Even for an episode dealing with institutionalized misogyny, which are often the heaviest “Miss Fisher’s,” Death & Hysteria is close to the heaviest because it’s about a group of women being persecuted and threatened with forced hysterectomies for… enjoying orgasms. Ysabelle Dean’s script never gives a full exposition dump—in fact, the foreshadowing to what’s going on is just an expression from Tammy Macintosh—but once it’s clear what’s actually going on, the whole episode changes gears quite a bit.
It starts with Essie Davis very suspicious of doctors Philip Quast and Damon Gameau, who have set up in Miriam Margolyes’s house and turned it into a sanitarium for women suffering “female hysteria.” Margolyes—Davis’s aunt and one of the show’s most successful recurring characters—is loaning it to them following Quast’s successful care of her son, who’s recently passed away. We met the son in an episode first season. It’s real sad, particularly since we find out about it three weeks or so after his death; we don’t get to see Davis’s mourning, for instance. Instead, she’s just suspicious Quast is taking advantage.
Quast’s immediately suspicious because he and sidekick Gameau don’t charge any fees—they only take donations from their patients, who are exclusively wealthy women. More, once one of the patients dies, it turns out they’re also really big into getting estates left to them. For various reasons, no one is being forthcoming in the investigation—Quast and Gameau immediately lawyer up (a perfectly icky Gareth Reeves)—and Nathan Page’s breaking in a new constable, Henry Hammersla, who screws up the investigative team.
Hammersla believes women are inferior to men and doesn’t think Page ought to be listening to Davis, much less telling him to work with Ashleigh Cummings (Hugo Johnston-Burt doesn’t appear this episode, off somewhere fishing and trying to figure out his life).
It’s a complicated mystery, with lots of unsettling historical details about the “medical” treatment of women in 1920s Australia, high society or not.
The best part of the episode is Margolyes and her mourning arc. The show may’ve skipped the straight drama but integrates its aftermath quite well here, also giving Travis McMahon some to do. Davis had McMahon and Anthony J. Sharpe helping out Margoyles and there’s some wonderful stuff with McMahon and Margoyles.
There’s also a fantastic moment when Macintosh embarrasses Page for Davis’s benefit. The episode ends positive but it’s a heck of a trip getting there.