Pamela Lyall (Francis Low) hurries through a crowded bazaar on the Italian (more about that in a minute) island of Rhodes, pursued by a fellow tourist, one Major Barnes (Timothy Kightley). Seeking to ditch the would-be companion, she runs smack dab into none other than Hercule Poirot, himself vacationing here for the weekend.
Back at the hotel, we meet the other guests, one of which we know will end up dead because that’s just what happens when M. Poirot is around. Professional bride/heiress to something or other Val Chantry (Annie Lambert) and her newest husband Tony (Jon Cartwright) arrive, and Tony basically acts like the big, suddenly-rich-thanks-to-marriage jerk you’d expect from his yachting getup.
Also with us are another couple, Douglas Gold (Peter Settelen) and his wife Marjorie (Angela Down). Dougie complains a lot about being here, and Marj tries to put a positive spin on things.
(Side Note: Yes, that’s a lot of names to keep track of, and this whole recap is going to sound like I’m breathlessly reviewing today’s Young and the Restless. What can I say? They hand me a soap opera ep, I write about a soap opera ep.)
As the next couple of days progress, the group does various reasonably-rich-English-people things on vacation abroad, like touring ruins, sunbathing, taking ridiculously small boats out to sit in the middle of a lake for no good reason, and so on. A few things become clear:
1) Doug is completely besotted with Val, and Val returns the affection. Both of them give approximately zero damns that their spouses notice (and that they aren’t happy about it).
2) Poirot’s Mediterranean Vacation Outfit is better than anything you or I have in our respective vacation wardrobes, and that’s not opinion, that’s a stone cold fact, mes amis:
3) Major Barnes may not be quite what he seems, as although he’s allegedly there for the fishing he seems to never come back with a catch.
Things come to a head, and Marjorie is despondent, claiming her husband wants a divorce and she doesn’t believe in such things. Tony, on the other hand, is right pissed at Doug moving in on his lady, and makes no bones about it. Basically, most everyone here is miserable except for the two cheating lovebirds.
(Additional Side Note: Pamela, on the other hand, is devouring all this like a sorority sister binge-watching Keeping up with the Kardashians. She’s absolutely reveling in all the drama, even as Poirot gets increasingly concerned that none of this will end well.)
Somewhat Completely out of nowhere, on the second night the two couples seem to have made up. The ladies go for a drive out at the Temple of Apollo, and the men are pleasantly shooting snooker at the hotel. Poirot, meanwhile, has checked out and is returning home, getting ready to board his ship at the dock.
At the hotel bar, Doug buys himself and Tony drinks, and the ladies arrive. Tony offers Val his drink while he orders more, but suddenly she starts coughing and can’t breathe. She collapses, dead from poisoning. Pamela rushes to the apparently-hotel-adjacent-dock, and finds that Poirot has been stopped by Italian customs on suspicion of espionage, and hasn’t been able to leave the island just yet.
Convinced to return and investigate, Poirot learns that a bottle of poison was found in Doug’s jacket pocket with his fingerprints on it, and Doug’s been arrested. The prevailing theory is that he had intended to murder Tony so as to clear a path to his and Val’s future happiness, but poor Val got the worst of it once Tony offered her his drink.
Eventually we find out that the three corners of this sordid love triangle at Rhodes point in different directions than we were led to believe, because…
[spoiler title=”Grey Cells”]…Marjorie and Tony conspired to kill Val and frame poor Doug for it. The would-be scorned lovers had actually been having an affair back in England, and by bumping off Val and framing Doug, they’d be free and clear with Val’s money to live happily ever after. Tony put the poison into his own drink before offering it to Val, and slipped the bottle in Doug’s jacket after the fact.
Poirot had noticed that Doug was a devout Catholic, and so when Marjorie told Poirot that Doug wanted a divorce, he became suspicious of her. Tracking down the source of the poison in town, a blind apothecary spills the beans about “an English woman” buying it, confirming his suspicion.
As Tony and Marj are attempting to cross to Turkey in a boat, Poirot and Pamela give chase in a boat of their own. The Italian police arrive and shoot Tony, presumably arresting both he and Marjorie soon thereafter. That’s right folks, a Poirot episode ended in a three-boat gun battle! Which… yeah, like I said, this one’s a soap opera.
Frances Low does a great job here as a stand-in for Our Man Hastings, bringing the same enthusiastic energy and occasional usefulness to the proceedings as Pamela, and there’s even a touch of sadness near the end as we get hints of an emotional attachment to M. Poirot. Low plays it very well throughout.
Unfortunately, she’s about the only character that registers here, with most of the shenanigans spoken of and about, or witnessed from afar rather than shown. A shame, because the Tony/Marjorie revelation feels like it comes out of nowhere and is a pretty big deductive leap to hang on essentially a single piece of evidence.
Oh, and the mysteriously bad fisherman Major Barnes? He is, of course, a British spy, sent to evaluate Italian coastal defenses because that’s just the prudent course of action when you notice people have started dressing in black and putting up posters of Mussolini everywhere.[/spoiler]
I’m gonna be honest, I have a weakness for “Poirot abroad” episodes, even if most of them occur in places best described as “beige” and “sunny”. Even when (as here) the plot’s a bit thin and soapy, there’s some really good location shots and cinematography, and it’s good to get out of the Smoke every now and then, y’know? It’s no accident my favorite Poirot story is Death on the Nile (though this episode doesn’t come anywhere close to that).
They make excellent use of the location here, giving us a lot of time among ruins, in bazaars, and interacting with locals. It makes Rhodes look like a lovely place to vacation, at any rate. Perhaps the best part is the bouzouki-fied version of the familiar Poirot theme throughout, which adds to the overall exotic flavor and adds a lot of foreboding ambiance in a big way. Say what you will about the show, they really do go out of their way to nail the details in the production values.
We also get a lot of Poirot’s trademark reliance on psychology and his deep understanding of human nature and behavior here, so it’s solid work on that front. And it’s a neat realization at the end that thanks to this understanding he had deduced the crime ahead of it actually happening. Suchet displays his command of the character’s more subtle aspects, and his impassioned plea for Marjorie to leave before something terrible happens rings absolutely true to the written Poirot’s trademark compassion.
So, in the grand scheme of things it’s a mediocre episode but a nonetheless interesting diversion from the usual manors and grey suits we’ve become accustomed to so far. Sort of like, oh, I don’t know, a vacation.
Waiter, There’s a Cannoli In My Moussaka!: If you’re wondering why all these Italians are running things on this Greek island, it’s because during this time period Rhodes was an Italian possession (after they stole it from the Turks in 1912). Rhodes wasn’t officially returned to Greece until 1947. To its credit, the episode makes clear that the storm clouds of World War II are on the horizon – Mussolini propaganda and the trend of the island youth joining up with the blackshirts is shown and remarked about in the episode.
Hey! It’s Not That Guy!: No notable surprises in the supporting cast here, unless you include all the boats n’ guns at the end.
I’ll Stick With Beer, Thanks!: The poison delivery system here is a pink gin, which is basically gin and bitters. Apparently angostura bitters were given to sailors to treat sea-sickness, and they found by mixing it with gin it made a not-entirely terrible drink (presuming you’ve not included the lethal dose of poison seen here) that was relatively popular in England during this time.
Poirot, ordering off the menu: “The bowels on spit – I have your assurance it is the kidneys of a lamb, yes?”
(I presume he’s referring to kokoretsi, and I spent far too much time googling the phrase “bowels on spit” to find that out, which I do NOT recommend you do if you’re on an office computer.)
Poirot: “You asked Monsieur Gold to empty his pockets himself?”
Poirot: “Then OF COURSE his fingerprints would be on the bottle.” (Poirot’s too polite to add, “You idiot”, but his facial expression says it all.)
Maj. Barnes, on why he never catches anything on his fishing trips: “Fishermen drop dynamite around here, damn lazy beggars. The fish, not being a fool, keeps out at sea.”
Next Week, On Poirot: Our hero just can’t stop taking vacation days, and he’ll gain some valuable experience in the field of nautical murder-solvin’ as he and Hastings confront a “Problem at Sea”.