Poirot (Classic): S10E03 “After the Funeral”

Well, well, well, what have we here? An episode that has dinner parties, country manors, butlers, poison, and a double fake or three? Sounds like comfort food to your Faithful Author in These Troubled Times (TM)!

The Setup:

Dick Abernethie, a Very Rich Old Man, has shuffled off his mortal coil, and the Herd O’ Suspects family gathers for his funeral, and it’s the usual assortment of nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, and their spouses, including long-lost Kooky Aunt Cora, Art Kollector, who’s been abroad for 20 years. After a contentious reading of the mysteriously changed-at-the-last-minute-will (is there any other kind?) in which Michael Fassbender sets phasers to “Smoldering”, Cora –  in a move she certainly won’t live long to regret – lets slip at the afterparty that someone murdered dear old Dick, but gosh now, I’d better keep quiet, hmm?

The Crime:

The day after the funeral (I see what you did there, Dame Agatha), everyone goes their separate ways (except they all lie about what they’re doing), and wouldn’t you know it, someone takes a hatchet to Kooky Aunt Cora seven times in her sleep. Which seems like five or six times too many, but you know the old saying: when you have a new hatchet, everything looks like a person who’ll spill your secret murder beans.

ANYHOO, the family lawyer Mr. Entwhistle engages Our Belgian to investigate Abernethie’s death, the will shenanigans, and Kooky Aunt Cora’s death, and that’s how we end up watching Michael Fassbender play a drunken incestuous cousin. Er, spoilers, I guess?

The Suspects:

Dear Lord, we’ll be here all day if I detail them out. Suspects in which crime, exactly? I mean, let’s just say it’s the standard collection of ne’er-do-wells, poor relations, and greedy in-laws that typically populate something like this. Oh, and there’s Miss Gilchrist, Kooky Aunt Cora’s live-in companion (don’t call her a servant), Kooky Aunt Cora’s Italian art professor ex-husband (!), Entwhistle himself, and the butler Lanscombe, I suppose.

Among this pack of liars is Michael Fassbender, whom I may have mentioned is in this episode, as the golden boy wot got disinherited in the new will; he had a suspicious fight with Dick the night before the old gent croaked, so I wonder what that’s all about, hmmm? (Hint: it will not be about anything related to the murder. Nice try, Agatha, we’ve seen that one before.)

Wot I Liked:

Grey Cells:

Well, for starters, Dick wasn’t murdered as Kooky Aunt Cora suggested at all. In fact, Kooky Aunt Cora wasn’t even really Kooky Aunt Cora (Art Kollector) at all, it was Miss Gilchrist, the Kooky Kompanion in disguise. She planted the seed After the Funeral(TM) to make people think that Kooky Aunt Kora’s (help me) murder was related to Dick’s death, which it wasn’t.

In fact, Gilchrist killed Cora because she coveted Cora’s original Rembrandt painting that Cora had bought but not realized the value of. Gilchrist is more than a little barmy, and was so resentful of her position in life (she used to own a tea shop, now she’s basically a serv– er, companion) that she saw the chance to get rich and stick it to the goofy old woman she had to take care of.

I mean, that’s a hell of a long way from where we begin in this tale, and it’s to the episode’s credit that you wouldn’t guess any of this in a million years from the opening 30 minutes or so, which focuses on red herrings like Dick’s death and his will.

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It’s got the requisite Pack O’ Liars family dynamic, hidden motives, malleable truths, and a weird recurring nun thing that shows up at random intervals that I didn’t quite understand but just rolled with. Wealth, love, betrayal, relationships – all the usual suspects are in fact the usual suspects as motives here, just as you’d expect.

Also, “Bechuanaland” sounds like “Bet You Want A Land”, which, insert funny/notfunny colonialism joke here, and made me giggle every time someone said it out loud.

Also also, Michael Fassbender totally Michael Fassbenders the hell out of his part as George, the erstwhile favored nephew/alcohol enthusiast. Mrs. Marlowespade was paying close attention to this one, that’s for sure. (“It’s because of all that unadulterated smoldering he’s doing.” — Mrs. Marlowespade)

Wot I Not Liked:

And yet, apart from the crazypants reveal/villain, everything else is… well, kinda by the book here, literally and figuratively. Everything leading up to that reveal is pretty standard Christie, including a villain’s attempted “murder” of themselves, someone getting coshed right as they’re about to reveal the key clue over the phone, the will changed at the last minute, the house full of distant (and not-so-distant, wink wink) relations, the village… I’ve used the words “standard” and “usual” a lot in this writeup, and there’s a reason why, is what I’m saying.

And there’s a faint scent of kitchen sink-iness here, with a sprawling which-one-is-married-to-who-again-sized cast that includes Michael Fassbender and maybe one or two elements too many. In addition to the ostensible murder of Dick Abernethie, there’s a forged will, missing deeds to the estate, Kooky Aunt Cora’s murder, and.. it’s a lot to keep track of.

Aside from “Bechuanaland” and a pretty good dialect gag (“What’s a ‘nunskulled‘?”), there’s not much dialogue to write home (or the internet) about, and the acting is serviceable but nothing spectacular – Monica Dolan as Miss Gilchrist comes out of this the best of all the non-Michael Fassbender players, but her best work is saved for the last twenty minutes or so.

The Verdict:

I ended up giving it a passing grade by virtue of the plot twist I didn’t see coming, but most of this one feels very much like I’ve been there, done that, bought the T-shirt from the local pub as an alibi. I guess I’d say at worst this one requires more patience than usual to get to the payoff, and perhaps this late in the series throwing up the usual tropes without a killer gimmick, style, or premise just doesn’t work as well as it used to without the benefit of Christie’s characterizations propping it up. It’s clued well and doesn’t really do anything wrong per se – it’s comfort food, but it’s reheated.

Interestingly, I did some research after watching this, and apparently the biggest difference from the novel is that the setting was changed from post-war England to pre-war England for the episode, and I can absolutely see how that was probably a mistake. The pessimism and longing of things, lives, and stations lost post-war would have made so much of this story resonate more forcefully and give the whole thing a theme that unified the plot.

In any event, I may be lukewarm on the episode, but reading After the Funeral has gone on my to-do list after I’m done with The Hollow (thank you, Faithful Readers, you were right – it’s a much better book than the episode led me to believe), as I’m almost positive the book will be a better experience.

Next Week, on Poirot: A man dies in a gas explosion and has the gall to leave all his money to his wife instead of his family, which wouldn’t be a big deal except for the fact that her first husband might not be as dead as we think he is. Are her motives pure? Or were they… “Taken at the Flood”?