One episode I enjoy watching repeatedly is season 8’s The Sleepy Slayer. It’s a very intense and twisted episode with some delightful extras, including a pleasing scene with Perry and Hamilton and (finally!) a male secretary who’s a good guy.
This is one of Samuel Newman’s episodes. He’s one of my most favorite recurring writers for the series. He usually tends to be kind to Hamilton in his scripts. And the plots are generally very intense and surprising. I wonder what season 9 would have been like if he had remained as Story Consultant.
I wonder how someone even gets chosen as Story Consultant. It seems that they would need a great deal of knowledge and understanding as to how the characters tick. Samuel Newman performed very well. Some others . . . well, always didn’t seem to as much.
But back to The Sleepy Slayer. It opens showing us one of the most dysfunctional households throughout the entire series, which is quite an arguable accomplishment. The old and nasty patriarch of the household, Abner Gordon, throws a temper tantrum and refuses to take his medicine. To the poor young nurse’s horror, this results in a stroke and a collapse. It’s not the first time it’s happened. But he’s too filled with hate to die off. The doctor comments that not even death wants him and that this could go on for years.
Rachel Gordon, Abner’s niece, still lives there. For the past fifteen years, it’s been because Abner has threatened that if she leaves or gets married, he’ll disinherit her. And she thinks one and a half million dollars is worth staying in the Hell Abner’s created for her. She keeps hoping he’ll die. And she threatens to kill him herself if he doesn’t.
The household, from the doctor to the nurse to Bruce Jay the secretary, as well as the other staff members, all feel sorry for Rachel and are sickened by how far she’s been pushed to the edge of a nervous breakdown. I, personally, had a hard time feeling sorry for her from the beginning. Her poor, oppressed persona didn’t feel believable to me, not when she showed such unbridled hatred not only to Abner Gordon (where it was certainly understandable), but to the hapless Bruce Jay, who had never done a thing to her. She snarls at him that she’ll see he’s thrown out of the house someday. And in spite of that, Bruce continues to worry about and defend her.
Perry is handling a legal matter for Bruce, who is concerned that money Abner promised him will not be handed over if the second will is introduced. He wants to leave the house and marry the nurse, and Abner doesn’t seem to want him to go, either. Bruce was staying there in the first place because of an accident in a plant owned by Abner, an accident that caused Bruce’s lungs to become gravely injured. Abner paid his bills and offered for him to stay at the house as a secretary. He said that if Bruce ever wanted to leave he would give $50,000, but it’s possible he may refuse to do so aside from Bruce inheriting it in his will after his death.
There’s a mysterious attempted break-in at the Gordon house. When the police arrive, the sergeant wants to talk with Rachel but she refuses to see him. At the same time someone tried to break in, she was stealing money from Abner’s desk. She’s been secretly seeing a man on the side, a repulsive fellow who only wants her money and doesn’t care a bit about her. When Abner and his accountant learn of the missing money and Abner threatens her to return it by Monday if she doesn’t want him to replace his current will with the one that disinherits her (and everyone else), she begs her boyfriend to return the money she’s already given him. He says he can’t and walks out, telling her to pray her uncle dies before Monday.
Rachel still hasn’t talked to the sergeant about the attempted break-in. Instead she goes out and tries to buy a gun. Not wanting a police record to exist, she opts for a second-hand gun at a pawnshop and bribes the pawnbroker into not adding her name and address to his record. In one of the series’ most chilling and shocking scenes, Rachel practices her shooting in the middle of a lightning storm. As the thunder crashes and disguises the sounds, she fires repeatedly at a dead log while envisioning Abner’s sneering face.
Everything is set up so Rachel seems to be the usually poor, misunderstood, and innocent defendant. After telling the other household members that she wants to teach Abner a lesson in how he can’t torment them for the fun of it, and instructs them all to leave for twenty-four hours starting the next day, she drops scalding coffee on her arm due to a loose coffeepot handle and screams in utter agony. The doctor treats and sedates her, saying that she’s very close to a complete breakdown.
Early the next morning, the housekeeper gets up and hears that someone else is up. Upon curiously going upstairs and to Abner’s room, she discovers in horror that Rachel is shooting Abner with her gun. Rachel then collapses, having apparently been under the influence of the drug’s inhibitor-removing properties.
Upon the horrifying events of the murder, Bruce asks Perry to come to the house. He does, and while waiting for Bruce, discovers an upsidedown book on law in the library. All the others have dust on them, but not the one out of place.
Bruce enters and pleads with Perry to defend Rachel. Perry says he can’t because of the conflict of interest, but agrees to talk with her until she can find her own counsel. However, she is wheeled out on a gurney, unconscious and again sedated, and on her way to the prison ward of the hospital. Andy says that Hamilton won’t allow anyone to see her without an Okay from his office.
There are some classic lines of dialogue from the characters throughout the episode. One of my favorites is from Andy in this scene. Upon being told that Rachel has been through a terrible experience, he dryly and flatly replies, “Yes. I saw Abner Gordon’s body.”
Investigative goings-on happen. The accountant talks of the missing money and gives an intriguing and very sad possible insight into Abner’s behavior. “Did you ever stop to think that the last thing in the world he wanted was for Rachel to leave him?” Perhaps it was so. And Bruce had said that Abner was kind to him when the plant he owned caused Bruce’s lifelong illness. Certainly Abner did not seem to be of the same caliber as the most wretched and evil of the murder victims.
Paul tries to talk with Rachel’s boyfriend and is thoroughly disgusted by him and his uncaring and unconcerned attitude towards Rachel. He even says he’ll make her look guilty if he’s put on the witness stand. While observing him getting ready for a date with another girl, one who has a lot of money, Paul casually (and deliberately) knocks the bottle of cologne off the dresser and causes it to spill all over the guy. He exclaims in indignation. Paul just smiles and says, “Tracey-boy, you smell real pretty. You might just get yourself a platoon of promoters.”
It’s one of Paul’s best and most unexpected scenes. We don’t usually see him get so thoroughly revolted by someone, and it’s even less often that he does something about it. Still less often than that when he does it with a smile. Tracey is a new breed of rat, and Paul responds highly unfavorably and unusually.
Eventually Paul learns that Abner was dead when Rachel fired at him. He was poisoned. Consequently, Rachel has been released. Andy comes in with a warrant for Bruce.
The hearing proceeds with some wonderful and thorough handling by Hamilton, who questions the witnesses on every angle and wants to make sure he has everything correct. Perry remains extraordinarily silent, bewildering Hamilton and everyone else. Of course, Perry has a plan.
That night he, Hamilton, Paul, and the police are waiting on a cold and rainy street. Hamilton wanders over to Perry and says that they’ve been there for over two hours. Perry wonders if Hamilton has lost his curiosity, to which Hamilton replies in the negative. Perry says that the man they’re waiting for is a creature of habit, in more ways than one. Hamilton’s answer is gold: “Yes, and that’s the problem—so am I! And one of my habits is sleeping at night!”
At last the person they’re waiting for arrives. He’s caught buying drugs, which are hidden in a book. He’s revealed to be Tracey. As Paul approaches he says, “Tracey-boy, you just got yourself that platoon of promoters.”
In court the next day, Tracey admits that he’s a drug addict. Rachel tried to stick him in a recovery program but it didn’t take. He was hooked to her pocketbook and she to him. The night of the murder, she called him at midnight and told him she’d left a bit more money under his pillow. The problem is, she was supposed to have been under heavy sedation at midnight, put under an hour earlier. And Tracey insists he didn’t kill Abner so that Rachel would inherit all the money; he wouldn’t kill and anyway, he was out getting a fix.
Perry gets Rachel on the stand. And in one of his most awesome examinations ever, he pokes holes in her story and reveals her true plan: to get everyone to feel sorry for her and think she was having a nervous breakdown, then kill Abner Gordon “not once, but twice” to throw suspicion off of herself. She burned herself with the coffee on purpose so the doctor would have to sedate her. Then she negated the effect of the drug with a drug she stole from Tracey and called him at midnight. She deliberately poisoned Abner with the drug Bruce uses to breathe easier when his lungs hurt him, in order to throw suspicion on him. And three hours after Abner was dead, she went into his room, pretending to be in a drugged stupor, and fired three times.
She tries to protest that she didn’t have present ability when she shot Abner. Perry corners her on that and asks her how she knows the legal term if she hasn’t been reading law books. She studied up on every angle of the crime, and was the one who left the volume upsidedown in the library. “I have never heard of such a deliberately evil plan,” Perry declares. Rachel finally breaks down in tears on the witness stand.
The epilogue finds Della wondering how Perry knew the upsidedown law book was really a clue and not just a random coincidence. Perry smiles and reminds Della of a famous saying by Justice Holmes. Smiling too, Della quotes, “Even a dog can tell the difference between being stumbled over and being kicked.”
I have to say that, since I never liked Rachel, I was pleased to see that my feelings were quite justified. But we’re left wondering exactly how much of her sympathetic act was indeed just an act. She was hateful and bitter towards both Abner and Bruce, yet she appeared to genuinely love Tracey. Or at least, she seemed needy around him and most unlike the evil woman who hated and plotted. And her crying in court may or may not have been faked.
Bruce Jay was far kinder to her than she ever deserved. Despite her clear hatred of him, he still worried about her and wanted Perry to defend her after the shooting. And he staunchly defended her to Perry and others, insisting on how cruelly Abner had mistreated her and pushed her to a breakdown.
And of course, Hamilton was wonderful. I enjoyed his careful examinations of all the witnesses, particularly the doctor, as he wanted to make certain he had all of the facts straight. That would have been awesome enough, but then Sam Newman also threw in that scene with Hamilton joining Perry and the others on a stakeout. An absolute, perfect surprise.
All of the main characters really get their chances to shine in this episode. And the plot is so dark and twisted. For once, we’re actually really seeing the murderer’s plan unfolding, and who the murderer is, but it’s so obvious that it seems it can’t be and that Rachel must be the poor, poor person she pretends she is. Seeing Perry expose her for the wicked woman she truly is, is delicious. I believe that, even though Perry's scenes of exposing the murderers are usually always epic, I’ve only rarely enjoyed Perry’s examinations as much or more than this one.