Poirot (Classic): S03E11 “The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge”

Oof, a tough one to close out an otherwise mostly brilliant third series.

On a cold Friday morning, on the northern England estate of Harrington Pace, a hunting party consisting of Our Man Hastings, Poirot, and six or seven Identically Dressed Interchangeable Old White Guys clambers out of their cars and assume positions for a morning of grouse shooting and weekend of… erm… eating grouse, one guesses. Hastings has been invited at the behest of his friend Roger Havering, and Poirot is there to chow down on some fresh red grouse.

In that party we have:

  • Uncle Harry Pace (Bernard Horsfall), a right bastard who’s old, rich, and invariably pissed off at whomever happens to be speaking to him at the moment
  • Nephew Roger Havering (Jim Norton), whom we’ll learn has a bit of problem consistently picking the wrong pony at the races, and is consequently in debt up to his eyeballs
  • Niece-In-Law Zoe Havering (Diana Kent), genial wife of Roger and otherwise unremarkable to a fault
  • Nephew Archie Havering (Shaughan Seymour), a local schoolteacher and cyclist who Uncle Harry pays a pittance to watch the house in the off-season
  • Gamekeeper Jack Stoddard (Roy Boyd), whom we’ll learn is Uncle Harry’s half-brother he pays a pittance to keep the game grounds. Also a bastard, but in the hereditary sense rather than the moral one.

(Side Note: We don’t know all this stuff about these people up front. For the first twenty minutes of the episode, it’s not entirely clear who’s who or even their relationship to each other, because they’re all wearing the same outdoor clothes and referring to each other alternately by first name, last name, and characters off-screen. The rest of the episode doles this information out, but for the sake of not boring you to tears recapping pure exposition I’ve included it here. YOU’RE WELCOME.)

During the shoot, Poirot is That Guy, who sits reading a book on a stool with earplugs in while the other menfolk take turns shooting birds, except for Archie who accidentally wings ol’ Uncle Harry in the hand. Zoe returns to the house, and asks where the temporary housekeeper Mrs. Middleton has run off to. The staff says she’s up in her room, and Zoe goes upstairs to lie down, complaining of an earache.

The party returns, many birds in hand with an unknown quantity still left in the proverbial bush. Poirot seems to have come down with something, and begs off back to the village hotel with Hastings before dinner.

At dinner, we see Mrs. Middleton, who

Spoiler

could not be wearing more of a disguise if she had shown up wearing Groucho glasses and a rubber Richard Nixon mask.

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(Additional Side Note: I mean, come on. Three seasons in and they’re still making these things this obvious?)

After dinner, Roger gives Middleton and a maid a lift over to Stoddard’s, then catches a train to London from the village. As the train makes a stop along the way, we see a Mysteriously Bearded Bicycle Thief jump off the train and steal a bicycle and oh God, it’s gonna be one of those Train Episodes that hinge on knowing the 4:50 from Rumplebum is precisely 8 minutes late on every fourth Monday because it stops at Bollocks Hill, isn’t it?

(Son of Side Note: Eh, sort of.)

Meanwhile, we see Stoddard grabbing a rifle, Uncle Harry in his study, then we cut to an exterior shot of the three-story mansion no-doubt-ironically-called Hunter’s “Lodge” and hear a gunshot, followed by Middleton running out the front door to grab Stoddard, telling him there’s been a, um, gunshot. Which is true, because Uncle Harry has been shot dead in the study with a revolver.

The only two local plods arrive, and Middleton tells them she let a Mysteriously Bearded Bicycle Thief Man into the house to see Uncle Harry, then heard the shot and ran for help. Hastings bursts into Poirot’s room where Our Belgian is under the weather, and tells him there’s been a murder.

In the morning, Japp arrives to investigate, and suddenly Mrs. Middleton has gone missing in a plot turn that will surprise exactly nobody, because…

Grey Cells:

…Middleton of, course, never really existed – she was in fact Zoe Havering in disguise, taking pains to never have the two of them around at the same time. Zoe and Roger plotted Uncle Harry’s murder so Roger would inherit his cash and pay off his gambling debts.

But wait, it gets dumber.

When Roger dropped the maid off at Stoddard’s, Zoe changed from her Middleton disguise into a Mysteriously Bearded Bicycle Thief disguise, and ’twas she who jumped the train, stole the railway master’s bike, rode the six miles back to Hunter’s Lodge, removed her disguise, buried the bicycle, hat, and fake beard in the mud, shot Harry, put her Middleton disguise back on, then ran out the door yelling for help, then burned her Middleton disguise in a fire while Stoddard went for the police and Roger spent the night in London for an alibi that he didn’t even really need since he didn’t actually kill anyone.

(Revenge of Side Note: Look, the whole “establish an alibi weak enough to be broken but sprinkle enough doubt to get acquitted at the inquest” strategy isn’t a bad one as things these go (witness the Mysterious Affair at Styles), but this seems like a hell of a lot of trouble to go to when all you want to do is shoot a man in an empty house and pretend a mysterious stranger did it. Plus, if you leave out the “get acquitted at the inquest” part, you’re really just playing on hard mode for no good reason.)

About… I dunno, forty-five minutes in we meet the real Mrs. Middleton who says she did take the position at Hunter’s Lodge but was met at the train station by an Irish lady who gave her two month’s pay to go home and be quiet about it, which she did with zero suspicions because she has the intellect and curiosity of a ceiling fan. And so our heroes wonder idly who on Earth could possibly have been Middleton, apparently not realizing that there’s exactly one other female with a motive in the whole story.

Anyhoo, Poirot recovers from his illness astonishingly quickly, has one of Stoddard’s dogs track Middleton/Zoe by following the scent from an apron, confronts Zoe and Roger and they confess.

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Poirot, Hastings, and Japp return the stolen bicycle to the village railway master, who’s about as grateful as I am when my cat leaves a dead bird in my shoe.

Yeah, not a good show here.

First off, everyone’s just cranky the whole time, which… I get, there being a murder and all, but it devolves into an episode of unmitigated sourness. None of the supporting cast are likeable, entertaining, or quite frankly interesting in the least, with too much time being devoted to doling out their backstories and relationships instead of clever clue-hunting. I found myself not really invested in the mystery, the suspects, or – most shockingly – even our main characters, as this is mostly a by-the-numbers story that wrongly focuses on a plot less interesting than it thinks it is.

(Escape From Planet Of The Side Note: Honestly, it feels like second-rate Conan Doyle that Christie added some unnecessary complications to.)

It’s a poorly-paced episode that starts off confusingly, is boring most of the time, wears out its welcome early with yet another obvious disguise, and is remarkably devoid of the usual strengths of the series. Poirot being sick we’ve seen done more entertainingly, Japp is really just here to spout exposition of things we already know, and look – if you can’t get a good laugh or two out of Our Man Hastings on a hunting trip, your script has made some serious errors in judgment. An entirely skippable episode.

They Must Be Paying A Fortune For That Message Service!: I find it funny how whenever Poirot, Hastings or Japp are somewhere random (Japp in Poirot’s hotel room, or Hastings at the library for instance) whomever’s calling manages to reach them. Is there an army of telephone operators across England keeping track of these people’s movements? It seems like every third episode we get a scene like this:

POIROT: Ah, mon ami, but what the police do not realize is that the letter “K” engraved on this bullet actually translates as “Lord Stanley Puffbladder” in the language of the Xhosa people of South Africa!

HASTINGS: I say!

JAPP: Blimey! The killer must have dropped it on the floor here in this unnamed apartment in an unmarked building across the street from the crime scene that we walked to while retracing the path of a street urchin!

::phone rings, Japp answers::

JAPP: Crikey! That was the coroner. Our urchin had a South African passport on him!

FIN

Hey! It’s Not That Guy!: I didn’t see anyone I recognized here, but to be fair I’d lost interest about halfway through.

The Man Knows His Eatin’!: Poirot’s line about wanting to eat freshly killed red grouse? Turns out that there is in fact “a keen competition among some London restaurants to serve freshly killed grouse on August 12, with the birds being flown from the moors and cooked within hours”. Well, huh.

Quotent Quotables:

Hastings (puts finger on side of his nose): “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.”

Poirot: “Hastings, would you please stop tapping your nose in that theatrical manner and tell me all you know?”

___

Japp: “How many men have you got?”

Local Police Sergeant: “Men, sir? Just the one, sir, him.”

Japp: “Well, you’ll have to make optimum use of your resources, won’t you?”

 

In Two Weeks, On Poirot: We did it, gang! That’s a wrap on season 3, which overall I found much more interesting both stylistically and plot-wise than the last. Can you believe we’re only five episodes from the halfway mark of the whole series?

(Bride of Side Note: There’s 70 total episodes, and we’ve burned through 30. There’s only one more season that has more than four or five episodes, as now we start getting to the point where most of them are two-hour affairs.)

In any case, we’ll take a break next week, and we’re gonna need it because series 4 kicks off with one of the best episodes of the entire show and one of Christie’s best plots, period. Don’t be frightened by the presence of prominently featured train schedules – unless your initials place you square in the path of… “The ABC Murders”!