This review contains spoilers.
1.6 Arsenic And Old Cake
“Not all murders are heinous. Some are ridiculous.”
It’s clear from its bizarre opening scene that this is not going to be your garden variety Copper episode. A dentist and his patient getting high on painkillers? His wife coming up and deciding to yank the tooth herself – and it turns out to be the wrong one? Hysterical laughing and a sudden punch to the face? Are we in the right show?
Arsenic and Old Cake (the title is a nod to an appropriately silly play about two old ladies who poison widowed old men to put them out of their misery) takes a lighter tone, in the main murder-of-the-week storyline at least. Once the surprise dies down, the turn for the humorous is not entirely out of place. Copper’s world has always been a little absurd; the only real difference is that this episode takes a comedic approach, like something out of Beckett or Vonnegut. It’s funny, but we laugh partially in self-defense against the ridiculousness of the world.
Copper often feels like it’s more about what’s going on in the background of the case than the case itself, but this episode focuses on the murder and thus feels more like a typical police procedural. But the absurd nature of that case and the progression of Annie and Jasper’s subplots keep it from becoming a meaningless filler episode.
The Case of the Deadly Fruitcake begins with the death of dentist Dr. Gillis Devery, and naturally, his battered wife is the prime suspect – though it turns out this fiery lady regularly battered back. While investigating the scene of the crime, a cop named Burns helps himself to some of the delicious fruitcake left on the victim’s table and promptly dies. That’s what you get for eating a dead guy’s fruitcake, jerk.
Corcoran and Detective O’Brien go on to uncover a long and unwitting game of pass-the-deadly-fruitcake. Dr. Devery got it from his landlord, who got it from butcher Hans Elek, who delivered it in a bakery box to disguise the fact that it was actually baked for him by the dentist’s wife Ethel. Ethel was having an affair with Hans, and when Dr. Devery found out he poisoned his wife’s fruitcake before delivering it to Hans.
In other words, Dr. Devery ate his own poisoned fruitcake.
So Dr. Devery gets his just desserts and Corky, O’Brien, and Francis have a good laugh about it (apparently they didn’t like Burns very much anyway). Case closed, and for once it’s a satisfying conclusion, even though they didn’t actually catch anyone.
The subplots, meanwhile, remind us that Copper has not magically turned comedic halfway through season one. It’s time for Jasper’s fight with ‘Irish” Jake McGinnis, and he has no intention of losing even though if he wins he’ll be lynched. As a nineteenth century African-American with an intellectual disability, this is probably the first time in his life Jasper has felt confident and powerful. It’s really painful to see petty racism and politics getting in the way of his creating an identity for himself that he can be proud of.
Jasper dominates the fight, and Morehouse’s bizarre solution to this is to have the referee knock Jasper out and declare McGinnis the winner. None of the white spectators seem to have a problem with this, but Morehouse later tells Jasper that he is in danger and sends him off with tickets to Halifax. If my admittedly unreliable memory of high school U.S. History serves me correctly, Canada had more opportunities for black people than the U.S. at that time, so hopefully Jasper can find a place for himself there.
The Jasper storyline is infuriating, but it’s typical Copper unfairness. Annie’s plot, on the other hand, took a disturbing turn today. Annie is up to her usual tricks, scandalizing priests and trying to get the whores to take her in, and compounds it by giving Elizabeth a good shove into the wall. Elizabeth decides enough is enough and calls a familiar old sleazebag, Annie’s stepfather/husband, to take her back.
Suddenly, the bratty and manipulative Annie is a helpless child again. She begs Elizabeth to let her stay, promising to behave, while Mr Reilly drags her out and Elizabeth looks on in some horror – but does nothing about it. Annie has been fascinating but pretty unsympathetic these past few episodes, but if there was one thing they could have done to turn viewers back to her side, this was it. Come on, Corky! We need you!
But no, Elizabeth lies and tells Corcoran that she sent Annie to live with a family in California. What’s going on here? Eva and Elizabeth shared some competitive looks earlier, but could Elizabeth really see Annie as a threat? Maybe he thinks that as long as she’s around, Corky will always come to her house in father mode and she’ll never get into his pants.
If that’s the plan, it seems to be working. Corcoran is upset about Annie’s surprise trip to California, but he gets over it quickly enough. In the end, Corky and Elizabeth are sucking each other’s faces off and the screen fades to black. We all know what THAT means.
In other news, Francis’ relationship with Mary Lockwood shows signs of trouble, and an offhand line from Annie confirms that it’s only been a few weeks since Molly’s death. Rebound engagements? Not a good idea.
And neither is eating a dead guy’s fruitcake. Just in case you were wondering.
Read Kylie’s review of last week’s Copper, La Tempete, here.
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