3/15/14

Jonathan Creek: The Curse of the Bronze Lamp


"Don't think you can hold a man who can use his brain."
- Prof. S.F.X. van Dusen (Jacques Futrelle's "The Problem of Cell 13")
Last night, The Curse of the Bronze Lamp (2014) closed the gate on the fifth season of Jonathan Creek and, contrary to my expectations, the ending of the episode left open a door to possibly a sixth season or another 90-minute television special.

I calculated from the synopsis the episode would end with Creek's funeral after saving Polly from a bunch of kidnappers in an impromptu bullet-catch act to put a permanent end to the series. Instead, we got more of the same, lightweight mish-mash of smaller mysteries thrown together to form an episode – except that here it was stitched in one overlapping story. So that was an improvement over The Letters of Septimus Noone (2014) and The Sinner and the Sandman (2014).

First of all, there's the kidnapping of the clever wife of a cabinet minister, who's whisked away and kept in chains in a disused bunker in the woods, but clues are beginning to find their way out of the sealed prison: a feat only imaginable if she possessed the power of teleportation. The kidnapping is tied-in with the woman who cleans for Jonathan and Polly Creek, Denise, who begins to regret finding "Aladdin's Lamp" at a car boot sale and wishing for more excitement in her life.

Be careful what you wish for!

Polly has to help her dispose of the body of a male gigolo, who died in her bathtub, which is part of the reinvented dynamic of the series I genuinely enjoy – namely the comedic absurdity likely to be found in those original bantering, mystery solving husband-and-wife teams. Unfortunately, the comedy and the plot of this season don't gel as well as Kelley Roos' classic The Frightened Stiff (1942) and the excellent Sailor, Take Warning! (1944). Which, IMHO, is what Renwick should've aimed for this season even if it had come at the expense of the locked room motif of the series.

There was a minor locked room mystery in last night's episode: after her ordeal with the gigolo in the bathtub, Denise changes the sheets on her bed and locks the door of her bedroom before going to sleep, but the next morning she finds an expensive watch underneath her pillow belonging to cabinet minister's wife! How did it get into the locked bedroom?

At the end The Curse of the Bronze Lamp, I began to wonder if Renwick had read the criticism in the Jonathan Creek topic on the John Dickson Carr message board concerning one part of his plotting technique (SPOILER: the use of (unknown) accomplices) to create a seemingly impossible situation – which has now been completely phased out and replaced for trivial or coincidence laden impossibilities. The appearance of the wristwatch from a sealed bunker into a locked bedroom is a good example of the latter and the lotto prediction from the previous episode of the former. You can roughly work out how the watch got there, if you recognize the story the kidnap-plot was based on and snatching a book title from Carter Dickson for the episode was just to throw dust in the eyes of any genre savvy person who might be watching.

By the way... is it really that hard to come up with an impossible situation and a reasonably good solution? I'm always happily plotting along and coming up with possibilities how the murderer could've escapes from a locked room and failed to leave any footprints in several inches of snow.

In lieu of any competition, The Curse of the Bronze Lamp stands as the best of the three episodes, but only because the plot was more focused and the last 40-minutes weren't as excruciatingly boring as the first twenty odd minutes. However, I'm afraid the only thing fans of Jonathan Creek will take away from this season is a kinder feeling towards the third and fourth season of the series.

5 comments:

  1. Too bad, I watched the first two seasons last year and quite enjoyed (even liked some of the mildly raunchy humor). I wonder why they can't just do actual John Dickson Carr though--so many brilliant plots, and such style!

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    1. The argument I have read is that JDC's plots are too complex (read: they think viewers at home are too dumb to get it), but I think the explanations are easily to comprehend when it's played out in front of your eyes (e.g. JC special The Black Canary).

      TV adaptation of Agatha Christie's After the Funeral is a good example of how these clever tricks can work on screen, because I honestly believed the solution of that book wouldn't translate to television. But it did.

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    2. Yes, it did, even though it would have seemed impossible to pull off visually!

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  2. i also believe the estate of JDC are very protective of the stories, and this is why except for the short series of Fell mysteries on BBC Radio 4 in the 1990s, there have been no other adaptations

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    1. As a matter of fact, the grandchildren wanted to do a TV-series based on JDC books, but nothing has happened as of yet. Wooda McNiven (grandchild) posted on this topic on the JDCarr message boards (fourth post).

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