Monday, January 18, 2016

Endeavour Season 3 - Prey - Episode Review

 My review of last week's episode: Arcadia

The first Inspector Morse episode aired in 1987. Over the last twenty-nine years, we've seen death in many shapes and forms, from run-of-the-mill stranglings to murder as performance art in a recent Lewis. Murderers of all varieties passed across our screens, from adulterous wives to blackmailed college dons. But don't expect anything like that in Prey: this episode, Morse goes on Safari.

Now, if that sounds like an utterly absurd idea, that's because it is, and it has no damn business working as well as it does.

Things start off quite normally. An au pair, Ingrid Hjort, goes missing (a Scandinavian girl near Wytham Woods, no less), reported by her employer - an Ecuadorean named Hector Lorenz. Investigation takes Morse to Crevecoeur Hall, a grand old house which you may remember from  Lewis episode The Dead of Winter. In Lewis, Crevecoeur was owned by the Mortmaigne family, and so here - three maladjusted siblings lounge about the lavish hall, ordering Hathaway around - and wait! That is, indeed, Hathaway, but not James: Philip, father of James (I broke that news a while ago, actually). In addition, there's Geoff Craven, the land agent, and Ingrid's tutor, Mark Bryden, and a couple academics whose names escape me.

Morse meets Hathaway.
At first, it seems like this may be a straightforward serial killer episode - Thursday immediately connects Ingrid's disappearance with that of another girl four years earlier. It's the usual thing: she was left in a coma and Fred Thursday, being Fred Thursday, swore vengeance to the girl's mother.

But as soon as Thursday begins down this trail, Morse and Trewlove (a character who is still just there contributing little but some uninspired banter with Morse) discover a man's severed arm in the river. The incompetent substitute pathologist (Max is off fly-fishing) diagnoses drowning as cause of death and bustles off. Understandably dissatisfied with this explanation, Morse keeps digging, and by chance ends up investigating the disappearance of a bird-watcher who's also tied up in it all.

This is where we start to realize this is not going to wrap up with the usual Christie-esque drawing room confrontation. You see, there's something in the woods, and it's stalking students and children and small dogs. Creepy low shots! Wild woods! Black water! Twisty mazes! Suddenly, characters are quoting Kate Bush and there are references to Jaws and Jurassic Park and (kid you not) Temple of Doom. One's reaction to all this is probably an unofficial personality test: everyone was quite aware it was all utterly absurd, but is it good-absurd or bad-absurd?

We're going to need a bigger boat, sir.
For my money, it was good-absurd. I loved every minute of it. Spoiler here: it really is a beast. The episode plays around briefly with the idea of an elaborate Scooby Doo African cult hoax, but after offering this mad solution, refers us back to the comparably banal escaped-zoo-animal storyline. While the explanation for a real beast's existence could have been offered a bit earlier (Chekhov's tiger?), its existence is not completely implausible, and both Thursday and Morse treat the situation with the appropriate disbelief, until coming face to face with the animal in (why not?) a maze. Let's face it: Endeavour Morse going toe to toe with a tiger is just hilariously fun, if crazy. It's shot with panache, and every single actor gives it everything they've got. It's suspenseful, it's entertaining, it's quite mad. It's great.

There are some things which don't really work, but which are mostly forgotten around the tiger stuff. That the abduction of the girls and the appearance of the tiger were mostly unrelated is a bit difficult to swallow - and as a method of murder, using musk to sic a man-eating tiger on unsuspecting victims is a little slapdash. Not quite cricket, y'know. But who cares? Tigers!

Welcome...to Jurassic Oxford.
Fred Thursday plays a more prominent role this week - Joan and Win are gone visiting, meaning its just him and Sam and his cough. After a particularly brutal bout, he admits to Morse that there's still a bullet lodged inside him (Iron Man-style), but everything is still Perfectly Okay. It's a constant threat, but the effect on Thursday is less physical than emotional - he morosely chats with his son about life, wonders what his purpose is, and then completely loses his temper, thrashing a suspect into a confession (the consequences for which should probably have been a bit more severe). Complete with a little impromptu tiger taming, Roger Allam's performance has never been better - he's pensive, furious, and bitter by turns. A pleasure to watch, and a thoroughly engrossing storyline. Is this the beginning of the end for Thursday?

Morse's two other long-term co-stars have big moments. Strange has been promoted, taking Jakes's position. Worried that this will harm his relationship with Morse, he tries to paper it over with gifts and cheery good will. Cottoning onto his plan, Morse protests that this is not what friendships are built upon. Alas, Strange is no Lewis - he and Morse cannot truly understand one another, because Strange thinks everything must be bought. Jim Strange, complacent and successful, faces the lanky nonconformist loner Endeavour Morse across a table: it's a snapshot of their entire relationship.

Wait till I tell Mrs. Bright about this...
Meanwhile, Chief Superintendent Bright finally has his moment to shine. Anton Lesser as macho tiger slayer? Well, of course he is. Possibly the best thing about W.P.C. Trewlove's presence is how it brings out Bright's paternal side - and combined with tales of his India days and a bit of derring do, we really get to see Anton Lesser's range here. I imagine he can check "shot a tiger" off his acting bucket list now.

You'll notice some new music: Matthew Slater scored Prey. Barrington Pheloung is a wonderful composer, but it's nice to hear something fresh.

Aesthetically, this is a lovely episode. Light spills through dusty rooms and the camera sweeps low across wilderness. I actually gasped out loud at the God's eye shot of Endeavour Morse stalking along five feet from the tiger. Isn't it crazy that this is actually happening? And oddly enough, despite it all, I found that by the end, we'd finally slipped back into something like a status quo, in a way we haven't all season. Which reminds me again that, after two years, this season is almost over. Which is depressing. If there's anything this episode proved it's that one can do lots and lots of things with the Morse formula. Too bad we'll only get to see one more example this year. But there is hope - last year the World Cup interfered with filming. Let's hope there'll be no more of that.

My review of next week's episode: Coda

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

Longish

34 comments:

  1. Thanks Hannah for another great review. Thanks also for pointing out the Lewis/Hathaway connection, which I had completely missed. Although it didn’t add anything to the storyline, on second viewing, it certainly increased my enjoyment of the episode.

    And what an episode it was! The best of the current series, if you ask me. Fleshing out Chief Superintendent Bright from cardboard cut-out caricature to a real, sympathetic character was definitely the highlight of the show for me.

    In episode 1 we focused on Morse; episode 2, Jakes; episode 3, Bright, and in answer to your question, yes, I believe Thursday has had his day and it will be next Sunday.

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    1. I tend to hate self-congratulatory self-reference, but I did kind of hope for a bit more from Philip Hathaway. But Endeavour has always gone with subtlety as rule, and I certainly appreciate that.

      Anton Lesser is an actor I've grown to appreciate more and more over the years I've been watching Endeavour. He's particularly good in Little Dorrit, and has become ubiquitous in popular TV - from Wolf Hall to Game of Thrones to Dickensian.

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  2. Another amazing review!

    Before there was Kate Bush and her Hounds of Love in 1985, there was the original Night of the Demon in 1957 that provided the bit she sampled--the opening line "It's in the trees!
    It's coming!" I am surprised you know either: I am worried that I know both.

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    1. I actually knew neither, but so many people on Twitter seemed to consider this a major reference that I mentioned it. In the process of researching, I discovered both the song and the film. To be honest, I'd never heard of her before writing this review.

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  3. I liked the episode, yes it was a little silly, but sometimes a little silly is good. I find myself worried about Fred. Bright was brilliant, although I kind of hate the fact that I now have to quite like him, I suppose the die was cast when he turned up like the 7th US Cavalry at the end of the last season. His old colonial stories were a little bit George Orwell, but they worked well.

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  4. Having had a little time to think about it, I liked the episode and didn't find it silly or implausible. I do wish they would stop with the non-Morse-a-verse related references and hat tips. That gets to be more-than-a-bit tiring very quickly and detracts from the originality of the pieces. It's already cost them some viewers and critics. I'm in for the long haul, so they'll always have me--unless they show Morse listening to that "Manchester Strings Does The Classics" record that Strange brought over.

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    1. I agree. Ultimately, the idea of an animal getting loose in Wytham woods and going on a minor reign of terror is not anywhere near as ridiculous and convoluted as some of the plots Morse has offered up over the years. A bit more exotic, certainly, but it mostly makes sense. And as far as character stuff goes, this episode was simply top notch. Morse is becoming more bitter about being passed over for promotion, which lays the foundation for his acerbity in later life. Thursday facing his own dark side reinvents a character who was becoming a bit too stable. And, of course, Strange is slowly becoming an authority figure. I'm rewatching Little Dorrit and am more than ever impressed by how many different things Anton Lesser can do.

      But the outside references are becoming a bit much. I suspect that a lot of it may have happened on set - the director realized the similarity and started to punch up the references to Jaws and Jurassic Park (though if "smart cat" was in the script, it's all thanks to Russell Lewis). I think the most annoying one was Bright's reference to Temple of Doom (if that was a reference, there's some debate about that) - bringing to mind that terribly cheesy movie took away from the seriousness of the moment.

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    2. "...and am more than ever impressed by how many different things Anton Lesser can do.

      Like playing Thomas More in Wolf Hall. He's one of those great character actors that leave you surprised over the number of times you have seen him on the screen.






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    3. Glancing over his IMDb page is incredible. He's certainly got around - from Foyle's War to Poirot to Wolf Hall to Pirates of the Caribbean...

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    4. If you like Anton Lesser's work, you should definitely check out The Hour, written by the very talented Abi Morton.
      And thank you for all your reviews! I've really enjoyed coming here to either clarify some murky plot points or simply bat ideas around with like-minded folk.

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    5. I've heard good things about The Hout - and several actors I like are in it (Peter Capaldi, Ben Whishaw, and Anna Chancellor).

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  5. Hi. Can anyone tell me who the person in the hospital bed was at the end of Prey - the one that Thursday kisses? I total missed this! Was it Ingrid?

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    1. Thursday and Bright discuss an identical case to the disappearance of Ingrid Hjort. It occurred six years earlier - a girl in Joan Thursday's year at school was abducted from the same location. Her attacker left her in a coma. Thursday swore to he mother that he'd do his best to find said attacker - and so he did, in Prey.

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    2. Sleuth EnthusiastJuly 4, 2016 at 3:42 AM

      Thank you for clearing up the question of the identity of the unconscious person in the hospital bed that Thursday and Morse visit at the end of the Prey episode! Did Hodges go to prison after Thursday beat him up, or did he die, or? Couldn't seem to figure out how, if Hodges survived the thrashing by Thursday, there were not serious repercussions for Thursday career-wise.

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    3. He didn't hit him hard enough to kill him. Bright decided to cover Thursday's actions by saying - in the official report - that Hodges fell down the stairs.

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    4. Yes, thank you! I was wondering that too and decided to google it, and thanks to you, now I know!

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  6. Anyone notice the discussion over beers between Morse and Strange in the pub? The two brewers pop up in Sins of the Fathers - Radfords and Farmers - which gave rise to my favourite Morse line when Lewis knocks up Morse at home and greets him at the door with: 'You're going to like this, sir. We've got a murder at a brewery!'

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    1. Ooh, didn't notice that, but I definitely recognize the names. I'm rewatching the original Morse right now and just finished that one.

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  7. I liked (was terrified) throughout the episode, but I didn't think all the red wool tied handkerchiefs in the shrubbery and trees at the estate were explained. If she didn't mean for anyone to come to harm, why did she dose the estate with tigress musk? Someone (more than one) was bound to be hurt. Was that just assumed insanity? I watched the conclusion twice to see if I missed anything...it just evaporated out of the reveal as if that had not happened.

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    1. "I never meant anyone should come to harm."

      This is what one calls - a lie.

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    2. She was perhaps trying to minimize the damage by luring the tiger to the estate where (in theory) the keeper was prepared to deal with it rather than have it out in the woods menacing the public at large. Of course, she could have told people, but then she'd have to admit what she'd done.

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  8. Crevecoeur.
    And the earlier abduction was in '63; Prey events took place in '67. That's 4 years, not 6 years.

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  9. Bright WAS sympathetic....our friends are in danger, etc... but in his last beat with Morse he seems a little regretful that the beautiful animal had to be slain just to save the annoying Morse's life.

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  10. Who was Thursday visiting in the hospital?

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    1. Thursday and Bright discuss an identical case to the disappearance of Ingrid Hjort. It occurred six years earlier - a girl in Joan Thursday's year at school was abducted from the same location. Her attacker left her in a coma. Thursday swore to he mother that he'd do his best to find said attacker - and so he did, in Prey.

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  11. The tiger was being kept in a cage at the home of "Coogan." Which character was he? There is no Coogan listed in the credits.

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    1. As I recalled, the character was an old gamekeeper who died years earlier.

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  12. Wasn't he called Goggins rather than Coogan (or am I getting confused with the postmistress in 'Postman Pat')?

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    1. Can't recall precisely - but Goggins sounds right. Been months since I saw the episode.

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  13. The Goggins character was killed by the tiger offscreen. Thus no need for a credit.

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  14. My favorite is the group rallying 'round Bright saying "If that is what Bright said happened, that is what happened." Of course from the moment the story was told it was inevitable that Lesser would kill the tiger eventually but, oddly, it was not less satisfying for all that!

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  15. Thought Bright's encounter with the tiger was going to end badly for him: "Tiger, Tiger burning bright."

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    1. I mean, Thursday had the torch right there.

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