In the sixth episod of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries' first season, the cold open starts backstage at the play Miss Fisher is attending with Dot for her birthday, Gilbert & Sullivan's Ruddygore (or The Witch's Curse). Actor Walter Copland (Peter Cousens), who stars in the show as Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, has just exited Stage Left, where the dresser Hansen (James Pratt) awaits. There, he's confronted with a smell of flowers and a vision of "Dorothea," a young soprano who committed suicide on opening night of this very show, 20 years ago. She vanishes immediately, leaving only a note: "You will pay for your sins."
Fisher got free tickets from producer Bart Tarrant (Bille Brown), who admits he hopes Fisher will take the ghost case. Dot is more interested in "rising star" Gwilym Evans (Alex Rathgeber), who plays hero Richard Dauntless. Copland, Fisher learns, was set upon by thugs on his way in, and Tarrant introduces her to Lin Chung (Philippe Sung), who sprung to the rescue. Once the show gets going, it turns out it's a good thing Fisher invited Collins too. He didn't show, but instead sent Robinson in his stead. Poor Robinson is at sea following the plot but understands perfectly well when Copland drops dead on stage, poisoned.
Dot's Evans fandom is handy, as she also knows Copland was engaged to the production's leading lady, Leila (Christie Whelan Browne). Considering how indifferent Leila was to Copland's collapse, Robinson and Fisher question her only to learn it was a showmance: Walter's idea to sell tickets. She was keen to help since the production was her idea in the first place. (She wrote to Tarrant in London to come to Melbourne to direct it.)
Evans is also a suspect since he's so focused on getting promoted into the role of Murgatroyd, but he considered Copland a drunk and says his dresser, Bradford (Ross Thompson), will back him up on that. Bradford insists Hansen was the keeper of Copland's flask. When asked, Hansen confesses Copland had a drink for his nerves just before going on. When Hansen turns out to be the beneficiary of Copland's well-to-do estate, Robinson considers the case open-and-shut.
But Copland's autopsy shows he died from an overdose of opium. Fisher suspects he was an addict, which would explain Chung's saving him earlier in the night. Fisher invites Chung to dinner, in hopes he'll tell her about the underground trade in Chinatown. It doesn't go well. Chung is deeply insulted Fisher (like Copland), assumes he knows where to buy drugs because of his heritage. He was at the theater to show Tarrant silks for the next production, The Mikado. So much for after-dinner activities. That's probably for the best, since Granny Lin (Amanda Ma) stops by the following day and tells Phryne Chung is engaged, to leave him alone, or she will be cursed.*
(*I know this is Australian TV and their racial issues are much less explored than ours in the US, but there's something a little shocking about a show made in 2012 with characters who play into these overt racial stereotypes.)
Dot secures back issues of her favorite theater magazine, dating back to Dorothea's time. There were two men sweet on her when she died: Maurice Sheffield and Bart Tarrant. Tarrant had been her lover, but she wouldn't go with him to London, taking "a year off" from the stage instead. When he returned, she was engaged to Sheffield — and then the three of them were cast in Ruddygore. When Tarrant tried to convince her to come back to him, she sent him a suicide note and killed herself.
Fisher notes the ghost's note and the suicide note are in the same hand. Just then, Robinson comes back with a plan to arrest Hansen. When Leila gets frustrated with rehearsal and Phryne steps in to help Evans rehearse, she smells flowers, just as a sandbag falls, aiming directly for her head. Robinson saves her, and the bag lands on Evans instead. That's two leading men dead in a week. As Fisher recovers backstage, she sees the ghost and receives a new note: "You're next."
Lin Chung comes back by, to apologize for his grandmother. He admits he does know people in the opium trade, his arranged fiancee's family. His dad died of addiction, so he wants nothing to do with it. This time there are after-dinner activities, wonderfully interspersed with Collins attempt to read the "East Asian Book on Love" Fisher slipped him. Poor, poor Dot. She's heartbroken enough over Evan's death already. But Fisher doesn't think the bag was meant for Evans, and takes Dot to do more sluething. They stake out Dorothea's only living relative, Mrs. Mobbs (Debra Lawrance), only to see Leila leaving.
At first, Mobbs says Leila is her daughter, but Fisher sees right through that. Dorothea's "year away" was a pregnancy. Mobbs has been raising Leila as her child ever since. Leila knows Dorothea was her mother, but not who her father is. Mobbs also reveals Sheffield wanted Dorothea to work in film, which explains the "ghost."
But Robinson's found Hansen, who confesses right and left. He knew his employer was on opium, and he secured laudanum as a substitute when Copland ran out just before opening night. He swears he followed to Doctor's orders but has now convinced himself he's guilty. But Fisher won't have it. And she's going full Poirot to prove otherwise.
To that end, she gathers everyone to show them how Dorothea's ghost is done. It's a projection on falling sand. Then she has Leila come out, dressed as "Dorothea," who reveals Tarrant has a child. Tarrant is blown away, but even more so when "Dorothea" points to her killer, Maurice Sheffield, aka Bradford. His limping dresser character was all an act. He killed Dorothea all those years ago when he found out she was going to go back to Tarrant. Now he's out to ruin the man once and for all.
Robinson is impressed with Fisher's success, including Leila and Tarrant's reunion, and gives her a bit of Shakespeare as a present. Meanwhile, Collins' kissing skills have improved enormously. Maybe Dot will be okay, after all.