In the middle of a baseball game at the Cabot Cove Founder’s Day Picnic, a car chases a wealthy out of town businessman, hits and disappears. Several witnesses testify that no one is driving. The same car then runs down the businessman’s partner.
The businessman claims they were there at the invitation of a disgruntled former employee Daniel O’Brien (Van Johnson) who wanted to meet with them. O’Brien is an inventor who had made plans for a driverless car and jumps to the top of the suspect’s list.
Murder by remote controlled vehicle is a novel murder method particularly for 1984.
Cabot Cove is very much a work in progress at this point as the show tries to grasp the feel of it. There’s a nice scene that captures the spirit of many small towns when a grocery store clerk points out O’Brien is an out of towner and Jessica points out that he’s lived there six years which leaves the clerk unimpressed.
It also feels like they’re still establishing Sheriff Tupper, who is a bit out of his depth about the whole case. I like the scene where Jessica provides him a gentle and respectful nudge that gets him to stop spinning his wheels.
O’Brien has a former colleague (June Allyson) as a house guest and the two have very\sweet chemistry together.
There’s a fun discussion about driverless cars and technology that’s fascinating if just a bit quaint for modern viewers in a time when driverless cars are starting to become a reality.
What Doesn’t Work
Let’s start with the murder. The business partner is killed on a road with two sides and he faced a choice. He could run up a hill with an impossibly high grade on his left or he could run down a hill into a forest filled with trees. Our victim chooses to run up the hill which he can’t climb and the car hits him, when if he had run into the forest he would have been fine.
While I can believe the victim panicked and did something stupid, it makes the killer’s plan look a bit haphazard because the whole thing could have been avoided with common sense.
In the scene that made the teaser for the episode, Jessica is trapped in the remote controlled car as it careens towards the edge of a cliff. It looks exciting but in context it makes little sense.
Tupper had spent an entire day searching for anywhere the car might have gone, hadn’t found it, and decided to go with the theory that a large truck had driven it away. Jessica points out there’s a place that Tupper hadn’t looked. Tupper refuses to go check, complaining about his budget, and so Jessica goes off by herself, finds the car, and gets inside it. The killer’s watching it an ominous van, remotely locks locks Jessica in, and guides the car down the highway, following it through Cabot Cove and heads it towards the edge of a cliff over the ocean…and then stops it.
This is a scene where nothing makes sense. Tupper was unrealistically stubborn. Jessica has no reason to get in the car and get behind the wheel. The killer had no reason to send Jessica on a scary ride through Cabot Cove unless they were going to kill her, which they weren’t.
It’s true the car needed to be found as part of the killer’s plan but once it was found, mission accomplished. They did the remote controlled chase for no good reason and exposed the van they were driving in to scrutiny. You can interpose your own reason for this such as equipment failure or the killer losing their nerve, but that’s the audience having to fix the writer’s mistake as you won’t find it in the episode.
The clue to solve the case is simple, but a little bit too simple. I pretty much had guessed the involved parties already but didn’t feel too smart for doing so.
Overall: This episode is flawed and continues an odd streak in Murder She Wrote’s first season where episodes set on the West Coast are way better than the East Coast stories.
Still, it’s got one of the more interesting premises so far and you also have June Allyson and Van Johnson bringing some golden age magic. So despite its flaws, this episode is far more entertaining than it deserves to be, and makes for good view.
Rating: 3.75 out of 5
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