Monday, January 4, 2016
Endeavour Season 3 - Ride - Episode Review
My review of last season's finale: Neverland
Well, that was unexpected.
After a few seasons, TV shows tend to sink into a comfortable rut, doing what they do best, refusing to stretch their limits. Endeavour did the impossible by pleasing fans of Inspector Morse with a nostalgic but courageously new pilot and first season. In season two, they tried to deepen the story a bit by hinting at the darkness creeping into Morse's life, and while the finale was gripping, the season as a whole lacked the freshness and verve of the early episodes. But Ride, the first episode of season three, gives the entire show a rehaul, both thematically and aesthetically. Endeavour is back, and it's better than ever.
Most of these things are explained through exposition, which is a frustrating, but ultimately understandable choice. Instead, we focus on the aftermath, and the change in the relationship between Thursday and Morse.
The story begins with Thursday's first day back at work. Aside from a nagging cough, he seems very much the same old Fred - curt, matter-of-fact, warm, and fatherly. If he gazes into Win's eyes just a bit longer than usual, well he's earned it.
Of course, there's no escaping murder when one is a famous literary detective, however hard one may try. Thursday and his new bagman, D.S. Jakes, are called in to the murder of a girl in the woods around Oxford. Thursday at first assumes hit and run, but Max DeBryn corrects him: she was run over several times. Someone wanted to finish the job.
Inevitably, Morse happens to catch a glimpse of the crime scene while he's driving to a party with an old school friend, Tony Donn*. Seeing Thursday from afar, he avoids the situation, instructing Tony to take another road. Tony is part of the upper classes - he talks lightly of titles and sports cars and mansions. The friends to whom he introduces Morse are the same set, privileged and oblivious. Morse is quickly entranced by their glamour and charm, particularly the two women: Elva Piper and Kay Belborough. They seem more like 20s flappers than 60s hippies - decked out in colorful clothes and gilded hairpieces, they wouldn't be out of place in, say, an adaptation of The Great Gatsby.
For another thing, Morse's allegiances are torn - he wants to befriend this romantic, lonely, glamorous man (who offers him a red car, no less), he wants to shed his career of sorting through people's grubby secrets, to leave behind the battle against the darkness. But he can't escape it (“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”), and must ultimately admit to Joss his true loyalty.
This segment of the story is what really brings Morse into a new world. The art design is far more sophisticated than anything we've seen before and the cinematography is just excellent, discarding the usual gold stone and green sward color scheme for something new. Endeavour has always been the best of the three Morse shows visually, but this takes it to another level.
The only flaw would be, as usual, in the solution. Most of it hangs together quite well, and (unusually) I could easily keep up with all the characters, but the resolution to the mystery is farfetched and unprecedented, an odd, inconsistent end to an elegiac story (another rip-off, this time of The Prestige).
But do I mind? Not really. I love the gorgeous new look. I love experimenting with stories outside the Oxford circuit of dons-murdering-students-who-were-being-blackmailed-by-the-doorman. I love the return of the gentle chemistry between somber Morse and dear old stolid Thursday. I love their heart-to-heart about the policeman's lot and how Morse automatically noticed the ingredients of Thursday's sandwich and how Thursday laughed at magic tricks while Morse looked askance at the magician's gun like a concerned mother hen. Endeavour is back, and, I hope, better than ever.
My review of episode 2: Arcadia
*Speaking of Tony, fans may recognize the name from the Inspector Morse episode Deceived by Flight (remember when Lewis went undercover as a cricketer?) - as well as a reference to Morse's college nickname, Pagan (Morse doesn't mention the other reason he received that name: he wrote, under the religion section of his application, "High-Church Atheist," borrowing the term from A.E. Housman. I think, personally, that describes Morse perfectly.) Another connection, this time to Lewis: Kay mentions the name of Guy Mortmaine, a relative of characters from Falling Darkness. This character will be playing a part in a later Endeavour episode, as well.
Want something good to watch? Check out my full list of British detective shows.