First Broadcast May 24, 1997
Season One, Episode Three
Preceded by Jack in the Box
Followed by No Trace of Tracy
Written by David Renwick
Directed by Marcus Mortimer
Though the image of a body appearing in a previously empty wardrobe is intriguing, I felt unsatisfied by the explanation.
Zola Zbzewski goes onto a television show to promote her autobiography. The book, Finding My Form, details her experiences undergoing plastic surgery and discusses her affair with her plastic surgeon. During the interview he is produced as a surprise guest and angrily accuses her of lying, threatening to destroy her.
A short while later the surgeon is found murdered in his home and Zola has become a prime suspect. Maddy takes an interest in the case and begins to look to prove her innocence but the situation become more complicated when her body is found in a wardrobe that Maddy had just transported up several flights of stairs at her home and that had previously been empty.
While it is the less mechanically interesting of the two deaths, I do want to start with the murder of the surgeon. I think Renwick does a good job of giving us a good understanding of the background to that crime in just a few short scenes. The murder itself offers little to grab the imagination – it is a simple killing – but it does provide enough of a hook to involve Maddy in the case and allow for a short investigation.
During that investigation we get to meet the other members of Zbzewski’s household and circle of friends, setting things up for the second investigation. This does mean that we can jump into exploring that second death much faster and focus on the mechanics rather than defining relationships but I do think structurally it is awkward to have the second case be the more imaginative one.
If the first death is mundane, the second is much more in Jonathan’s usual line of seemingly fantastic crimes. Of all of the cases so far, this is the one that seems to be most like a magic trick – a reversal of the traditional disappearing person in a box trick. Certainly that moment in which the body is discovered is one that I could vividly remember from watching this the first time it aired so it clearly caught my imagination then.
Sadly I can’t really speak to how clever it is because I also had a vivid recollection of its solution. I can say though that while I think the explanation is interesting, I do not feel that every aspect of that solution was properly clued or that the explanation really feels satisfying although it seems quite logical. Instead this second death, while it appeals more to the imagination than the first, feels almost like an afterthought – an impossibility added to a more conventional case to make it fit the show’s style.
That is frustrating to me because there is a much better idea used here that I think gets overshadowed by the novelty of that corpse in the wardrobe. What impressed me was the way Renwick makes use of a familiar plot point that you see in many older works but finds a way to update it to fit into a more modern era. The result is that this element feels quite fresh here and is, for me, the most clever part of the case.
I think the other reason that this story doesn’t quite work for me is the amount of time given over to its b-plot: Maddy’s awkward blind date and the pair’s subsequent awkward interactions. Nigel Planer is entertaining and the way Jonathan gets worked into the date scene is amusing but the time given to it feels excessive given it neither moves the overall mystery plot or the relationship between Jonathan and Maddy forward much at all.
Other than the image of the body in the wardrobe, the most memorable moments of the episode all belong to that b-plot. That strikes me as unfortunate because it made me more aware of my lack of engagement in the main storyline. While there are certainly a few good moments and ideas here, I found the case to be rather unsatisfying, particularly when compared to its immediate predecessor.
3 thoughts on “Jonathan Creek: The Reconstituted Corpse (TV)”
There’s one reason I particularly love this episode: I spotted a key clue that left me feeling quite smug [ROT13: gur crefba bcrengvat gur ivqrb pnzren xarj rknpgyl jurer fur jnf tbvat va gur ubhfr]. I seem to remember the timings not quite working, too, given the parallel events that must occur for the body to get into the wardrobe, but it is a lot of fun and set up the balance of comedy and mystery that would make this series stand out. And Nigel Planer is always watchable.
I quite agree with you on the b-plot with Maddy’s date and the subsequent shenanigans, that it takes up too much time for something that ultimately has no bearing on anything. While Nigel Planer is amusing, his character is still cringeworthy, and the way Maddy handles the situation with him is pretty dreadful.
It was my main drawback from this episode, because otherwise I thought it very clever.
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Yes – it is stretched out far too long. As you say though, there are some clever ideas here and I wish they could have been given a little more focus
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