The episode opens with Simon Templar and Sandy Platt (Jenny Hanley) desperately racing across London to try and reach Sandy’s sister, Jane. But they’re too late – when they get to her flat she’s dead (killed by an impure batch of heroin).
Sandy is naturally distraught, but her father, General Platt (Laurence Naismith), is even more so. An old-school, but now retired, soldier, he vows to find and kill the pushers. But he only serves to drive them underground. So it falls to the Saint to risk his life by travelling to to Carmague region of France as he attempts to destroy the business at its source.
The Poppy Chain certainly has an arresting opening as Simon and Sandy discover Jane’s lifeless body. It gives the episode a harder-edged feel than many of the others in the series. Laurence Naismith’s pig-headed General Platt drives the action in the first half or so of the episode (and Simon trails behind rather). This has the advantage of allowing the General to do all the spadework and then Simon can step in when things get really dangerous.
Along the way, the General tracks down the pusher who sold the drugs to his daughter. A well-spoken, well-dressed man known as the Gent (Christopher Timothy). He doesn’t get to kill him though, as the Gent’s wife intervenes (with a heavy object and knocks the General out). It’s possibly just as well, since Simon tells the recuperating General that the pusher was just small fry – if you’re going to bring down the operation, then you need to aim for the head.
The Saint does this by posing as a member of the London connection, Rickman, and travelling to France to meet the men responsible for supplying the raw drugs. A change of location helps to keep the interest up and the different locale is quite interesting, as it’s probably not what might have been expected. Scorbesi (Gregoire Anslan) and his son Dominic (Jonathan Burn) run the operation, but Scorbesi is an apparently friendly, gregarious chap and the patriarch of a village that appears to be happy and prosperous. The fact that their idyllic lifestyle is founded on drug money is, no doubt intentionally, jarring.
Scorbesi’s realisation that he knew the General back in WW2 (when Scorbesi was a Partisan) is a coincidence that’s possibly a little hard to take – especially since this revelation doesn’t really further the plot in any way. Notwithstanding this, Anslan is good as the cheerful Scorbesi, although Burn is less impressive as his son. I’m not quite sure why, it’s just a slightly off-key performance.
The best part of the second half of the episode is Simon’s inflationary of Scorbesi’s setup – although it’s rather bizarre that he seems to take no backup with him. So when the General learns about his efforts he makes the trip over and manages to come to the rescue. Proving that whilst he’s getting on, he’s still able to handle himself. Although it’s hard to believe that the Saint didn’t think that drafting in some younger assistance might have been a good idea.
I also like Ogilvy’s cockney accent when he’s pretending to be Rickman. He makes a very effective criminal!
It’s a solid episode and rates three and a half halos out of five.