Outside it was the Fourth of July or as near as. Inside it was Halloween, a holiday that Hercule Poirot, being Belgian, would not have celebrated. I’m not sure whether I was celebrating “Hallowe’en Party,” the latest installment of Poirot on Masterpiece Mystery, myself. At any rate, it left me with mixed feelings—like the last day of summer camp, after you’ve made terrific new friends and you’re not quite sure you’ll ever see them again.
Our story begins at a Halloween party, where Joyce Reynolds, a rather obnoxious girl of twelve or so—dressed in a bumblebee costume, of all things—is drowned in the galvanized tub used for apple bobbing. It’s a brilliant murder in its way, not least because you can imagine anyone in the room at the time itching to push this whiny, unpleasant girl under as soon as her chin hit the water.
Christiephiles point out that this is a rare one of her stories in which a child is murdered. Yet rather than take the predictable position that the death of a child is cause for widespread weeping and rending of garments, Christie pursues an unconventional and more interesting (if less sympathetic) path. There won’t be many mourners at this child’s funeral; no one liked her all that much, including her mother and brother (and, it should be noted, her sister who appears in the book, but is written out of the TV dramatization).
That Joyce Reynolds was drowned because of a murder she claimed to have witnessed several years earlier is not in doubt. What murder and who perpetrated it are less apparent. And so Poirot is summoned at the request of his mystery novelist friend Ariadne Oliver, who happened to be a guest at the aforementioned party, to sort things out; which, naturellement, he does.
This dramatization was written by Mark Gatiss, who wrote the script for the “Cat Among the Pigeons” episode of Poirot (which I loved), wrote and acted in a few episodes of Dr. Who, and is one of the creators and stars of BBC’s Sherlock. Naturally I had high hopes for it. The Halloween setting was bound to be juicy and the cast, which included Fenella Woolgar, who’d played Agatha Christie in an ep of Dr. Who (TV nerds rejoice) was everything it needed to be.
Gatiss should have had fun with this one, but somehow I don’t think he did. Instead he defaulted to some easy outs as substitutes for character and plot development. Parachuting Poirot in to save the day instead of allowing the clues to come to light gradually as they do in the book was one missed opportunity. The insertion of a stubborn and mildly incompetent police detective was another. (No where have we seen that before? Oh, right, everywhere.) And the scene of hysterics when the murderer is revealed was just too-too—and not at all in keeping with the dispassionate and far more chilling conclusion Christie had devised.
The secret message contained in the closing credits of “Hallowe’en Party” is a pretty clear indication of where Gatiss’s heart lies. (You do know about the secret messages at the end of Masterpiece Mystery, don’t you? If not, you’ll have to watch the closing credits again more closely.)
His greatest missed opportunity was underutilizing the wonderful Zoë Wanamaker as Ariadne Oliver. The character plays a major role in the book, however for some reason Gatiss chose to plop her in bed with the flu for most of the TV show.
That was a crime, but not nearly as great a crime as this: “Hallowe’en Party” might be the last Poirot we see.
If the Interwebs are to be believed, ITV, the company that produces Poirot, casually mentioned last year that it wouldn’t be filming any more episodes. In other words, after 22 years, David Suchet was about to be benched and denied the opportunity to portray Poirot in every one of Agatha Christie’s stories. Depending on whom you ask, there are four, five or six left to go, including Curtain, Poirot’s last case.
The announcement was followed by a predictable backlash in the U.K. and Europe, and on more than one occasion David Suchet has politely voiced the opinion that he’d really like to see this thing through to the end. Yet only very recently have there been rumblings that Poirot might be back for another season or possibly two depending on whether ITV chooses to produce six shows at one go or two seasons of three. Early this year it sounded like there would be new Poirot episodes filmed in 2011, but the year’s half over and there have been no sightings, no fan photos snapped with camera phones on the set, no word as to which, if any, of the remaining stories are in production right now.
I am not willing to bid adieu to mon ami Poirot just yet. So I’ll say à bientôt and hope we meet again soon.
Leslie Gilbert Elman blogs intermittently at My Life in Laundry. She’s written two trivia books and has a few unpublished fiction manuscripts in the closet to keep the skeletons company.