Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Case of the Fatal Fetish

The Fatal Fetish, from season 8, is highly unique in several ways.

First, it, along with The Meddling Medium, are the only episodes I know of where anything supernatural is touched upon at all. Even though a logical explanation is eventually presented, for a while the audience is seemingly led to believe (or at least consider) that something spooky is afoot. The Meddling Medium deals with psychics and automatic writing; The Fatal Fetish, with voodoo.

More importantly, The Fatal Fetish also shows us a great deal of Hamilton and his office’s work. One of his assistants, Larry Germaine, is central to the plot. Larry has gotten himself into quite a terrible mess. Despite being an excellent assistant D.A., he is not so lucky in the women department. The one he has been seeing, Carina Wileen, is up to no good. Everyone around him can see that, including Hamilton and Larry’s mother Mignon. Larry, unfortunately, is oblivious.

Mignon is the other very unique element of this episode. She was the legendary Fay Wray’s third and final Perry character, and my favorite. Aloof and no-nonsense, she refuses to stand by and see Larry take the fall that’s unavoidably encroaching upon him. The episode opens as she confronts Carina and pleads with her to leave Larry alone. Larry’s well-being is the most important thing to her, she states, and she will do anything for him. But even though Mignon knows Carina is poison, she does not realize just how devious the younger woman is.

Mignon is seemingly a believer in vodun. She performs in a floorshow depicting some sort of vodun ritual. The doll from the show is otherwise kept in her dressing room. This becomes important later.

Mignon has the distinction of being one of a handful of oneshot friends of Hamilton’s (and the only woman among them, unless we consider the girl he danced with in The Golfer’s Gambit). By Hamilton’s own admission, he and Mignon have been good friends for a long time. They make an interesting contrast, particularly when discussing voodoo dolls and black magic, which Hamilton thinks is utterly ridiculous.

Hamilton’s genuine caring and concern for both Mignon and Larry comes through loud and clear. Worried over Larry’s involvement with Carina, he tries to talk to Larry about it. Instead, Larry snaps at him, ice in every word. Hamilton, first visibly shocked and then just as clearly hurt, lets him leave. There can’t be any reasoning with Larry in his state.

Immediately Hamilton has a reservation made for him at the nightclub where Mignon performs. After watching the dinner show, he goes with Mignon to her dressing room. His purpose is to talk with her about Larry, but he’s having trouble gathering the right words. He hates to bring up something that will hurt her, yet he knows he must. Mignon opens the door for him by deducing his reason for coming. During the conversation Hamilton expresses his regret that, while Larry has done excellent work for the D.A.’s office, Hamilton may have to fire him. Agonized, Mignon believes it’s because of Larry’s involvement with Carina. Hamilton tries to tell her that it’s because of something he isn’t doing.

The conversation is interrupted by Mignon’s fellow performer Agnes, who was apparently Larry’s close female friend before Carina entered the picture. She mistakes a bewildered Hamilton for Larry at first, but quickly realizes her error.

In addition to being friends with Hamilton, Mignon seems to have associated with Perry a good deal. After Carina’s intricate web frames Larry for soliciting a position in the law firm of the man who is defending a case Larry is handling, Hamilton has no choice but to suspend Larry until the matter can be investigated. Mignon calls Perry for help and notes that she’s aware that he’s been out of the office due to an unexplained accident. Unless the matter was publicized (which is possible), it seems the only other way Mignon would have knowledge of this would be if she had been in contact with Perry or Della—or if Hamilton recommended Perry for Larry but mentioned Perry’s accident.

For some unknown reason, Carina drops in at the nightclub that evening to see Mignon’s show. Furious, and probably desperate, by this point, Mignon takes the voodoo doll and dresses it like Carina. She then presents it to Carina and stabs it. It’s unclear whether Mignon is trying to threaten or scare her or if she genuinely believes that she can inflict harm by doing this. In any case, Carina gets up, laughing, and promptly collapses, clutching her side.

The rest of the episode follows the discovery that Carina was being poisoned, Larry’s fear that Mignon is responsible, and Carina’s eventual murder, for which Larry is accused. The solution involves unraveling the big case Larry was working on, as well as discovering the truth about what happened seven years ago in New Orleans when an explosion claimed the life of a company president.

Hamilton’s concern for the Germaines continues throughout the twisted plot. When Larry is stalling, waiving the hearing and insisting on defending himself at his trial, Hamilton scolds him for his foolishness. Later, when Larry is satisfied that Mignon did not have any involvement in Carina’s death, he wants to have a hearing after all—and for Perry to defend him. When Perry brings this news, Hamilton is excited and thrilled. Now, Hamilton hopes, Larry will have a better chance of being cleared and they can solve the mystery before the case ever has to go to trial.

Season 8 is a series of episodes that I have only seen a handful of recently. Hamilton seems quite friendly with Perry in the ones I’ve seen, particularly this one and The Ruinous Road. He acknowledges that he’s glad Perry could come when they all meet in the hospital following Carina’s mysterious collapse. He and Perry discuss the case, off-screen, and come up with a way to conduct the hearing that they hope will bring the truth to light. And at the end, Perry, Della, and Paul join Hamilton and Larry at the nightclub to watch Mignon and Agnes in their show.

Although of course Perry is vital to the episode, the spotlight really seems to be on Hamilton and the Germaines. This may have been on purpose, as I’ve heard that Raymond Burr was growing weary of the heavy workload and the writers tried to shift the focus to the other characters at times during the last seasons.

In any case, The Fatal Fetish is currently my favorite episode, tied with The Lovers’ Leap from season 6. Perhaps my next episode spotlight will be upon it. Any episode in which Hamilton and Perry team up is an instant favorite of mine, and this one has so many additional, intriguing elements. I love the glimpse into how Hamilton’s office is run and his close friendships with both Mignon and Larry.

The only real downside to the episode is the mistaken portrayal of voodoo/vodun as evil and dark. But that is not the writers’ fault, I’m sure; by then it was such a staple of Hollywood films and TV series to show it in such a way that the Perry writers likely didn’t bat an eye. As I’ve mentioned, I tried to soften the blow in my story The Macabre Mansion by having Mignon tell Hamilton a little about the true religion. When watching the episode, I cringe at the misrepresentation but love the story for all the good in it.


  1. I can't understand why Larry removed the dagger from his mother's dressing room. This didn't make sense. This episode is probably in my top favorite five episodes. Mignon's opening conversation with Carina ("an alcoholic floozy") is hilarious. I served with the United Nations Mission in Haiti. Yes, they do practice Vodun there, somewhat syncretized with Roman Catholicism.

    1. (Interesting to see what I was doing exactly 7 years ago!)

      Of course, if Perry Mason defendants were always logical, there probably wouldn't be much show. LOL. Glad to find another fan of the episode! It is great. Such a unique venture, and such fun for a Hamilton Burger fan like me. That is really interesting that you were in Haiti! I always wonder how people manage to mesh two or more religions together and have it make sense to them. Fascinating.

      Thanks for commenting!