Poirot (Classic): S03E06 “The Tragedy At Marsdon Manor”

Alas, I feel the shame, non? Real life intrudes most agresivement and your faithful chronicler has but a few wee minutes to jot down some items around this week’s episode, with further thoughts in the comments below post-publication.

The Good:

  • Ghost stories in detective fiction are always a tricky business; on the one hand, theoretically you’re in the business of rationalization, and so the detective should pooh-pooh any supernatural explanation. On the other hand: Spooky! I thought this episode did a good job of presenting the supernatural aspects as A) possibly just the dementia of one woman’s mind, and B) almost certainly not responsible for the murder. Some eerie shots and sound cues help the mood, and keeping the ghost story as a backdrop to the manor’s history (rather than someone saying “THE MURDERER IS A GHOST, WHY WON’T YOU BELIEVE ME?!?” ad nauseum) is a much better fit for the story.
  • Our Man Hastings and Japp pointedly pretending to ignore the wax museum version of Poirot, to his eternal irritation.
  • Loved the scene as the village was practicing Civil Defense in anticipation of a German gas attack. A creepily shot reminder of the lurking cataclysm of WWII, and seeing a room full of villagers sitting attentively with gas masks on was startling.
  • “Doctor, there’s a man to see you, he says he has a case of the ‘Her-cool Pwaroes”.
  • Give me a setting for a Christie, and one hundred times out of one hundred I’ll take a cozy little provincial village with a great stonking manor house over anything else. The atmosphere here of Marsdon Leigh village was great, and special points to the eternally cheerful, well-meaning innkeeper Mr. Naughton, who lures our heroes to Marsdon Leigh by requesting Poirot’s assistance to solve a murder… that he wrote.
  • When the victim’s wife pleads for Hastings to return to the manor later to protect her, you can just see the steely resolve and chivalry oozing out of every one of Our Man’s pores, and Mrs. Marlowespade immediately rolled her eyes and said, “Boy did she memorize ‘How to Get Arthur Hastings To Be Your Puppet In One Easy Lesson’.”

 

The Bad:

  • The villain turn in this seemed a little bit abrupt, as did the confession at the end. I mean, I get that villains lie until they don’t, but the motivation and how it was played at the end seemed rushed, and I was left wondering whether they really were supernatural believers or not.
  • Speaking of said confession, I also thought the method for extracting it was a little theatrical and over-the-top (even by Poirot standards), and though I get the gothic vibe it strained credibility just a little too much for me.
  • Speaking of credibility, the solution to the crime itself still doesn’t sit right with me. I find it hard to believe that someone
    Spoiler

    shot through the mouth with a rook rifle

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    could be mistaken for someone frightened to death, but… I guess folks were keen to make assumptions, which the murderer relied on.
  • Speaking of the murderer, how stupid was it to
    Spoiler

    give away your alibi as a gift

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    to a detective investigating the case? Answer: the most stupid.

 

I’d say this is the weakest episode of the series thus far, and though I wouldn’t call it bad I can’t say I liked it all that much. Some nicer light moments in Poirot and Our Man’s travails in the village with the innkeeper were the highlight, along with some creepy shots but it never quite felt like a satisfying mystery, despite an abundance of clues and a great setting. I also think this is the rare Poirot in which the denouement is the weakest part of the episode, with an ending that felt contrived and rushed; had the killer’s motive felt more plausible I think it would have gone over better, but I’m still not sure I’m buying the confession.

Side Note: Look, I get that when you order a plate of Dame Agatha you’re getting at least a side order of “contrived” if not an entire family-style serving platter full of it, but for some reason this episode bothered me more than most.

Next Week, on Poirot: What do a Russian countess, a jewel thief, and our favorite Belgian have in common? Why, they’re all featured in “The Double Clue”! (I mean, you really should have guessed that one.)