Mon ami! Welcome to a travel down the most memorable of lanes, the – how do you say – “rewatch”, n’est-ce pas?
A few notes about these rewatch/recaps/rewhatevers:
1) We need to talk about spoilers. Because these are mysteries. Usually 70 year-old mysteries that have probably been adapted and seen or read dozens of times before, but mysteries nonetheless. Granted, people reading this are likely to already know plot details, but as Thomas Jefferson once said, “Every recap of a British detective show is somebody’s first recap of a British detective show.” So I’ll try to put salient details in spoiler tags (with the solution labeled as Grey Cells). If something’s going to be a massive spoiler, you’ll know it ahead of time.
2) That said, consider the comments section a free-for-all, spoiler-wise. If you feel better using spoiler tags of your own, do so. But nobody should be walking on
egg-shaped heads eggshells down in the comments.
3) Frequency: I’m going to try to get these up on Thursday or Fridays, at the rate of one a week, pending stupid real life. We’ll go chronologically by season in order of the box set Poirot: The Complete Cases.
4) I’m not an expert, I’m just a dude who really, really likes Agatha Christie in general and this series in specific. If I get something wrong, let me know!
The episode begins in media res (like many of the series) with a context-less scene of a man furiously… packing a trunk. Probably intended for a dark purpose, as so many trunks were in the ’20’s.
We then see the titular detective Hercule Poirot (David Motherf@#$in’ Suchet) in his London office, as his ever faithful compatriot Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser) attempts to incite his interest in potential cases reading out of the paper (very Holmes and Watson-y, that).
After declining such tidbits as a duchess’ disappearance, a missing bank clerk who absconded with a bunch of bonds and the like, his secretary Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran) introduces a visitor, one Mrs. Todd of Clapham. It seems her cook, Eliza Dunn has gone missing.
Poirot travels to the Todds’ house, where he interviews the cleaning woman Annie (a delightful Katy Murphy), Mr. Todd, and a lodger, one Mr. Simpson who works at a local bank. None of them know where the cook has run off to.
Halfway through the episode, Hastings mentions that there seems to be no real crime here, simply a servant that’s run off. He’s not wrong; nothing in the ep to this point indicates any sort of skulduggery at all, save perhaps the odd fact that Miss Dunn sent for her trunk right before she left. Well, then.
Poirot is then unceremoniously dismissed from the case by Mr. Todd with a payment of a single guinea (in the ’20’s, English currency was largely rodent-based), which enrages M. Poirot – he’s a bit prickly and very guarded of his reputation, and is determined to continue investigating.
Said investigation leads him to the bank where Simpson works, which just so happens to be the same bank where the clerk who stole the bonds worked as well. A chance encounter introduces a character who will be a constant frenemy of Poirot’s, Chief Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson).
Poirot places an ad in the paper asking Miss Dunn to contact them under the pretense of giving her an inheritance (or legacy, which is a far classier way to say it), and from there the plot begins to unspool as it’s explained what happened, why, and what in blue hell is going on with that trunk.
Turns out there has indeed been skulduggery afoot, and the elderly Miss Dunn is a player in a much more nefarious game than anyone had thought.
Grey Cells: [spoiler]Turns out that the lodger, Mr. Simpson, was the bank thief all along. He disguised himself as a Bearded Australian Lawyer (how cliche) and approached Miss Dunn with some nonsense about her inheriting money and a house in the country. She left for said house without telling her employer (because those were the “conditions” of the inheritance) . Why? Um… Simpson just needed her trunk to hide the body of his co-worker, the bank clerk who’d been wrongly blamed for the theft. After shipping the trunk off to Scotland to hide it, Simpson is caught at the docks trying to board a ship to Venezuela.[/spoiler]
Which… seems like a lot of trouble to go through for a trunk that presumably could have been, you know… purchased, but here we are.
In the end, the guinea from Mr. Todd is framed and hung on the wall in Poirot’s office as a reminder to not “disparage the trivial as undignified”.
What’s amazing about this episode isn’t the plot (it’s a fairly Holmesian head-fake from Christie, which is to say still better than 75% of other mystery plots), but how fully formed the characters and world of Poirot are here. And as we’ll see, one of this series’ greatest strengths is the chemistry between Suchet and Fraser, often in little moments or asides that convey years of friendship and putting up with each other even though the viewer has just met them in this incarnation.
We’ll talk a lot, obviously, about Suchet’s portrayal in the weeks ahead, but it’s worth mentioning that he knocks it out of the park on the first swing here. Poirot is vain, fastidious, urbane and not a little arrogant – but he also has a real kindness about him, even when – or especially – when dealing with people far below his station, such as Annie the cleaning woman. Poirot is many things, but he’s nearly always polite and never cruel, and the warmth that Suchet invests the character with in the first episode lets us know there’s a fundamentally decent person behind all the smarts, unlike some other aloof and arrogant detectives with slightly-dim-but-well-meaning-sidekicks I could name.
I’ll write paeans to Fraser, Jackson, and Moran as well as these continue, but suffice to say for now we’re in very, very good hands.
Hey! It’s Not That Guy!: Nobody recognizable to me in the supporting cast for this one.
So, Not An Outdoorsman, Then?: Upon presented with a stunning view of the English countryside, the city-loving Poirot remarks, “Not a building in sight. Not a restaurant, not a theater, not an art gallery…. a wasteland.”
Now That’s Just Good Sidekickin’: Hastings is entirely prepared to buy Annie’s theory of the crime, which is that white slavers (yup) lured the elderly missing cook into their clutches with stewed peaches. Oh, Hastings, you’re so well-meaning and slightly stupid. Don’t ever change.
Poirot: “How big is the fortune?”
Hastings: “Ninety thousand pounds.”
H: “90,000 pounds is a king’s ransom!”
P: “When it is used to ransom a king, then it becomes interesting to Poirot.”
H: “Nothing shipping out for Bolivia today.”
P: “Bolivia is a landlocked country, Hastings.”
H: “Ah, well, that explains it then.”
Next Time, On Poirot: “Murder in the Mews”, which I regret to inform you is not about anyone murdered by being smothered in cats… or is it?!? (It is not.)