Title: Murder, She Wrote episode 5.13 “Fire Burn, Cauldron Bubble”
Director: John Llewellyn Moxey
Writer: Tom Sawyer [lol]
Original Airdate: Feb. 19, 1989 [Wait, this wasn’t a Halloween episode? I am confuse.]
Description: Jessica is suspicious when the appearance of the ghost of a long-dead witch burned at the stake coincides with the release of a book on the very subject.
Guest Stars: Brad Dourif, Roddy McDowall, Bill Maher, Dee Wallace Stone, Christopher Stone
No, seriously, this wasn’t a Halloween episode? How is that even possible? This was closer to Valentine’s Day?! Whut?
So, this is one of the murder mystery/detective shows I used to watch with my mom all the time starting when I was probably around 8 years old or so. I loved mysteries, and would always try to figure out whodunnit before the end of the episode. I was usually pretty good at it, too. I figured out early on that it was usually the person nobody is suspecting, too, even if that is a cliche.
I don’t remember watching this episode way back in the day, but I definitely sought it out many years ago after I became aware of Brad Dourif (who, thanks to seven Child’s Play movies, is shaping up to be the most-recapped actor on this site). I sought this episode out again more recently due to the presence of Roddy McDowall (who is very shortly going to be challenging Mr. Dourif for the title of Most-Recapped Actor on this site). Anyway, this episode is a ridiculous amount of fun and, well, ridiculousness.
I’m not sure why Murder, She Wrote is enjoying a renaissance among my age bracket and the one just below mine, but I’m happy it is. It makes me feel like less of a dud for enjoying it.
We open at night, on a young woman in a pilgrim costume drawing a pentacle (not a pentagram; pentagrams are drawn with the star upside-down) in the dirt by a witch’s stump. She proceeds to light (badly) homemade candles and stick them in the dirt at the points of the star. So far, this is just a normal Tuesday night.
Cue Seth Hazlitt, town doctor and Jessica Fletcher Boy Toy, pulling up in front of a house, bitching about Homeowner Agnes Finney spraining her ankle and not answering when he knocks. I mean, if her ankle is sprained, should we be surprised she’s taking a while to get to the door?
Then Seth hears our Pilgrim “Ghost” chanting around the back of the house, and goes to investigate like the Nosy Nelly everyone in Cabot Cove truly is. Mystery Pilgrim is cursing the whole town, especially those who killed her. Seth tries to sneak, but steps on an inconvenient dry twig, which alerts Pilgrim Ghost to his presence. She smashes the ceramic bowl she’s holding and runs away. As you do.
Seth arrives at Jessica Fletcher’s house, wine in hand, as she’s gracefully escorting out Harriet from the Garden Club. He spills the beans about everything he saw at Agnes’s house, right in front of Harriet, who is undoubtedly also the town gossip. She helpfully supplies the information that Seth must have seen the ghost of Patience Terhune, then jets, leaving Seth to marvel that Patience died three hundred years ago! Three hundred years ago tomorrow, JB corrects. Apparently this is Big News that is Capturing the Town’s Imagination.
Seth protests that he saw what he saw. Jessica’s reaction is as follows:
Next day, Sheriff Mort Metzger flags our girl JB down to complain about this Patience Terhune thing starting to turn into a media circus – he’s got reporters calling from as far away as Boston! Really? One person seeing someone dressed as a pilgrim in some lady’s backyard in a tiny coastal Maine town is news in Boston? Uh, okay.
JB tries to cheer Metzger up by pointing out it could be a hoax or mass hysteria, which is a theory he can get behind. He says it could even be a bag lady, and in New York, no one would look twice at a bag lady. Heck, most people in New York are bag ladies! Jessica’s look here reflects mine:
*smiles and nods and slowly backs toward the exit*
Jessica goes to the library where
ET’s mom Mildred Terhune and her fiance Mr. Dee Wallace Adam are discussing repairs that still need to be done. Mildred fields a phone call about her dead witch ghost ancestor Patience, then ruefully tells JB it’s been like that all morning. Jess suggests that maybe these nosy asshats really mean well. Yes, harassing the town librarian over her three-hundred-years-dead relation is the very definition of meaning well, A+.
Mildred mentions that Adam is furious about the calls, and he wants to move away after the wedding. Jess asks if that means they’ve set a date, and Mildred tells her they’re going to have a nice honeymoon with the few dollars left to her from her dead uncle’s little apple farm.
Cornelius Gordon Fairchild and his obnoxious talk show host media consultant show up out of fucking nowhere. They’ve never met in person, but Mildred helped Gordon do research on the book he wrote about Patience. He’s now in town to capitalize on the mass hysteria witch ghost sightings. He proceeds to ignore JB, despite both Mildred and Media Consultant Rick Rivers (I did not make that name up) trying to introduce her as a fellow (and probably more successful) writer.
Gordon insists he wants to talk to Seth about his sighting, then mentions that he didn’t see a single news van or reporter on the way into town, while giving Rick a Very Significant Look. JB delights in telling him that that’s due to the diligence of Sheriff Metzger. Gordon is huffily displeased.
Later on, at the B&B they’re staying at, Gordon reams Rick out for the lack of media coverage for the release of his book. Rick points out that Gordon fucked himself over by ignoring JB Fletcher, who is what passes for an intellectual and celebrity in this backwater. He would have been golden if he’d gotten on her good side. (Is here a good time to mention that I used to not mind Bill Maher, but these days I find him infinitely obnoxious and punchable? It’s okay, though. I’m sure his fabulous 80’s floofy mullet will protect him.)
Gordon is annoyed that no one told him about Jessica, despite both Mildred and Rick trying to get him to shut up long enough to introduce her. He demands media coverage, and Rick reassures him that Little Ricky is in charge and everything’s going to be okay.
Little. Ricky. Is. In. Charge.
. . .
. . .
. . .
Nope, sorry, I’m dead and someone else will have to finish this recap.
Cut to later that night, and cab driver Jonas picking up a Mysterious Woman (read: we don’t see her face) from the bus station. She says she flew in from Arizona, but she’s from Cabot Cove, although it’s been a very long time since she’s been back. Ooh, Mysterious Woman is mysterious.
Meanwhile, at Mildred’s place, she and Jess talk a bit about whether or not Patience actually was a witch or if Gordon made it up for the book, then their respective menfolk show up. Jess compliments Adam on the shade of blue he’s painting the wall, and he tells her not to touch it as it’s still not dry. Seth complains about Gordon asking him questions about Patience.
As they get ready to leave to go to the Garden Club dinner, someone rings the doorbell. It’s Mystery Woman, who claims to be Mildred’s long-lost sister Irene, and who Seth whispers is also the pilgrim witch ghost.
Backstory: Irene was carted off to live with Aunt Helen in Michigan when she was four days old, because Mom was dying and Mildred was only fifteen and couldn’t take care of her. She tried to keep in touch, but lost touch when Irene was nine.
Irene asks about the rumors of a witch in the family, and Jess deflects by asking what made Irene come back to town just now. Irene responds that she felt like something was drawing her there, and Very Significant Looks are exchanged among everyone else in the room.
At the Garden Club dinner, Irene/Patience is the main topic of conversation, with Seth telling Rev. Fordyce that Irene is a dead ringer for Patience. By which he means the very corporeal-looking woman in a pilgrim costume he saw in Agnes Finney’s backyard. Still not sure why everyone is so convinced it was a ghost, but sure. This is ridiculous, but I’m somehow still onboard 100%.
Jonas the cabbie interrupts to tell them he drove Irene into town, and lists her travel itinerary, which proves she couldn’t have been in town to cosplay as her dead ancestor. Then he pulls Adam aside and asks if it would be okay if he dropped in on Irene sometime, because every woman is the property of the closest male relation.
Late that night, Mildred is woken up by Irene sleepwalking across the world’s squeakiest floor while clutching a candle and some herbs. The next day, she tells Jessica about the sleepwalking, and explains that the herbs are commonly used in satanic
rights now! rites. Furthermore, Irene has no memory of sleepwalking.
At the police station, Sheriff Metzger is reading the riot act to Gordon, telling him he won’t help hype his book and calls the townsfolk hicks who are seeing goblins. So now Patience is a goblin? Well, that’s certainly flattering.
Gordon asks to see the items found at the witch’s stump, and the sheriff goes off to fetch them, because why not. It’s not like you were telling Gordon to fuck off literal seconds ago or anything.
Jessica walks in, and Gordon immediately runs over to apologize for not acknowledging her existence the other day. You see, he simply had no idea she was Somebody! Oops, he said the quiet part out loud. Jess informs him that in Cabot Cove, it is quite permissible to be polite to Nobodies. This is clearly an alien concept to Gordon.
While Gordon tries to puzzle out this “politeness” of which you speak (and paws through the box of witchy evidence), Metzger tells Jessica that Irene’s travel itinerary checks out – she flew from Phoenix to Boston to Portland (Maine, not Oregon) yesterday, and caught the bus from there. Jess thinks the timing of everything is just too coincidental.
Wait, do you mean to tell me you don’t think a real pilgrim ghost witch is haunting Cabot Cove at the same time one of her long-lost descendants just happened to show up in town?!
Gordon rocks back up behind them and thanks the sheriff for letting him
gently caress the evidence look at the items. He found it very illuminating, especially a symbol etched on one of the pieces of broken pottery. It’s the sigil of . . . well, I’m not 100% sure what he says here. Nebrius? Inebrious? Supposedly it’s the most evil of all the demon spirits, usually summoned to bring about the death of family, siblings in particular. Oddly specific, but okay.
Incidentally, this is what comes up when I google “the demon Inebrious”:
Jessica asks if Gordon really thinks Mildred is in danger, and he’s all, LOL What I think has nothing to do with it! Bye, bitches! and flounces out.
Deputy Floyd answers the phone while Sheriff Metzger tells Jess that Gordon is definitely a “bunco artist,” and Floyd hangs up and announces that there’s some sort of ceremony going on at Agnes Finney’s place, by the witch’s stump.
Charles Lee Ray Dr. Overman, an exorcist called in by Rev. Fordyce to cleanse the town of evil spirits. There’s an excited mob of villagers gathered, including Garden Club Harriet, who shouts about how exciting it is immediately after Overman asks for quiet. I don’t think Harriet knows what an indoor voice is.
Overman goes into his spiel, and if you’ve seen Brad Dourif in literally anything before, then you’ve got some idea of how intensely he is attempting to exorcise this tree stump. If you need a visual aid, have this reaction shot of Jessica and Seth, since I’ve somehow accidentally decided to make this the most screencap-heavy recap on this site:
This crowd clearly does not know how to behave at the respectable exorcism of botanical structures, and Overman flies into a rage after some woman takes a photo of him. He says he’ll have to come back and finish later, then blames Irene for his underestimation of the number of evil spirits she infected the town with. Jessica rushes to Irene’s side before the crowd can find their torches and pitchforks and attempt to burn her at the stake.
Gordon rushes up to Overman to compliment him on his work (not the tree-exorcism; he’s read all about him), then introduces himself as though he expects Overman to piss himself in excitement over meeting him. Overman is even less enthused about meeting Gordon than Gordon was about meeting JB. Karma, bitches!
While Gordon grapples with the fact that not everyone finds him as important as he finds himself, Irene thanks Jess for coming to her rescue before the townspeople stoned her. Hey, if all they want to do is get you stoned . . . oh, wait, I get it now.
Irene says that Cabot Cove is nearly identical to the town she’s been dreaming about, and ignores Jessica’s suggestion that it’s because of her aunt telling her about the town. Then she tells Irene that Mildred is one of her oldest and closest friends ( . . . really? I’m pretty sure this was her first and last appearance – so she’s the brand new bff we’ve always had?) and she would hate to see her hurt or disappointed. Hint. Fucking. Hint.
Back at the local B&B, Gordon is incensed that the Rev’s little exorcism stunt is getting more attention than him, and that his book has only sold three copies in Cabot Cove so far. I mean . . . dude, it’s a tiny town. Maybe you should have focused your publicity efforts in a larger market? Little Ricky (no, I did not forget, and I’m not letting anyone else forget, either) yells over him that he’s got something set up for tonight that will blow everyone’s socks off. Sorry to disappoint, but the Mythbusters proved that myth busted, my guy.
Then the phone rings, and it’s clearly bad news. Rick begs whoever’s on the other end not to do this to him, then hangs up and tells Gordon that “she” chickened out on them. Oh. So, threesome’s cancelled, then?
Cut to Jessica getting off the phone (. . . ohhhh?) with the local travel agent (oh.). She tells Seth that Agnes Finney wasn’t in town the night she supposedly called him out for her sprained ankle. Seth cannot comprehend why someone would send him on a wild goose chase that ended with him witnessing a pilgrim ghost witch cursing the town on the anniversary of her death that coincides with the release of a book about her. (Am I laying it on too thick here? Because I feel that however thick I’m laying it on pales in comparison to how thick the show is laying it on.)
Before Jess can knock some sense into Seth, she receives another phone call. It seems Patience has decided it’s time to expose herself to the whole town, via the old Greeley place. This place turns out to be a barn with a giant “For Sale” sign plastered on it. Sheriff Metzger and Deputy Floyd show up in time to see “Patience” run into the barn. The angry mob of villagers do their angry mob thing until Metzger gets between them and the barn doors and literally shoots his gun up into the air. He tells them that he doesn’t know who or what ran into that barn, but no mob is going to run in after it as long as he’s the sheriff.
As for who or what ran into that barn, well . . .
I simultaneously have no words, and too many words.
Little Pilgrim Witch Ghost Ricky lights the barn on fire, and escapes through a small door by the floor, while outside the villagers react to fire in roughly the same way as Frankenstein’s monster.
Some time later, after the fire has been put out and half the town is walking through the crime scene, Deputy Floyd asks what they’re looking for; the ghost? Yeahhh, Floyd ain’t the sharpest tool in the
barn shed. Sheriff Metzger tells him they’re looking for evidence, so again I’m not sure why they’re allowing this many people to merrily traipse through this barn.
Some reporter from Boston is annoyed that Rick called him all the way here for this, and Rick retorts that it’s not his fault Reporter Boy missed the ghost. And since Rick tossed his pilgrim witch costume to burn in the fire, he can’t even do a dramatic reenactment for him!
Jessica expresses sympathy to Simon Greeley on the loss of his barn, but he don’t give a fuck – it’s not his problem anymore. He either had great insurance, or he managed to sell it before the fire. Deputy Floyd brings over a bucket that smells like gasoline, and Seth points out that people start fires with gas, ghosts don’t.
Excuse me, sir, but haven’t you been the one insisting it was a ghost?
Anyway, it’s suggested that they check the root cellar (Metzger has no idea what that is, and Seth helpfully informs him that it’s a cellar where they store roots), so they do, and – dun-dun-DUN they find Irene’s corpse.
And so, almost 28 minutes into a 47 minute episode, we finally have a murder.
Cut to the next day in the sheriff’s office. He looks at the coroner’s report and announces to Jessica and Seth that Irene was killed with a blunt instrument sometime between 11am and 3pm. Jess points out that if she was killed before 3pm, it couldn’t have been her running into the barn. Metzger is irritated at the suggestion that someone dumped her body and then waited several hours to go back and torch the evidence. Suddenly we’re onboard with the idea that Irene was running around town as a pilgrim witch ghost, and Seth reads from the coroner’s report that Irene had traces of blue paint on her face and hand. Jessica starts getting that “I’m putting the pieces together” Look, and I’m right there with her.
The killer was obviously a member of the Blue Man Group. Case closed!
Back at the B&B, Rick and Gordon both appear to believe the other is the murderer, which means neither of them are, but Rick is trying to leave town. After all, Gordon has his bestseller now, due to the massive media coverage. Gordon tells him if he leaves, he’s not going to see a penny from the book. Is . . . is that how it works? Do media consultants work for royalties? Do they not have a contract in place? I don’t understand this threat at all.
Cut to Overman being interviewed by a TV reporter, stating that it’s possible Irene and Mildred were victims of a centuries’ old curse rather than practitioners of the black arts. Yup, spin that shit for all you’re worth! Seth tries to flag him down, which leads to Overman giving him a righteous smackdown regarding his skepticism. The villagers turn on Seth, muttering at him and following
the Pied Piper Overman as he stalks off. Also, Brad Dourif was handed some seriously clunky dialogue to get through here, so kudos to him for blasting through it like a champ.
At Mildred’s, she’s telling Jess that she had talked to Irene on the phone at 1:30pm to tell her she was adding her name to the deed on the house. Apparently Irene was so moved she cried. Yeah, uh . . . I’m sure that’s why she was crying. Yessir.
Adam comes in with Metzger, who states that there are only two possibilities – either Irene was meeting the murderer at the barn, or the murderer followed her there. Apparently it never occurred to him that bodies can be moved from one location to another. He asks where Mildred was, and she tells him she was at the library from 9am until close and there are a dozen people who saw her there. Your library only gets a dozen visitors a day? That’s sad. Then Adam confirms that he’s one of the dozen – he was there most of the day doing rewiring.
Then Mildred says she doesn’t think Irene would go to the barn to meet someone at night, even though the murder took place between 1:30 and 3pm, which is pretty much nobody’s definition of night.
Cut to Jessica encountering Jonas, who is bummed that his girlfriend of twenty-four hours was murdered. They were supposed to be hanging out when she was killed, but she’d begged off, claiming jetlag. Jess gets that Look again.
Cut to her in the sheriff’s office, explaining that you don’t get jetlag traveling west-to-east. Metzger is about to go arrest Overman, because he’s a fraud and Metzger’s theory is that Irene figured that out and threatened to expose him. Nope, Jessica points out that Overman and Rev. Fordyce were in the rectory planning exorcism strategy from noon until Bill Maher showed up at the barn in pilgrim witch drag. Seriously, this must be the worst police department in the country. Can’t even check a basic alibi.
Oh, somehow the fake jetlag also proves that Irene wasn’t actually Mildred’s sister. Somehow.
Metzger runs through a frankly very confusing travel itinerary that would allow Irene to be cosplaying as Patience while appearing to keep her original travel plans (I’ve watched this so many times trying to figure out wtf he’s saying, and I’m still just lost as hell), then it’s realized that Irene knew so much about the Terhune family because Gordon (or Rick; I don’t see Gordon being especially hands-on with this) coached her. And if it had worked, Gordon would have had his mega-seller, and mega-bucks, and a nice slice for Little Ricky as well. I guess media consultants take a percentage of sales as their payment? Is that what I’m being told here?
They’re interrupted by the arrival of a lawyer here to deliver Mildred’s inheritance. Ah, the little apple farm, JB says. Well, the former apple farm. It’s now an industrial complex with a shopping mall, and the inheritance is over five million dollars.
Oh. That sounds like a motive for murder.
At the library, the lawyer informs Mildred that her sister and aunt died in a flu epidemic when Irene was nine, leaving Mildred sole heir. Adam asks if they’ve found out who Fake Irene was, and Jessica tells him they haven’t. Because for some reason she’s there.
Sheriff Metzger has Rick in the hotseat, but there’s been some confusion as to whether Metzger or Floyd was supposed to be Bad Cop. They each told Rick the other has a hair-trigger temper. Whoops.
Jessica pops into the station and whispers something to Metzger. He then turns and A-Ha’s Rick, telling him that Simon Greeley told Jessica that he sold the barn to Rick yesterday afternoon. They know Rick burned the barn down, and probably killed Fake Irene because she demanded more money to keep being Fake Irene.
Despite earlier saying he wouldn’t say a word until his lawyer arrived from New York, Rick starts talking – the girl’s name was Annie Gorman, and he didn’t kill her. She wanted out because she was having pangs of conscience about lying to Mildred. She’d called him from Mildred’s house and refused to do the bit in the barn, so he’d gone to the house to talk to her, but she wasn’t there. All he’s guilty of is burning his own barn down! Isn’t that still some sort of crime? At the very least, you’re endangering the land and buildings around it.
Oh, and he never thought this whole thing would make Gordon so crazy.
Metzger is ready to arrest Gordon as the killer, but Jess isn’t paying attention and has that Look again. Something she saw makes total sense now. Cryptic, Jess. Cryptic.
Cut to a scene of Jess creeping around the barn with a flashlight, shining it on something on the floor and identifying it as fresh paint and lamenting that that’s what happened.
We’re back to the Blue Man Group?
At Jessica’s house, after dinner with Seth, Mildred and Adam, Seth asks if Gordon has confessed yet. This leads to Jess very pointedly saying that the sheriff is going to investigate the barn more thoroughly for evidence in the morning, in case Gordon left anything behind. Seth points out that that would have been very stupid of Gordon, and that’s one thing he’s not. Jess points out that he was expecting the evidence to burn up in the fire, and therefore may not have been as careful as possible.
Adam and Mildred hastily leave after that. After Jess closes the door behind them, she and Seth exchange Looks and nod at each other.
Cut to the inside of the burned-out barn, and someone dressed like a cat burglar (ooh, is it Catwoman?) poking around until they find and grab a piece of fabric hiding by the door to the root cellar. Catwoman exits the barn and is greeted by the police shining flashlights directly in their face.
Surprise! It’s Adam! You know, the fiance who was just sort of lurking in the background of the episode this whole time? And was painting Mildred’s hall a lovely shade of blue, then wrapped the corpse of her fake sister in a drop cloth covered in that same shade of lovely blue. Yeah. Him.
I guess the Blue Man Group is off the hook.
At the police station (for some reason both Jess and Seth are there, too) Adam explains that six months ago he discovered that Mildred’s inheritance was more than some piddly apple orchard, and that’s when he proposed, because he clearly sucks. When Fake Irene showed up, he assumed she had come for her portion of the inheritance, and sneaked out the back door of the library to come home and beat her in the head with a hammer.
Someone knocked on the door then, so Adam tossed a bunch of drop cloths and paint buckets over the corpse and hid in a closet. A+ job there, buddy.
The someone knocking was Rick, who proceeds to barge in (I guess no one in Cabot Cove has the common sense to lock their doors, or the common decency not to walk in like they own the place when no one answers the door) and yell up the stairs for Annie. Then he picks up the phone, because why not enter someone’s home and make phone calls when they’re not there?
Ricks calls Gordon and exposits all over the place for Adam, so he now knows he killed an actress pretending to be Irene, and also that Little Ricky is going to dress up as Patience and torch the barn himself. Although Adam’s expression is pure “I fucked up and killed an innocent woman for no goddamn reason,” he also now knows how to get rid of the body and evidence. Except for, you know, the paint-splattered drop cloth that didn’t fully burn up, and the blue paint on the body itself. But other than that? Perfect plan!
So, I take it the wedding is off?
Adam is taken away, and we get a wrap up with Jess complaining about a stiff neck and Seth telling her he’s not equipped to deal with a three-hundred year-old pain in the neck, as she’s related on her mother’s side to a family mentioned earlier in the episode that was accused of witchcraft, or hanged for witchcraft, or something. It was such a throwaway line in the middle of the episode that it took me a couple watches before I even figured out Seth was referencing something said earlier.
Anyway, freeze-frame on Jess looking indignantly after Seth, who did his mic-drop “pain in the neck” line and peaced out. Like a boss.
Nostalgia Glasses Off
I don’t really have much to say for my wrap-up here, guys. I really like this episode – the guest stars are fantastic, the story is ridiculously silly but fun, JB is amazing as always. True, we’re more than halfway through the episode before there’s a murder, and the motive is . . . I mean, come on. Killing someone so you don’t have to share the inheritance? Half of five mil is still more money than you’re ever going to see, my dude. Also, no witches in America were burned at the stake. They were mostly hanged. Don’t tell Patience Terhune that, I guess.