Gah. So I learned that Gary Collins died yesterday. That was a saddening shock. I was already planning to spotlight The Fatal Fetish today for the paranormal themes, but that clinched it. Rest in peace, Gary. You are loved and already missed.
(Also, I’m wondering if I should add The Garrulous Go-Between to my list of episodes to spotlight, since there’s fortune-telling and a séance involved in it, among other things. I haven’t watched it for a long time, so I’d need to see it again before I’d spotlight it. If added, chronologically it would need to be the one today. So it will be out of order. Maybe, since I wanted a post on Halloween, and that's a Wednesday, I could have a post then as well as one the next day, on Thursday.)
Gary Collins plays in two Perry episodes, and if I were spotlighting very dark and disturbing episodes as well as ones with paranormal themes, his other episode would make the Halloween viewing list too. While Gary plays the murderer in that second one, The Crafty Kidnapper, in The Fatal Fetish his role is completely different. Larry Germaine is, of course, one of Hamilton's must trusted assistant district attorneys.
As the devoted son of Mignon Germaine, who knows exactly what Gary's Larry character was exposed to while growing up. Mignon is an entertainer, canonically a cultural dancer, and her current act, at least, involves a vodun ritual and a voodoo doll.
Does Mignon really believe in the religion or is she just a performer? That is never really explained, but it’s certainly implied that she believes. She discusses magic noir with Hamilton, to which he scoffs. She tells him it’s no joke, although it’s possible she’s just being playful.
The voodoo doll from the show is kept in her dressing room. As soon as she hears from Agnes Fanchon that Carina Wileen, who has been leading Larry down a path to destruction, is in the audience, she goes for the doll.
She debuts it in a new form during the dinner show that night. Instead of dropping it in the urn as the script directs, she walks very deliberately to Carina’s ringside table and drops it there. It now has blonde hair and a white dress, like Carina. Stone serious, Mignon runs it through with the dagger, pinning it to the table. Around her, the music has stopped and everyone is watching, bewildered.
Carina knows its meaning, after Mignon told her she would do anything to keep Larry safe from her. But she isn’t afraid of this method. She drunkenly cackles as she rises from the table, intending to walk away. Instead she sways, suddenly having a pain in her side. And as everyone watches in astonishment, she collapses to the floor. Standing by, Mignon does not look surprised. A faint smirk of satisfaction plays at her lips.
The cinematography for the scene is very well-done, making it extremely eerie. As the music winds to its climax, scenes are shown in rapid succession of Carina lying on the floor and a close-up of the stabbed doll, before the scene fades out.
Paul is about as skeptical as Hamilton. At the hospital, when it’s revealed that Carina is being poisoned, he mutters disparagingly about aspects of vodun and wonders if he should take a “non-stop broomstick to Haiti” when Perry wants him to research it. Amused, Perry advises him to take more conventional transportation to a local museum and speak with an expert on the subject.
The “expert” most likely isn’t an expert in reality, as he gives Paul some misleading information along the way. He does admit that it’s a complicated mixture of various things, but he (and Mignon too, actually) still makes it sound as though vodun always involves black magic and wanting to hurt people. It’s a stereotypical Hollywoodized notion, so I don’t really blame writer Samuel Newman for going that path. But in actuality, it’s only renegade vodun sorcerers who practice black magic. The majority of the sorcerers work with white magic and helping people. Voodoo dolls aren’t even supposed to be used to hurt people. They’re often given for good luck.
Paul seems particularly repulsed or weirded out by the idea of snake worship, so it’s a safe bet that he probably hates snakes. Some information is given on the snake god—that its origin is the serpent in the Garden of Eden—to which Paul is further in disbelief. I am trying to research that point, but so far I have not found any corroboration. I imagine it’s possible that snake gods in all or many religions could stem from that, but in any case, this snake god is benevolent. Which is certainly a point no one seems anxious to make here.
Aside from simply dismissing all of the misinformation as bad writing, there is at least another explanation for Mignon using the doll in the stereotypical way. She’s a desperate mother, worried about her son. She might be willing to try anything, as she threatened. Alternately, whether or not she’s actually a follower of the religion, she might have only wanted to give Carina a warning or a threat, instead of thinking the doll would really do something. Her lack of surprise at the collapse, however, certainly suggests that she believed something would happen. Gah, it must have been so horrible for her when Larry ended up accused of Carina’s eventual murder and the real murderer said he got the idea to do it when he saw Mignon stab the doll!
After Paul does his interview, the eerie elements are mostly dropped in favor of investigating the strange goings-on at the Allied Pharmaceutical Company. There is a mysterious scene when he goes to New Orleans to find Mignon, but nothing creepy really happens beyond the tribal drum-type music in the background.
In the epilogue, everyone gathers to watch Mignon and Agnes perform in the dinner show again. Agnes then changes the script by smiling and throwing the doll to Larry, who catches it with a grin. Paul comments, “Uhoh. Here we go again.”
In spite of misinformation, and the paranormal not being responsible for what happened, the scene where Carina collapses is still eerie. And I suppose that it was subconscious power of suggestion when she saw the dagger, but still, to get the pain and fall right after that is chilling. Particularly with the succeeding close-up of the doll.