Poirot: The Yellow Iris

A balding man with a moustache and Geraldine Somerville make their way across a graveyard and lay a bunch of yellow iris on the grave of a woman named Iris Russell, who died in 1934 aged 32. Geraldine (Pauline here) refers to the man as Barton and pleads with him about something mysterious. He tells her not to stop him, because he has to do “it.” She flatly tells him she’s afraid, and he tells her not to be. He shares it’s been two years since Iris dies and vows to help her rest in peace.

Poirot’s getting an OCD start to his morning, placing perfect little dollops of jam on teeny, tiny squares of cracker or toast or something. Hastings comes in and suggests he have a proper English breakfast, but Poirot says that sounds dreadful and he’s fine with his toast bites. He then starts bitching about English food. Fortuitously, Hastings then catches sight of a large advertisement for a new restaurant called the Jardin des Cygnes (Swans’ Garden) on Jermyn Street. The name gives Poirot pause—it’s familiar to him. Hastings suggests dinner for two, undoubtedly fueling quite a bit of slashfic, if there is such a thing out there for Poirot, and I’m willing to bet there is. I’m not, however, willing to check, because that sort of fanfic scares me. Poirot snaps that it’s time for work.

Miss Lemon arrives right on time, carrying a yellow iris, which was left with Poirot’s post. Poirot gets a little paranoid, tying the iris to the restaurant and figuring this is some type of conspiracy. He even suggests Miss Lemon and Hastings are in on it. He takes his iris and goes into his office, trailed by the other two, who look confused. Poirot pulls himself together and invites them to sit. It’s story time!

Two years ago, Hastings was living in Argentina and invited Poirot to visit him. As far as Hastings knows, Poirot canceled the trip at the last minute, but that’s not entirely true. Poirot got all the way there, as we now see in flashback. Poirot arrives at a hotel in Buenos Aires, where he was stranded for a bit because of a railroad strike.

In the lobby of the hotel, he spots Pauline arguing with a young man. She angrily calls him a liar and a cheat and tells him she doesn’t ever want to see him again. I love Geraldine Somerville, but this episode shows that her acting’s come a looong way since the 1990s. She accuses the man of using her to get an interview with Barton, and he protests that he’s in love with her, although yes, he does want the interview too. This does not ingratiate him to her, and she tells him he can’t come to the dinner and she doesn’t want to see him again.

She stalks out and Poirot expresses some sympathy with the man, who recognizes Poirot and evidently invites him for a drink. We rejoin them in the bar, where the young man’s filling Poirot in on Argentina’s current political state. In short, it’s not great. Not for the president, anyway. That’s not why the young man’s there, though. He’s trailing Barton Russell and his partner, Stephen Carter, who’s lurking nearby. They’re trying to get their hands on an oil concession up for grabs. Poirot asks how Pauline fits into this. She and her sister, Iris, are the daughters of a lord, and Iris is married to Barton. She was also the sole heir to her late father’s fortune. Seems a bit harsh of him to have overlooked Pauline alltogether. Barton’s giving a bit dinner party that night at—you guessed it!—the Jardin des Cygnes and our unnamed guy wanted an invite, because he’s sure Barton’s up to something.

In a scene that practically defines “nefarious, underhanded dealings,” Barton meets in a darkened room with some general, puffing away on a cigarette, so we know he’s evil and all. He asks the general if they have a deal, and the general pages through some government bonds before saying that they do, indeed, have a deal.

Things are getting a bit uncomfortable in both the city and the hotel. Poirot voiceovers that he could feel a growing sense of unease and fear from everyone there. As he approaches the front desk, all the lights go out, and the concierge apologizes profusely, explaining that this happens every day now. Poirot collects his keys and an oil lamp and goes to head upstairs, but he’s intercepted by Carter, who spotted him in the bar and nervously asks if Poirot’s there on business. Poirot assures him he’s not, he’s heading out of town. Carter advises him to hit the road fast, because things are heating up in BA. Poirot thanks him for the advice and takes off as Iris comes in, complaining about the power outage and asking for her room key. Carter asks to speak to her and she whines a bit, then asks who the man Carter was just talking to is. Carter says the man was just a tourist. Hmm. Poirot observes this from an upper landing, and pulls behind a wall as Iris and Carter continue up the stairs, quietly arguing about something mysterious that sounds a bit like an affair to me. Carter begs her not to say anything, because it would destroy him, but she’s unsympathetic. Poirot’s curiosity is piqued, so he makes a reservation at the Jardin des Cygnes that night.

The dinner party Poirot’s observing consists of Barton, Carter, Iris, Pauline, and a local named Lola, who’s a famous dancer. She’s brought along a friend—the young journalist Poirot was talking with earlier. His name is finally given as Mr. Chapel. Oddly, Barton already knows his name, so either they’ve crossed paths already, or he’s just slipped up. Or maybe it’s a continuity error. Pauline does not look pleased to see him.

She pulls him aside and yells at him for coming (and apparently Chapel’s not his real name, but until he gets a real one, I’m going to stick with it). Chapel sincerely says he didn’t come for the story, he wanted to see her. Awww. That fails to touch her, as she returns to her seat.

The band strikes up a tango and Lola grabs Barton for a dance. He asks Iris if it’s ok first and she gives him leave to go ahead. She seems pretty frigid and unpleasant.

Outside, the military’s patrolling the streets as Poirot arrives at the restaurant. The maitre d’ introduces himself enthusiastically and shows Poirot to his best table just as Barton and Lola are returning from their dance. Carter notes Poirot’s arrival and freaks out a little bit, but Barton’s unconcerned. He excuses himself to telephone his stockbroker in London. Poirot takes his seat and observes that all the tables have red roses on them, except Barton’s, which has yellow irises on it, because they’re Iris’s favorite. The maitre d’ thinks it’s romantic that Barton asked for his wife’s favorite flowers on their table. There’s a singer performing a rather sad, romantic melody and everyone listens solemnly. It’s making Pauline unbend a bit, by the look of her.

Barton returns from his call and proposes a toast, saying it’s nice to have friends around when one’s in a city far from home. He toasts to them and to his dear wife, who actually smiles and seems genuinely happy for once. She thanks him, takes a sip of her drink, and almost immediately convulses and collapses onto the table, dead. Poirot dashes over before Barton can even get around the table and feels for her nonexistent pulse. Barton looks completely horrified and devastated. If he did this, he’s a hell of a good actor. Poirot picks up Iris’s champagne glass with a napkin, sniffs it, tries a very little bit, and says it’s got potassium cyanide in it. He then picks up Iris’s purse and finds the cyanide vial in it. Barton can’t believe Iris would kill herself, and I doubt it too. Why do so, in such a public place? If she wanted to frame someone, why would she keep the vial on her?

Poirot comes down for breakfast the next morning, only to find the hotel deserted. Only Chapel and Pauline are there, she looking upset and distractedly smoking, he inappropriately excited about the coup d’etat that’s apparently just taken place. Pauline starts to cry and Poirot gives her his condolences. She tells him Iris would never have killed herself, just as a general and two soldiers arrive and place Poirot under arrest. Chapel offers to call the French embassy and Poirot desperately yells at him to call the Belgian embassy instead.

Poirot is taken to the prison, where he’s accused of having a forged passport and being in the country to engage in espionage. The general says he could have Poirot just taken outside and shot. Uh, ok, remind me never to visit Argentina. Poirot asks to see the consul, but the general won’t allow it. There’s a ship leaving in an hour and Poirot is to be on it. So, why did he tell Hastings he canceled the trip? Why not tell him he got to Argentina, but then things went all bizarrely pear shaped? And wouldn’t Hastings have known Poirot was due at any minute, which makes it kind of strange for him to have canceled the trip like, a week after it was supposed to happen? This seems odd.

Hastings has the sense to ask why Poirot didn’t tell him all this and Poirot says he couldn’t admit to being arrested and deported like a common criminal. The murderer of Iris was never found, and Iris was declared a suicide. Hastings wonders if the yellow iris was sent to Poirot as a warning. Poirot thinks it’s a call for help, though he doesn’t know from whom.

The maitre d’—Luigi—still remembers Poirot two years later. Poirot made an impression, I guess. Luigi wastes no time telling him that Barton’s made a reservation for six people, just like last time, and he wants yellow irises on the table. They’ll be there Friday, Luigi’s opening night. He’s not delighted by this.

Guess who’s in town? Lola, the Queen of the Tango, according to her poster. She’s performing in some West End show, and Poirot and Hastings get to go watch a rehearsal. Afterward, Poirot sits down with her and asks if she remembers the night Iris died. She sure does, and she’s sure Iris committed suicide because Barton was no longer in love with her. She doesn’t explain how she knows that, and for some reason Poirot doesn’t ask. It doesn’t sound like she’s having an affair with Barton, or ever did, though he is apparently a good friend to her. In a slightly roundabout way, Poirot finds out that she’s going to be eating at the Jardin des Cygnes on Friday night.

Printing presses are hard at work, churning out news of the apparently imminent crash of Barton’s and Carter’s company, Sovereign Oil. Pauline is apparently not happy about this and confronts Chapel—whose real name is Antony—demanding to know how he could write such a thing. He reminds her that he’s a journalist and has to, you know, report the damn news, but she doesn’t get that and stomps out, passing Poirot and Hastings along the way. Antony follows her out, then sees the two men waiting for him, and decides it’ll be more interesting to deal with them instead. And Poirot calls him Mr. Chapel, so I guess that is his real name.

They go into his office and Antony chuckles over history repeating itself—he fights with Pauline, and suddenly Poirot’s there again. Oh, and there’s that dinner on Friday, which he’s supposed to be attending with Pauline, his fiancée (for the moment). Poirot brings up the Sovereign Oil matter, and Antony says he feels bad for Carter, who was never really in Barton’s league. Carter started out as a subcontractor for the government who got roped into Barton’s business. Barton went for a big oil contract in Argentina, working with a General Perrera, who, conveniently, is the same man who arrested Poirot. Ahh, the plot, it thickens! Perrera became minister after the coup, but he’s about to be tossed out of office in the most permanent way, if you get my meaning, and when he goes, so does Sovereign Oil’s contract.

Reporters have gathered at Sovereign Oil’s offices and start shouting questions at Poirot as he heads up the stairs to interview Carter. Carter tells Poirot he wants to get out of the business. Yeah, I’ll bet he does. Most people want to get out of a business that’s going belly up. Carter remembers that Sovereign Oil seemed like such an adventure, but now it’s no good. If they’d just had two more weeks, they’d have completed their well in Argentina, but oh well, I guess. As he’s leaving, Poirot asks if Carter will be attending the dinner, and Carter says he will be.

Their next stop is Barton’s, where the man of the house is sniffing that he can’t imagine why it’s any business of Poirot’s if he has a nice dinner with friends. Poirot says it’s not strange to have dinner with friends, but it is a little weird to gather together the exact same people who sat around the table the night his wife mysteriously died. Especially when those guests include a journalist who just wrote an unflattering article and a disgruntled business partner. Pauline’s sitting in the room this whole time, looking a bit uncomfortable.

Poirot asks why Barton asked for a table for six, when there are only five guests. Barton says it’s none of his business. Pauline says the sixth place is for Iris, because it’s a commemorative dinner, which she thinks is horrible and creepy and she doesn’t want to go. Barton tells her she will be going, and she eyes him and says he can’t boss her around forever. She leaves, which seems to be her special talent, and Barton apologizes for her behavior. Poirot gently asks him why he wants to recreate the night his wife died, and Barton says he’s sure Iris didn’t commit suicide. He’s sure she was killed by one of the dinner guests, and he intends to find out who did it on Friday.

As they leave the Barton house, Poirot tells Hastings he needs to be at that restaurant on Friday, because he thinks history’s about to repeat itself.

Poirot prepares to leave for the restaurant as Miss Lemon watches and tells him she doesn’t like this one bit, because she thinks it’s dangerous for him to go. He reassures her he’ll be fine, but she still wishes Hastings was going with him. Hastings can’t, though, because he’s up in Ripon, on Poirot’s orders. Poirot thinks there’s a motive for murder up there.

Hastings meets with an elderly gentleman named Mr. Grove at Iris’s grave. Mr. Grove removes the now dead yellow irises and replaces them with a bouquet of his own. Mr. Grove was Iris’s father’s solicitor and was apparently quite close with Iris, judging by how upset he still is over her death. As he and Hastings make their way through the graveyard, Hastings asks about Iris’s will. Grove says that Barton was a wealthy man, so Iris made Pauline her heir, with the money held in trust until her 21st birthday. And who’s the trust’s administrator? Barton. Hmm. Hastings asks if Barton would inherit the money if Pauline died, but it seems Pauline’s a bit smarter than that and made a will of her own. Grove doesn’t say who would benefit—and honestly, I think he’s already done a number on attorney/client privilege—but he does admit that he’s afraid for young Pauline. He says that when she signed the will, she was accompanied by a young man, presumably her fiancé.

Pauline and Barton arrive at the restaurant and go in, as Carter has a bracing drink in his packed-up office. Lola arrives next, followed soon by Antony. Inside, there’s a band playing, and champagne’s being creepily poured. Everyone around the table looks like they’re at a funeral, which I guess they kind of are.

Poirot arrives and Luigi reassures him that everyone has arrived. He also hands over a message from Hastings. Poirot reads it, then tells Luigi he won’t be needing the table after all.

Barton’s trying to explain his motives for throwing a dinner party to celebrate a death. As he told Poirot, he’s sure the Argentine police bungled the matter and that his wife’s murderer is there. The last bit is added by Poirot, who presents himself at the table. Barton seems uncertain about allowing Poirot to stay, but Pauline urges him to invite him to sit, so Poirot takes the unused sixth chair. Carter’s looking pretty uncomfortable.

Lola and Carter both say it’s crazy that anyone at the table would have killed Iris. Carter’s still stuck on the suicide idea. Barton claims he can prove his wife didn’t kill herself, and then excuses himself to go talk to the band about a surprise he wants to arrange. Once he’s gone, Carter asks Poirot to stop Barton’s craziness, but Poirot’s happy to let him go. Pauline admits she’s scared and Poirot tells her there’s no need to be.

A singer comes out, and the band strikes up the same song that was playing just before the fatal toast. Anthony’s totally grossed out at this point. A waiter, meanwhile, circles the table, pouring champagne while everyone’s busy watching the singer.

As the song ends, Barton reappears in his place. Oh, you know what? I think he did it. I think he was the waiter pouring the champagne last time, and this time. Both nights, he was missing during the song, and the cameramen never show any more of the waiter than his hands filling the glasses.

Barton once again toasts to Iris, getting creepier by the second, and Poirot chimes in, taking a sip as Carter stares at him like he hopes Poirot will just magically ignite. Poirot looks back at him hard, and Carter finally joins the toast, followed by the others. Carter puts his glass down and starts to lay into Barton, but suddenly Pauline starts gasping for breath, convulses, and falls down dead on the table, just as Iris did. Poirot feels for her pulse and declares her dead as Barton yells: “No, that’s not meant to happen!”

The body’s carried out on a stretcher, while I imagine poor Luigi starts looking at restaurant property in Calcutta or something, because nothing will kill a restaurant’s buzz faster than two people dying at two of your establishments. I’ll bet he had to comp a lot of dinners, too.

In a truly bizarre room that looks like some sort of prop storage, Poirot has all the dinner guests gathered. He mourns the fact that he was unable to protect her. Antony accuses Poirot of helping to kill her. Barton starts blaming himself and says Pauline kept claiming she knew something about Iris. He thinks that’s why she’s dead, but Poirot says it isn’t.

J’accuse time! To explain murder #2, Poirot goes back to murder #1. He says there were several reasons why Iris might have been killed: she stood in between Barton and Lola, she stood in between Pauline and a lot of money. Antony claims Pauline didn’t care about money, but Poirot points out that Antony cared about Pauline, and it might have been nice to marry an heiress, right? Finally, Iris was getting in Carter’s way. Poirot admits to having overheard Carter’s and Iris’s argument in the hotel and asks Carter what affair Iris was referring to. Carter claims there was no affair. Poirot commands him to show them all what he has in his jacket pocket, and Barton backs Poirot up. Carter pulls out a vial of potassium cyanide and accuses Poirot of planting it there. Poirot declares the case closed and asks Carter to tell them all what really happened in Buenos Aires. Carter won’t, because he isn’t a moron, so Poirot does it for him, as a waitress comes in with a cart of coffee.

Poirot goes back to those government contracts that were secured through the general, not the president at the time. Carter claims it was all Barton’s idea, because he could tell there was going to be a coup. They paid for those contracts with bonds issued by the British government to excavate in Britain. So, essentially, Carter and Barton stole them so they could go and drill in BA and make gobs of money. That’s what Iris found out, and she couldn’t stand by and watch government money (her father used to be a Labour politician) be used to fund a military coup. Carter admits that everything Poirot’s said is true, but he didn’t kill Iris, Barton did, because he had just as much to lose as Carter did. Poirot reminds everyone, as the coffee’s handed out, that Barton wasn’t at the table when the champagne was poured. Lola adds that he wasn’t there at the second dinner either. Antony remembers he was sitting right next to Pauline, so if someone had slipped poison into her glass, he’d have seen it. Poirot tells him that’s correct, which means Carter’s not the killer.

We flash back to the first dinner and see a white-gloved waiter take Iris’s glass and fill it, while she’s distracted watching the singer. He puts something in the champagne, places the glass back on the table, and slips the incriminating capsule into her purse. Flash forward to the second dinner, where once again a faceless waiter puts something in a glass as he fills it with champagne. As he passes by Carter, he slips the vial into his pocket. Just as I thought, the man’s Barton.

In the present, Barton demands to know why he should want to kill Pauline. Not for money, as you might have thought. He wanted to kill her to prevent her from finding out that there was no money—he’d taken it all, and lost it in the Argentine. Man, I’d be pissed. Barton says this is all absurd, because someone would have noticed if he was posing as a waiter. Poirot stirs his coffee and asks him if he happened to notice the waitress who was serving the coffee. The waitress turns with a triumphant smile, and of course, it’s Pauline. Antony’s delighted, and Lola’s confused. Pauline says that when Poirot sat at the table, he told her to just pretend to drink her champagne, and then pretend to be dead. Did he have time to warn the poor police officers that their supposedly dead body was going to just pop up and reanimate? Because otherwise I think he owes those guys an apology. And a stiff drink.

It was Pauline who sent the yellow iris to Poirot. Why she didn’t swing by and talk to him like a normal person in fear of her life would have I don’t know. Curiously, she doesn’t seem bothered by the fact that her brother-in-law has apparently cleaned her out.

Poirot goes back to the dining room of the restaurant, where Hastings is hanging around for no apparent reason. Poirot commends him for his help and suggests they find someplace to eat. Hastings tells him there won’t be too many places open at that hour, but he does know of one place.

That place is a late-night snackmobile. Hastings, this is not going to improve Poirot’s opinion of British cuisine. Or maybe it will, because Poirot tucks in, tries a chip, and then starts stuffing his face like the food’s going out of style.

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