The Fickle Fortune is an episode I was very happy to see. I believe it was the first time Hamilton was back in season 4 since the first two episodes.
Vaughn Taylor, one of the classic recurring Perry guest-stars (and the one who played the very first murderer, in The Restless Redhead) plays a good guy this time around. Working on the inventory of a large house for the county, Ralph Duncan discovers a large amount of greenbacks stuck to the bottom of an old drawer. Fascinated and intrigued, he gathers up the money with the desire to show it to his family before turning it over to the county. But somehow it vanishes from his locked car when he stops at the grocery store. Now he has a big problem.
It turns out it was his cousin who lifted the money, and he turns it over to a guy he’s been working with stealing and fencing items from the houses Ralph oversees. The guy then crafts a plan for them to be able to get the old greenbacks exchanged for current money without anyone realizing where the bills really came from. He concocts an elaborate scheme by using an elderly and terminally ill man as the supposed secret owner of the majority of the greenbacks. The man wills all his possessions to another fellow, who’s being blackmailed by the fence and will have to hand over all the greenbacks to him.
Ralph reads about the old man and “his” greenbacks in the paper and becomes suspicious. It seems strange, for such a large amount of greenbacks to surface twice in such a short time. He goes to Perry for help and Paul begins investigating. Although Paul can’t find any indication that the old man’s greenbacks are the same ones taken from Ralph’s briefcase, Perry is not convinced.
In the middle of all this, the fence ends up dead and Ralph, discovered at the scene along with five thousand in greenbacks, is the prime suspect.
The plot continues its twisted path as Perry and company try to unravel the mystery. The witnesses in court are stacking up, and not in Ralph’s favor. It’s finally a woman working at the old man’s rest home who puts the puzzle piece in place that they need in order to fit in all the rest of the pieces. And even then, discovering the true murderer is a difficulty and plays out very intensely in court. First it seems it could be one person, then another.
At last, of course, the criminal’s plot crumbles and the identity is revealed. The culprit, the maid of the woman whose estate the whole plot revolves around, was furious at the fence for not agreeing to let her have some of the greenbacks. She seems to regret having killed him. Although she had the gall to go around posing as a maid to different households and then stealing from them, she didn’t want to be a killer.
It was wonderful as it was to see Hamilton back in the courtroom where he belongs, but the epilogue provided one more treat. Hamilton is visiting Perry’s office, hanging out with him, Della, and Paul as they discuss the case and wrap up loose ends. It’s notable for being, I think, the only time Paul is seen talking with Hamilton outside of times on the witness stand. They discuss the fate of the fickle fortune. Hamilton says that as property of the estate, with no heirs, it reverts to the state. Paul sighs and says that as a taxpayer he supposes he should be glad about it. Hamilton smiles and says that as a public official, he is glad.
It’s a very relaxed scene, with Della shooting Hamilton a couple of what appears to be fond looks. It could be more Barbara Hale than Della Street (even though I still think Della is fond of Hamilton); I imagine they were all happy to have William Talman finally back.
And so was I. The Fickle Fortune stands as one of my favorites from not just season 4, but the series overall. There’s an intense pretzel of a plot, good character interaction between everyone, and the much-needed return of William Talman. Awesome.