Reader, I hope you’re enjoying being back in Victorian London with our detective pals as much as I am. I regret to inform you, however, that at least one person is having a terrible time, and that person is Barney the Morgue Bureaucrat. Not only is his walk to work getting interrupted by a bunch of children…
… but he’s also being chased down the street by Victoria Mars, who’s asking for background information on one of his corpses. A protocol breach? And an annoyance? Sounds like any other episode, except this time, Victoria Mars tries to play the Ivy card.
Barney the Morgue Bureaucrat: Ok, first of all:
And second of all, I have a weekly standing date to have tea with my very good friend who works in that shop every week, and I’m already late, so go away!
It’s a good speech, and convincing, too. But since chaos follows Victoria Mars around everywhere she goes, the next thing that happens is straight out of a horror movie: mid-speech, a bloody hand slams on the glass shop window and slides down. Obviously, the only thing to do is to open the door and try to help, so that’s what Barney the Morgue Bureaucrat and Victoria Mars do: rattle the handle (him) and then kick in the door (her).
Alas, they’re too late: Barney’s buddy is dead, and when Hardscrabble shows up later to question them (well, to question Barney the Morgue Bureaucrat: he doesn’t like Victoria Mars), they share that the perp must have fled out the open back door, unseen by them. Unfortunately for Victoria Mars’ ability to horn in on this case, Hardscrabble’s partner today is a new kid who can’t handle blood, and not one of our friends.
Hardscrabble: He’s a big baby — first crime scene!
Victoria Mars: Don’t care. I think the victim was dead before he hit the ground.
Hardscrabble: Great, so you’re a doctor now too? So helpful!
Victoria Mars: What would have been HELPFUL is if your lot had shown up more than an hour after we called you. Now follow me: you can see by this giant pool of blood that the victim was probably hit here, and fell over.
Barney the Morgue Bureaucrat: Yeah, and then the poor guy must have struggled to the front to try and get help.
Victoria Mars: Cause of death was probably a head wound. The back door has signs of forced entry, the till is empty, and there are brass handles missing, which makes it look like a robbery, but I think that’s fake. It’s weird to rob an undertaker.
Hardscrabble: Whatever, we’d have figured all of that out ourselves anyway.
Detective Barfs-a-lot, opening a window to puke out of: What’s that smell?
Victoria Mars and Hardscrabble both yell at the kid for disturbing the crime scene, which I’m sure is a fun addition to the vomiting for him. Hardscrabble, annoyed at everything, runs Victoria Mars off, but she’s already had her fun anyway, especially because she’s gotten a chance to reminisce about one of my favorite Victorian burial curiosities: bells that were rigged up to coffins in case the dead person woke up, having been buried too early. It’s possible that this invention is also the origin of the phrase “saved by the bell.”
Later, our gal waltzes into the office with a lovely bouquet of flowers, which prompts our new friend Accountant to ask if she’s got a secret admirer.
Victoria Mars: Awww, cute! No, Miley Cyrus taught us that we can get flowers for ourselves, and here we are.
Accountant: But… flowers cost money.
Victoria Mars: Don’t panic! My buddy Duke Silver promised me a case, and by next week we’ll have even more. Also, flowers are a nice counterpoint to the gruesome murders, don’t you think?
Just then, Duke Silver enters, grumpy as ever. However, in the course of a totally normal conversation, he sniffs, and that tips Victoria Mars off that something is badly wrong.
Victoria Mars: Hold up, that means you’ve got bad news!
Duke Silver: Nuh uh! Ugh, fine, here’s the deal: there’s a new policy in place to try and cut spending. They’re rushing in untrained recruits, and uh… we can’t hire private investigators anymore.
Victoria Mars: But what about that case you promised me? The case that I hung all of my hopes and dreams on?
Duke Silver: This is the last thing I want; you have no idea how swamped we are! I want to hire you, but I can’t. If anything changes I’ll come tell you first, I promise. Anyway… I better get back, I’m super busy.
Ugh, major bummer. Hopefully someone with a recently discovered murdered best friend will come hire her! Alas, first we must withstand a montage of Victoria Mars stress-rearranging her office whilst Accountant pops his head in to ask if they’ve got any new cases over and over. Meanwhile, Barney The Morgue Bureaucrat and Ivy have taken themselves on the worst date ever: hanging out in the waiting room at Scotland Yard to ask if there’s been any update on this situation. After what’s clearly been a long wait, they see Duke Silver, and pounce.
Barney the Morgue Bureaucrat: I’m waiting on an update on my friend from Hardscrabble?
Duke Silver: Well, as you can see, we are up to our eyeballs here. Hardscrabble’s been sent up north to work on a case, and Detective Barfs-a-lot has been assigned to your friend’s case.
Barney the Morgue Bureaucrat: Dude, that kid is a disaster! He can’t be in charge!
Duke Silver: He’ll do great. Bye!
Ivy: You need to chill out, babe, or I’ll be a widow before we can even get married. We need help, and I know just who to ask.
Honestly, reader, how funny would it be if they telegrammed Detective Mustache and Moses right now? Obviously her actual suggestion is to go to Victoria Mars, where poor Barney the Morgue Bureaucrat is forced to ask his nemesis for help.
Victoria Mars: I promise I’ll do my best to solve this thing.
Barney the Morgue Bureaucrat: Cool. I want daily updates.
Ivy, silently, to her friend: Dude, you desperately need work, do not blow this by being snippy with my fiance.
Victoria Mars: You got it. Now, did your friend have any enemies?
Barney the Morgue Bureaucrat: But what if it was a robbery?
Victoria Mars: I will look into that, but it’s weird to rob a funeral parlor. Especially one that’s clearly struggling.
Barney the Morgue Bureaucrat: But! But my friend was an excellent undertaker!
Ivy: She’s not questioning that, but we need to look into everything, right?
Barney the Morgue Bureaucrat: Ok, ok. I can’t think of anyone though! He worked alone mostly; only hired help when he really needed it.
Ivy: Didn’t you tell me he had a sister?
Barney the Morgue Bureaucrat: OH. Yes. Thanks babe. Yeah, she lives in Bristol, and I’m not sure if she’ll be at the funeral. They’ve been estranged for years, so I was surprised to find out he left the business to her. I’m the executor on his will.
Obviously we’re all going to that funeral, where poor Barney the Morgue Bureaucrat cries somberly and Victoria Mars buttonholes the victim’s sister for a super awkward chat.
Mystery Sister: Oh, yes. Barney the Morgue Bureaucrat mentioned you. Female detective seems as weird as a female undertaker, which apparently I now am, so I guess we’re birds of a feather.
Victoria Mars: Right, your brother left you the business. Were you expecting that? I hear that the two of you were estranged.
Mystery Sister: You don’t mess around, huh?
Victoria Mars: I’m sorry. But my job is to ask questions, and to find out what happened to your brother.
Mystery Sister: I hadn’t seen him in two decades. I guess we both regretted that. Anyway, it was a nice gesture to leave me the business, but I don’t want it. I’ll stay in town until I can sell, but it’ll take some time. See, my brother didn’t want me to sell to a particular funeral home. Which is a problem because they’re the only ones who made an offer.
Victoria Mars: Why would your brother care?
Mystery Seller: He and the other undertaker, Hardcastle, are rivals, just like our fathers were back in the day. Yeah, we’re talking a good old fashioned Capulet vs. Montague, Hatfield vs. McCoy, Red Sox v. Yankees beef here, pal.
Sounds like a lead to ME. The next day, Accountant informs Victoria Mars that he’s gotten some dirt on the rival funeral home. And that he got that information by having drinks with said rival funeral home’s clerk, which means that he is pretty drunk.
Accountant: Hardcastle has been rapidly expanding over the last few years, mostly by buying up smaller businesses around the city. They might have expanded TOO fast: they’ve been dogged by rumors of malpractice, and there have been multiple complaints about them filed to the guild. The latest was from a former employee called Albert. Here’s his contact info! And I need to go lie down now!
Good job, Accountant! Victoria Mars obviously heads right over to talk to Albert, who explains that he heard a lot about our murder victim while he worked with Hardcastle: his boss REALLY wanted to buy the victim’s shop.
Victoria Mars: And you filed a complaint against your boss?
Albert: I was an apprentice to him; I saw everything. He upsold people on funerals they couldn’t afford, then introduced them to loansharks who would come rough them up if they couldn’t make payments. The guild didn’t want to hear about it; he’s got them in his pocket.
Victoria Mars: So then you quit?
Albert: I was fired! For no good reason :( Look, if I was looking for someone who’d want to kill your victim, Hardcastle would be at the top of my list.
Next stop? The undertakers, where Mystery Sister very graciously gives Victoria Mars full access to her files. Sure, she didn’t always agree with her brother, but she still wants his killer to be caught!
Victoria Mars: What didn’t you guys agree on?
Mystery Sister: Oh, you know how it is: family stuff. If my dad could see me now… anyway, I bet your dad doesn’t love your job, right?
Victoria Mars: No, actually, his ghost was a big fixture back in season 1. He was a detective too, so I think he’d be pretty on board, even if he would have probably preferred an easier path for me.
Mystery Sister: Look, in every household there’s at least one resourceful woman who gets everything done. If people didn’t try to stop us all the time I think things would be a lot better.
Victoria Mars: Here here. Oh, also, a clue! Looks like your brother hired someone to repair the same window only a couple of weeks apart. Seems like maybe Hardcastle was trying to intimidate him into selling?
Back at the office, Victoria Mars asks Accountant to check in with Duke Silver to find out if the victim filed a complaint about his windows, and to see if he can get a copy of the murder file. Unfortunately for her, Accountant isn’t really listening, because someone left flowers on the doorstep.
Victoria Mars: Oh, so cute: Duke Silver hates when we fight.
Accountant: No, you’re not getting it. Those aren’t nice flowers!
Why does he think that? Because it’s a funeral bouquet with a card that says “Victoria Mars RIP.” Not ideal, but when has a little threat ever stopped our friend before, huh? Anyway, the next day, Duke Silver walks through the zoo that is Scotland Yard these days until he’s stopped by Baby Detective with a message from Victoria Mars.
Duke Silver: If that’s a question about the undertaker case, give it to Detective Barfs-a-lot, he’s in charge of that one.
Baby Detective: Actually, he quit?
Duke Silver: And where is Hardscrabble?
Baby Detective: Still in Leeds.
Duke Silver: GREAT. I guess I’m doing this myself, get me the file. Why are you still here?
Baby Detective: Ok, so there’s this internship with the cops in New York? They’re looking for someone from Scotland Yard and I was thinking of applying! What do you think?
Duke Silver: I think the last thing I need is one fewer guy on the team.
Baby Detective: OH, right. Not great timing, I get it.
Duke Silver: But if you are asking if I support your application, obviously yes, and we will find a better time to talk about it.
Baby Detective: OK, thanks dad!
Duke Silver: Great. Go get the file.
Their interactions, as always, are adorable. While Duke Silver familiarizes himself with this case as well as he can via notes that are likely covered in upchuck, Victoria Mars engages in one of her favorite pastimes: dangerous undercover work. You guessed it: our girl is posing as a bereaved niece for the team over at Hardcastle.
Hardcastle: SO sorry to hear about your loss. I know you said you want me to do your aunt’s funeral, but I’m unfortunately too busy, so my sidekick here will do it.
Victoria Mars: Oh. Well if I can’t work with you I guess I’ll have to go somewhere else… such a pity, I did want the very best for my auntie. It’s going to be a fancy one too; so many important people there. Well, bye!
Hardcastle: Actually, you know what, I think I can probably rearrange my schedule to work with you. Come look at some caskets, girl!
And that’s how it comes to pass that Hardcastle’s attempt to give Victoria Mars’ undercover character Miss Manners (lol) the hard sell is interrupted by the arrival of Duke Silver.
Duke Silver: What are you doing here?
Hardcastle: You know Miss Manners?
Victoria Mars: That’s right! A few years ago you helped with a theft from my carriage, REMEMBER?
Duke Silver: Sure. I guess. Whatever.
Baby Detective, walking in: Oh hey, Vic, how’s it hanging?
Anyway, obviously this leads to Duke Silver explaining Victoria Mars’ actual identity to Hardcastle, in addition to the reason they’re all actually there: corporate espionage/maybe murder.
Hardcastle: Whaaaaat? No way, we wouldn’t break windows! We just had a cute rivalry, nothing more.
Victoria Mars: Well I spoke with one of your former employees, and he had some damning stuff to say.
Hardcastle: Who, Albert? He’s just mad because I fired him for being bad at his job.
Duke Silver: Where were you on Tuesday of last week?
Hardcastle: Seriously? I was with my family, and they’ll back me up.
Victoria Mars: Fine, then can you help identify this threatening card?
Hardcastle: Yeah, buddy, those are ours. But someone is obviously setting me up, why would I use my own card?
Not a bad point, tbh, and with that our friends are back to square one. Disgruntled, they head over to Nash and Sons, where Duke Silver reiterates that it’s not his fault they missed the intimidation stuff: Detective Barfs-a-lot was a mess, and so is Scotland Yard right now!
Victoria Mars: I’m so sorry you’re having a hard time. But if you were so busy maybe you shouldn’t have stopped hiring PIs.
What else did you find out?
Duke Silver: Witnesses saw a man with a facial scar fleeing the scene, which doesn’t match Hardcastle. Separately, I don’t love that you’re getting threats now.
Victoria Mars: I get threatened all the time, get over it.
Duke Silver, very seriously: Never.
Barney the Morgue Bureaucrat, ruining the moment: I’m here for my briefing! Also, just saying, so thrilled an actual professional is finally on the case.
Duke Silver: Aw, so nice to know SOMEONE appreciates me.
Barney the Morgue Bureaucrat: And since you’re here, I don’t need to hire Victoria Mars anymore. Nice!
Victoria Mars: First of all, rude. Second of all, we have a contract, so you’re stuck with me.
Duke Silver leaves, amused, so that Victoria Mars can berate her client a bit: why didn’t he tell her that his friend was getting intimidated by Hardcastle?
Barney the Morgue Bureaucrat: Look, I didn’t want to say anything bad about my friend. But I was worried that he was getting too obsessed with Hardcastle. He blamed Hardcastle for everything; he was even compiling a file on the guy. He was getting… well, paranoid.
We obviously need to see that file, so Victoria Mars’ next stop is the undertaker’s office, where she finds Mystery Sister finishing packing her brother’s personal possessions. She also found the file, and reader, “file” is an understatement. It’s a box crammed with notes. Later that evening, Victoria Mars unpacks the box with Ivy, and together they make an important discovery thanks to the victim’s thorough recordkeeping: all of the windows were smashed by the same brand of brick. Next stop? The brick shop, where we learn that the shop owner has been majorly depressed for several months after the sudden death of both his wife and daughter. Victoria Mars tells one of the employees she’s looking for a customer, and when she describes the man who ran from the murder scene, the employee suddenly becomes much less interested in speaking with her.
Victoria Mars: Look, pal, I’ve been to a BUNCH of crime scenes where windows were broken by these bricks. I haven't talked to the police, but I will if I have to, and then your boss might be implicated, which would be really unfortunate for him.
Employee: Ugh, fine. The man you're looking for is a loanshark. My boss owed money for his family’s funerals, and every time that guy comes for payment he also takes a box of bricks on the house.
Next up, Scotland Yard, where we get this exchange after Victoria Mars barges into her friend’s office.
Duke Silver: Will you ever learn to knock?
Victoria Mars, thinking it over:
Anyway, I got the address of the guy who’s been threatening people for Hardcastle, shall we go arrest him?
Duke Silver: I’m dealing with just a bunch of other cases, so. No. I’ll get to you when I can. You’re gonna wait, right?
Victoria Mars: Nope! But you’re too busy to come help me arrest the guy who probably threatened to kill me. I guess I’ll be fine visiting such a dangerous person by myself!
That does the trick, which is a good thing, because our dynamic duo happens to overhear the loanshark roughing up someone nearby almost immediately after they enter his business. Rushing outside, they break up the fight (which isn’t really a fair description, since it’s entirely one-sided) and realize that the man getting walloped? It’s Albert, from earlier!
Albert: Ugh, I never should have squealed. Squelt? Whichever it is, I’m regretting it.
Victoria Mars: Understandable! Let’s get you to a doctor before we go down to Scotland Yard to take your statement.
Albert: LMAO, what? What part of this makes it look like I’d give an official statement?
Duke Silver: I can protect you. Also, it’s a murder investigation so it’d be really really good if you’d help us.
Albert: No thanks! Bye!
Annoying, but hard to argue with, especially since they can’t legally force him to do anything. Our dynamic duo are preparing to head on down to question the loanshark when Victoria Mars is interrupted with a note. From Barney the Morgue Bureaucrat. Who wants to see her ASAP.
Barney the Morgue Bureaucrat: HORRIBLE NEWS! Mystery Sister came to give me an old board game of her brothers.
Victoria Mars: And?
Barney the Morgue Bureaucrat: And, she told me that despite everything her brother said in the will, she’s planning to sell the funeral home to Hardcastle!
That IS horrible (and confusing!) news. Also not so great? The interrogation Duke Silver is attempting on the loanshark, who claims not to know anyone involved in the case, even when confronted with witness statements that put him at the scene.
Duke Silver: Look, let’s cut to the chase: every loanshark I’ve ever met has been terrible at paying taxes. And based on your face right now, I think you might fit that stereotype! So I’ll be freezing all your accounts for a few months while we investigate you, sound good?
Loanshark: Ugh, fine! On the day of the crime I was at a hotel to scare one of Hardcastle’s mistresses into leaving town before his wife left town. I waited in her room for hours, but she never came back.
Duke Silver: What was her name?
Fun news: it’s Mystery Sister. Duke Silver meets up with Victoria Mars at the hotel, where he explains the whole thing just in time to hear from the clerk that Mystery Sister has already checked out. Given all of that, she moves right into the “prime suspect” spot, which is great, except that they only know her home address. In Bristol.
Victoria Mars: Look, if Hardcastle was sending his guy to threaten her, she must have had something on him.
Duke Silver: Or just threatened to expose their affair.
Obviously the next person to talk to is Hardcastle, so they haul him into the station for questioning and lay all of this out on the table. Hardcastle puts up a token resistance, but cracks pretty fast.
Hardcastle: I have NEVER cheated on my wife. Mystery Sister and I had a thing over twenty years ago, and that was before I got married, so there!
Me: Oh my god, it’s a Romeo and Juliet situation? For real?
Victoria Mars, ignoring that: But you saw Mystery Sister recently, so what gives?
Hardcastle: She was hard up for cash and asked me for money. I wouldn’t give her any, so she threatened to expose our affair. That’s why I sent my guy!
Later, the detectives mull it over. Was it really just all about money? Duke Silver is pretty content to wait for answers until the Bristol police can arrest Mystery Sister, and also has to go report in on his other cases, which leaves Victoria Mars pretty peeved (and worried about his late night meeting schedule). Before Victoria Mars can leave his office, Baby Detective appears with a note from Bristol.
Baby Detective: She wasn’t there, but they talked to the neighbor. She moved in about 18 years ago with her husband. He died earlier this year.
Hardscrabble: Whattup, nerds, I need Baby Detective.
Baby Detective: Oh hey, you’re back!
Hardscrabble: Sure am, so stop flirting with Victoria Mars and let’s go!
Victoria Mars: Go ahead, I’ll give Duke Silver the note.
And it’s while reading the thing over that Victoria Mars notices Mystery Sister happens to have the same last name as good old Albert the squealer!
She figures out that they’ll be at the funeral home, and heads straight there to creepily peer into the windows until Mystery Sister enters, sees Victoria Mars, and lets her in. Just as a note, reader, it’s the middle of the night and this funeral home is Victorian, so it’s as creepy as it gets. Just imagine the following conversation set in a dark room with random coffins everywhere, ok?
Mystery Sister: Oh hi! Can’t chat for too long, unfortunately — my cab is almost here.
Victoria Mars: Ah yes, to take you back home… with your son? His dad’s Hardcastle, right? That’s why you asked him for money?
Mystery Sister: Damn, you are good. But Albert isn’t Hardcastle’s son.
Victoria Mars: Well you were only married for 18 years and Albert is 21. So. I’m assuming you left town because you got pregnant with someone both your dad and brother hated. And that’s why you were estranged. Also you were here in town the day your brother died. You went to Hardcastle to look for Albert, but he wouldn’t engage, so, what, you came to talk to your brother?
Mystery Sister: When I saw my brother, the resentment just bubbled up and we argued. I pushed him, but it was an accident.
Victoria Mars: The police are on their way, and I’ll go with you to Scotland Yard to make a statement. Also, where’s your son?
Mystery Sister, starting to act increasingly squirrely: He left town. I gave him the money from selling the business, so he went to France to start a new life. You know, there’s no reason to wait for the cops here, let’s just go!
Victoria Mars, suspicious: Well now that you’ve said that I’m gonna look around for a second instead actually.
Mystery Sister: Please, I just want to get it over with! The bells you hear in the background are just ringing because the window is open!
Victoria Mars: Uh, it’s not though. Where’s your son?
Mystery Sister: He’s not here, and he didn’t do anything!
But he is here, and when Victoria Mars finally spots his reflection in the polished surface of the coffin, Albert’s mom tells him to run away. He legs it, but Duke Silver is waiting for him by the front door. Mystery Sister tries to stop her son from being arrested, saying he didn’t mean to do anything wrong, but Duke Silver and the boys obviously don’t care. In interrogation, Albert explains the whole thing: the man who he thought was his father was an abusive alcoholic, who thought he could do whatever he wanted to Mystery Sister because he was raising her illegitimate child. Albert and his mom fought over this lie, and he came to London to work for his biological father. Unfortunately, when he told Hardcastle the truth, his father rejected him. Next, he tried his uncle, and the uncle rejected him too. THAT led to anger, anger led to pushing, pushing led to falling, and falling led to death. Mystery Sister had nothing to do with her brother’s murder. Just a pretty sad situation all around!
Later that night, our detective pals debrief (about the case, only, alas).
Victoria Mars: Poor Mystery Sister. She’s lost her whole family.
Duke Silver: I know what that’s like!
Victoria Mars: Don’t be silly: I’m your family!
Victoria Mars: I annoy you like a sister!
Duke Silver: Yes, like a sister. A sister only. Sure.
Hardscrabble, knocking and coming in: Hey, so we found out where the guys from that robbery are.
Duke Silver: Great. Tell everyone to get ready, we’ll do a raid first thing tomorrow.
Victoria Mars: Ok, well, I can see you’re busy so out I go.
Duke Silver: Heyyyy so. What would you say about dinner tomorrow night?
Victoria Mars: We just did our monthly dinner though?
Duke Silver: I can get past it if you can.
Victoria Mars: Well then. See you tomorrow.
Well then indeed. The next morning finds Barney the Morgue Bureaucrat paying up while Ivy prepares Victoria Mars’ breakfast. He is, to put it mildly, not thrilled about this situation.
Barney the Morgue Bureaucrat: Well, yes, a success. The baddies will face justice, and that’s what matters.
Victoria Mars, fishing: Yes, and what would you say about my handling of the case?
Barney the Morgue Bureaucrat, noticing Ivy’s expression, but still reluctant: You did a very good job.
Victoria Mars: Thank you.
Ivy, holding another plate of breakfast juuuust out of reach: So, if in the future Victoria Mars needed your help with something, do you think maybe you’d assume she meant well?
Barney the Morgue Bureaucrat: UGH FINE. You can come to the morgue. If you have a cop minder.
Victoria Mars: Better than nothing. I’m out of here! Ivy, I won’t be home for dinner, I’m eating with Duke Silver.
Ivy, saying what we’re all thinking:
Reader, I’m sorry to say all these references to the dinner, while amusing, do have me increasingly concerned about the safety of Duke Silver and the boys, given that they’re about to go do a raid. And my concern only increases when, at the raid, Baby Detective runs up to tell Duke Silver that backup won’t be coming: everyone’s been diverted to a diamond heist that’s ended in violence. They’ve got like 5 guys, too many exits, and suspects that might leave town for good if they don’t catch them now. Duke Silver, furious, comes up with the best plan he can: Hardscrabble and the other guys will go around the sides and back, while Duke Silver and Baby Detective will go in the front together. At least they have surprise on their side?
Duke Silver kicks in the door, and runs in. We stay outside, and only hear the part where he yells for the suspects to put down their weapons, they ignore him, and a gunfight ensues. We hear Hardscrabble yell “skipper!” and then the next thing we see is Victoria Mars getting all dressed up, only to run into a disheveled Baby Detective outside her door. The news is not good: Duke Silver has been shot, and is in surgery. The doctors are not optimistic.
Not cool, show! Will Duke Silver make it? Will Baby Detective’s mean father finally realize that his mismanagement of the force is going to get somebody hurt or killed? Will this incident make Victoria Mars reexamine her choices re: Duke Silver? We’ll just have to come back next week to find out.