Monday, January 11, 2016

Endeavour Season 3 - Arcadia - Episode Review


My review of last week's episode: Ride

I don't suppose we could have plausibly continued the Morse-as-tourist-in-great-literature trend into the rest of the series, but I'm a little sad that this week doesn't find Morse as the mild-mannered Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited (I had my hopes: after all, this episode is called Arcadia) or snobbish Pip in Great Expectations, or any number of other literary middle-class hangers-on observing the enchanting world of the upper classes.

Of course, I kid. Morse in The Great Gatsby was a neat gimmick episode, but not a sustainable conceit. Even so, Morse as a character has always found himself an interloper in the world of others, and never more so than in Arcadia, an overstuffed episode which rather clumsily tries to get back into its usual groove.


Dropping the conflicts of last week's episode, Morse finds little trouble slipping back into the routine of investigation. He and Strange are called to the apartment of a young student, Simon Hallward - killed in an explosion precipitated, Morse speculates, by a cigarette dropped on flammable art supplies. Meanwhile, a girl drops dead to the pavement in the midst of the racist bullying of a young African student, Cuthbert Mukamba, and a wealthy couple, Leo and Annette Richardson, are arrested for drunk driving.

Joined by Thursday, Morse tracks down Simon Hallward's friends: members of a hippie Quaker commune, in an idyllic location known as House Beautiful (the second locale in the Morseverse to be nicknamed after the house in The Pilgrim's Progress). While the commune is probably the titular Arcadia, the story lingers there only briefly - just long enough to introduce Gideon Finn and Ayesha, whose relationship is basically that of every creepy cult leader and devotee you've ever seen on screen.

From there, the story refocuses on the death of the girl - a casualty Max DeBryn can't quite attribute to the stomach bug going around. Foul Play Is Suspected, and she was tied to Richardson's, a brightly painted store also connected to an incident with glass in a toddler's food.

The store has been under attack: threatening letters, food sabotaged, and a political protest claiming the store buys sugar from Rhodesia (or something - for a plot point so well-staged to be a Theme, it's really underdeveloped).

Who are the suspects? Well, besides the protesters (one of whom is Cuthbert Mukamba), Richardson's is managed by Ivor and Prudence Maddox, and their son Mike is a longsuffering employee. They have a plausible grievance against the owners: in a Sins of the Fathers-like twist, their ancestors co-owned the store with the Richardsons, but have now come down in the world.

Speaking of the Richardsons, it is with their troubles that the episode finally settles down to roost. Leo Richardson (Lewis fans might remember arrogant, wheelchair-bound Theodore Platt from Whom the Gods Would Destroy) is a cold-eyed, flinty business mogul, with Evil CEO written over him in huge letters. His wife, Annette, is glamorous and slightly helpless, but when she tries to seduce Morse (Second episode in a row! Shaun Evans is cute, but this is a little ridiculous), becomes mostly creepy. Their daughter Verity resents them for reasons unknown.

Because Annette is creepy, and Leo and Ivor Maddox throw one another such In Cahoots looks all the time, it's hard to care when Verity is kidnapped. (Besides - spoiler - if you know anything about Evil CEOs and Plucky Activist Daughters, it's quite easy to see through this plot deception.) Morse and co. have to track her down while seeking to tie the main thread to the subplots concerning Simon Hallward, the commune, and Cuthbert Mukamba, because, I suppose, the plot needs it to happen.

Broadly speaking, that's it. Execution is decent: there are several entertaining action sequences (the money transfer and bomb threat, especially), and the production is making good use of the strong colors of Oxford's summer. If a few line deliveries feel clunky (Morse's oddly emphatic philosophical musing about Allwood's mail feels rather less meditative than is warranted), they're made up for by good performances in quiet scenes. While it doesn't make up for a previously mustache-twirly performance, Ivor Maddox's genuine humility was a nice surprise, and his wife's conversation with Morse about his childhood, if somewhat out of place, happily recalls the older Morse's tone on religion (young Morse has been a bit grumpy on that score so far: Thaw's Morse was more lenient and even hopeful.)

It's difficult to appreciate any of this, however, among all the sinister doings. The story is already convoluted and unfocused, with too many characters and too many red herring twists, but on top of all this, Morse is thinking about his mother, getting up to date on what's happened with every single major character in the show, as well as being introduced to a new one.

Peter Jakes is engaged and expecting a child, planning to pull up stakes and move to the States. Dorothea Frazil is dating someone and worries Morse looks "uncared for." Jim Strange, Mr. Bright, and Max DeBryn are much the same. Joan, Sam, and Win Thursday all make brief cameos. Monica and Morse meet, but exchange nary an important word (really?!). A new woman PC appears, Shirley Trewlove, and is efficient and attractive, but adds very little to the story beyond hinting at a disappointing sequel to Morse's previous romances (I'm not sensing any chemistry here).

Much of this is rushed or merely touched upon, and the only thing which really works is Peter Jakes' transformation into a soft-hearted domestic man. It's a bit too abrupt, and perhaps the brotherly relationship between he and Morse is emphasized a bit too strongly (up until two episodes ago, they really hated one another), but Jack Laskey is shockingly charming as a happy father. I'm sad to see him go, but it's good to see a happy ending within the usually tragic Morse story.

After the stately pace and spare exposition of Ride, Arcadia is making up for lost time, but at the cost of a return to normality. Ride's shake-up of the status quo has still left us a little unsteady on our feet, and Trewlove replacing Jakes (who has taken his Eve and left Eden, Morse informs us via poetry) will mean even more change is afoot. Can the show regain its steady footing before the finale? I hope so.

My review of next week's episode: Prey

Want something good to watch? Check out my full list of British detective shows.

Longish

P.S. Forgot to mention: Morse fans may note a cameo from a Masonic Mysteries character, Marion Brooke. She's the girl at AMNOX.

20 comments:

  1. His wife, Annette, is glamorous and slightly helpless, but when she tries to seduce Morse. . .

    She was a bit premature. She would have been the perfect age for Classic Morse. The "married" bit is another matter.

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    1. I thought much the same - but I have a hard time seeing even older Morse falling for a seduction attempt quite so calculated. I was certain she was determined to use him in an attempt to get her husband to divorce her, or something of that sort. That it ended up being a red herring storyline was even more odd considering the amount of time they spent with it.

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    2. I don't know. Classic Morse fell for that hyper-sexualized nurse in the hospital, didn't he? When he first was diagnosed with the ulcer. . .

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    3. Haven't seen that episode in a long time. I was thinking of how he resisted the advances of a glamorous prostitute in The Secret of Bay 5B.

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  2. Ayesha (Amelia Clarkson) was inspirational to me. She went from a fourteen-year-old arsonist who propbably started a fire in a waste bin with matches to someone that would think of using a Mr. Tea and solvent for a time bomb, to someone who actually constructed a sophisticated bomb with an alternate detonating mechanism with a car battery. It's nice when kids decide on a career early and keep up with trends. In addition, she must have been the one that took Morse out with a conk on the head near the park bench--because she was the only conspirator available to do that, by then. A multi-talented girl!

    WPC Shirley Trewlove is more than efficient, she's making positive contributions to the investigation---something we've only seen a bit of with her counterpart in George Gently.

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    1. Truly inspiring. She might seem like an empty-headed flower girl, but underneath lurks an evil genius.

      Trewlove is efficient, but kind of predictably so? I mean, I've seen the same scene of New Guy/Girl on the Force marking themselves out to be an overachiever but not noticing their thoroughness so many times that it just seems like a cliche. She's perfect but she doesn't know it. Well, of course she WOULD. She'd know that she was doing exceptional work. Also, of course, I'm not a huge fan, so far, of Dakota Blue Richards's acting. A little bit too timid Jane Eyre for a 60s woman.

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  3. Thanks Hannah for another great review.

    “I'm a little sad that this week doesn't find Morse as the mild-mannered Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited or snobbish Pip in Great Expectations, or any number of other literary middle-class hangers-on observing the enchanting world of the upper classes.”

    Perhaps you’re looking on the wrong side of the pond for the source inspiration. How about Benjamin in The Graduate? When he was alone in the bedroom with the wife, I half expected Morse to say, “Mrs Richardson, you’re trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?”

    And here’s to you Mrs R……...

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    1. Jumped into the movie world about a year ago, so I'm still discovering some older films (to my shame, Citizen Kane is still unwatched), and The Graduate has passed me by. If the world of film is open, however, there are tons of possibilities - I could see him stumbling through the worlds of Breakfast at Tiffany's or The Godfather. Endeavour as a show has a tendency to occasionally do genre episodes which push the formula to its limits (previously, Nocturne), and the detective can easily be ferried through a story as the observer or narrator to a different story - in the world but not of it.

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    2. We were humming Simon and Garfunkel for that entire scene.

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  4. Did you catch the references to The Graduate? At least three that I caught. 1. "Mrs. Richardson" trying to seduce Morse by feigning being afraid and asking him to wait with her until her husband came home. 2. Folks asking the store manager's son what he was going to do now that he'd graduated at the party and lastly, the final scene with Peter and Hope driving away in the back of the bus. Can't wait to see what the influence is next week!

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    1. And if you combine those with the leg and stocking action of the middle age woman getting ready for her date in original ITV broadcast of Sway in the opening scene, you have yet another homage. Maybe we'll get a scene of Morse calling out "Shirley!" in an Oxford Chapel, trying to stop the wedding of Ms Trewlove in some future episode.

      At least one of Endeavour's writers seems to have an eidetic memory when it comes to every story brought to film and all the actors that have brought their own interpretations to those roles. I was reading an interview with him just the other day and he can bang on for pages with every question asked. It must be incredibly hard for him to write anything original without considering everything that has come before.

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    2. Russell Lewis writes all the Endeavour episodes, and in all the interviews I've read, certainly seems to draw from a lot of literary and cinematic sources.

      He's been living and breathing the Morse universe for a very long time. He adapted The Way Through the Woods and wrote the Lewis pilot, as well as four more episodes. He also wrote the first Horatio Hornblower and a couple episodes of Heat of the Sun. From Admiral Pellew to Tyburn to Thursday, he seems to have a real knack for kindly father figure mentors.

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  5. Russell Lewis also wrote Monsignor Renard, for John Thaw, and some Cadfael and Sharpe...eps....brilliant writer.! Did anyone spot Marion Brooke...only just did myself on second viewing today....could it be she from Masonic Mysteries.?

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    1. Indeed you're right! I noticed her name in the cast list some time ago (and noted it in my masterlist: http://murderorriblemurder.tumblr.com/post/130717190940/morse-to-come-masterlist) but forgot to keep an eye out and notice her.

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    2. Elisabeth Hopper, the actress, played a character named Marion Brooke. She's in her 20s, and she played Lucie Fanshawe--the woman in the coach--in a Doctor Who episode this series, "The Woman Who Lived."

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  6. Now if that Marion Brooke was supposed to be an Easter Egg for Morse fans, especially given that it's one the fans' favorite episodes, Masonic Mysteries--I wouldn't be surprised.

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    1. I can assure you there'll be lots of Easter eggs in tonight's episode.

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  7. On my blog about all things Morse, Lewis and Endeavour I have written a ten part post about everything that connects the Endeavour series to the Morse and Lewis series; https://morseandlewisandendeavour.wordpress.com/2016/02/06/endeavour-and-its-connections-to-morse-and-lewis/

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  8. On this was definitely the Graduate titles beginning with G?

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