All right, here we go folks, Let’s see how this goes!
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: S1E1 “The Clapham Cook”
First of all, you have to know that Agatha Christie’s Poirot is the golden standard of television in my household. My parents love it, my sister loves it, I love it. We’ve been watching and re-watching it for going on 20 years now. Mom and Dad own most of the show on VHS *and* DVD, and it’s our go-to, inoffensive family show for evening dinners and clearing up dishes post-meal. That might be weird- I definitely didn’t grow up on The Simpsons, Friends, or ER, but boy oh boy, we have every episode of Poirot nearly memorized (Second only to A&E’s Nero Wolfe, another quality production).
Poirot was also the show that my parents would watch at night after I went to bed. Whenever the opening credits start up, piano keys and clarinet (?) and David Suchet’s face in purple triangles on the screen, I’m reminded of hearing the credits emit from my parent’s bedroom as I drifted off to sleep almost every night. There’s a great blog post discussing the main theme here, if you’d like to listen and read some more discussion about the characterization of the song.
The plot of this episode revolves around a missing cook, Poirot’s vanity, and a large leather trunk. Let’s appreciate some beautiful things about LWT’s production of episode 1:
Her curls! Her carefully applied rouge! That strangely off-putting lipstick! This show is perpetually washed out and the colors overly muted and often I think this does an unfair job to the makeup in the show. EVERYTHING is SO PASTEL. Especially all of the characters’s faces. It’s a little maddening sometimes- sometimes I find the washed-outness a little distracting.
2) artfully framed shots
Okay, I love this show, but this isn’t a show that I recall being artful, beautiful, or picturesque from previous watchings- but this episode features a few beautifully-framed shots that look like paintings. I love this shot of Hastings & Poirot in the Common- the feel isn’t unlike this 19th Century painting.
3) Hastings’ ugly sweater. I call this look ‘Confused Uncle at Christmas’
Hastings exists to say “My God!” and loudly suspect The Obvious Suspects. As Hercule admonishes Hastings in this episode, “He is not guilty just because you do not like him”. In the books, Hastings is a the Young, Silly Foil to Poirot’s little grey cells. I like to consider him a Dumb Lord Peter Wimsey- all the frivolity, none of the smarts. The show portrays him a little older than the books, and a lot more silly, which is sometimes frustrating. I adored Hugh Fraser’s Hastings as a child, but as an adult I’m just not a huge fan, though that’s not by any fault of his own- it’s merely the writing given him. I do have a soft spot for the actor (who, by the way, recently liked a tweet of mine about Poirot. I’ve never felt so famous!) even if I cringe when I watch the show now.
Is this a diverse show? No, not at all.
Poirot: the show full of white folk, perplexed by a fussy foreigner played by another white dude, pretending to be a stereotype of a different culture that was made up by a single lady that isn’t really accurate?
I’m sure I’ll mention this later on as I discuss other episodes. HOT TAKE: this is a really White Show. I can’t claim to be an expert in British television, but it really feels as though more modern shows with the BBC do a better job of showing people of different races and creeds in more roles, where this show exists in a very strange fantasy of White England.
Okay, but back to the plot. Like I said: Missing cook, large trunk, Poirot’s vanity. Poirot is hired to find a missing cook, a case ~completely beneath his sensibilities~ and he is set upon solving the case! From the beginning of the episode, thanks to our foreshadowing soundtrack, we know that the case is somehow connected to a bank theft. Poirot questions the household servants (including a Maid INSISTING that Cook was kidnapped by, I kid you not, white slavers) and is quickly dismissed from the case by his client’s husband… but of course, he insists on completing the case regardless of his client.
By putting a notice in the paper – I absolutely adore vintage mysteries for things like this: putting an ad in the paper, sending a telegram, consulting the Who’s Who … these things may not be so much a part of society now, but back in the day it was the most effective way to get information – Poirot locates our missing Cook, who was awarded an inheritance on the condition that she took ownership of the house immediately! The show takes us into the country, where the Cook now resides.
INTRODUCING THE SWEETEST OLD LADY IN THIS SHOW EVER ACTUALLY
We’re only on the first episode but I want you to know is that no one more delightful is ever on this show again, we might as well stop here. Cook is DELIGHTFUL and SWEET and her little house is so WEE but of course, she has been bamboozled in some way.
Agatha Christie was a pretty decent fiction writer but she loved the ~Person in disguise~ trope and used it often. In this case it’s a man pretending to be an Australian wearing an elaborate fake beard.
Poirot: A Show About False Beards
Sometimes the beards or wigs are better than others. Try and guess next time you watch an episode which character is pretending to be someone they aren’t! You might be correct… or they might just be wearing a bad wig. You never know!!
So, this plot is convoluted: the missing banker isn’t missing, but *lightning flash* MURDERED! and the Cook was lured away from her home so that her trunk could be stolen in order to hide the CORPSE of the missing banker! *lightning flash* Ah you see, the most straightforward murder plot pretty much ever.
My favorite part about this episode is that Poirot tells Scotland Yard to look for a trunk that is containing a dead body and then we see a montage of officers carefully inspecting tiny parcels looking for CLUES.
But eventually, the trunk IS found and it DOES contain a body and it is MURDER and Poirot catches the bad guy, literally by yelling “STOP THAT MAN” from a balcony- the strangest, most hands-off and completely underwhelming chase in history.
The show ends with Poirot declaring that All Cases Are Important even though historically Poirot remains vain and will still turn cases down whenever he pleases. I’m sad because I’d really like to know what happens with Sweet Cook and her Bamboozlement, but alas, that’s not to be.
Overall, this episode was beautiful, charming, and totally convoluted.
False Beard Count: 1
Luggage as a Plot Point: 1
Hastings Astonishment Ranking: Level 2