We open on an auction, and your faithful chronicler manages to somehow resist the temptation to start writing his magnum opus, a nine-part Lovejoy retrospective. (Kidding! Ish.) Poirot and Hastings are there, and Poirot is bidding on a mirror for his vestibule.
He’s quickly outbid by the smug, improbably named art collector Gervase Chevenix (whom I would have sworn was a moonlighting James Burke, but turns out to be Iain Cuthbertson), who then forces his card on Poirot, trying to hire him on a case; he makes an offhand remark that perhaps he’ll use the mirror as payment, and simply presumes Poirot will take the case. Poirot does, of course, because he really wants that mirror.
Meanwhile, in a rainy civil office in London, a man and a woman get married, then remove their rings as some middle-aged woman spies on them from an alleyway. Look, I’m just reporting the news here.
Anyhoo, ol’ Gervy is having – shocker! – guests for the weekend, and in short order we’re introduced to the Usual Suspects:
- Gervy’s wife Vanda, who’s convinced that an Egyptian spirit guide named Safra speaks to her through a 3,000-year-old amulet she wears. I am not making this up.
- Ruth Chevenix, Gervy’s adopted daughter and secret wife of
- John Lake, an architect Gervy hired to build a museum? I think? But who has yet to lay a single brick, and whom Gervy wishes Poirot to investigate as a possible fraud. He’s physically indistinguishable from
- Hugo Trent, a local man with a plan to revolutionize furniture by making it out of steel tubes welded together. I am not making this up, either. He’s basically the person who will one day be responsible for all the uncomfortable chairs you’ve ever sat in at the airport or bus station. Also, he’s played by a young Jeremy Northam. Hugo’s about to be married to
- Susan Caldwell, clumsily introduced to us on Poirot’s train ride into Whimperley (really) as someone whose defining character trait is Loudly Announcing Herself As A Suspect.
- And hell, why not, let’s throw Miss Lingard, Gervy’s private secretary in there, who also happens to be the Woman Wot Spied On Newlyweds seen earlier.
- Screw it, let’s keep going, there’s a butler named Snell whose primary occupation seems to be ringing a gong at strangely precise times so as to establish red herrings and lead everyone but Poirot to erroneous conclusions.
Weirdly dark, ominous music follows us to Gervy’s house, which is also decidedly strange in that it’s more of a Spanish fort-looking style house than the typical English manor (perhaps Faithful Reader Robert Maitland, Architect can enlighten us further on this).
When gathering for dinner, the cast assembles at the appointed time; various clues-to-be are dropped, such as Vanda warning about a death her spirit guide told her about, Ruth entering from the garden mysteriously, Hastings hearing the gong ring before the appointed time, and a gunshot heard out of nowhere.
When Gervy doesn’t show up for dinner, they break into his study and find him slumped over his desk, bleeding all over it from the bullet hole in his head and with a gun in his hand. The mirror bought at auction hangs on the wall, an ostensible bullet hole in that, too.
Chief Inspector Japp arrives in short order, and we learn that Gervy left a suicide “note” (hilariously, it’s literally the word SORRY written in all caps on a single sheet of paper). There’s a fragment of the mirror on the base of a statuette, all the doors and windows to the study are locked(ish – more on that in a bit), and there are footprints in the garden just outside the study window; a bottle of champagne nobody seems to be drinking, an object picked up off the floor surreptitiously, and the fatal bullet has mysteriously gone missing. I’m already exhausted.
(Side Note: Yeah, this episode really doubles down on throwing both suspects and clues at us early on. I don’t particularly mind it, but that said, the Clue Density factor here is off the charts. It almost felt like playing a point-and-click adventure game.)
ANYHOO, Our Man Hastings and Poirot do that thing where they visit all the suspects and uncover motives for murder (all of them boiling down to Gervy’s will and the money contained therein, of course). Ruth mentions that she’s adopted and her mother is NOWHERE TO BE FOUND, which sets the first series of alarm bells ringing. Once a suspect is seen gazing longingly at a painting of a mother and child, anyone who’s seen a single episode of this show will
immediately peg Mrs. Lingard as the “secretary who stayed behind to keep a close eye on the daughter she can never claim as her own”,
Did I mention there’s a firebomb? Because at one point there’s a firebomb that goes off and a building honest-to-God-explodes, and for about 10 minutes here Poirot morphs into an episode of Simon and Simon, as Our Man and Our Chief Inspector drag an unconscious suspect out of a burning building. I am still not making any of this up, by the way.
But let’s get down to brass tacks, as The Denouement at Fort Chevenix uses one of my favorite techniques in the show (and Christie adaptations in general), flashing back to earlier scenes as explanatory narration plays over them, lending new context and making it all seem obvious in hindsight.
The murderer entered from the garden window and shot Gervy with a silenced pistol. The bullet went through his head and hit the gong (this was the gong that Our Man heard earlier than the appointed time), so the killer deliberately smashed the statuette against the mirror to frame up the suicide angle after planting the gun and office key on Gervy’s body. They then left through the Shittiest Windows Ever Made(TM), which allow one to lock them from the outside by bumping them. (I cannot stress this enough: I am still not making any of this up.)
Poirot then accuses Ruth Chevenix as the killer about to be disinherited, which she vehemently denies (and for good reason, as there’s zero proof at this point). She’s arrested with a limp pronouncement about how a jury will decide, and I start to wonder if this is really how this already weird episode is going to end.
Nope! IT GETS WEIRDER.
As the police haul Ruth off to the Gray Bar Hotel, Our Man, Belgian, and Chief Inspector remain parked quietly in the driveway. We then see Vanda Chevenix awakened by the voice of her spirit guide, imploring her to confess her sins, and to the crime of killing Gervy. It commands her to open her amulet, which we see contains… the missing bullet! Adding to the creep factor, there’s a hangman’s noose hanging in the living room.
Just as we might be on the cusp of thinking that maybe the spirit guide is a voice in Vanda’s head and she might have been the victim of a split personality or something, our ancient Egyptian spirit gets oddly pragmatic and suggests that Vanda “write a note”, at which point Our Heroes burst in and put a stop to the whole thing.
It’s revealed that Miss Lingard is the true culprit, and the voice behind Safra. The object she retrieved from the floor the night of the murder was the bullet that ricocheted off the gong, and she planted it in the amulet, hoping to convince Vanda that she had killed her husband and confess in order to save her own daughter from hanging for it.
(Additional Side Note: Has she been doing this for years? How long has she been talkin’ spooky to Mme. Chevenix? I NEED TO KNOW.)
She cops to the whole mother/daughter relationship we’d all figured out half an hour ago, and says she killed Gervy because he was going to disinherit Ruth because she was marrying John, not Hugo.
(Son of Additional Side Note: So, was the whole Denouement with Ruth just a classic Poirot ruse with her cooperation? Or did he really want her to believe she was accused?)
It’s a strange, offputting episode. The attempts to inject the supernatural via musical cues and ominous warnings don’t quite work, because it feels like the direction never commits to it being anything other than crazy ol’ Vanda until the very dark turn at the end – while the heavy emphasis on the howdunit and clues keep dragging us back to the rational side of the case. Then we get the aforementioned action sequence with buildings exploding, and the disorienting decidedly non-English architecture and… it’s just a weird vibe, man.
I’m not sure how much was invented by Anthony Horowitz (who honestly has been the writer of some of my favorite episodes of the series) and how much was in the source, but it feels like the script was tonally just weird for weird’s sake, like the extended sequence where Hugo shows off his tubular steel furniture. And the gong! SO MUCH GONG TALK.
But it’s not bad! The mystery here is actually pretty good, and while there’s not much to write home about on the comedy front, the scene of Japp stubbornly refusing to comprehend Vanda’s spirit guide is classic Chief Inspector stuff. Overall, I’d probably call this one “serviceable” more than anything else, just strange enough in atmosphere and pacing to be memorable as an episode but a smidge too dense with its kitchen-sink approach to clues to be a comfortable watch.
Japp: “Ah, there you are Poirot… you got any idea how I can get hold of this Safra? Some sort of friend of Mrs. Chevenix. ”
Hastings: “Safra’s dead… she’s Vanda’s spirit guide.”
Japp: “Ah… I might as well be off then.”
Next Week, On Poirot: It took awhile, but we’ve reached the end of Series 5! The last of the short story adaptations (sort of) is present and accounted for, with our final hourlong episode. A vacation to Brighton! Poirot being constantly annoyed at being misidentified! And a jewel robbery at the Grand Metropolitan! It’s… uh… “Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan”!