Alas, mes amis, your faithful chronicler is under the weather this week, so a much-abbreviated writeup (which honestly, is about what this episode deserves).
- Poirot and Our Man Hastings play Monopoly constantly during this episode, appearing to do nothing else in their spare time over the course of a few days or a week. It’s a fun little running gag that works its way into conversation and even a minor plot point or two. Poirot wins a beauty contest, gets annoyed with Hastings blowing on the dice – it’s largely all gold when Monopoly shows up here.
- Japp Of The Yard gets to be competent and heroic, and even a little bit gleeful when his newfangled Control Room manages to apprehend a suspect thanks to their radios and car phones (what?).
To reinforce the theme of Monopoly, in the end we learn that the Banker always cheats, in this case by hiring Chinese “accomplices” to murder and steal a map to a lost silver mine[collapse]
- I… erm… that is…
- The mystery and tone established by the opening – a series of crosscuts between Poirot and Hastings dueling over the board game and a mysterious bearded Chinese man named Wu Ling checking into St. James (OH I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE, POIROT) Hotel – is shoved aside pretty quickly into the episode when a dead body purporting to be Ling looks nothing like the dude we opened on.
- And yet! Literally the rest of the episode the script tries to make it a BIG MYSTERY about how Wu Ling ended up dead in an alley without his map to a lost silver mine, when I am mentally screaming, “The dead guy is clearly fifty pounds heavier and has no resemblance at all to Faux Wu Ling!” I understand why our heroes don’t know — they haven’t seen what we saw in the opening — but obviously the viewer knows, so why pretend differently?
- Clues are dropped randomly and deductions given without explanation. If someone can explain to me how Poirot knew
that Faux Wu Ling wearing teeth blackener is significant when no mention is made at all about his teeth (blackened or otherwise), I’m all ears. The fact that the way Faux Wu Ling signed his date in the hotel register points to him being an American is only clever if you give us some indication of what month it is in the first place.[collapse]
- There’s a fair bit of just-teetering-on-“Yellow Peril” at work here, from Japp’s distrust of seemingly anything remotely Asian (“Chinese handwriting. Very sinister.”) to the cartoony over-the-top Chinatown locations. I’m not saying it’s done with malice – I’d guess in fact it’s very likely an accurate reflection of period attitudes – but it often comes off as cartoony and cliched, and we’ve seen the show tackle bigotry and cultural differences with more nuance than what we see here (opium dens, Chinese “love you long time” prostitutes).
- Large swaths of the hour are just… boring. Japp’s coordinated car captures go on far too long, the subplot about Poirot’s overdrawn bank account is more irritating than funny (until the punchline at the end), and there’s too much time chasing too many suspects that fail to interest or even menace. Plus, the fact that the viewer knows the central conceit of the mystery and is just waiting for everyone else to catch up to them makes it doubly (HAR!) painful.
Anyway, that’s about it this week. Maybe it’s being ill making me overly grumpy about this one, but there’s just no hiding the fact that this is lesser Poirot. I’m down for the count, but – like the next episode, I’ll be much better a week from now… hang on, let’s do this part right at least:
Next Week, On Poirot: Murderous husbands! Poisoned wives! I’m getting hungry for some sort of small game hen, maybe with a side dish of mushy peas and arsenic? Sounds like time for “The Cornish Mystery”!