Murder, Murder On The Wall

Murder, Murder On The Wall

Murder, Murder On The Wall

A review of Murder She Wrote Season 5, episode 21: Mirror, Mirror On the Wall

By Derek Newman-Stille

I have often thought that creating a murder mystery story around Snow White would be an exciting and engaging idea. However, fairy tales are engaged in constant revisioning and reimagining and I found out that my vision had already been realized, though with more realism and less fairy tale content… and it had been realized in the strangest of places – on Murder She Wrote. For those of you unfamiliar with Murder She Wrote, it ran from 1984 until 1996 and featured widowed mystery writer Jessica Fletcher who travelled from place to place solving murders. The show engaged in a lot of meta activities, engaging in cross-overs with other shows, proposing solutions for murder mysteries filmed in the 40s, and, as I discovered, even playing with fairy tale narratives.

The two-part episode Mirror, Mirror On The Wall is a fairy tale adaptation, but brought into the world of Jessica Fletcher and the fictional Maine town of Cabot Cove. Like the fairy tale Snow White, the story features attempted murder, and, of course, a poisoned apple. It is also a story that features jealousy. However, rather than engaging in the ageism of Snow White, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall features two women of roughly the same age. It does still engage in jealousy, but is instead about one writer, Eudora McVeigh, who used to be a best-selling mystery author who is now experiencing writer’s block and her jealousy of Jessica Fletcher’s rising success in the genre. By featuring two ageing women, Mirror, Mirror On The Wall intentionally disrupts the idea of older women being threatened by and afraid of younger women, instead placing the interest of the episode on the competitive world of creative writing and one woman’s fear of another’s success.

Although Murder She Wrote has anti-feminist elements, often directly criticizing feminists, it, perhaps unintentionally, brings attention to the problem of women who don’t engage in ideas of sisterhood and instead seek to oppress each other. Rather than directing her anger at a system that only favours one female mystery writer at a time, Eudora begins the episode by wanting revenge on Jessica, seeing her success as inherently threatening to her own instead of seeking revenge on her publisher who is setting her aside in favour of Jessica. She ignores the men who are oppressing her and instead turns her anger toward another female writer, not seeing the potential for a united front by both of them sharing resources and challenge the patriarchal system and male publisher who is seeking to pit them against each other.

Fascinatingly, Eudora keeps referring to Cabot Cove as a little fairy tale town, pointing out the town’s perceived simplicity and wholesomeness… however, as we who read fairy tales know, there is a dark side to fairy tales, and not only does this fairy tale end in violence and murder (like so many), in this episode, the Sheriff (who moved from New York for a nice, simple life), points out one of the key issues of the show – for a small, quiet little town… there are the highest number of murders per capita. The show features about 24 episodes per year, many of them set in Cabot Cove, and lasted for 12 seasons… and there is at least one murder per episode in addition to multiple attempted murders. Cabot Cove’s quaint, dreamy, fairy tale setting is constantly being undone by murder in order to keep the show progressing.

Ultimately, like most Murder She Wrote episodes, the fairy tale storyline is secondary to the main focus on the show – murder. Ultimately, it is a story that engages with human psychology, clues, criminal slip ups, and the all-important confession.

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Disability in Netflix’s The Dragon Prince

I’m a big fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, so when I heard that there was a new series, The Dragon Prince, streaming on Netflix from some of the same creators, I was psyched. Currently, only one season (Book One: Moon) is streaming, but more seasons are hopefully in the works. There’s a lot of hype about The Dragon Prince, and I think it’s pretty well deserved: it’s a fresh, fun high fantasy series with well-rounded characters, including lots of women and POC, which is exactly what I would expect from the people who made Avatar and Korra. I’m especially fond of Claudia, a young mage with a terrible (and therefore wonderful) sense of humor and purple gradient hair that is #goals, and General Amaya, who I’ll get to in a minute.

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(Commander Gren, General Amaya, and Prince Callum. Image from Netflix.)

What really stood out to me, though, is the story’s engagement with disability, because it is ON POINT. But beware: here be spoilers!

To explain exactly why it’s so good, I’m going to backtrack to Avatar and the character of Toph. Full disclosure: I love Toph, the blind master earthbender who mentors Aang and plays a crucial role in defeating the series’ Big Bad, Fire Lord Ozai. In a lot of ways, she’s a great character (funny, curmudgeonly, and extremely capable). But she also falls into the extremely common trope of the supercrip (someone who is disabled but has some kind of superlative or magical ability or genius that “compensates” for that disability.) For Toph, earthbending functions as magical sight; she can see just as well (and frequently better) than her companions when her bare feet are touching the ground. Again, I still love this character and her general portrayal, and I do think there are moments in the series that complicate her supercrip status, but in The Dragon Prince, the creators sidestep the supercrip trope, and other common disability tropes, in ways that are incredibly fresh and awesome for a mainstream fantasy series.

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(Toph Beifong. Image from Avatar Wikia.)

Which brings me back to General Amaya. As one of the king’s most trusted allies, she is among the most powerful players in the series – she is on the front lines of the war with Xadia, the magical kingdom in conflict with the human kingdoms. As the aunt of the princes Callum and Ezran (two of the main characters), she is emotionally connected to the rest of the cast. And she is a Deaf woman of color who communicates via American Sign Language. Commander Gren often acts as her translator, but there are a few really beautiful sequences of signing that remain untranslated because the creators decided that “when Gren wasn’t speaking for her, she spoke for herself… [they] wanted it so that understanding what she’s communicating here is for the deaf audience.” Amaya’s Deafness is an integral part of who is she, but it does not define or overwhelm her plot in the story. It is simply part of her character, and there is no bid to magically erase it or justify it. There is an excellent interview with the show’s writers about how they created Amaya, and how they made decisions about representing her onscreen, including ongoing conversations with Deaf and HoH communities and ASL interpreters.

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(General Amaya. Image from Netflix.)

The other major instance of disability in Book One involves Ava, a wolf companion to a young girl named Ellis. Ellis found Ava as a pup whose leg was stuck in a human trap. She rescued Ava, but the leg had to be amputated. When other humans insisted that Ava should be put down due to the loss of her leg, Ellis ran away with her, eventually finding a “miracle healer” who restored Ava’s leg. This is all pretty standard “cure” trope, but a twist at the end of the season reveals that the healer did not in fact restore Ava’s leg; instead, she created an illusion of a leg so that people would accept her, even though she was already perfect as she was. At the end of the season, the illusion is unmasked, and Ava is once more legible as a happy, powerful, three-legged wolf. No fixing or curing required!

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(Ellis and Ava. Image from Netflix.)

I’m so excited to see what happens in the next season! Hopefully, it will involve a lot more Amaya and even more cool representations of disability!