Murder, She Wrote 8.9 “The Committee”

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This episode starts with Jessica signing books for a WAFFA (Writers and Artists for the First Amendment) fund raising party in New York City. While there, she gets a surprise visit from a dear old friend who invites her to do a book reading at the Avernus Club — a century old exclusive club that has so far only admitted males.

Jessica cannot resist making history and potentially opening the door to other women at the club, and so she agrees. But when one of the club members is killed, Jessica also receives a special request from the club to personally investigate the murder. This leads her to learn about a special club committee meeting in which a select few members voted using black and white marbles to sanction the member who ended up being killed.

Just the facts:

Click on the text below to reveal spoilers.

Click to reveal the victim It was Lawrence Cayle, an unpopular member of the club! Later, another member of the club, Harcourt Fenton, also dies.
Click to reveal the killer It was Theo Cayle, Lawrence’s brother! (Lisa, the club secretary, was his accomplice/alibi. However, she only helped Theo because he paid her and she believed she was only doing things as a practical joke.)
Click to reveal the weapon Lawrence Cayle was killed by a shotgun at close range! Fenton was killed in a car accident after the brakes in his car were cut.
Click to reveal the location Lawrence Cayle was killed at night in the Avernus Club! Fenton died in hospital after his car drove off a cliff.
Click to reveal the motive Theo wanted control of Lawrence’s estate and was jealous of his success/limelight! Later, Theo cut Fenton’s brake lines in order to prevent him and Winston Devermore from finding out that the blackball vote was rigged.

Cast of characters:

The main mystery in this episode involves the members of the Avernus club:

  • John McMartin plays Winston Devermore, one of Jessica’s dear old friends. This is McMartin’s fourth and final appearance on MSW; he previously appeared in “Wearing of the Green“.
  • Norman Lloyd plays Philip Arkham, the president of the club. This is his second of three appearances on MSW.
  • James Sutorius plays Lawrence Cayle, an unpopular member of the club. This is his third of five appearances; he previously appeared in “Weave a Tangled Web“.
  • Robin Thomas plays Gerald Innsmouth, a club member who was angry with Lawrence Cayle for betraying him in business. (Fans of Hallmark mysteries might recognize him as Graham Winslow from the ‘Mystery 101‘ series.)
  • Ed Winter plays Edward Dunsany, the newest club member and owner of a vineyard. This is his second of three appearances; he previously appeared in “Smooth Operators“.
  • George Wyner as Harcourt Fenton, a club member who was vocally opposed to the blackballing meeting.

Additional major roles include close associates of the club and those involved in the investigation:

  • Nicholas Pryor plays Theo Cayle, Lawrence Cayle’s older brother. This is third and final appearance; he previously in “O’Malley’s Luck“.
  • Robin Dearden plays Lisa Sutton, the club president’s personal secretary who helps collect the blackballing votes. This is her third and final appearance on MSW; she previously appeared in “The Taxman Cometh“.
  • John Kapelos plays Lt. Howard Tartarus, a local police detective in charge of the murder investigation.

Minor roles include:

  • Judy Jean Berns as the organizer of the WAFFA fundraiser that Jessica was at in the beginning of the episode.
  • Susan McWilliams as Doris, Jessica’s fan at the WAFFA book signing.
  • Geoffrey Infeld as a messenger at the Avernus club.
  • Randall James Jeffries as a valet at the Cayle house. He previously played a bellhop in “Family Doctor“.
  • Elizabeth Kent is credited as a young woman (but perhaps she was the one that played the role of Dunsany’s wife). This is her second and final appearance; she previously appeared in “Murder Through the Looking Glass“.
  • Darrell Zwerling as a doctor who cares for Jessica’s friend after he gets into a car accident.
  • Marabina Jaimes as a nurse.

Final thoughts and other trivia:

As this is one of the episodes written by J. Michael Straczynski (who later went on to create the sci-fi series Babylon 5), there are many references to classic sci-fi/fantasy within the names used in this episode. For example, Arkham and Innsmouth are both names of fictional places created by H.P. Lovecraft; Dunsany is likely a reference to writer Lord Dunsany, an early influence on H.P. Lovecraft; Harcourt Fenton was the full name of Harry Mudd, a character in the original Star Trek series; Tartarus was the name of the ancient Greek underworld; and Avernus was the name given to a crater believed to be the entrance to the underworld in Roman mythology. (Thanks to an IMDb contributor for pointing out this bit of trivia.)

Also, I found Jessica’s book reading at the Avernus club particularly interesting. Not only does she get the compliment of being told she’s better than Hemingway (who apparently did a reading of his story “Hills Like White Elephants”), but we also get an excerpt of some of her excellent mystery and suspense writing (which I have reproduced below):

Serene and confident, Robert Connor smiled as he waited for the police. He had thought his crime through with machine-line precision. If there were indeed such a thing as a perfect crime, then surely this was it.

And so he sat and smiled, until he glanced at his wine glass, the one he had taken to celebrate his victory, and realized from the faint lipstick smears that it was not his, but the identical glass he had poured for Charlene.

He had washed the wrong one. How much poison was left in the glass, he wondered. Surely not enough to…

When the police arrived, they found Robert Connor sitting in his chair, smiling, the smile frozen on his face in a rictus of death. And they wondered what a dead man could possibly find so amusing.

Finally, for those interested in keeping track of the men that hit on Jessica, we find that at the end of this episode Winston invites her to jet off to Scotland with him!

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