And it's good light fun (and great research material for a gilded age Call of Cthulu-type game)... but what if it wasn't?
Midway through the second season, I realized that Hercule Poirot, the genius detective, with his meticulous ways and his perfect moustache, could, potentially, if you squinted, be a murderer. Think about it. Everywhere he goes, people die. He can't take a vacation without corpses falling out of cupboards or poison appearing in martini glasses. He's a dandified harbinger of death.
What if it wasn't a coincidence? The explanations in the series are implausible anyway. Could one go back, rewatch the episode, and figure out how Poirot did it?
Wait I thought this was an RPG blog?Players get involved in convoluted bullshit all the time. It's great practice to work on convoluted bullshit of your own. Coming up with schemes, excuses, or alternative plans is part of being a good player and a good GM. Reframing Poirot is... brain cardio.
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The Rules-Poirot can't be in two places at once or do anything that breaks the rules of the genre.
-Poirot's canonical skills include disguise and makeup, housebreaking, sleight of hand, basic chemistry, forensics, and medicine, and a few other talents that crop up as needed.
-Poirot can disguise himself perfectly by removing his false moustache, putting on a flat cap and an old coat, and dropping the accent. Who would recognize him?
-Any confessions at the end of the episode don't count. There's an unreliable narrator at work.
Feel free to watch along or read the linked summaries. Note that many details were changed for the TV series; the general plot is often the same, but clues and circumstances are often significantly altered.
Season 1, Episode 1 – The Adventure of the Clapham CookPoirot didn’t commit this murder, but he easily recognized the murderer’s clumsy efforts with spirit gum and false whiskers. All that effort just to obtain an old trunk.
Season 1, Episode 2 – Murder in the MewsIt’s Bonfire Night. Fireworks, crowds, and confusion. “What a good night for a murder,” Hastings says. And it is. Poirot is practically taunting his friends with this one. Hastings idly suggests a method and a place; the next day, Japp calls with “Well someone did it.”
Poirot sneaks into the victim’s house, lures her to her room on some pretext, shoots her, and writes a brief suicide note. The rest of it (Miss Plenderleith’s deception, moving items from the sitting room to the bedroom, etc.) goes exactly as it does in the show. Miss Plenderleith is genuinely confused and thinks her friend really was right handed. When it turns out she wasn’t, she realizes her insistence on the point has made her a suspect, and disposes of any incriminating left-handed items in the house. Poirot is delighted.
The whole Major Eustace/blackmail angle is merely convenient, a thread for Poirot to tug on and divert suspicion. Or perhaps that’s how Poirot selected his victim. He’s not above reading a blackmailer’s files for leads. Or perhaps she wrote to Poirot for help in escaping her blackmailer, giving Poirot a handwriting sample and a convenient way to arrange a late-night utterly secret meeting.
Season 1, Episode 3 – The Adventure of Johnnie WaverlyPoirot is not a kidnapper. He untangles the ludicrous kidnapping plot with ease. Despite creating a massive waste of police time and resources, and Poirot lets the kidnapper off with a stern warning, once again showing he’s not in it for justice or humanity, but for personal prestige.
Season 1, Episode 4 – Four and Twenty Blackbirds
Another episode where Poirot couldn't plausibly be involved. It's a purely domestic entanglement.
Season 1, Episode 5 – The Third Floor Flat
Poirot wishes to be rid of his noisy downstairs neighbor and turns to his usual tool: murder. Perhaps Mrs. Grant, the victim, contacted Poirot to ask for assistance in locating her husband, Donovan Bailey. Poirot recognizes Donovan as the husband of Mrs. Matthews, the downstairs neighbor. It’s a petty bigamy case, but he agrees.
Poirot slips into Mrs. Grant’s apartment, shoots her, drops some misleading props, and hides her body behind some packing cases. His plan is to have the maid come home, go to sleep, and find the body in the morning. The maid would be blamed and easily silenced. Poirot could then blackmail Donovan and his wife out of the building. But an accidental break-in changes his plan. After stalling for a bit, Poirot exploits Donovan’s paranoia, turns his friends against him, and pretends to have found evidence (provided by Mrs. Grant or pilfered from her apartment). When Donovan flees, his guilt is all but assumed. Hastings invents a confession for his records.
The light bulb? Pure chance and old wiring.
Season 1, Episode 6 – Triangle at Rhodes
In this episode, Poirot kills at random. A tiresome knot of people is a tempting target. He drifts by a table, poisons a pink gin (the signature drink of several of the annoying people), drops the poison vial in someone’s pocket, and then leaves the hotel. It doesn’t matter who the poison kills. They all have motives. But alas, his escape is delayed by customs officials. Now he has to spend more time around these awful humans. He toys with them a bit, deliberately annoying the local police (who he blames for delaying him at customs) by proving their suspect is innocent, and wrecking relationships left right and centre.
He even brings an impressionable witness with him on his quest to find the “poison-seller”. A few bribes here, some sleight of hand there, and a false narrative is created. The supposed murders, impulsive and tired of being cooped up in their hotel, go for a fatal boat ride. Pursued by what they think are robbers, kidnappers, or paparazzi, they try to flee. The police arrive, Poirot spins a tale, and justice is done. After all, how could a Catholic husband desire a divorce? It’s inconceivable. Officer, take him away.
Season 1, Episode 7 – Problem at Sea
“But really, what would one be if one wasn’t alive, Poirot?”
Poirot is on a Mediterranean cruise. The most annoying person on the ship dies. This one’s trivial. He’s one of the last to leave the ship. He simply circles back, opens the victim’s door with any number of keys possessed by the staff or his own lockpicking skills, and stabs her. The ship’s dubious and untrained surgeon botches the time of death calculations, no doubt assisted by some gentle hints from the “famous detective”. The victim said goodbye to her husband through a closed door; later, Poirot uses the supposed murderer’s “ventriloquism skills” (which he has never before demonstrated) to pin the murder on him.
Season 1, Episode 8 – The Incredible Theft
Poirot has no interest in a case of mere theft, though it’s interesting to ponder if his delight at the plans being stolen comes from sympathy with the plotters or with the Germans.
Season 1, Episode 9 - The King of ClubsPoirot didn’t kill anyone, but it’s nice to confirm that he considers punching someone in the face and causing a fatal fall as a happy accent, not a crime. Since the victim "deserved it" and the murderer is very polite, he’s willing to sweep the whole thing under the rug. Blame the gypsies. Hastings tries to object but Poirot overrules him.
Season 1, Episode 10 - The Dream
Could Poirot drive a man to suicide? All we know is that Poirot was called in for a late night consultation. The letter was real (Hastings and the doorman saw it), but the meeting remains a mystery. Poirot alone reported the story of the dream (after the death, so its details could support his story). He alone came up with the convoluted explanation.
Farley's worst fears were confirmed by Poirot. He was a paranoid, unpleasant man. An affair revealed, a scheme uncovered, or some other incident pushed him over the edge. It was suicide, but one that would tarnish Poirot's immaculate reputation. So Poirot pushes the murder angle, against Japp's wishes, until a weak-minded secretary with a guilty secret snaps and catches the blame.
Episodes Where Poirot Kills: 4/10
Body Count: 4/8
Innocents Incriminated: 5
If this post gets enough interest, I'll do the other seasons (where the plots grow even more ludicrous). If not, well, it was fun to write.