Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Case of the Wrathful Wraith


The Wrathful Wraith opens in a very unique way. Perry is in court during the hearing of Louise Selff, charged with killing her cruel husband on their boat and throwing the body overboard. There’s not enough evidence and the case is thrown out. The assistant D.A. handling the case is disgusted and says he hopes Perry can sleep nights, letting a murderess go free.

Louise is in a badly nerve-shot state. As she goes out to the car with Perry, reporters hound them all along the way. Her old medium hands her a business card, telling her that she can speak with Jamison Selff and help Louise. As Louise accepts the card, the photographer’s flashbulb goes off, there’s a clap of thunder at the same time, and she screams in anguish.

After two weeks recuperating, she’s coming back home with her friend Rosemary. For a moment she starts in horror, thinking she sees Jamison at his desk. But it’s only his . . . business partner? Insurance agent? Great, I can’t remember and I can’t confirm or deny it anywhere else. Well, it’s Ralph Balfour (an unusual surname, and one the Perry writers seemed to like. I wonder if all the Balfours are part of the same powerful family?). He’s looking for something in the desk. And on the desk are assorted pieces of hate mail to Louise from various cranks. Her friend Rosemary tries to convince her not to read them, but she does anyway.

Louise continues to be distressed. She’s still on trial, she tells Perry, until the real murderer can be caught. She’s also thinking of seeing that psychic. Perry stresses against it. As the rain pours outside, Louise offers Della a raincoat. But Jamison’s raincoat is missing. After Perry and Della leave, Louise discovers that some cufflinks are also missing.

Those instances are eerie enough. But at the mystic’s house, Louise is convinced she sees Jamison. And not the cardboard standee of him that’s randomly in the woman’s house, but the genuine article. Back home, she receives a telephone call from her dead husband, telling her to look for an envelope in a desk drawer. She discovers it. These incidents just about send her over the edge.

The envelope’s contents involve a deal Jamison made with Arcott Laboratories. Louise needs to pay $30,000 to receive part-ownership. Ralph Balfour discourages doing so, however, and Louise is conflicted. At last she decides not to go through with it, feeling it’s too risky and she’d have to wait so long for any returns, but another phone call from Jamison has her collapsing in horror and anguish.

Ralph invites Perry and Paul for a drink before leaving the house that night. When they go over later, the sounds of a fight are clearly heard in the lit apartment. Finally Ralph lets them in and says he was fighting an unknown burglar in the dark, who was scared off by Perry and Paul’s arrival.

Louise, meanwhile, is trying to sleep. A strange figure stands over her bed and tells her to change her mind and give Arcott the $30,000. The person leaves, after throwing something right at Louise. She screams, bringing Rosemary rushing into the room. Then they discover that what was thrown is the missing raincoat.

This is too much for her and the doctor is called. He sedates her. Later, she takes the household gun and keeps it with her, determined to use it for protection if need be. Rosemary is very worried about her and tries to find the gun, to no avail.

That night the spectre returns. Somewhere in all the commotion, he falls off the balcony, shot. Perry and Paul find him below as they run up. This time Jamison is dead for real.

Of course Louise ends up on trial again. During the course of the case, Hamilton questions Rosemary about Louise’s insistence that Jamison was haunting her, when Louise was fully convinced he was dead the first time. Hamilton makes his opinion on ghosts perfectly clear, as he exclaims in disbelief, “Do you honestly believe a normal mind can believe in ghosts?!” At the defense table, Louise hears and is at the point of a nervous breakdown. Hamilton sees her and visibly feels terrible. He requests to talk to the judge and Perry in the judge’s chambers.

Hamilton tells them that he isn’t enjoying torturing Louise, and although he really believes she’s guilty, he also thinks she was just driven to it and is imbalanced from everything Jamison was doing to her. He thinks a plea of innocent by reason of insanity is the kindest thing for her, instead of putting her through this hearing. Perry is gracious, but says he would rather put Louise through that then have her end up in an institution. He doesn’t believe she’s imbalanced.

The plot finally unravels around the Arcott deal. Jamison had intended to stay dead, thinking Ralph would tell Louise to pay the $30,000. As the “widow”, Louise was the only one who could do it. But Ralph encouraged her not to pay, so Jamison had to “come back from the dead” and try to convince Louise otherwise. He really wanted that to go through, feeling that once Louise had money from the returns, he could “return to life” claiming amnesia and get the money himself.

Perry exposes Ralph as the double-crosser and reminds him of the night the burglar broke in. Ralph lied about the lights being off and not being able to see who it was. It had been Jamison, and Ralph had known it very well. Jamison was interfering with Ralph’s own plans, aware that Ralph had double-crossed him, and so Ralph had killed him.

There’s a lot of eerie, supposedly paranormal things going on all throughout the first half of the episode, from the mystic claiming she can get in touch with Jamison to all of the things happening as Jamison tries to convince Louise he’s haunting her. And yet somehow, there’s just not much of a feeling that there’s really a ghost at foot. Maybe it’s because I went into it originally knowing there wouldn’t be (and I wouldn’t be expecting it of Perry anyway). Yet even when I re-watch The Meddling Medium or The Fatal Fetish, despite knowing what’s happening in them, it still feels really creepy in the key scenes. Maybe because in the end, I still have some lingering doubts as to whether other forces were at work along with what was revealed.

I wish Hamilton’s strong feelings against the existence of ghosts had been explored more in the series. It’s an intriguing angle, one that, again, I’m pleased the writers remembered to keep all along after its introduction in season 5. I raised my eyebrows a bit at the bluntness of his comment on whether it was possible for sane minds to believe in ghosts, but it’s an interesting insight into his character, and the scene that ensues, with Hamilton clearly feeling terrible about putting Louise through the torture of the hearing, is one of my favorites ever. In the end, that segment is my favorite bit relating to the paranormal in this episode, rather than any of Jamison’s tricks.

As far as those tricks go, I think the part where he throws the raincoat at Louise is probably the creepiest. The camera angle is very good; the raincoat is flying right at the audience. And no one knows what it is until Louise and Rosemary discover it moments later.

There’s also at least one part I’ve never seen—the bit with the missing cufflinks. It’s missing in the print that airs on my local station, and I imagine that’s the same print MeTV airs. (Or maybe it will be chopped even further; I was cringing at everything gone from The Difficult Detour that I’ve seen in even my local station’s print.)

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