The ghost of Barry Williams' career.
Those who know me, know I am constantly talking about my "wheelhouse." What's in my wheelhouse, what's out of my wheelhouse, how I feel when something is blatantly of my wheelhouse as opposed to the feeling of a thing that is not sheltered by this triumphant house-of-wheels. What I'm saying is, the place we're visiting tonight is where my wheelhouse lives, and it's a little coastal Maine town that sure does resemble a coastal Californian town, and answers to the name of "Cabot Cove."
Murder, She Wrote
Here we go - now we're in the hot zone! It's Cabot Cove and no one gets out alive. I don't care how puffy the shoulders of your business-casual blazer, how permed your hair is - when Jessica Fletcher's around... well, let's just say she's something of a GPS for trouble. You know, because trouble seems to follow her everywhere. She's mostly a trouble-preceder.
And so on and so forth, insert your "stop inviting her to parties!" jokes here, for that shit is bush-league. I you wanna go deep-MSW, let's first acknowledge that the 80s were probably the last great run of seemingly ordinary citizens being pushed too far by either society or greed or Donahue, and suddenly getting an idea in their gourds: "Hey, I might just be able to get away with it!"
Like that magical time before fingerprinting became a forensics go-to, the 1980s were the sweet-spot for such crimes of passion. The computers are laughable, crunching the same amount of data as my toaster, the internet and any kind of networking was the purview of the Pentagon or mail-ordering basement nerds, and DNA was still seen as some kind of voodoo-science curse word - alarming, but not to be paid too much mind. Why, it was a brand of double-helix hokum that proclaimed to be the blueprint for who we are as a people, hahahahahahaa! Ridiculous.
As such, we saw a lot of Isotoner-clad hands entering from a frame's negative-space, choking former lovers and/or clonking "people in the way" on the head with table lamps. Because it's the 80s.
Anyway, this is fertile ground for that precocious, genre-loving sleuth, JB Fletcher! This episode proclaims itself to be about a headless horseperson, but things are never quite as they seem on this show.
And so, let us unravel the mystery while Murder, we'll watch!
Space: Wenton, VT
Time: January 4th, 1987
Episode: "Night of the Headless Horseman" Season 3, Episode 11
Right away, we find that we're not even in Cabot Cove - but worry not! There will be murder if JB's in town. Maybe she's the headless horseman seen here, chasing down this teacher/poet of noodly means?
I know almost nothing about this beleaguered character, but I already know he deserves whatever he gets here - get him, JB!
What? Oh, you're just showing up at the train station, of course...
Yes, it turns out the noodly man is a former-lover (I may be remembering that wrong) who has invited her to Vermont-country to pretend to be his mom. Because he's a lanky four-eyed goober. Confused by this web of deceit and side-parted hair? Don't worry, our heroine is just as flummoxed!
I now present to you...
The Worst Fucking Dinner Of Jessica Fletcher's Life
Sure, we're going to linger here because I really like the look of that tavern - I want to live there and hang things made of copper from the rough-hewn cross-beams, you know? But watch JB's face as this dinner with a friend she hasn't seen in ages - who, mind you, has just told her that she is supposed to be pretending to be his mommy - unfolds.
Oh, man - nothing worse than a waitress with a tin-ear for letting important conversations breathe.
"Tiffany, what do you mean you're breaking up with me!? I thought we had something spe-"
"And how are we doing here? Did you get a chance to look at the drink menu?"
Did you not notice us engaged in an intense, half-whispered conversation across the table? Did you not notice that one of us is weeping openly because the world is crumbling beneath our feet? Fuck your drink menu, just give us a minute here! I mean, not that that is what's going on in this situation, but the flavor of intrusion is the same.
Oh, hello, local dentist we met through sheer happenstance at the train station, are you-
Oh, well help yourself to a goddamned chair then, why the hell not? All I wanted to do was get caught up with this Ichabod-looking dude I know from somewhere, and scold him for making me into a mother-figure. Well, Doctor, I guess you'll be wanting to see this drink menu, and-
Oh, what the fuck - Barry Williams!? Who even let you through the door! And where is Marcia, Marcia, Marcia? Yeah, waitress? I'll take a couple fingers of scotch over here please - neat.
And so progresses Jessica Fletcher's evening - all she wanted to do (if we rely solely on the above screen-captures) is dig into that delicious pumpkin entree before her. But, say what you will about her scrawny buddy, he does end up acting out a fantasy we've all had at one point or another: Punching Barry Williams in the face.
Take that, Greg Brady! You always lorded your age over Bobby and Peter, always dictated the male-Brady agenda without consulting those you supposedly led! And just what role did you play during the vanishing of the original Mrs. Brady, the woman who gave you life, only to learn the hard way that you were an abomination whose existence could only lead to one or the other's ultimate undoing! Also, you're acting like you've slept with Dorian's girlfriend, and he doesn't like it!
Hey, check it out - it's this episode's haunted rider, looking appropriately washed-out and hastily shot - congrats, you totally fit the bill as a classic MSW character.
This uncomfortable transaction (uncomfortable in plotting, uncomfortable in execution), leads everyone to the scene of the crime and the newly-headless body of said-Barry Williams. Oh no, not Barry Williams. No, say it isn't so. So sad - well, I guess these things happen!
But who is guilty of the beheading, hmmmm? Is it the suspicious-looking horse-minder with the neck-sized scythe?
Or could it be these suspicious-looking prep-school Dead End Kids who apparently don't have classes to get to, and also peep on everything from their attic perch?
It definitely couldn't be the not-suspicious-looking dentist who keeps appearing for tangential reasons and has no clear-association to the case until the framed glamour-shot of a former flame known as Gretchen is espied by J-Fletch in his office. No, no - it couldn't be him.
Meanwhile, these spoiled little rascals have holed up in the tack room, afraid of the information they almost have that somebody else almost wants.
They come extremely close to eating each other before deciding to float their half-baked explanation of all the head-hunting going on. It's obviously the most obvious suspect, doing the obvious by burying an obvious head-shaped trophy in the most obvious spot - the very stables he obviously works in. Their theory bears fruit...
...until it doesn't - no, that burlap sack does not carry a severed head, no matter how hungrily the local law enforcement digs into it. It's just cold, hard, skimmed cash, the result of white collar crime done the blue collar way - one piece at a time.
Tossing aside this red herring, we then grind our gears while making the big turn into a new theory - a theory involving that Gretchen glamour shot and the homemade necklace that annoying waitress was wearing the night of that terrible dinner filled with terrible people doing terrible things...
Oh, you thought she was your passport to endless guacamole refills and the reason your water had lemon in it, even though you specifically asked for nary a slice of citrus to break the surface. Sure, she did those things, but who was the facilitator? Who could have given her such a gorgeous, hand-crafted necklace, especially when it looks so similar to Gretchen's?
In fact, it is Gretchen's, and the hands that made this symbol of their love can also be found deep in the mouths of prep school boys the county-over. That's right - it was the dentist who took his revenge on Barry Williams and his recounting of the ultimate conquest of Gretchen (later conquering the waitress as well, then regifting his former-lover's former-lover's golden string of symbolic love). I can't say I blame him - look at this guy's face, moments before he takes a tooth-scraper right to the jugular:
Yeah, that's right - you bleed out in great spurts, Greg Brady, or Johnny Bravo, or whoever the hell you are. You bleed out and have your boots put on the wrong feet and your tooth-based wickedness not covered by your HMO. You deserve all the tools in the world to be slammed into that great big Brady-neck of yours.
And this one finally reaches the end of her rope:
That's right, Jessica - fuck it all! Who cares about murder when you can hop a day-train the hell outta there and back to the sleepy village of Cabot Cove, where the killing is easy, the fish are jumping, and the lobster is high.