Poirot (Classic): S03E04 “The Plymouth Express”

Mon Dieu! I’m super sorry about this, but Ye Olde Work Crunch (not a fun breakfast cereal) has gotten the better of your faithful chronicler this week (serves me right for taking a vacation), and I’m going to have to just post a bit here and take the discussion to the comments section later on. I hope to be back to my typically hyperverbose self next week.

Mainly, the story of how Flossie Carrington – a vibrant, young, heiress with any future she could have chosen at her fingertips – ended up brutally stabbed to death and then unceremoniously shoved under a passenger seat in a compartment on a train is just sad.

It’s a sadness that permeates the whole episode; no knowing winks, pithy bon mots, or mugging for the camera to be found here at all. It’s a very solemn affair that takes murder and loss and grief quite seriously, from Flossie’s mine baron father’s helplessness and meaningless monetary gestures to her gambling degenerate of a husband’s final act. Even Poirot, Hastings, and Japp are all just sort of alternating between sadness and numbness at such a dirty little crime.

And the episode sells it throughout too, with appropriate music, frequent look-ins on the supporting case, and most of all with an absolutely brutal flashback near the end as we see the murder committed, and a super chilling stare and smile at the camera by the baddie’s accomplice that lingers just long enough to creep me out. Even the ending shot of the episode is a slowed-down sequence of Poirot staring off into the distance.

So I loved the atmosphere here, even if the story itself was a pretty sparse, barebones when-did-the-train-leave-which-station-with-whom kind of mystery. Rod Beacham, the writer, seems to know this, and focuses a lot on setting up Flossie and the men in her orbit before we get to the murder and theft on the titular Plymouth Express.  I think he does a good job stretching out a pretty thin case into a compelling hour, helped along by that grave atmosphere throughout.

What I didn’t like was the ending that felt like the worst Doyle stories, where Holmes would simply show up at the end saying something like, “Oh, I’ve been off researching shipping times and routes, looking up files at the Old Bailey, and determined the culprit is <insert person who’s never been mentioned or alluded to once in the story up until now>, here he is at the door if I’m not mistaken.” It just came out of nowhere, and it almost seemed like it rendered the entire investigation to that point worthless.

Also, I kept getting this confused with The Mystery of the Blue Train, thinking I was positive I remembered the ending differently, and after checking my sources post-episode I know why: this short story became the basis for the later novel, which I hadn’t realized.

Overall – a somber, sort of quiet change of pace for the series, but it wears it well and feels like the first step in the series’ eventual evolution towards a grimmer, darker sort of show.

Next week, on Poirot: Hastings catches the photography bug! Japp catches appendicitis! Poirot catches a would-be killer! What’s all the buzz about? Why, it’s… “Wasps’ Nest”!