LadyGhosts of TV Past

Netflix Recap: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Episode 1×01: “Cocaine Blues”

Here at Persephone Magazine we love shows with strong female leads, so we’ll be recapping both series one and two of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, which is currently streaming on Netflix. Based on the series of novels by Kerry Greenwood and starring Essie Davis as the title character, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries chronicles the adventures of the Honorable Phryne Fisher, lady detective, as she solves one mystery after another in 1920s Melbourne, Australia.

As the first episode opens, we see a middle-aged man getting ready for a bath and a young woman, her bags packed, leaving what looks to be a wealthy house. It appears she’s a housemaid who has been dismissed, and the other housemaid, Dot, catches her before she leaves, and gives her a present: a baby bonnet. It’s clear that the newly dismissed maid is pregnant, and she gives the bonnet back to Dot, telling her she doesn’t understand. Meanwhile, the man who is getting ready for the bath appears to have taken some kind of medicine that’s poisonous, and he calls for help as he dies in agony.

Miss Phryne Fisher has just arrived home in Melbourne, and she is greeted by her friend, Dr. MacMillan, or Mac, who is a woman who prefers to dress in men’s clothing. Phryne and Mac discuss Phryne’s plans now that she is home. It turns out that she is there to follow up on the death of her sister, Janie. Phryne receives an invite for lunch from her friend Lydia and her aunt Prudence. Phryne arrives at the house to find the house in unrest and she’s advised that the luncheon has been cancelled because Lydia’s husband has passed away.

Phryne sees to Lydia, and Lydia is beside herself with grief. She reveals that her husband just collapsed. Phryne also catches up with her Aunt Prudence, who remarks on the high length of her skirt. Phryne decides to investigate the bathroom where Lydia’s husband, John, died, even though she and other visitors have been asked by the police to leave. Phryne finds some medicinal powder in pink packets that might yield a clue, and she pockets it before the police inspector enters the bathroom. Inspector Jack Robinson meets Phryne for the very first time, and he marvels at how perceptive Phryne is: she has surmised that the death is from poison and that the poison may have been ingested with breakfast. Of course Phryne takes the chance to flirt with Jack, because that’s how Phryne rolls.

In downtown Sydney, the dismissed housemaid, who is clearly ill, is deposited into a taxi. The taxi drivers, Cess and Bert, note that the girl is ill and incoherent, and they take her to the hospital.

Back at the house, Phryne takes notice of the young housemaid still working, Dot, and how nervous the girl seems all the time. Lydia also gets a visitor, a young, handsome Russian by the name of Sasha who inquires about her welfare since her husband has been murdered. Aunt Prudence mentions that a charity soiree Lydia had been giving ought to be cancelled, and that Sasha was scheduled to dance. Instead of cancelling the soiree, Prudence volunteers herself and Phryne as the new hostesses.

Phryne discusses the case with Mac, especially how faint and pale Lydia was. She shows Mac the medicinal powder, and Mac tells her that it’s nerve powder meant for “hysterical women.” Mac also speculates that Lydia’s husband could have died of strychnine poisoning and that Lydia may have been poisoned as well, but they are interrupted by a call from the women’s hospital. Mac is needed there urgently.

At the women’s hospital, Mac tends to the young housemaid who had been placed in Cess and Bert’s cab. The housemaid is feverish and chilled, and it’s clear that she’s very sick from a botched abortion. Cess and Bert talk with Phryne, and they reveal they saw the man who may have performed the illegal abortion and left the girl so sick. Cess and Bert seek out Jack at the police station, and they point him from a stack of photographs. It turns out the culprit is nicknamed “Butcher George” and is a former doctor who is the leader of an illegal abortion ring. It’s difficult to arrest him because no one will come forward to testify against them. The housemaid in question could very well be arrested and sentenced to ten to fifteen years for procuring an abortion, which angers Phryne and even Cess and Bert. Phryne declares she will find away around the law to figure out what happened to the housemaid.

Later, Phryne makes a visit to the local prison to see the man who is responsible for the death of her sister. Phryne wants to know where her sister’s body is, and she wants to hear that the man committed the crime. Mr. Foyle’s sentence is almost over, and Phryne is determined to do what she can do keep him in jail so he doesn’t kill another little girl.

At the hospital, Bert has stayed at the housemaid’s bedside, though she hasn’t revealed any information about what happened to her. Phryne takes a look through the girl’s things and finds a letter of reference in it and the invitation to the luncheon in it. The maid’s name was Miss Hartley, and it looks like she worked for Lydia.

At the soiree, Phryne goes to visit Lydia with some champagne and starts a conversation with her about the maid who had been let go. Supposedly, the maid, Alice, had been caught stealing. Phryne meets Madam Breda, who runs a Turkish bath. Madam Breda reveals she was a customer of John’s and bought the imports he brought from the Orient. Phryne sees Sasha again, and she remembers seeing him dance with his sister in Paris five years ago. Phryne ends up dancing a very impromptu, yet very hot, tango with Sasha as entertainment for the soiree.

During the soiree, the young maid, Dot, opens the door to Jack Robinson, who has been trying to reach Lydia. it turns out that John’s body had traces of arsenic in it and Lydia’s illness was consistent with arsenic poisoning. They discover the arsenic had been in the sugar bowl, and Dot is taken in for questioning;¬†Phryne gives Dot her contact information should she need it, but she does not suspect Dot of the murder.

When Sasha bids Phryne good night, she notices that her earrings are gone, and despite Prudence’s protests she runs after Sasha, deducing that he stole her earrings. She follows him to a pharmacy and watches through the window as he tries to pawn her earrings in exchange for drugs. Suddenly, a fight ensues, and Sasha runs and the owners give chase. Phryne encounters Sasha in the fog and he begs for her help. She is able to distract the drug dealers, and upon discovering Sasha has been hurt, she takes him home. Sasha reveals that he stole Phryne’s earrings to pay for cocaine. Sasha explains that he had never been having an affair with Lydia and that he never liked John, and after some flirtation, he and Phryne do the mattress mambo.

The following morning, Sasha is gone, and Dot appears at Phryne’s door, having been dismissed from the Andrews house without a reference. Dot reveals that John Andrews sexually harassed his maids, and even impregnated Alice, the housemaid in the hospital. At the hospital, Phryne speaks to Alice and finds out that Madam Breda had sent Alice to an abortionist. Alice describes the location of her surgery. Dot has made herself useful while Phryne has been gone, and Phryne ends up offering Dot a job as a maid so long as she can get over her phone anxiety and some of her Catholic morals.

Phryne sends Dot to Madam Breda’s on the pretext of seeking out an abortion. Phryne takes Lydia to the Turkish bath to try to get some more information out of her. Lydia claims to know nothing of John’s business dealings and to have no idea of what he did as a job. Later, Phryne, Ces, and Bert meet with Dot and instruct her to take a parcel to the prospective abortionist’s and to wear a red rose so they know who she is when they pick her up from a designated street corner. Phryne opens the parcel and discovers that it’s the pink nerve powder she found in Lydia’s bathroom. Mac performs some tests on some of the packets and finds that it’s made of cocaine, and that it’s illegal without a prescription.

Dot goes to the appointed street corner wearing the red rose as planned, and the abortionist’s lackeys pick her up. Ces and Bert follow the vehicle from a safe distance in their cab. The abortionist’s vehicle gets ahead of the taxi, and Dot is whisked into the abortionist’s headquarters. As Phryne, Ces, and Bert scramble to find the green door, Dot panics and tries to prevent the doctor from performing any surgery on her. They follow Dot’s screams to the room where she’s being held and Phryne, holding them at gold-plated gunpoint, gets a confession out of them. Phryne is able to concoct a story about the doctor performing the abortion even after Alice changed her mind so she won’t be charged, and the police are contacted.

Bert and Phryne go to case out the pharmacy that night and see Sasha there, and they see the men enter Madam Breda’s. Phryne breaks into Madam Breda’s via the balcony and instructs Bert to go for help. In the office, Phryne discovers a box with the name of John Anderson’s company on it and discovers that it contains the pink powders. Suddenly, she hears a scuffle, and comes upon a lackey beating Sasha. The two are captured and wait for the thugs’ boss to arrive. Guess who should enter but Lydia, and it turns out she had poisoned John after he had raped Alice. It turns out John was a pretty horrible person and a horrible businessman, too, and Lydia turned to cocaine dealing to supplement the family fortune. She poisoned John to get rid of him. Lydia orders for Phryne and Sasha to be stripped and placed in a sauna where they might suffocate. Phryne, resourceful as always, tries to look for an escape, but is unable to focus. Instead, she finds the handle to turn off the steam in the sauna.

Bert goes to Jack Robinson for help, and Dot finally calls the police as well once she sees Phryne hasn’t returned. Robinson is forced to act, and he and the police go to Madam Breda’s. The police find Phryne and an unconscious Sasha in the sauna and get them out just in time.

Mac later asks how Phryne came to the conclusion that Lydia had been responsible for the murder, and Phryne tells her. First, Lydia had spoken about how much she had loved her husband when he hadn’t cared for her, and second, she had protested that she had no head for business when in the past she had raised thousands of pounds for the hospital charity. Phryne also mentions the reference letter Lydia had written Alice even though Lydia had mentioned that Alice had been let go for stealing. Madam Breda had tried to implicate Sasha as Lydia’s jealous lover, but Phryne had been able to eliminate that theory. But the biggest thing was that Lydia had drunk tea with sugar the morning of John’s death so that she wouldn’t look suspicious, even though Phryne knew Lydia took her tea black.

Phryne has breakfast with Dot, Mac, Ces, and Bert, and Jack Robinson and his assistant, Constable Collins, come to the hotel restaurant to return her purse to her. It turns out that there had been a backup in the steam pipes of the Turkish bath, which started a fire and destroyed Madam Breda’s business. The fire was so big that most of Melbourne’s firefighters had to respond, though there were no fatalities. Phryne is flippant about it, as usual, but Jack reminds her that the fire could have been more serious and that what she’s doing isn’t a game. Phryne announces that she’s starting a detective agency, and that’s why they’re celebrating. Jack is taken aback by this, but Phryne calmly sips her champagne and smiles at him.

And that’s the end of episode 1×01. This show is loads of fun, and Phryne Fisher is the best!


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