Je suis desole, mes amis! Real-life 21st century concerns kept me from our weekly check-ins with our favorite expatriate Belgian last week, but this week find us back in the saddle with a tale of… well, I… um.
Poirot is grumpy and bored, and decides that he’s retired. OK, then!
Miss Lemon tells Hastings that he’s just upset because he hasn’t had a case in awhile, and someone told him he looked middle-aged. Then, out of the blue, Poirot decides to take Hastings on a trip to a northern seaside resort town, declaring that Hastings is the one that needs to relax and overhaul his little grey cells. And yes, it does seem a bit weird. They promptly check into the Midland Hotel.
Meanwhile, elderly wheelchair-bound Miss Penn (Elspet Gray) dispatches her assistant Mary Durrant (Caroline Milmoe) with a case of Napoleonic medallions; apparently Penn is an antiques broker, and has arranged to sell them to an American who lives in the town of Windemere, a Mr. Baker Wood (Michael Shannon, and no, not that Michael Shannon).
As Poirot and Hastings catch a coach to Windemere, a Mysteriously Bemoustached Young Rude Man pushes his way on board carrying a suitcase that looks identical to Mary’s case containing the medallions. HMMMM.
Look, I don’t want to give the impression that this gets any more fascinating than it actually does, so let’s get down to brass tacks:
1) Someone breaks into Mary’s case along the way, stealing the medallions.
2) Mr. Wood then reports that an elderly, mannish-looking woman sold him the medallions two hours prior to that.
3) Poirot, being “retired”, lets Hastings do all the work interviewing witnesses, investigating the scene, and generally handling the case.
So, the big questions are: who stole and subsequently sold the medallions? Why is Poirot being such a big grumpy baby? And why on Earth do we spend so much time watching the Mysteriously Bemoustached Young Rude Man do things like make phone calls to arrange meetings, arching his eyebrows furtively, and generally act like a dick?
A) Miss Penn, disguised as, and I am not making this up, “a woman intended to look like a man disguised as a woman”, sold her medallions to Wood intending to keep the cash then… get them back as evidence once her partner-in-crime Mary reported the matter to the police? Presumably she’d then sell them again somewhere ad infinitum. There are all kinds of problems with this idea, and I lay them squarely at the feet of Dame Agatha.
B) Poirot’s real reason for the seaside trip is that he saw that Inspector Japp was giving a series of lectures about his crimesolving career, and was convinced that he’d try to take credit for Poirot’s successes. In a nice little turn, although Japp pretty much poops all over private detectives in general, he praises Poirot generously and makes it clear that he admires him.
C) The Mysteriously Bemoustached Young Rude Man and his erstwhile co-conspirator, a Mysteriously Private-Eye-Cosplaying Blonde Bombshell are red herrings that — quite literally — have absolutely nothing to do with the crime, save for being erroneously identified as the thieves by Our Man Hastings. Turns out he’s a novelist and she’s a lady, and they’re eloping, so… good for them?
Eventually, the culprit gives themselves away and Poirot goes back to London fully un-retired, because c’mon, we haven’t even gotten to the really good cases yet.
Man, this is not a good episode.
The problems are myriad; for one, the stakes are incredibly low, even for a “theft” episode. I mean, it’s not like the medallions are missing – they’re in police custody! So the only question is who actually sold them to Wood, and it’s not a particularly fascinating one as these things go.
Two, it commits the double sin (OH HO HO HO, SEE WHAT I DID THERE?) of being both light on Poirot and heavy on geography/travel-based analysis.
The former is just a letdown, especially because he seems to inexplicably know what’s going on the whole time and just throws Hastings a bone or two along the way while wearing an expression that can only be described as “smug”.
The latter just makes for bad TV, as when the dialogue and the crimesolving gets bogged down in what train was close to what ferry and how many hours from the station by car heading south, a crackling scene it does not make.
Finally, it needs to be said that the case is solved essentially by accident, with Hastings arranging a meeting with all the principals in which they essentially give themselves away because… well, I guess because it’s in the script. And there’s zero indication of any cleverness on anyone’s part, or a chain of clues that let to Poirot’s suspicions – it’s a simple slip of the tongue that does them in.
For all that, this is Hugh Fraser’s episode, and if you loves you some Captain Hastings then you’ll find enough to like here, though it’s hard not to be disappointed in the fact that even as he thinks he’s got the solution to the crime he’s proved wrong yet again – it would have been nice to see a Hastings triumph.
It’s yet another episode that leans harder into the non-mystery bits of why we like spending time with these characters, but that only works if you’ve got the characters actually spending time together, and the overall plot here is one of the weakest ones yet. Too much of a good thing can become rote, and after the sinister, clever turns of the opener “Peril at End House” we’ve had a pretty consistent streak of fluffier stories. It feels like it’s time to get back to some cases with a hint of suspense or at least a meatier plot to chew on.
Well, That Was Stupid: I left out a subplot involving Miss Lemon fending off a creepy doorman and losing her keys, then having a dream sequence in which Poirot and Hastings speak in each others’ voices and she finally finds her keys using the arcane and mysterious art of “Retracing Your Steps”, which she’s gobsmacked to find actually works. I can’t even.
Hey! It’s That Gal!: Miss Penn is played by Elspet Gray, who looked awfully familiar; turns out she was The Queen in the first season of Blackadder! Sadly, the plan in this episode was far less cunning than even one of Baldrick’s schemes.
I Was Told I Should Say Something Nice: I mean, it really was nice to hear Japp appreciate Poirot, even if Poirot was a big ol’ grumpy man-child about the whole thing for most of the episode.
Now That’s Just Good Sidekickin’!: As you’d expect in a Hastings-heavy episode, Our Man gets behind the wheel of a car and gives chase at one point. This being Poirot, it of course ends with the target crashing into a haystack unharmed. Also, old-timey cars were apparently super cramped.
Miss Lemon: “Someone told him he’s middle-aged.”
Hastings: “Well, he’s always been middle aged. Have you seen that photograph of him at his christening? He looks as though he’s about to address a board meeting.”
Poirot: “The growing of the moustache is an art, Hastings. I have sympathy with all who attempt it.”
Hastings: “Have you noticed her eyes? Very unusual color.”
Poirot: “Most unusual. It is called ‘blue’ I think.”
Lady Manderley: “Why can’t you leave me alone? Don’t you know what it’s like to love a man?”
Hastings: “Well, uh, no, not exactly.”
Next Week, on Poirot: Come on, ITV! Which mysterious tale of dastardly crime and suave intellect are you serving up next? I want to get PUMPED!
It’s, uh, “The Adventure of the Cheap Flat”.