Poirot and Hastings take a weekend vacation to the town of St. Looe (“Queen of the Cornish Riviera”), and while complaining about the service at the Hotel Majestic meet young woman Magdala “Nick” Buckley (Polly Walker). She’s the owner of the dilapidated mansion on the coast known as End House, and appears to live a relatively carefree life despite not having much money, hanging out with would-be suitor the improbably named George Challenger (John Harding).
She casually mentions to Poirot that she’s had three close calls with death over the last week (as one does), and while chatting with him she appears to have a fourth when Poirot discovers that the bee she thought had flown in her face was actually a bullet from a Mauser. (How one fires a Mauser pistol without being seen or heard at a crowded hotel pool I have no idea, but let’s just roll with it.)
Returning her hat to her, our heroes meet friends of Nick’s staying over at End House for the weekend, separated wife Freddie (Allison Sterling) and shady art dealer Jim (Paul Geoffrey). There’s a somewhat creepy sequence here where a record plays in the background, Freddie dances in the middle of the room, and everyone just sort of sits in awkward silence, especially Hastings who’s clearly an Old Square. He notices that the four friends all have matching wristwatches.
Poirot, convinced Nick’s life is in danger, urges her to have her cousin Maggie come down from Yorkshire and visit as well. At a fireworks party the next night at End House, the body of Maggie is found, shot through the head. She had borrowed Nick’s wrap, so the theory is the murderer must have been gunning for Nick but killed Maggie by mistake.
Shaken by the murder of her cousin, Nick moves to a sanatorium in town. Soon enough Inspector Japp arrives to run the official investigation, and Miss Lemon is called down from London after having done a little investigation at Poirot’s request. As Poirot and Hastings investigate the murder, a few salient facts come to light:
1) Nick was secretly engaged to Michael Seton, a Charles Lindbergh-esque aviator presumed missing, lost at sea. She stood to inherit the millions that he inherited, and the only people in her will were her friend Freddie and her lawyer cousin Charles Vyse (Christopher Baines), neither of whom knew about the engagement or presumably the millions.
2) End House’s gardener, Mr. Croft (Jeremy Young) and his disabled wife are quite Australian. Maybe a little too Australian, according to Poirot.
3) Freddie is deeply into the ol’ Bolivian marching powder.
4) Strangely, nobody can actually find Nick’s will. The Crofts swear they posted it to Charles themselves, Charles denies ever receiving it, and Nick only half remembers writing it anyway. Weirdsville, baby.
Poirot instructs the sanatorium to not allow anyone in or out of Nick’s room, and cautions her to not eat any outside food, fearing another attempt on her life. Alas, she doesn’t take his advice, and later the next day Nick dies from being poisoned – someone had laced the chocolates with cocaine.
Shortly thereafter, Charles TOTALLY COINCIDENTALLY receives Nick’s will in the post. Poirot gathers the assembled players at End House for the reading, and it’s a Very Christie Ending as…
Vyse reads the will, which leaves damn near everything to the Crofts! Apparently Mrs. Croft was, er “biblically” close with Nick’s father during his time in Australia, and Nick was of the mind that she deserved everything upon her death. Of course, that’s not the whole story.
Poirot has Miss Lemon pretend to be a medium (and a very nice bit of acting by Pauline Moran here as an impromptu spirit guide) and conducts a seance to talk to Nick. Shocking everyone, Nick appears dressed in white and immediately begins to consume the very souls of everyone at the table.
Ha! Ha! I am, of course, kidding. Nick survived the poison chocolates, but Poirot enlisted her in a ruse to draw out the would-be murderer and convince everyone she was dead. It’s revealed that the will was forged by the Crofts, who are apparently master forgers. Er, OK.
Japp arrests them, but we’re not done yet; in a clever double-blind by Christie, it’s revealed that Nick killed Maggie, because Maggie was the one secretly engaged to Michael Seton, not Nick. Nick needed money, so she figured that she’d bump off Maggie and insert herself as the “Maggie” in the love letters Seton wrote, then claim the inheritance.
As she’s led out of the house by the police, she grabs one of the wristwatches, and it’s implied that she’ll commit suicide by cocaine poisoning before she can be hanged.
Oh! Right, the matching wristwatches were actually cocaine smuggling devices, as George was apparently a drug dealer to the party set.
The episode ends with the four regulars enjoying some ice cream on the beach, complete with Japp looking hilariously overdressed in his inspector garb and a beach chair.
This is first two-parter of the series, and the first adaptation of an actual novel as opposed to a short story, and it’s a very welcome sight. The two hours gives the plot and characters a lot more room to breathe, and perhaps just as importantly gives the viewer a chance to really sink their teeth into figuring out the plot. The episodes – especially watched back-to-back, which I recommend for all the two-parters in the series – really nail the “suspects and their hunter in a fishbowl” vibe of the best Christies, and it just nice to see the supporting characters get time to establish themselves outside of a few lines here or there. It makes for a larger credible cast of suspects, too.
Not that the main plot is terribly hard to figure out, if you’re paying attention; the little coincidences pile up pretty quickly, although to its (and Christie’s) credit, the story does a good job of constantly pulling back one curtain only to reveal another right behind it. I’m not sure the great lengths the mastermind’s plan goes to make a whole lot of sense when all is said and done, but it works as an introduction to Poirot’s longer tales, chock full of red herrings, misdirection, and questions of morality.
Best of all, we get a lot of David Suchet and Hugh Fraser playing off each other. There’s a great running gag where nobody Poirot meets has ever heard of him and doesn’t think Hastings hypes him up enough when introducing him. Hastings gets miffed when Poirot points out his usefulness in always being wrong, but it’s soon papered over, and by the end of the episode even Hastings can joke about it. And a third-act appearance by Pauline Moran gives Miss Lemon more to do than she did in the entirety of season one, including a great scene where she and Hastings get obsessed in listing off a bunch of nicknames instead of concentrating on the case (much to Poirot’s irritation).
Overall, a good start to the season, and it’s nice to be back!
Now, That’s Just Good Sidekickin!: Hastings is such a prude, balking at searching Nick’s room when Poirot opens drawers full of unmentionables and reading love letters to her from Michael. Poirot calls him out on his Victorianism, perhaps in return for a goof Hastings makes at the beginning of the episode about Poirot being “proud to be an Englishman”.
Hey! It’s That Gal!: Polly Walker would go on to be in a bunch of stuff, including Rome, Caprica, Warehouse 13, and any number of other series on both sides of the pond. In fact, she and Fraser were both in the movie Patriot Games in 1992.
Honestly, It’s Probably Not Even A Crime: Hilariously, Hastings schedules to go play a round of golf instead of helping Poirot’s investigation, using the reasoning, “Well, it’s not really a murder, is it? They killed the wrong person!”
Poirot (after having been subjected to the Crofts showing him 500 pictures of Australia): “The man who invented the camera has a lot to answer for.”
Miss Lemon: “”I never reply to urgent messages, I know they’re going to be unpleasant.”
Hastings: “I don’t think you’ve got any imagination at all, Poirot.”
Poirot: “That is true, mon ami. But fortunately you have enough for both of us; it is extremely valuable to me. ”
Next Week, on Poirot: Our favorite Belgian a thief? It’s a tale of sex, lies, and steamy letters, which were pretty much the equivalent of early 20th century videotape as far as these things are concerned. It’s… “The Veiled Lady”!