet new, interesting and influential people while also experiencing the wealth and fame that life as high school English teacher could never attract. But on the flip side, with the fame and wealth following Frank’s death, comes a series of deaths – gruesome murders in fact, for which many of Jessica’s loved ones, and Jessica herself are sometimes implicated. There’s an essay in there somewhere touching on a Faustian bargain (The Picture of Dorian Gray), in relation to the murders that Jessica writes about and the murders that take place – The Writings of JB Fletcher) and some feminist theory that would be interesting (to me anyway!) to write about – it’s the literature nerd in me 🙈. Watching this scene with full knowledge of the type of woman Jessica becomes and the murders that follow is very interesting, nonetheless.

Jessica’s manuscript, The Corpse Danced at Midnight is published and becomes a hit, presumably making it all the way to the number 1 best seller of the National Literature Circle after beating the likes of, Murder at the Beach, Taire-Ann, Champignon Car, The Life of SF Smith, Turn Right After Jerusalem and Lord Whittington’s Grave. I’d love to read the blurb of these books – might even write some of my own in future!

Jessica gets booked on various talk shows including, The Today Show, (which is still running and has been since 1952!); David Letterman – who is a big deal in the US; The Phil Donahue Show (another big deal in the US, and who’s show ran for 26 years).  After what seems to be a series of hair, make-up and wardrobe makeovers, with one at Guillermos Beauty Salon – perhaps before becoming Loretta’s, Jessica seems to settle for what she feels most comfortable in (her signature short hair, light makeup and some slightly smarter clothes) and meets Grady and Kitt in New York.

Cheesy grin from the Cabot Cove Bookstore worker

After what seems like a long wait in the office of Coventry House Publications, the publisher and Kitt’s boss, Preston Giles finally makes a hurried entrance looking worse for wear and with “a dozen crisis already this morning”, and Jessica replying that she “certainly wouldn’t want to be the thirteenth”! Hmmm! Foreshadowing, perhaps? 🤔 If only he knew! Jessica displays her small-town-homely-elderly-wisdom-and-charm (that we don’t see much of after this episode) by advising Preston to eat some apples as it contains “pectin – it’s very good for the complexion” and, FYI, also has cancer preventing properties and aids digestion. They make dinner arrangements for later that evening and Preston exists as quickly as he came in.

Jessica: “Well, I certainly wouldn’t want to be your thirteenth [problem, Preston]” 😳

“Then you have no pretensions to having created literature? How refreshing in an era dedicated to beautification of the trivial and the canonisation of the mundane”

After a JB clapback

We then see Jessica making her media and marketing appearances. There’s an exchange between her and a very cynical TV presenter, who attempts to rubbish her writing and the “masses” who read her work; implying that they’re easily pleased “in an era dedicated to  beautification of the trivial and canonisation of the mundane”. This exchange is one example of what I love so much about Jessica’s character – in a couple of short sentences, she eloquently and ever so kindly puts him in his place by using his own words against him. God bless you, JB Fletcher! 😊

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