Now that I am on the verge of receiving a master’s degree, I feel validated enough in my own intelligence to stop the fruitless act of pretending I am ashamed of my own television consumption. I will not go so far as to say that I am proud of it; I will only be frank about the fact that I am steadily and doggedly making my way through season four of Murder, She Wrote.
I turn to mysteries during times of turmoil in my personal life. When I was applying to graduate school, and did not know whether I would move to Wyoming or Colorado or North Carolina or stay exactly where I was in a pool of my own misery, I watched all eight seasons of Monk. His compulsions made mine pale in comparison. He quintuple-checked his stove before leaving the house—I sat in mine, rarely leaving. When I was adjusting to the bitter cold and silence of winter in Iowa, I watched all twelve seasons of Law and Order SVU. The violence and fear provided a sick yet soothing nostalgia for my former life in Brooklyn. I was glad to have moved to a place where strange men did not growl at me from their car windows, but I also missed the adrenaline rush, the hair on my neck standing up, that bright sense of urgency that fear imparts.
What does Angela Lansbury do for me now? As Jessica Fletcher, she is always working to meet a deadline for her publisher. Her fingers fly over the typewriter she keeps at her kitchen table. There is always a pie baking in the oven. There is always a friend knocking at the side door. She does not have time for that friend but then, suddenly, there is a murder. Forgetting that every week of her life has been interrupted by murder, she takes the pie out of the oven and puts on a pot of coffee and solves the murder. She goes for a jog on the beach and solves the murder. She puts her hands on her small waist and solves the murder. She tilts her head to the side and tsks silently, widening her already huge eyes. Then she solves the murder. The murder is a frameup, she always discovers. In Jessica Fletcher’s world, there is infinite time and every minute of it is put to good use. This is the opposite of my reality.
In Jessica Fletcher’s world, justice is executed based on the minutest of details. If the carnation petal had not fallen to the floor, if the window had been closed properly, if the theater director had not quoted the critic, verbatim, then the murder would go unsolved. In fact, if Jessica Fletcher had not flown to New York in the first place, if she had not slid those red glasses on to examine the evidence, we begin to wonder if the murder would have even taken place.
Jessica Fletcher has no memory and therefore will never suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. She enters abandoned houses with gleeful abandon. She opens enormous trunks at antique stores without a moment’s hesitation. She knocks at the door of the hotel room and, when nobody answers, pushes on the door to see if it yields. It always does. Whenever she enters a room, there is always a body on the floor. The body is never a tragedy, it is merely a disgrace. Nothing is truly serious except Mrs. Fletcher’s baking and her long-dead husband.
Mrs. Fletcher wants to be called “Mrs.” because she is old-fashioned, and there is nothing wrong with that. The death of her husband is the only death that will ever make her sad, and anything else that happened afterward is nothing but a distraction from her own writing. She is a free agent and a best-selling writer and sage and a relic and she wears only outfits that remind me of my own grandmother, who is equally badass.
As I prepare for yet another uncertain portion of my future it is maybe just good to see that even when I am old as hell I can still tramp around the Eastern seaboard making judgment calls and taking names. Or maybe it is just that Jessica Fletcher writes book after book and none of it takes any time, none at all, which is good because how else would she have time to go undercover in this lavender turban?
First off, no pleasure should be a guilty one. If it brings you joy, allow it to.
Second, season 4 is my FAVORITE.
Third, if you look through some of the posts/replies here, you will find out that you are not alone when it comes to turning to mysteries in times of turmoil. That’s sort of become a theme here. :)