I’ve recently started binge-watching Murder, She Wrote, and I mostly enjoy it. But lately, I’ve begun to worry about Jessica Fletcher. Why isn’t she a basket case? Why isn’t she in therapy? Why isn’t she suicidal?
I’m in the 11th season of the 12 year long series. At the end of practically every episode, we see a smiling Jessica, often laughing at a silly attempt at humor. (For the most part, except for Seth, the character played by William Windom, I don’t find anything particularly funny. This is no doubt a result of its being family-friendly show, which in the 80s and 90s meant, I think, that the humor had to be so understated, it was boring. But I digress.) The important thing to note is that no matter what circumstances have transpired in the show, by the end of an episode, Jessica is happy, emotionally light, and care-free.
Well, that’s good, right? Aren’t mysteries supposed to return to the status quo at the end? Isn’t everything supposed to be right with the world? Sure, but in the case of Murder, She Wrote, there really should be some sort of an emotional toll, shouldn’t there?
Think about it this way. How would you respond if someone you knew, even slightly but had seen recently, died violently? Pretty shaken up, right? How about if you discovered a dead body of an obviously murdered person? Very likely, this would upset you and your horror of the situation would probably affect you for longer than a few minutes.
New scenario: Suppose the dead murdered person was a former beloved student, or a person you had dated, or a close friend. Perhaps this would make the situation worse?
Nothing fazes Jessica. Over the course of 12 seasons and 22 episodes per season, Jessica has been, at a minimum, associated with over 264 murders. Of course in some episodes, it’s worse because there are shows that have 2 or even 3 murders! So every episode, Jessica encounters victims of violent crime, and nearly always these people are at minimum her acquaintances; usually, they are friends, if not close friends of many years.
(Yes, I know that there were a series of episodes around season 6 where Jessica just introduced the mysteries and didn’t discover the bodies, but really, is only discovering and solving 230 rather than 264+ murders supposed to explain why she is the very picture of robust mental health?)
Let’s consider a few other facts as well:
- In the first several seasons, most of Jessica’s nieces and nephews are charged with homicide. They all get off, of course, but only because Jessica saves them. Her nephew Grady (the one that Jessica raised) becomes accidentally mixed up in a minimum of 5 murders. Geez! If Grady were your nephew, how often would you want to visit him? Ever?
- Many multiples of times, the person who has done the killing is a close friend of Jessica’s. In one case, it was the man she almost dated instead of the love of her life, Frank. In another, it was a woman who considered Jessica her best friend. In yet another, it was a former student she considered a close friend. WTH? Think about how your life would be different if you discovered over time that numerous people you loved and trusted were not only capable of, but had actually committed murder. Perhaps you would be thinking about issues of trust and communication and how we really can’t know anyone, thereby turning Murder, She Wrote from a traditional/cozy show into the darkest noir.
- In the course of solving crimes, Jessica has been subjected to threats and insults. Frequently, she is told that she will be injured or killed if she doesn’t stop meddling. While looking momentarily rattled or chagrinned, she never listens and stops. The most common insult she receives is to have her books attacked. She is often called a liar and/or a person unable to distinguish fantasy from reality.
- Jessica has regularly been manhandled and assaulted. Having this happen once is enough to slow many people down. Jessica has these events occur routinely throughout the year with no change in her demeanor or actions. She laughs in the face of death and doesn’t care how often she gets slapped. Actually, Jessica has never been slapped, but she has been pushed down a flight of stairs and held at gunpoint too often to count.
Jessica, throughout the run of the series, never waivers in her pursuit of the truth, nor does she ever pause when it comes to helping a friend or righting a wrong. These are admirable traits indeed, but how does she do it?
Maybe those summers off rejuvenated her?