Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Case of the Careless Kitten

Happy New Year, everyone!

The Careless Kitten is, I believe, the fourth episode to feature a cat. The Silent Partner, The Caretaker’s Cat, and The Golden Fraud are the others. In all of those fairly early episodes, the cat is a Siamese. And despite the gap between season 3 and season 8, they didn’t forget that they wanted a Siamese cat in the role of The Careless Kitten. I love Siamese, but I really have to wonder why they always chose one. Is it the same cat in every episode? It’s a curious mystery.

I was a bit concerned about The Careless Kitten, wondering if the cat died. Originally I thought he did, as all I’d read was that he was poisoned. Later I realized that it didn’t actually say he died. And when I saw the episode I was happy to discover that he lived. Actually, of all the episodes featuring cats, the cat in this one was the most prominent. He even helped solve the mystery!

The plot involves the supposed return of the uncle of our female protagonist—the dead husband of her cruel aunt. The cat Monkey, whom the aunt hates, ends up mysteriously poisoned. That becomes an important element of the case later. He’ll be alright, but his owner asks a friend to look after him for a few days while he recovers.

(The friend, by the way, is played by the incomparable Allan Melvin. And for the only time that I’ve heard, he uses a Southern accent instead of his natural voice.)

The girl finds out that the uncle wants to meet with her. After a long and bewildering wild goose chase, they discover another man—an old friend of the uncle’s—dead. And before the night’s out the aunt is taken to the hospital, also having been poisoned.

As Perry tries to unravel the mystery he eventually winds up at the house of the friend. Monkey perks up when they enter a back room and immediately scampers in to see what they’re up to. He leads them to the discovery of the gun in a flour canister.

Monkey is a very mischievous fellow. The episode opens with him stalking the aunt and her brother and then jumping down on the table to disturb them. He does the same thing in the epilogue, this time disturbing Perry and company in Perry’s office, where for some reason he’s been brought and is sitting on top of a bookcase. But they can’t be too angry with him, after all his help.

Aired towards the end of season 8, The Careless Kitten is one of the last episodes to feature Andy. And while overall it’s excellent and one of my favorites, I’m puzzled by Andy’s behavior in it. Instead of friendly here, he is extremely uptight, starting right with his first scene and continuing throughout the episode. We don’t even get an explanation as to why he’s so frustrated until later, when we come to my favorite part of the episode. According to Hamilton, it’s because everywhere Andy goes to try to investigate, Perry is there first. That would be enough to exasperate anyone. But usually Andy takes Perry’s investigating in stride. What made his patience bend and break this time? Perhaps nothing in particular; it could have simply been the last straw. Or maybe it had already been a bad day for him. Or maybe it was the writers being lazy or just not caring how Andy came across as long as it made the plot more intense. I would hate to think that, since the episode is wonderful. Maybe it’s exactly as Hamilton says and it doesn’t usually work out that Perry gets absolutely everywhere first, so that seriously rubs Andy the wrong way. It does seem that the police have generally questioned the witnesses before Perry does. That wouldn’t explain why Andy was stressed right from the start, however, so maybe he was having a bad day and Perry’s antics just made it worse.

I do think that there was some level of out-of-character behavior going on, but that opinion comes more from Paul’s reaction than anything Andy says or does. At one point Paul says in frustration, “There’s nothing Andy would like better than to . . .” and then is cut off by Perry. It sounds very similar to remarks Paul has made in the past about Tragg or Hamilton wanting to catch Perry bending the law. And since Andy has never seemed to care about that, and Paul knows it very well, it strikes me as out-of-character for Paul to even say something that implies otherwise. Of course, maybe that wasn’t what Paul was going to say, but they were discussing Andy’s behavior at the time and that Perry should probably stay away.

By contrast, Hamilton is adorably sweet in this episode. In the vein of many later episodes, and some earlier ones, he is very clearly depicted as Perry’s friend. In fact, for probably the only time, he comes right out and says as much. As Perry continues to investigate the case and aggravate Andy, Hamilton goes to Perry’s office to plead with him to keep out of it—or at least, out of Andy’s way. He says he’s coming to Perry as a friend. And he is very obviously worried.

Paul arrives in the middle of this discussion with some new information. Hamilton switches gears, harshly warning Paul and Perry if they’ve been up to any tricks involving bending the law. But the mood is provoked by his genuine concern and soon gives way again to his visible worry as he begs Perry to not go to the mansion where Andy is currently investigating. Perry thanks Hamilton for his concern but is determined to continue pursuing the case, even if that means continuing to disturb Andy.

Perhaps the writers decided to make Andy somewhat antagonistic in order to work in the scene with Hamilton visiting Perry? If that’s the case, I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much. However, I don’t agree with making one good guy character the antagonist just in order to show another good guy character’s good side. There should be a logical reason for any unusual behavior.

In any case, Hamilton’s scene shows how far he’s come since season 1. In season 1 he would have been displaying behavior as frustrated or moreso than Andy. I can just imagine him exploding at Perry over Perry continually popping up during the investigation. Going to Perry to worriedly beg him to back off would have been the farthest thing from his mind. Yet in season 8 he does that and also flat-out acknowledges his friendship with Perry.

Another unique factor about this episode is that there is no hearing or trial; the case never goes to court. A handful of episodes throughout the series are this way, focused on solving the mystery outside of court. Many of them either don’t feature Hamilton at all or have him in a very reduced role, so I am thrilled that he is important in this one. After Perry is at the mansion, he calls Hamilton on the phone and asks him to come out. Hamilton and Andy are hence both present at the unmasking of the true villain. Andy seems to have calmed down by this point. Either that or the writers didn’t want to bother furthering the plot point of his aggravation. (Hmm, maybe they really were leading up to the scene in Perry’s office, and with that accomplished they had no reason to keep Andy mad.)

I saw this episode on Christmas Eve and it was a wonderful Christmas treat, what with Hamilton’s concern for Perry and the twisted mystery and a furry kitty playing such a central role. It’s definitely my favorite of the cat episodes. I’ve long wondered why the cat in The Caretaker’s Cat didn’t have a bigger part to play, when the episode’s title refers to him. This episode more than makes up for it.

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