Anyone else still not ok after the bait and switch of “I love you and also I’m going to America for a year!”? Well, while we’re feeling stressed out, our pal Victoria Mars is fine. Totally fine! Unbothered, actually!
Her primary focus is, ostensibly, on the big honkin’ bag of mail the postman has rather unceremoniously heaved at her feet. Why? Because they’re looking for new detectives at Nash and Sons, and a LOT of people are interested.
Detective Mustache: Obviously, it’s because I am famously awesome.
Victoria Mars: Or because I’m a female detective, and that’s badass.
Accountant: Clearly it’s not because they’re hoping for a fun, non-stressful work environment.
Ignoring that, the two detectives stick in to reading the applications, and immediately it is very obvious that they’re looking for very different things in an ideal applicant. So much so that even after a full day of looking over the mail, there isn’t a single candidate they both like. Accountant, ever the peacemaker, tries to help them find common ground, but since his colleagues are vacillating between acting like feuding siblings and divorcing parents, his cajoling doesn’t do much.
Speaking of mail: the next morning, Victoria Mars catches Ivy writing a letter. A letter that Ivy is weirdly cagey about. Being a detective, our pal doesn’t act like a normal person and respect Ivy’s privacy. No, she waits until her friend’s hands are full and then swipes it out of her pocket.
Victoria Mars: Hang on, why are you writing to Duke Silver?
Ivy: Because you aren’t, you absolute weirdo! He told me you haven’t replied to three letters in a row. WTF?
Victoria Mars: I don’t want breakfast, I’ll be late.
Ivy: Kid, you haven’t even mentioned him since he left. Don’t you think it might help to talk this out? You’re clearly angry.
Victoria Mars, angrily: I’m not angry! I’m fine!
So that’s how we’re playing this, huh? At the office, Victoria Mars pulls the aforementioned letters out of her desk and takes her mind back to the end of last episode. Unfortunately, she doesn’t get too far before Accountant comes into the office and tells her that she’s got a meeting with Detective Mustache… and a new client. That new client? The telephone company.
Here’s the deal: telephone technology is still very new for our pals; new enough that it’s not commonly available. Their client hopes to change that, but they’re dealing with some bad publicity. Specifically, an explosion at their R&D department that killed two people the previous week. The paper reports that the current working theory is that the co-owner lighting his pipe caused the explosion, taking out him and a young inventor. Here’s where our friends come in: it looks like someone tampered with the gas supply. The police think that someone is their new client.
Phone Man: I want to put a phone into every house in the country! And then? The world!
Victoria Mars, jumping on an opportunity: I’ve actually never used a phone — think we can test it out to understand the product?
Phone Man: Yeah, go for it.
With some direction, she calls up the stock exchange, where we all find out that the value of the company’s stock has taken a nosedive. Phone Man bemoans this development, and tells our pals that they better find the real culprit before he goes out of business.
Phone Man: Look, we disagreed about the speed that we were going to expand, but that’s no reason for me to have killed my business partner!
Victoria Mars: It sounds like the cops suspect you because you were also supposed to be at this meeting where he died, and didn’t show.
Phone Man: We’d argued that morning, and I just couldn’t handle seeing him. I stayed in my office.
Victoria Mars, pressing: That was weird though, right? You always go to that meeting, no?
Phone Man: Don’t believe everything you read!
Victoria Mars: Ok. Any grudge against the other victim?
Phone Man: No. And if we're going to fixate on people's schedules, you should know that he wasn’t even supposed to be at that meeting.
Victoria Mars, can tell he's annoyed: We have to ask these questions so we have the details.
Phone Man: Ok then, to clarify: I didn’t kill my partner, and the inventor had just come up with a phone design that would have made us a lot of money. I had no reason to hurt either of them!
Fair enough! Outside, Detective Mustache finally voices the peeved thoughts that were all over his face throughout the previous conversation. Why on earth would Victoria Mars interrogate their client?
Victoria Mars: You weren’t asking any useful questions! You’re obsessed with that guy!
Detective Mustache: He’s a visionary!
Victoria Mars: He’s a creep. But you clearly don’t care about my judgment or you’d let me pick my own staff.
Detective Mustache: That’s what this is about? You’re sulking because of that? Get over it, we need to go visit the crime scene.
Victoria Mars: Finally, something to agree about.
At the crime scene, our pals meet up with Hardscrabble. Inspector Hardscrabble, actually: he’s going to be taking over Duke Silver’s job.
Victoria Mars, furious: We haven’t heard anything formal about this, why’s that?
Detective Mustache, trying to smooth things over: I’m sure it’s just a matter of time, you’re great! Anyway, we’ve been hired to investigate this little explosion, can we look around?
Hardscrabble: LMAO absolutely not. The fire inspectors haven’t even been in yet.
Victoria Mars: Love that even when you’re up for a promotion you’re still a grumpy jerk!
Hardscrabble: Yeah, well here’s some advice for free: I’m in charge now, so you need to show me some respect.
Victoria Mars: No thanks!
Detective Mustache: HA she’s so funny when she jokes like that! Of course we respect you!
Hardscrabble, turning to the cop behind him: Don’t let these two in for anything.
So that went great!
Victoria Mars: Not all of us can lie as well as you!
Detective Mustache: You mean use charm to keep the business running? I know! Maybe you should try it. You have to play the game. Anyway, why are you so grumpy lately? Is it because your boyfriend left?
Victoria Mars: Nothing is wrong and he’s not my boyfriend!
I’m about to say something you won’t like. The work you’ve had from Scotland Yard so far has been because of your friendship with Duke Silver.
Victoria Mars: No! It’s because I’m good at my job!
Detective Mustache: Yeah, I know that, but all the same: if Hardscrabble is in charge now, you need to figure that out, because he does not like you! Do you want to succeed or not?
Victoria Mars: Obviously I do!
Detective Mustache: Then get it together! And stop sulking; my mummy was a sulker!
Thankfully that last bit is goofy enough to pull them both out of combat mode for a giggle, and into case mode. Given that the “charm Hardscrabble” ship has sailed for the day, Detective Mustache will get crime scene photos through his usual dubious sources. While they wait, they’ll meet up with the inventor’s widow Betty. Betty tells them that she’d only been married for half a year. Her husband was an avid reader, and there actually was someone who had a grudge against him: his former boss turned rival inventor. Turns out that the company liked her husband’s design for the new telephone better, which must have stung.
Betty: My husband thought his boss would steal the telephone plans, so he hid them under the floor in his office. Then one day last month he found his boss in the office looking shifty, and when he left, the rug had been disturbed.
Victoria Mars: How would this rival have known where the plans were hidden?
Betty: We couldn’t figure it out; the co-owner of the company would never have told anyone — he was just as worried about industrial espionage as my husband!
Detective Mustache: And where are the plans now?
Betty: He moved them. He didn’t tell me where.
Obviously, the next person to interview is the boss, Rival Inventor. He’s actively tinkering away when the detectives arrive, and starts by telling them that his design will improve the reliability and sound quality of the phones.
Detective Mustache: I hear that your rival had a fancy new design that everyone loved!
Victoria Mars: He was your apprentice, right?
Rival Inventor: I taught him well.
Detective Mustache: Hard to have a person you taught eclipse you, huh?
Rival Inventor: Friendly competition can be helpful for inventors.
Detective Mustache: Now that he’s dead, surely your design will be chosen?
Rival Inventor, refusing to bite: I have work to do. And the day of the explosion I was here, working. You guys aren’t the cops and I don’t have to talk to you.
Back at the office, Detective Mustache tries to get into his process, explaining that he was deliberately winding the suspect up to see if he had a temper (he does!). Victoria Mars isn’t interested in taking detective advice at this time, and instead brings up the latest info on the company’s product, which does indeed sound fairly unreliable and in need of an upgrade. Accountant has informed the detectives that Phone Man’s business partner had no known rivals, family, or enemies.
Victoria Mars: Except Phone Man, who fought with him the morning he died.
Detective Mustache: Stay off our client! We should focus on Rival Inventor: he has no alibi and a good motive!
Before they can devolve further into bickering, Accountant brings in crime scene photos. Right away, Victoria Mars notices something important: the cops think that the explosion was ignited by the business partner’s smoking. But if that was the case, the scorch marks would be on the opposite side of the room!
Next stop: bothering Hardscrabble. No, the fire assessment team hasn’t done their thing yet; there’s a factory fire that’s taking priority. Between that, and taking on some of the work left in Duke Silver’s wake, our grumpy pal is stressed out, but he’s still not inclined to let Detective Mustache and Victoria Mars help. That is, at least, until they offer to let him take all the credit. Finally allowed access to the crime scene, Victoria Mars is able to discover the cause of the explosion: someone who knew that the company’s existing product had a propensity to short circuit set up a scenario that would cause a big spark when the phone did just that. Whoever made a phone call to the office during the meeting was the murderer. Lucky for our friends, the technology is new enough that the centralized telephone exchange still keeps a list of every call made so that they can charge people, so if our pals can just get them to share the info, they’ll be set. And since they don’t have a warrant, it’s time for Detective Mustache to whip out his fake Inspector impression to wow the phone people.
Victoria Mars: Great. While you do that, I’ll keep looking into the phone designs, see if I can get any leads.
Detective Mustache: You’re much more fun when you’re not sulking.
Victoria Mars: Like I said, I don’t do that. I brood.
Detective Mustache: I know we’ve been fighting, but you really have been off lately. Is it about Duke Silver?
Victoria Mars: Talking about my feelings? No thanks!
Look, I get it, and it probably would be preferable for her to talk about this with Duke Silver, given the givens. But I just wish she’d confide in SOMEONE. Our girl needs a friend who’s a peer, and with Moses still not here, that void is even more noticeable.
Over at the telephone exchange, Detective Mustache approaches the foreman. Everything seems to be going pretty well, and the man has even pulled out the call log to share, when he suddenly asks for a warrant. Obviously, Detective Mustache doesn’t have one of those, so he drops the act and offers a bribe instead. It… doesn’t go great. Back at the office, Victoria Mars and Accountant are having better luck. Accountant has managed to dig up a copy of our dead inventor’s contract, which stipulates that he was getting a shockingly small percentage of profits compared to the higher ups. Unless, that is, he died. Then the profits all go to the remaining partner, Phone Man. Before we can get into the implications of that, Betty arrives, distraught. Why? Because she just came home to find someone sneaking out her back door. At first glance, it doesn’t seem that any of her valuables have been stolen, but Victoria Mars notices a missing book; one of Betty’s husband’s favorites.
Later that night, Victoria Mars sneaks up on Detective Mustache outside the telephone exchange, where he’s waiting to blackmail a contact to get his hands on the logbook. She fills him in on the break in at Betty’s, and her theory, which is that Dead Inventor was hiding his plans inside the stolen book. Just then, the foreman from earlier leaves, prompting our friends to lurk into a doorway so as not to be seen. In the process, they realize something interesting: despite being a low level employee, the foreman is leaving in a fancy carriage, which suggests he’s got a lot more money than one might expect. Inside, they look over the call logs, where they find that there was indeed a call logged at the time of the explosion… from their client’s office.
This revelation calls for a drink, so that’s what they do — head to a bar where they can argue about the next steps. Victoria Mars wants to confront their client: he benefits directly from the explosion, and was fighting with his dead partner. Detective Mustache is still loath to lose a well-paying client, which is what will happen if they confront the man. Once again, this argument circles back to the reporting structure at Nash and Sons, and the age old question:
Detective Mustache, annoyed, finishes his drink and storms out.
Back at Victoria Mars’ house, she rehashes the fight for Ivy, who is probably pretty sick of hearing about this when there’s incredibly juicy romantic gossip she could be hearing instead.
Ivy: Look, Duke Silver wrote to me. Again. He wants to know if you’re mad at him, and since you won’t answer his letters, he’s bugging ME. When you were a kid —
Victoria Mars, grumpy: Please, don’t tell me a story from my childhood that’s basically a parable for how I should be behaving now.
Ivy: Rude. You don’t know what I was going to say! And if you know so much, figure it out for yourself.
Victoria Mars: There’s nothing to figure out! He left, and we’ll talk when he comes back. I’m not interested in being his penpal!
Ivy: Because you're mad at him.
Victoria Mars: FINE. I am! He shouldn’t have left! We could have… I don’t know.
Ivy: There’s the answer.
Ivy: He left for you just as much as he left for himself. You both need time to figure out what you want. You especially. He’s a good person and he doesn’t deserve to have you ignore him.
Victoria Mars: What, so it’s all my fault!? I’m so sick of all of you pointing out MY faults like I don’t know how to behave or make my own decisions!
Ok, but. Respectfully. Do you know how to behave? I feel like maybe not, because the next morning finds Victoria Mars sitting across the desk from Phone Man and telling him exactly why the evidence is suggesting to her that he himself is the killer. Hilariously, he actually has a good alibi: he wasn’t in this office the day of the explosion. He was out of town, at a rival company, negotiating a buyout.
Phone Man: I also would love to know how you think I could benefit from a phone that doesn’t exist.
Victoria Mars: The inventor made a copy of the plans, which you obviously know.
Phone Man: I actually didn’t know that. That’s great news! Here’s the deal. You will get those plans for me. Immediately. And if you don’t, you’re fired.
Reader, when he said immediately, he meant it. By the time Victoria Mars returns to the office, Detective Mustache has already received a termination telegram. Obviously, this kicks off another argument between the two. The short version:
Victoria Mars: I was doing my job, which is to find out the truth.
Detective Mustache: No, your job is to be a businesswoman who makes money.
To be clear, I think both of these opinions are valid, and honestly it’s a bummer they don’t work together better because I think it’d be a good long term mix for this business. But that’s not up for debate right now, because Detective Mustache is charging off to try and get their former client to reconsider. He’s moving so quickly that he totally misses an important update from Accountant: Rival Inventor had been taking large sums of money out of his bank leading up to his death. More interestingly? He made another big withdrawal only an hour ago!
Victoria Mars’ next stop? The bank, where she follows Rival Inventor as he walks into a dark alleyway and exchanges envelopes with… the telephone exchange foreman! Having seen the deal go down, she hightails it to Rival Inventor’s office just in time to look through his stuff and find the dead inventor’s favorite book. And the hidden plans for his new phone design which we all had deduced were hidden inside said book. Rival Inventor crumples like a wet napkin.
Rival Inventor: He only was able to design that because of my training. Why should he get all the credit?
Victoria Mars: I just saw you exchange envelopes with the exchange foreman. Give me what he gave you, and maybe I won’t report you to the cops.
Rival Inventor rather confidently hands over the envelope, and it’s soon clear why: the writing is in shorthand, which most people don’t know how to read. But you know who does? Victoria Mars. The papers are, essentially, recorded phone conversations, including one between the two murder victims. Now we know how Rival Inventor was able to find out where the victim hid the plans for his invention, and, more importantly, we also have a really good suspect. Unfortunately, as he points out, Victoria Mars has no proof.
Later, back at the office, Detective Mustache returns triumphant: he was able to get their client back on board (though he had to do it by talking trash about Victoria Mars, so not a win in my book). His day is about to get even better, because Victoria Mars says everyone’s favorite three words:
Victoria Mars: You were right.
Next stop? The telephone exchange, where they approach the foreman. He’s initially quite hostile, but changes his tune rather quickly when they reveal what they know: he’s taking bribes to transcribe private conversations.
Foreman: Ok, here’s the deal: I actually have no idea who made that murder phone call.
Victoria Mars: And what’s this?
Foreman: Timesheets for my employees, that’s it. They write their names when they clock in and out.
Victoria Mars: Oh, I don’t care about the contents; it’s the handwriting I noticed. Show that logbook again?
Normally, each call is entered by the person who connected it, so there are many different hands on a given page. The day of the murder, all the calls were entered by Foreman. Why? He received a blackmail letter the night of the explosion threatening to expose his side-hustle if he didn’t cooperate. The blackmailer wanted to frame their client, hence the changed point of origin for the phone call, which actually originally came from a public phone. The detectives huddle up and come up with a plan: the blackmailer is also probably the murderer, and that person might work at the exchange since they knew about Foreman’s side-hustle. Victoria Mars will go compare the handwriting on the note to the call log, to see if it’s one of the employees. Detective Mustache is going to go check the public phone in the hopes that the folks who maintain it keep records. On his way out, he explains that he actually got their client back by highlighting Victoria Mars’ talent and integrity.
At the public phone, Detective Mustache finds out that they don’t keep records. However, not that many people use the phone, so the clerk is able to recall the person who made the call. Meanwhile, at the telephone exchange, Victoria Mars has been able to match the handwriting to an operator called BL. Foreman tells her that the operator’s name is Elizabeth, and that she’d worked there until about six months ago, when she left to get married. Why’d she sign her name with a B?
Detective Mustache, running in: Because she goes by Betty.
Betty had hoped to kill the company owners for giving her husband such a trifling share of the profits from his work. She just wanted him to get what he deserved. He wasn’t even supposed to be at the meeting! Nobody is happy with this revelation, least of all Victoria Mars, who has to go take the information to Hardscrabble so he can take credit.
Victoria Mars: I don’t want to! This might be the thing that gets him that promotion!
Detective Mustache: Yeah, and you’re the one who needs this contact, so you need to be the one who helps him. Go.
He’s right, so she reluctantly brings Hardscrabble the file, and goes along with it when he makes her say he solved it, without any help. It’s a low moment, but on the plus side, when she gets back to the office the next day, it’s to find that Detective Mustache has called in all the applicants she liked, and that he’s leaving so that she can interview her potential new staff. He’s also installed a telephone.
Victoria Mars: Awesome, so you can keep tabs on me?
Detective Mustache: Rude! It’s for being on the cutting edge!
Victoria Mars: Well then you, a cutting edge guy, must know that it won’t make international calls, right?
Detective Mustache, definitely did not know that: Mhmm! Totally!
Later that evening, it’s Victoria Mars’ turn to eat some humble pie. Heading into the kitchen, she starts peeling a potato, and then tells Ivy she was right: Duke Silver leaving has been upsetting!
Ivy: I’m only saying this because I love you: I think replying to him will make you feel better.
Victoria Mars: You’re right. You’re always right, actually.
Ivy: I know!
And with that, Ivy grabs the writing stuff and leaves Victoria Mars to it. Reader, this letter isn’t anywhere near the declaration we got last week: it’s mostly a mundane recounting of Victoria Mars’ week. But I’m choosing to look on the bright side and believe that this is the start she needs to sort out her feelings and figure out what she wants. Either way, it’s where we leave our friends for the present. And unbelievably, there’s only one more episode this season! What will happen next week? Will we get some resolution between our titular pair? Only time will tell!