Mai ouis, but the last few episodes have been a bit of a struggle, non? It is then with great joy I inform you that tonight’s adventure is something of a return to form — it won’t be anybody’s favorite Poirot episode, but it’s agreeable enough around the edges in a way that elevates it from the last few.
I mean, come on: the episode starts with Our Man Hastings buying an Italian sports car from a nefarious-looking Italian gentleman while Godfather-esque music plays, so right off the bat I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt.
In a just world, “Hastings buys a sports car from the Mafia” would be the A-plot instead of the B-plot, but here proceedings are largely devoted to one Count Foscatini (the titular Italian nobleman), and the fact that someone smashed Foscatini over the head with a marble bust. Before you know it, there’s blackmail, stolen documents, Italian government operatives, and the Mafia involved, and a simple case of murder becomes something way more convoluted than it should have been.
Did I mention that Foscatini’s valet is dating one MISS FELICITY LEMON?!? Because he’s totally dating Miss Lemon. (This fact has less than zero to do with the case, but it does pay off in a pretty good gag at the end.)
- One of the reasons this episode feels like we’re getting back on track is that it didn’t forget to bring the humor. A lifeless plot (see the Bad section below) can be made watchable with the right amount of levity, and this episode has quite a bit! It’s helped in no small part by the fact that the series principals get a lot of time to play off each other here, and it feels like it’s been forever since we saw these four just do their thing.
- Delivering most of said humor is one Captain Arthur Hastings, of course, who gets some absolutely terrific moments here, including an offhand anecdote about a girl he dated who thought he was in a lunatic asylum and his priceless reaction to learning that Miss Lemon has “an admirer”. What I’m saying here is that Hugh Fraser is ON POINT in this ep.
- The actor playing Miss Lemon’s beau Ed Graves (Leonard Preston) does a really, really nice job presenting himself as a humble admirer and sort of a sad sack caught up in all this; I was really rooting for him to be innocent here.
- A really poignant bit of writing when Ed confesses to Miss Lemon that he’s not a personal secretary to the Count, but merely a valet; he presses her and says she wouldn’t have given him a second thought if he’d told her the truth, and she admits as much. To cap it all off, she angrily agrees that it’s nobody fault, it’s just what they’re brought up to believe, and a little Howard’s End in my Poirot turned out to be a great surprise. Outstanding work by Preston and Pauline Moran in the scene.
- Loved, loved, loved the face turn by Mr. Vezzini, Mafia Car Salesman, when it’s revealed that
he’s actually being blackmailed because he bankrolls anti-fascist groups fighting Mussolini’s regime.[collapse]
- I actually liked the Godfather-esque music in the episode, which, along with the Italian wedding and the Crime Syndicate Far, Far More Deadly Than The Mafia makes for a pretty self-aware atmosphere this ep.
- One more round of applause for Our Man getting to heroically chase down the killer in a speeding car, jump out, and deliver a right cross that lands the baddie in a pond while he shouts,
“This is for Miss Lemon!”[collapse]
- “He was going to destroy the cat.”
- I mean… it’s not a great plot, as it’s just too murky to comprehend for most of the running time. The questions of who was blackmailing who, who worked for whom, and why fully half the cast was even bothering to get involved occupied a lot of brain space that it probably shouldn’t have.
- Too much of it was just hinted at or assumed; we don’t learn of any real reason for blackmail until near the very end, even the MacGuffin plot offered near the beginning is overcomplicated, the “money” everyone assumes everyone is chasing never makes an appearance, and the detail about
Count Foscatini not being an actual count doesn’t… matter, I guess? So who the hell was he?[collapse]
- I remain a firm believer in the tenet that if you want me to care about a murder, you have to at least show me the victim before they die, and not just a medium-long shot of them yelling incomprehensibly to someone in another room. I did not care about this murder.
- The bit with the curtains… ::makes “so-so” motion with hands::
So… the whole “dating Miss Lemon” thing had zero plot relevance and was just an astounding coincidence set up so that Hastings would have a chance to remember the name of the boat in the picture, right?[collapse]
- Naw, can’t think of anything to put here. Plot nonsense and all, this was more fun than it should have been.
Not much to recommend as a mystery, but a welcome hour with old friends and a pretty good time, all considered!
In Three Weeks, On Poirot: A merry Christmas, New Year, and/or holiday of your choice, and thanks very much for what’s been (for me) an entertaining and fun way to spend each week this year, talking with you lot about Our Belgian and his compatriots. We’ll pick up after the New Year with a look back at Poirot’s past, as a return to Belgium invites us to open… “The Chocolate Box”!