Puzzles in Pop Culture: The Golden Girls

In our Puzzles in Pop Culture series, we’ve featured shows as diverse as Gilmore GirlsNCIS: New OrleansThe West Wing, and Hell’s Kitchen.

Strangely enough, we seem to find more puzzly content in sitcoms than any other TV genre. Brooklyn Nine-Nine, M*A*S*H, Parks and Recreation, and more have featured scavenger hunts, escape rooms, and other puzzly activities.

And that’s true of today’s subject as well. Join us as we visit with The Golden Girls and try to unravel a murder mystery weekend gone awry! Please enjoy as we explore the second episode of the seventh season, “The Case of the Libertine Belle.”


During breakfast, Blanche gets a call from the Maltese Falcon Club, confirming plans for this year’s annual outing for the museum staff: a murder mystery weekend at the Queen of the Keys Hotel.

Dorothy is immediately excited for the event, and Rose reveals that she was considered the Sherlock Holmes of St. Olaf.

(Unfortunately, thanks to increased commercial time over the years, syndicated episodes have lines cut from the show to fit into a standard half-hour time slot with commercials, so some of the dynamite jokes aren’t part of regular reruns.)

Dorothy: Blanche, are you kidding? I have read every word Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler ever wrote. Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe have become a part of me… “She had more curves than the Monaco grand prix and was twice as dangerous… Her jewelry was mute testimony that Charlie Chaplin wasn’t the only tramp who hit it big in this town.”
Sophia: You do this on first dates don’t you Dorothy?

Blanche is nervous about the event, hoping that it will lead the museum’s director of acquisitions, Kendall Nesbitt, to choose her as his assistant. That promotion would include a trip to Europe to look for rare paintings and antiques.

In typically cutting fashion, Sophia compares Blanche herself to an antique. Blanche then asks Sophia, Rose, and Dorothy to accompany her to ensure the museum attendees get the hotel’s group rate.

Cut to the hotel, where everyone is dressed for dinner.

Dorothy advises Blanche and Rose to keep their eyes open, trying to identify which guests are real and which are actors pretending to be guests. Rose immediately suspects Dorothy, then another guest, then gets distracted because Blanche took her missing earrings, wearing them for the event.

Kendall shows up and Blanche flirts with him, only to be appalled when he sits down to chat with her rival for the assistant job, Posey McGlynn.

Their discussion is interrupted when the maitre d’ calls attention to a birthday at another table. Everyone turns to celebrate Giles Forsythe, specifically mentioning Giles’ adult daughter, adult son, and young new bride Candy.

The lights go out as the cake is wheeled in. We hear a gunshot, then a scream!

The lights come back up, and Candy’s throat has been cut. Giles is slumped face down over the table, having been shot.

The maitre d’ matter-of-factly declares “oh dear, they’ve been murdered,” then calmly steps aside. It’s great.

COMMERCIAL BREAK!

We return to the hotel, where private detective Spade Marlowe (UGH) shows up, supposedly having been hired by the late Mr. Forsythe to check up on his 22 year old wife.

Sophia immediately insults his hat. Sophia is in the right here.

Spade infodumps that Forsythe’s son Philip is a collector of pre-Colombian artifacts and Forsythe’s daughter Gloria is a spinster (a label she weirdly seems fine with). He then invites the attendees to help him solve the murder as he picks up the bloody dagger from the floor.

Rose suggests that the dagger might lead them to the murder weapon, and the detective immediately replies, “St. Olaf?”

Kendall identifies the weapon as a rare Mayan sacrificial dagger. Spade goes to check Gloria’s purse, and she claims he won’t find anything suspicious there. Naturally he finds a recently fired gun in the purse.

Rose accuses the maitre d’. One guest accuses Philip. Another accuses Gloria. Sophia accuses Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick.

Dorothy then stands up and wipes the floor with everyone.

She points out it would be too obvious for Gloria to hide the gun in her purse, or for Philip to choose a knife from his collection for the crime. Both weapons were picked and disposed of to frame the other. Furthermore, the dagger was found to the left of the victim, indicating she was sliced from right to left by a left-handed assailant. Gloria, like most left-handed people, wears her watch on her right wrist.

Dorothy concludes that Philip and Gloria committed the crimes and tried to frame each other. As for motive, they both feared their father would change his will for his young bride, and they each sought to be the only inheritor.

Having solved the crime, Dorothy gets a round of applause from the attendees.

[Image courtesy of JoshuaDunbarArt on Etsy.]

Blanche runs over, having received an invite from Kendall for a private meeting. She just gave him her room key and demands the spare from Rose, leaving Rose to bunk with Dorothy and Sophia for the night.

Later, in her room, Blanche leaves the bathroom and answers the door. She accepts champagne from a waiter. He steps into the room, and discovers Kendall’s body laying on the bed with a knife in his chest. (Blanche probably didn’t notice through the magic of it being just out of frame.)

COMMERCIAL BREAK!

As the waiter runs from the room, Dorothy, Rose, and Sophia arrive. Blanche is spooked, but Dorothy believes it’s all part of the murder mystery weekend. They check Kendall’s breath with a mirror, but there’s nothing. He’s dead.

The waiter arrives with Vaczy, hotel security, who immediately notices the method of death AND that Rose is from St. Olaf. He locks down the room and demands that no one leave the hotel, especially Blanche, who is his lead suspect.


Before we cut to the next scene, there’s a brilliant visual gag after Blanche is declared the lead suspect. As one of the main characters looks over at the next one and the camera follows, the music rises, as if asking a question.

The detective leaves, and Blanche looks at Dorothy, Dorothy looks at Sophia, Sophia looks at Rose, and Rose turns to look, but there’s no one left. It’s a really simple bit, but very funny and well-executed.


Blanche is distraught, but Dorothy promises that Blanche will be fine because she’s innocent. Rose is more skeptical, because the room was locked and only Kendall and Blanche had keys. Dorothy, unfortunately, has no solution to the locked room problem. Yet.

Later, all the guests are gathered in the dining room by Lt. Alvarez, who lays out the case. He mentions the two keys and the steak knife. (Blanche had steak for dinner, giving her opportunity to steal one of the knives.)

He asks if anyone can refute his case, and Dorothy speaks up, demanding a motive for Blanche’s crime.

[Sorry, this video has been mirrored.]

Posey McGlynn stands, accusing Blanche of trying to seduce Kendall into giving her the assistant job. Posey describes Blanche throwing her dress over the bed and changing into a negligee to await Kendall’s arrival. But she claims that Kendall asked to meet Blanche alone — and sent the champagne — to let her down easy, as he was giving the job to Posey. (Also, he couldn’t invite Blanche to his room, because Posey was already sharing a room with him. They were secretly lovers.)

She then accuses Blanche of murdering Kendall.

COMMERCIAL BREAK!

Lt. Alvarez prepares to arrest Blanche, but Dorothy defends her. First she asks why Blanche would bring a steak knife to what she thought was a romantic encounter. Alvarez ignores it. Dorothy suggests that a simple knock at the door could have caused Kendall to open it, expecting the champagne. (This would eliminate the locked room scenario.) Alvarez dismisses it as speculation.

Then Dorothy hits the jackpot. She remembers the hotel security cordoning off the murder scene, which limited access to the room. So the only people who could have observed the murder scene were the waiter, the hotel security, Alvarez and his officers, and the quartet of Rose, Blanche, Dorothy, and Sophia.

Posey’s description of events was too detailed. There’s only one way she could have known about Blanche’s dress on the bed: if she’s seen it before the room was locked down. This means she was the murderer.

Dorothy then describes the chain of events.

Dorothy: I think I see now how it happened: Last evening at dinner, when Miss McGlynn saw Blanche give Kendall Nesbitt her key, she was furious. She dropped a steak knife into her purse…
Sophia: Big deal. I took a whole place setting.
Dorothy: Not NOW, Ma!

She continues to explain the murder, and Posey pulls a gun on her, but Alvarez intervenes and the shot is directed toward the ceiling instead.

He’s about to arrest Posey when Kendall walks down the stairs, smiling and gleefully explaining that he has recovered from his death. He thanks the Maltese Falcon Club and Blanche for a marvelous weekend, and everyone claps.

Blanche pretends she was in on the ruse the whole time, then immediately confesses that she had no idea, and is mad about being the butt of the joke. Dorothy asks why Kendall’s breath didn’t show up in the mirror, and Rose reveals that she sprayed it with defogger at the request of the Club as revenge for Blanche stealing her earrings.

Sophia then happily declares that no crimes were committed at all, and it was all in fun. She then cannot lift her purse (thanks to all the stolen silverware inside) and asks Dorothy to carry it to the car.

The End!


[This scene isn’t from this episode, but with a knife-wielding Sophia, I couldn’t resist.]

All in all, this is a terrifically puzzly episode. At the halfway point of the episode, we’ve already had a solid murder mystery solution AND a new mystery involving one of the main characters. A locked room mystery, to boot!

Dorothy’s glee in unraveling the mysteries is great fun, and seeing her thrive in the spotlight is a nice change of pace, given that (despite her withering one-liners) she’s often treated as the least attractive, desirable, or likable member of the quartet.

The “murder” of Kendall does play out more like a performance than an interactive murder mystery for the players to solve, so most of the museum attendees didn’t really get to enjoy the event as planned, but I suppose if they like some curiously intimate theater, the weekend might seem like a success.

As a viewer, I quite enjoyed the stylistic choices. The music was playful, and some of the camera work was surprisingly inventive, making the camera itself something of a character in the story.

Plus the casting was excellent. The waiter, fake detective, and house security are all played by strong character actors who would go on to great things in their careers (Leland Orser, Todd Susman, and Zach Grenier, respectively), and they all added nice touches to the episode.

Kendall does come off as a bit of a jerk for leaving Blanche in the dark about the whole thing, but hopefully she can use that as leverage to get the assistant’s gig she desires.

As someone who both enjoys and designs murder mystery dinner events, I think the team at the Queen of the Keys Hotel did a fairly impressive job, as did the writers of the episode.


Did you enjoy this nostalgic trip to the televised puzzly past, fellow solvers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.

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