Murder, She Wrote 8.11 “Danse Diabolique”

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In this episode, Jessica finds herself in San Francisco, visiting some friends who run a ballet company. The company is preparing to put on a performance of the “Danse Diabolique”, a ballet that had previously only been performed twice (once in Russia and once in Paris), each time ending in the death of the prima ballerina. They are hoping that the existence of a potential “curse” would create enough buzz to get enough backers to sponsor the company. Jessica helps investigate after the “curse” claims yet another life.

Jessica was Claudia’s friend before Geoffrey, but we don’t know how. although it’s mentioned that they were involved in a production five years ago in italy?

When Claudia loses her role to Lily, she says she hopes there is a curse on the dance and that Lily dies as a result. So of course Jessica has to clear her friend’s name when a death actually does occur. (Lily dies on stage during a performance for the backers and press.)

Just the facts:

Click on the text below to reveal spoilers.

Click to reveal the victim It was Lily Roland, the ballerina who ultimately performed in the starring role!
Click to reveal the killer It was Edward Hale, the choreographer and ballet dancer who portrayed Death!
Click to reveal the weapon It was thallium poisoning delivered via needles attached to the skull prop, which the victim was required to grasp as part of the choreography!
Click to reveal the location It was on stage during the first public performance!
Click to reveal the motive Edward could no longer trust that Lily would keep his continuing drug problem a secret!

Cast of characters:

The main plot revolves around the members of the ballet company:

  • Marisa Berenson plays Claudia Cameron, a prima ballerina and a good friend of Jessica Fletcher’s. (It’s not really clear how the two first met, but during the episode it is revealed that they knew each other at least five years prior while she was involved in a ballet production in Italy.)
  • Daniel Pilon plays Geoffrey Presser, the producer and also Claudia’s husband.
  • Adrian Paul plays Edward Hale, the choreographer and also the dancer who portrays the role of Death in the ballet. He is a recovering pill junkie who hopes this performance will marks his comeback. Adrian Paul would later make a name for himself by starring in the Highlander TV series.
  • Nancy Valen plays Lily Roland, a ballerina who was originally cast in a secondary role. She laughs at Claudia for being too old to play the maiden and uses her sexuality to seduce male members of the company. This is Valen’s second and final appearance on MSW; she previously appeared in “Night of the Tarantula“.
  • Robert Torti plays Damien Bolo, who portrays the maiden’s lover in the ballet.
  • Stephen Nichols plays Barry Carroll, the stage manager and a former ballet dancer who can no longer dance due to an injury.

Additional roles include:

  • Ernie Lively plays SFPD Lt. Martin Kinicki. This is Lively’s third of five total appearances on MSW; he previously appeared in “Good-Bye Charlie” and “A Body to Die For“.
  • Mark Costello plays Sgt. O’Connor. This is Costello’s third and final appearance on MSW; he previously appeared in “The Last Flight of the Dixie Damsel“.
  • Anthony Gordon plays one of the backers who come to learn about the ballet production at the beginning of the episode. This is Gordon’s second and final appearance on MSW; he previously appeared in “Appointment in Athens”.
  • Joel Weiss plays a flower delivery boy (though we don’t really get to see his face).
  • Lindy Nisbet plays the Florist Shop Clerk.

Notably, the episode extras include Jenna Elfman (who would later gain fame as the star of Dharma and Greg) as a ballet dancer.

Jenna Elfman’s face is clearly visible on the left side of this scene.

Final thoughts and other trivia:

According to an IMDb contributor, this episode was filmed inside the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles because the stage had a trap opening in the middle.

Additionally, I found it interesting that the now ubiquitous gif of Jessica holding up a teacup originated from a clip at the very end of this episode.

And finally, the following great line from the episode sounds like Jessica might be quoting someone, but as far as I’ve been able to find, it appears to be original:

There are three things you can never get enough of in life, Lieutenant. Chocolate, friends, and the theater.

Jessica Fletcher, “Danse Diabolique”

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