Poirot (Classic): S03E05 “Wasps’ Nest”

As we’ve been enjoying the series together, one of Mrs. Marlowespade’s constant refrains is that for all his intellect, thus far in the show M. Poirot is far better at not preventing murders than he is in preventing them, and the numbers pretty much back her up on this.

So it’s nice that in this episode we get an instance of the little grey cells paying off before anyone meets a hideous end.

As Poirot, Hastings and Japp attend a garden fete, Japp is struck down by that most nefarious of villains, appendicitis and is shuttled off to a hospital. Hastings is playing with his newest obsession, a camera.

Also attending the fete are fashion model Molly Deane and her finance John Harrison, who knows Poirot well. In a moment plumbed from the depths of one’s darkest nightmares, at the fete Molly is pulled behind a tent by a clown. As if that weren’t enough, there’s also a Sinister Old Man Wot Carries A Cane With A Skull On Top following Molly.

We soon learn that the clown is Claude Langton – a local sculptor, John’s best friend, and – uh oh – Molly’s ex-fiance.

Poirot does a reading of Molly’s tea leaves and becomes concerned, saying he sees dark times and stormy weather ahead for her. Which, weird, because you’d think Poirot wouldn’t be given to supernatural nonsense like that.

You’d be right, of course, and we learn that Poirot’s concern for Molly lies in the fact that he noticed her teacup had not only her pink lipstick on it but a smear of red greasepaint.

Here the episode begins throwing us tantalizing scenes left and right:

  • John nefariously thumbs through his appointment book, and underlines a date two months hence while looking very much like someone who has something dastardly planned.
  • John makes a throwaway comment about having checked the brakes on Molly’s car, only for them to fail on her way to a job interview, resulting in a crash that leaves her unharmed.
  • Claude seems unable to eradicate the nest of wasps that have made a home in John’s garden.
  • Poirot notices gasoline in the water barrel on John’s porch.
  • Sinister Old Man Wot Carries A Cane With A Skull On Top keeps shadowing Molly.
  • A trip to the local chemist for a wasp sting tells Poirot that someone bought some potassium cyanide, which cannot be good.
  • A Mysteriously Begloved Figure breaks into Claude’s house and does something we don’t see.

With all these savory ingredients, Poirot is absolutely convinced someone’s trying to murder someone here, especially after a visit to Claude establishes that he’s still in love with Molly, though he denies wanting to hurt his best friend.

Who’s gonna kill who? Why? And what in blue hell is going on with that badass cane the Old Man keeps carrying around?

Grey Cells:

Sinister Old Man Wot Carries A Cane With A Skull On Top was actually John’s doctor, who was following Molly to share with her that John had only two months to live (hence the not-so-nefarious-after-all underlining in the appointment book).  Faced with death in any event, an angry and bitter John hatched his plot: John was going to poison himself with Claude’s cyanide, framing Claude for the murder as revenge for “stealing” back Molly.

Poirot confronts John at his house, where John appears a bit out of it. In another faux tea leaf reading, Poirot tells John he knows all about his plot – and reveals that earlier he’d broken into Claude’s house and switched out the cyanide with harmless washing soap.

Claude had been unable to kill the wasps earlier because – and I can’t decide if this is brilliant or eye-rolling, though I’m leaning towards the former – John had switched his gasoline out for water (hence the gasoline dumped in the water barrel). Forced to use something stronger, Claude purchased the potassium cyanide from the chemist – and in doing so signed the “poison book” and inadvertently provided evidence to be used in his eventual trial for murder.

One more thing: Molly and Claude were definitely having an affair – the car crash wasn’t a case of tampered brakes, Molly intentionally crashed the car so she’d have an excuse to be “stranded” for the weekend in a nearby hotel so she could have Sexy Times with Claude.

[collapse]

In a melancholy ending, John is grateful that Poirot intervened; he’s even decided to let the wasps in his garden live, perhaps channeling his inner Roy Batty.

It’s a brisk little episode, helped along by some funny running gags (Our Man Hastings’ new photography obsession, Mrs. Japp’s continued non-appearance) and a growing sense of dread that’s well maintained throughout the hour. If last week’s episode dispensed with the lighthearted nature of the show, this one manages to strike just the right balance between tension and comedy. Another really well-directed episode, too, as frequent wordless scenes of John, Molly, and Claude – and ominous cuts to the buzzing wasp nest – establish intrigue and foreboding.

It’s also largely sold by Martin Turner, who plays John and does an absolutely wonderful job of conveying pain, sadness, and turmoil in his hugely expressive face.

It’s not a smorgasbord of suspects, there’s no clockwork plot to unravel, and there isn’t even any crime committed, but it nevertheless manages to be a pretty damn engaging hour of Poirot, and continues Series 3’s run of quality episodes.

Oh Snap, You’ve Been Hastings’d!: Hastings commandeers Poirot’s bathroom to use as his own private darkroom for developing photographs, which leads to a delightfully snarky remark from Our Belgian upon seeing hundreds of photos hanging from the ceiling: “I cannot even walk into my own bathroom without running into the hanging gardens of Babylon!”

Hey! It’s That Guy!: Claude the Clown is played by none other than the Twelfth Doctor himself, Peter Capaldi of Doctor Who and The Thick Of It fame. It’s super weird to see him looking so young, and though he’s a bit underused in the episode, you at least get to see what “Peter Capaldi in a hobo clown outfit” looks like, if that’s your thing:

clown

(Interestingly, there was a Doctor Who episode that was an Agatha Christie pastiche where the Doctor was poisoned with cyanide titled — wait for it —- “The Unicorn and the Wasp”.)

Japp of the Outpatient Ward!: Even laid up recuperating from his appendectomy, Japp manages to provide Poirot with a vital lead on the Sinister Old Man Wot Carries A Cane With A Skull On Top. You can’t keep a good Chief Inspector down.

Buying Cyanide To Kill Wasps Is Actually A Thing, Apparently: I mean, I’ve never had to do it myself, but it sounded like overkill to me. Turns out cyanide was in fact pretty much the preferred gotta-work-no-bullshit method for killing wasps, though I kind of feel like you could substitute “literally any living thing” for “wasps” and still be right.

Quotent Quotables:

Hastings: “Aren’t you making a mountain out of a molehill?”

Poirot: “I am not making the hills out of the molemounds!”

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Poirot (having been stung by a wasp): “The open air, it should be closed during the summer! Captain Hastings, he wonders why I have a hatred for these crawling, buzzing things. And the reason is they’re always trying to kill me!”

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Hastings: “You’re not planning to use the bathroom for the next half hour or so, are you Poirot?”

Poirot (snarky): “Well, let me check with my diary, Hastings. No, it would seem not.”

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Next week, on Poirot: There’s a dead man, a haunted mansion, and a hacky detective novel all in need of Poirot’s special skills – but which one is the real “Tragedy At Marsdon Manor”?