Impressions: Murder, She Wrote- Wheel of Death

We are finally back with more Murder, She Wrote! I have been meaning to write another Impressions piece on this show, and I have truly missed watching and writing about it. That is in the past, though, and we are here. I also now have the box set, so it should be easier to get more pieces done on it. I hope y’all are as excited about that as I am.

Anyhoo. Since we are kicking off my return to Murder, She Wrote, I also decided to return to Cabot Cove. As you may or may not be aware, depending on if you’ve read my older pieces, I love the Cabot Cove episodes. I like the regulars, and they bring a certain something to the series. I truly wish there had been more that took place in Cabot Cove.

Wheel of Death sees a traveling carnival make its way to Cabot Cove for a charity event. This episode has a lot going on in terms of both mysteries and drama. In fact, for a show that is well known for its over-the-top and often cheesy – but lovely – theatrics, this is one of the most. There is also a lot going on plot-wise.

Jessica and Seth prepare to go to the carnival, and Jessica notices that some things from her house are missing. At the same time, Sheriff Metzger is interviewing another woman who has been robbed. The audience is informed through this interaction that there has been a string of robberies in Cabot Cove. Many people want to blame the carnival, even though the robber clearly seems to know the victims’ schedules, and the carnival hasn’t been in town all that long.

While this is happening, a carnival worker comes in for permits, and we learn that Sheriff Metzger is her jilted lover. They were dating in college, and she left him for another man, who she still works with.

When Seth and Jessica, as representatives for the charity, go to see the figures of how the carnival is doing they are shocked to find out, not well at all. Jessica is even further put out because she has seen how crowded it is, but the man running the carnival insists that people are there but not spending money. A local girl, Lisa, actually accidentally tips Jessica off to the fact that the man running the carnival is lying about the figures.

Lisa also starts a flirtatious relationship with a roustabout, Toby, who hates his job working for the carnival. They seem to really like each other, however, a local boy, Richard, keeps trying to steal her attention. She admits to Jessica that she doesn’t like him and that going on dates with him was only a means to have something to do on Saturday nights.

THEN – yes, I am serious, there is more – we see that a man in a “grey suit” is talking to one of the carnival workers, trying to get him to steal something from the head of the carnival.

All of this, and we haven’t even gotten to the murder part of the episode. Two pseudo love triangles, a thief in Cabot Cove, the head of the carnival stealing from the carnival, and thus the charity, and some unknown thing happening with a mysterious man and a carnival worker.

Seth and Jessica agree not to confront the head of the carnival until after his magic show. During which, he makes a fool of Seth, in completely unbelievable ways, by the way, and Richard. That night Lisa sees somebody confront the head of the carnival and then murder him. She is scared and runs away, and is uncertain who did it.

Metzger becomes convinced that her ex and the man she left him for are the killers. They also track down the “man in the grey suit”, and find out the carnival is in trouble because the victim had been skimming for a while. He is an IRS agent who was working with someone inside the carnival to find evidence of this. This only furthers Metzger’s belief that he was murdered for what he had done to the carnival.

The odd thing that stands out to Jessica is that the weapon used in the murder seems to match the type of things that are being stolen from town.

Things become even shakier between the carnival and the townspeople, with both not trusting the others until finally, Jessica is able to solve the crime.

It turns out that Richard had taken over his father’s grocery store when his father passed. In his desperation to modernize and make it nicer, he overdid it on improvements for the store and ended up in over his head in debt. Because he knew the town so well, especially as the grocery store provides delivery service, he was in a prime position to steal from the people of Cabot Cove.

The episode, shockingly, gives the audience one of the biggest clues Jessica uses to figure this out. Often Jessica solves the crimes, but something relatively innocuous suddenly meaning something to her. It’s really easy to miss, and this is not the type of show where you can solve the mystery with her, usually. There are a few episodes where you can, and this one comes close. During the magic show, the victim picked Richard’s pocket and found a money clip and wallet, the wallet which he doesn’t return, and if the audience is paying attention, we would notice that.

The victim, though never fully explained but likely from his own misdeeds, is able to figure out it wasn’t a wallet. Instead, it’s a tool kit for picking locks. He tells Richard to meet him with 10 thousand dollars, or he will turn him in. Richard panics and instead kills him.

After the mystery is solved, we get a quick outro, as is standard. Toby the roustabout (love that word) will not be leaving with the carnival but instead finishing his summer of working before college in Cabot Cove. Metzger’s wife calls Jessica trying to track him down. Metzger is happy to talk to her and tells her to hurry back, confirming what was said throughout the episode, that while he was hurt by the other woman leaving him, he ended up with who he was meant to be with and is happy for it.

Pretty sweet ending.

The episode itself is… wild. There is a lot happening; I mean, you just read all that, you know it yourself, and that doesn’t even get to actually seeing it all unfold. There are a lot more details, characters, and little things throughout. It’s a pretty busy episode. Some of the plotlines don’t feel fully fleshed out because there are just so many of them. Also, Metzger’s fixation on his ex being involved in the murder is… a bit out of character. He doesn’t even just suspect her, he straight up arrests her with no evidence or anything else. She even confronts him on the fact that he must be punishing her for what she did to him in the past.

The episode is also as I mentioned, dramatic af. It becomes a bit zany, silly, and over the top. It does so in that way that I actually really appreciate about Murder, She Wrote, but it’s still pretty noticeable, especially in comparison to some more grounded episodes. It is also especially present with the acting that can be… well, it’s fun.

So it’s a bit messy plot-wise with everything going on, a bit much – even if in a charming way – in story and acting, so why this episode? Well, because thematically, there is something about this episode I wanted to touch on.

So if you have read my Murder, She Wrote Impressions before (if not you can check them out), you’ll have noticed that I am mixed on spoiling the mystery or not. Often when I do, as is the case here, it’s because there is something I wish to say about the episode that requires the knowledge of the killer.

Carnivals meeting up with mysteries, thrillers, and horror is not uncommon. First carnivals tend to have those themes and elements from the idea of magic to and pardon the term, the freakshow element. The episode itself even points this out in its own way. But it is also more esoteric than that. Carnivals are a fairly literal example of the outsiders, the others, coming into a community. Different works tackle this differently. Criminal Minds had an episode where the threat was indeed from the carnival. American Horror Story showed threats that happened to rise as the carnival came to town, but only some were related, and others weren’t.

Murder, She Wrote, did a great job with this. The people of Cabot Cove are ready to blame the carnival for their break-ins even though, as I mentioned, they began before the carnival showed up. The murder only seemed to solidify that for some people. It must be them that stole from us, and even if it wasn’t, one of us wouldn’t kill them. But it was “us.” Cabot Cove went into the carnival and committed murder, not the other way around. I think it’s a great way to highlight the problem with “outsiders” and “others” being the scapegoat, both in fiction and real life.

This point is further driven home because there was someone from the carnival stealing from it. And much like the Cabot Cove thief, the carnival thief was hurting his community. The more he stole, the more they all suffered. But the carnival people acknowledged and were willing to handle it. They did not look for someone else to blame or another excuse.

And in the end, only one community had a member who was willing to murder, and it’s not the one that many would likely blame.

This may seem like a little much, and sure I could be over-reading. But the truth is, as I said at the start of this little rant, the idea of carnivals representing “the others” and how that is handled is a common trope in fiction.

Bottom line? Even though I spoiled the killer, and I do have a few issues with the episode overall, I highly recommend it. It’s entertaining; I like the merging of carnivals and Murder, She Wrote. There are also a lot of sweet elements to it. It’s not my favorite episode in terms of mystery or execution. Although those elements are fine, just not great. It’s really the themes, and that it brings a little something, that makes me want to revisit it. You should definitely consider putting it on your Murder, She Wrote watch list.

I also want to say Rest in Peace to the wonderful talent that was Ms. Angela Lansbury, and thank you for giving me so many characters I love, chief among them Jessica Fletcher. Also, to Ron Masak, who played Metzger and sadly passed around the same time.

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