Of course, “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” is based on a novel. How did I miss it was based on a novel… Not because Deb Cox’s script ever feels too much like an adaptation—quite the opposite—but because it does such a good job setting up the supporting cast. Lead Essie Davis meets her eventual team of detecting irregulars through this episode’s main plot, so it’s never quite for sure she’s putting the team together. Not until the end, which is a glorious celebratory scene, rewarding characters and viewers alike for the rather intense third act.
The third act is also where the show reveals Davis isn’t just a wealthy woman with a title, a big heart, and an analytic mind for solving crime, but she’s also basically… Catwoman. If Catwoman had more of Batman’s wealth, anyway. Davis (or, more likely, her stunt double) needs to get into a second story window so she scrambles up and then leaps through the air, catching the fire escape landing or whatnot. Even more impressive is how Davis makes it seem totally reasonable not just for the character, but also in her evening gown and heels. Because the show’s already confidently established Davis is a badass, but it wasn’t clear she was a no-power superhero levels of badass.
The mystery involves the death of Davis’s friend’s husband. Miranda Otto plays the friend, who’d invited newly arrived in Melbourne Davis over for lunch. Also at lunch is Miriam Margolyes, as Davis’s aunt. Margolyes is a delightful prude, constantly horrified at Davis’s modern ways. The show’s set in the 1920s, very Gilded Age. Gorgeous production design and costumes.
Davis starts investigating the case because she’s good at solving mysteries, which is nice. Davis is active throughout the episode, getting ahead of cops Nathan Page and Hugo Johnstone-Burt not out of their incompetence but due to her own excellence. She’s back in Australia, we soon learn, because her sister’s murderer, Nicholas Bell, is due to get out of prison soon; Davis visits him and lets him know if he gets out, he’s dead. At best.
Lots of good supporting players in addition to Margolyes, particularly maid Ashleigh Cummings who’s afraid to use technology because the Catholic Church told her it was bad. Tammy Macintosh is great as Davis’s friend and Dr. Watson (Macintosh too is a doctor).
The show says a lot about class and gender, showing it in the context of the 1920s and how that period allowed for less patriarchal restrictions in many ways (so long as you’re rich enough and White enough). It’s not just about Davis being the hero for the women in the story—Cummings, Otto, Macintosh—but for the men as well. 1920s European dancer himbo Kristof Piechocki is most definitely a don in distress, for instance. And although communist activist taxi drivers Travis McMahon and Anthony J. Sharpe do the right thing, it’s Davis whose influence turns them into sidekick do-gooders.
With a surprise finish—though with just the right hint to the audience—great characters, casting, production, “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” is off to a fantastic start.