Poirot (Classic) S06E02: “Hickory Dickory Dock”

Limited time this week, gang, so we’re gonna hit the highs and lows here bullet-point style like the kids do nowadays.

Here’s the setup: in a hostel owned by Miss Lemon’s sister, someone’s been stealing random objects from the students. Our Belgian does his secretary a solid and investigates under the pretense of giving a dinner lecture, and scares the thief into confessing – but wouldn’t ya just know it, they end up dead shortly after.

This, of course, sets in motion the main plot and alongside Our Chief Inspector, Poirot investigates a tale of murder, smuggling, and… er… labor movements, sort of.

Honestly, it’s a rare Poirot episode that ends up being worse than I remember it, but this one fits the bill. Watching it now – and perhaps it was done no favors coming on the heels of last week’s ep – it just seemed disjointed, badly directed and written, and far less compelling than my memories would have me believe. Eh, you can’t win ’em all.

The Good:

  • I always like it when the show uses actual historical events as backdrop, and here it’s the Jarrow March, which was a march of unemployed workers across the country from Jarrow to London to protest unemployment.
  • Hey! It’s our good friend Dr. Watson David Burke playing Sir Arthur Stanley, leader of the Labour Party and a key figure in the motive here. Always a treat to see Burke pop up in something.
  • We get an extended flashback scene that might be titled Young Japp Investigates, except Philip Jackson looks forty-something even in a sequence that allegedly happened ten years ago. Still there’s a nice directorial flourish here in that the whole thing is shot in a fisheye style, lending a bit of surrealism to what’s otherwise one interrogation scene and one scene of Japp peeking through a window.
  • The college students at the hostel – pared down from the book’s bigger cast – are well-cast and just memorable enough to make it easy to follow along.
  • Nice chilling moment at the end when we see that the killer is an even bigger sociopath than we’d expected, even given the four (!) murders that take place in the episode.
  • I did like the mouse motif, running down the clock (natch), going everywhere and seeing everything, and the way it ties together at the end with Poirot being served cheese was clever.
  • “Lemon sole”. Heh.

 

The Bad:

  • Should we talk about the last five minutes in which Japp serves Poirot a “traditional English meal”? OK, let’s. Should we start with the fact that the meat Japp serves is unfortunate in that it it’s called this? And continue with the observation that it’s all a setup for a labored joke involving this? And ends with a literal gay panic joke? Look, I’m no prude, but it was weird having an episode of Are You Being Served? close out the story. Most all of the humor is too forced here, and quite a bit less sophisticated than usual which is a shame.
  • The b-plot, in which Japp stays over with Poirot for an extended period of time, should have been an Odd Couple-level home run. Instead, it made the same point over and over again (Japp doesn’t like Poirot’s breakfast! Japp doesn’t like Poirot’s dinner! Poirot keeps the heat up too high in the apartment! HARF HARF HARF!) until it got tiresome and even I was ready for things to go back to normal. I didn’t even mention the “hilarious” sequence in which Japp, apparently an idiot, splashes water on his face from a bidet instead of the sink. I’m not even kidding.
  • The biggest problem with the episode – and it’s a HUGE one – is that it tips its hand too often, undercutting its own dramatic reveals. The identity of the thief is given away visually before the opening credits are even finished. The ringleader of the diamond smuggling ring at the center of the story is revealed in the first fifteen minutes. There’s a scene in which a character is allegedly on the phone with a witness, meant to throw the viewer off in a couple of different ways. Yet, as the phone goes dead and our heroes rush off to investigate, we see the “witness” lying dead on the floor and another person (and you’ll know who it is immediately) hanging up the phone! I’m baffled at this episode’s willingness at every turn to show its cards in a way that makes it about ten times less interesting than it could have been.
  • Even The Denouement is botched here. There’s a nonsensical game-show type visual aid that Poirot and Lemon use that doesn’t do anything but distract from the dialogue (and seems to serve no purpose), but even worse, the identity of the killer is shown to us twice before Poirot finally delivers the “reveal” in a restored photograph, deflating the whole thing.
  • Ah, college, when you do crazy things like bet your fellow students who work at hospitals and pharmacies that you can’t procure a poison in a week. Wait, what?
  • Don’t get me started on what happened to the morphine, which at various times was stolen, switched out, flushed down a toilet, switched out again, and finally discovered under a floorboard. I seriously need someone with a chart to explain the life journey of this jar of morphine to me.
  • Miss Lemon apparently harbors prejudice against Greeks, which was crushing on so many levels.

Next Week, on Poirot: Coming off an episode I disliked so much, I couldn’t ask for a better remedy than a vacation in France with Hastings and a golf course, with Poirot’s reputation and moustache (really) at stake! It’s… “Murder on the Links”!