Poirot (Classic): S03E10 “The Affair at the Victory Ball”

As much as I’d love to get deep into this one, it’s been a hell of a week, mes amis, and your faithful chronicler has some outstanding commitments which preclude the usual nonsense. Let’s hit the high points and the low points and hopefully chat more in the comments!

The Good:

  • Once again, the direction and production in this season are on point. Majestic exterior shots of the BBC radio building, gorgeous art deco interiors, some noir-ish chiaroscuro styling in places, and moody shots of the commedia dell’arte figurines that play prominent roles in the case all add up to a stylish hour of TV.
  • I’m a sucker for old time radio plays, so I loved the context of the mystery. It’s always fascinating to me to see (and hear) how they managed to create that sort of magic using practical effects. (By the way, I highly recommend the old Philip Marlowe radio plays on the podcast source of your choice. They’re almost uniformly terrific.)
  • The mystery itself is good, and paced well. Again here we get to spend some quality time with the suspects pre-nefariousness, and it helps immensely. Clues and revelations (save one huge one I had a problem with) are spaced out over the hour, which helps maintain momentum throughout the hour.
  • The Victory Ball itself here is staged wonderfully, cutting between our suspects and our heroes (Hastings in costume as the Scarlet Pimpernel, Poirot dressed as himself, natch) to build a sense of dread and the inevitable murder.
  • The dialogue here sparkles; there’s a ton of great lines, funny moments, and even some didn’t-realize-it-at-the-time sly foreshadowing that clicks in hindsight. (My favorite line was Hastings defending their host to Poirot: “He’s with the BBC, but he’s quite a decent chap. Drives an Alvis.”
  • Poirot delivering the denouement live on-air over the radio with the suspects all gathered round the table? *chef’s kiss*. Though one wonders how it played to the listeners at home, not being able to see the figurine being thrown.

The Bad:

  • Look, I’m just gonna spoiler this whole bit, because you cannot tell me that
    Spoiler

    nobody even tried to open the clenched fist of the victim until the day after the murder. Look, I can’t claim to have ever wrestled with a body in rigor mortis, but… nobody even tried? Because the key clue was literally right there. I cannot tell you how much this bothered me, plot-wise.

    [collapse]

The Weird:

  • Poirot’s introductory monologue (the first time they’ve done that in the series to this point, if I recall correctly) was… huh. I think it works as an introduction to the theme of the Harlequinade, and by the time the episode wraps I can see it in hindsight as part of Poirot’s on-air performance, I guess? Just sort of… huh.
  • One of the key players – Mrs. Davidson –  is never given a first name, which certainly isn’t the first time that’s happened in an episode, but was got weirder and weirder as the hour went on and it became clear she was a huge part of the plot.

 

As you can probably tell, I’m a big fan of this one. I think the atmosphere is terrific throughout, it’s visually interesting with a different sort of context than we usually see, and it ends up being a meaty mystery with disguises, monograms, theatrics and a ton of scenery chewing on behalf of all involved.

Next Week, on Poirot: My goodness, that season flew by! Series 3 comes to a close with a weekend hunting trip for Our Man Hastings and Poirot, and while Our Belgian comes down with the flu, their host comes down with an even worse case of lead poisoning via projectile! Who killed Harrington Pace? Find out in… “The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge”!