Poirot (Classic): S04E02 “Death in the Clouds”

Mes amis, we find ourselves pressed for time this week, which makes it a good thing that this particular episode was on the docket because it’s pretty straightforward, all things considered. I mean, it’s essentially a locked room puzzle 30,000 feet up.

I simply don’t have a lot to say about this one, which frankly I found dragged on tremendously once we hit the halfway point. The long and the short of it is that on a plane flight from Paris to London, one of the passengers ends up dead from a poisoned dart, and Poirot must sort out whodunnit from the other passengers and employees on the plane.

This one checks a lot of familiar Christie boxes — a despicable victim, the odd bit of blackmail, a romance between two of the suspects, familial connections that spring out of nowhere in the second act, a hideously overcomplicated solution that doesn’t hold up with more than a second’s thought — but whereas most episodes overcome those tropes to be entertaining nonetheless, this one just lost most of its steam halfway through and never recovered. I suspect I disliked this episode quite a bit more than most people, but to each their own, n’est-ce pas?

Anyway, let’s give credit, good and bad, where it’s due:

The Good

  • The fact that French Surete Inspector Fournier (Richard Ireson) looks and dresses almost exactly like Japp, and that the two maintain a passive-aggressive rivalry throughout the episode, was by far the best thing about this episode.
  • It sort of qualifies as a vacation episode, which I always like because we get to see our heroes in downtime moments. Poirot showing stewardess Jane Grey (Sarah Woodward) the ins and outs of Salvador Dali and other surrealists was a nice scene, as was Poirot white-knuckling his way through the Channel crossing on the airplane.
  • Er… the murder was… clever, I guess? In that “eh, I guess if all these bits come together at exactly the right time, with people behaving exactly as I expect them to, then things will all work out” kind of way. (I know, not a ringing endorsement.)
  • To be fair, the murderer’s final line about their motive is really well delivered, if depressingly unsurprising at this point in the series.


The Bad

  • I mean, for starters, there are just too many suspects that aren’t worthy of our time. Sure, they’re all “quirky” — the rich party girl! The put-upon maid! The mad author of detective novels! The creepy archeologist! The “nice” girl! The stewardess who romances another Generic English Guy! — but I just didn’t care about any of them, and actively disliked most of them.
  • The pacing felt way off as well. We spend some time getting to know two or three of the people, the rest are introduced to us on the plane, then when the plane lands and the murder is discovered we… sit around at the airport for half an hour searching luggage and questioning people. Then the back half of the episode seems to jet back and forth between England and France two or three times before bringing things to a close, and the rapidity with which the second hour introduced new clues, suspects, and twists somehow managed to be both exhausting and uninteresting.
  • The addition of the “heiress-out-of-nowhere” was the point where I’d decided it was a bridge too far, and what could have been a tightly focused locked-room puzzle devolved into a sprawling mess of disappearances, paparazzi, maids, disguises, and… well, it felt like the whole of Dame Agatha’s kitchen sink by the end, and it’s just all too much.
  • Dammit, not every episode needs Our Man Hastings, but this one was crying out for it. Hastings at the French Open? Hell, Hastings in France? YES PLEASE. It also desperately needed the sly one-liners traded between Hastings and Poirot to juice what’s for the most part a very dry, very procedural episode filled with scenes that consist mostly of baldfaced plot exposition. Look, I loves me some Japp, but I would rather have kept Our Man and Our Belgian together and let Phillip Jackson chew all the scenery dueling with his French doppelganger.
  • The victim is a cipher until after she’s been killed, and despite the revelations about her she doesn’t get any more interesting once snuffed. And that gave me a big ol’ feeling of, “so what?” for the entire case.
  • Really,

    disguising yourself as a steward with a dentist jacket, then manually pushing a poisoned dart into the victim’s neck without so much as a cry for help or gasp, then un-disguising yourself and returning to your seat, and all this in a cabin with seven other people in a space the size of a doctor’s waiting room that you’ve all spent the last three hours in together

    ? Come on. And I didn’t even mention the smuggled wasp, which I can assure those of you who haven’t see the episode is A) not a euphemism, and B) as ridiculous as it sounds.

I get that the source material is probably mostly at fault here for the elements I disliked the most, but that doesn’t make it any more fun to watch. Interestingly, the writer on this one was William Humble, and this would be the only episode of the series he penned  (he’d later go on to write a fair few episodes of Maigret). I’m interested to see what others think about this one — am I just wearing a finely pressed pair of Cranky Pants and need to lighten up?

Next Week, On Poirot: A dentist with a death wish! Murder by Novocaine! A visitor from the Sub-Continent, and yet another Time Lord guesting as a suspect! It’s the… *checks notes*… wowzers, the final episode of Series 4, “One Two, Buckle My Shoe”!