Monday, January 9, 2017

Endeavour Series 4 - Game - Episode Review



My review of last season's finale: Coda.

Chess, swimming pools, creepy dolls, fishing, computers, Oxford - you'd be hard pressed to figure out what these things have in common, but happily, Endeavour Morse is here to do that for us.

Series 4 of Endeavour picks up two weeks after we saw Joan Thursday pack her bags and hit the road. A lovelorn Morse and a befuddled Thursday are still working through the implications of her decision. Thursday retreats into surly irascibility. Morse, meanwhile, is resentful and thin-skinned, employing some of the snobbish sarcasm that will characterize his later life.

Neither man can talk to the other about what has happened, but this doesn't stop the sparks from flying - both Morse and Thursday are operating on a hair trigger. It gets worse when Morse finds out he's failed his sergeant's exam (probably due to meddling by the Powers That Be). He's livid, taking out his anger on Bright and Thursday. Thursday wants to sulk, so he rejects Morse's suggestions about the case, frustrating the young man further. But despite the occasional shouting match, they stick together - Thursday stands up for Morse when Morse's notebook is stolen, and Morse gamely tries to lift Thursday out of his gloom.

As for the case itself, it begins with the discovery of a body in the river. It's Professor Richard Neilson from Lovelace College, the first of three drowned victims found in quick succession. The next two are found at East Cowley Slipper Baths: Miss Palfrey and Edison Smalls. Morse finds a few clues around the body of Miss Palfrey: a crucifix and a word scrawled on the mirror in steam: Denial. As the clues pile up, Morse becomes convinced the three deaths are connected. Besides their method of death, each victim had some connection to chess and traces of plaster in their nostrils.

Meanwhile, politics are brewing. Chief Superintendent Bright is worried about keeping Professor Neilson's death quiet in the midst of a high profile chess match between Soviet Yuri Gradenko and a "thinking machine" designed by Oxford academics, among them: Neilson.

Neilson's colleagues are wheelchair-bound Professor Amory and his daughter, Dr. Amory, as well as shy Dr. Broderick Castle, brash Dr. Clifford Gibbs, and Dr. Bernard Gould (the one with glasses). Why the adjectives? Well, as the plot spins on, it's almost impossible to keep track of the shopping list of suspects, since there's barely any character development here.

The episode is less about the quarry than the chase, as Morse tracks down clues in atmospheric locations. Morse claims his job is all about legwork and paperwork - which turns out to be true as he investigates underground passageways and calls on cutting edge technology to sort through thousands of names. If the characters are left vague, at least the chase is quite exciting.

The final pieces on the board are the press. Dorothea Frazil is back in a larger role this time, perhaps in response to Inspector Morse's 30th Anniversary. Early in the story, Dorothea introduces Morse to her friend and beau, crime novelist Kent Finn. One of her employees is keen reporter Tessa Knight, who bedevils Morse's investigations from the moment they cross paths.

It's all a bit much - between the usual suspects and a myriad of physical clues, I only barely managed to keep up with the plot, which is trying very hard to be Series 1's Fugue. It can't quite succeed, but it manages some good thrills and if the villain's character hadn't been established, his/her stylishly evil lair and motivation made up for it. The subplot between Morse and Thursday rings true, but I'm glad it's been resolved quickly. We've happily left behind the series' plundering of literary and pop culture - there are no Great Gatsby or Jaws references to distract us*, but the episode still feels strikingly original. All in all, an enjoyable, if overstuffed, first installment. I look forward to the rest of the series, which has begun with both style and substance.

My review of the next episode: Canticle

Notes:

  • Hey, Morse speaks Russian! Was there any hint of that in Inspector Morse? None that I recall.
  • Turns out WPC Trewlove is a chess genius and speaks French. I'm liking her more this season - she's helpful and cheery, a nice change from her broody companions. But if she's so multi-talented, why in the world is she working as a WPC? Surely she'd want to try something more challenging, and with better prospects.
  • Only Max DeBryn could pull off a line like "ripe and runny as a rancid Roquefort."
  • Nice to see more Dorothea: she's certainly no damsel in distress.
  • The chess match and its political connotations feel more plot points to remind us it's 1967, rather than anything topical.
  • As for the tarot card in the last shot, it's of The Hanged Man, which is supposed to symbolize a person who has resigned themselves to a life of sacrifice or martyrdom. Given Morse's previous decision to stay and fight ("You have to make a stand somewhere"), it would be reasonable to guess the card refers to him. And who is laying out the cards? No idea. The person is too old to be Joan Thursday, but no one else springs to mind.
  • *Stuart Williams on Facebook pointed out that Lovelace College is fictional, and is meant to refer to Ada Lovelace, the first "computer programmer.
  • *He also pointed out that Clifford Gibbs says JCN is programmed in "Forbin 66." This fictional computer language is a reference to Colossus: The Forbin Project.

If you enjoyed this article, check out my full list of detective reviews.

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Longish

28 comments:

  1. There is a cultural reference which many on Twitter picked up on. It's to a British TV show called 'The Day Today' which was a satirical news show. The reference is the 'in 1959 no one died' scene at the baths

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  2. Tessa Knight would make an excellent companion for Morse. Except for the dead part.

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    1. She was fun. I expected her to stick around for a while (or that perhaps they were trying to write out Dorothea). While I've warmed to Trewlove, she still hasn't really impressed me. Tessa had real spunk.

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  3. Thank you for this review. I thought it was a great episode, though overstuffed as you say. It seems that the series opener was largely ignored by the critical press, or perhaps overshadowed by Sherlock. I enjoy reading reviews of shows I follow, and there's been previous little written about this episode. Sherlock was fine, but I think Endeavour is a superior series. It's so well written and well cast.

    Thanks again.

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    1. I agree that Endeavour is generally better than Sherlock, if less ambitious. It does seem I might have corned the market on Endeavour reviews - I'd lament its lack of notice if I didn't appreciate the attention it brings my blog. In any case, it's certainly fun to write about, and I'll keep cranking one out as long as they're willing to make them.

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  4. 'Why is Trewlove a WPC? Bright's certainly noticed her intellect & beautifully played by Anton Lesser~ His pensiveness before he answered the obvious question of her #Attractiveness is a joy to behold. Such superior acting by the whole Endeavour Team does not go unnoticed. Gender inequality, perhaps? She may be destined for higher places in her career. It beggars belief that Endeavour is where he is....although his pairing with Fred Thursday is pure #Gold. Many a tear has to fall~but it's all in the #Game #DespairingFred #TrewlovePutDown #MorsesRussian #OpeningGambit #PawnPromotion.
    Enjoyed your Review Hannah~ Thankyou

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    1. I wasn't referring to her rank, but rather her choice of profession (amended the article to reflect that.) You'd think she would choose something more intellectually stimulating than police work.

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    2. Perhaps she thought it would be stimulating~ the Chase, the detective work,the following of clues~ Interesting parallels with Helen Mirren's portrayal as Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect, of which they are now also making a prequel Prime Suspect, Tennison. We could of course, say the same of many walks in life. It's becoming clear that Trewlove has hitherto hidden depths, of which, I hope Endeavour will capitalise upon....

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  5. Great review.A lot of people are picking up on the very end-the Tarot card.A lot of speculation it could be Joan but given the time lapse of a mess two weeks l fail to believe that she has taken up 'alternative' beliefs.As for Trewlove...in the 50s and 60s WPCs were regarded as little better than being there to make tea for their male colleagues.This is not sexism,just fact.I think she has the same style of deduction, and observation as Morse,given the chance.She could go far but it will be a fight all the way. If only she had been born twenty years later she could have been a Tennison....

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    1. De-lurking to say that I have a crack theory that Trewlove is James Hathaway's mother: tall, blond, highly intelligent, smokes, plays chess, fluent in another language, slightly enigmatic. In "Prey," Phillip Hathaway seemed interested "better" class women (for want of a better term), which Trewlove appears to be.

      Also, although James Hathaway's timeline is not completely clear, we know his mother died 12 years before the final season of 'Lewis,' which more-or-less was around the time he left the seminary. While there were hints as to why he left, I do not recall any real explanation as to why he went into the police force instead. (I may, of course, be forgetting something.) Maybe, it's what his (recently deceased) mother did?

      So. That's my theory about Trewlove -- until I'm proven wrong. Going back into lurk mode. . . .

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    2. Interesting theory. She looks like she could be his mother. Since Hathaway's mom was never a major plot point, I doubt that's it though. But I can't say much - I have a nutty theory that Joan is going to turn out to be Mrs. Strange!

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  6. I think the hand dealing the tarot card was too old be Joan's... Sara Vickers did post on her twitter feed back in May that she had wrapped filming for an episode in this series. Don't know which one, but I look forward to seeing her again. She was so good in Shetland.

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  7. The hand was definitely too old to be Joan's. I think it was a woman's, but it could have been an old man's.

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  8. Watching the episode, I kept thinking to myself that Lovelace College was an exceptionally modern building for 1967 Oxford. It wasn't until halfway through the program that I noticed an 'Oxford' chair in one scene and my architectural history came flooding back. It's really St Catherine's College Oxford (St Catz), which was designed in the early 60s by Danish architect Arne Jacobsen. Jacobsen also designed the furniture; hence the famous 'Oxford' chair mixed with several of his other chairs such as the 'Swan' and the '7'.

    Back to Endeavour. I did think it odd that everyone was so sad that Joan was gone when Sam Thursday had left for the army in the same (previous) episode. Poor Sam - no photo on the sideboard; not even a mention.

    Minor complaint really. I'm pleased that the producers have returned to proper storytelling of series 1 and 2. I particularly liked De Brun's comparison of love to the fish that got away. Great stuff. Bring on the next episode.

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    1. Lovelace College stuck out to me as well. That's an interesting history.

      I suppose Joan's disappearance was more of a thing because they're still uncertain of her whereabouts. Even so, Thursday's reaction seems a bit overblown. She's a grown woman.

      The storytelling does seem to be back on track, which is a comfort. I enjoyed the wackiness of series 3, but I don't think it was sustainable.

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  9. sheila hancock as the Tarot reader?

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    1. That's my current theory, as of episode 3.

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  10. Trewlove recognizing a couple of openings hardly makes her a "chess genius". Knowledgeable about chess, certainly, but not a genius.

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    1. I was basically just using my own chess skills as a metric. Almost anyone is a chess genius compared to me.

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  11. Any idea who pinched endeavour's sergeant exam paper?

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    1. I don't think it's ever revealed. They just mutter grim things about the people in high places who Morse has angered.

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    2. Because I grew up in a family that did not appreciate the Masons as "helping make life easier via one's profession (etc)" and Strange's impertinent attitude about it when Morse wasn't interested after the previous season (plus, evidence being taken, by which we saw some stranger's (or, not) hand removing it), the Masons are my go-to villains. Or, the Knights' Templar. Secret organizations are never to be trusted.

      For those who love them, just ignore me and my conspiracy theroy. : )

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    3. Well, you're well in keeping with Morse lore, as an episode of Inspector Morse saw him facing a Masonic conspiracy to destroy his life.

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  12. As Trewlove says
    "The opening appears to have been the Kronsteen variation of the Queen's Gambit declined. Black sacrificed material for positional advantage. The question now is whether he's prepared to accept the exchange of knights in a bid to develop the centre."

    This is a reference to From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming, where Tov Kronsteen, a chess grandmaster, works for SMERSH as head of the planning department, the Soviet counterintelligence agency. He helps devise a plan to trap James Bond by providing a SMERSH decoder (called Spektor in the novel and Lektor in the movie), then killing him. In the novel, Kronsteen is champion of Moscow for two years in a row and is playing in the championship tournament for his third year. In the novel, the chess game was described as a Queen's Gambit Declined, Meran Variation (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 c6 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Bd3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 b5 Bd3). The movie version was a King's Gambit Accepted, Modern Defense (3...d5). In the novel, Kronsteen won by introducing "a brilliant twist into the Meran Variation of the Queen's Gambit Declined to be debated all over Russia for weeks to come."

    The moves of the locker keys were the Kings Gambit. I found the recognition of algebraic notation by Trewlove for the locker keys a little unlikely as the computer was using English notation or English descriptive notation and until the 1970s, at least in English-speaking countries, chess games were recorded and published using this notation and Trewlove would have learnt that notation.
    In the game itself it wasn't Queens Gambit as Black's first move was not P-Q4 but N-KB3 and then White P-QB4 and Black P-K which is the Indian Catalan Opening.
    The checkmate move looked unlikely to me as the White pawn could have taken the Knight unless the King was in check by the Knight. But why did the King move to N3? Highly unlikely for a grandmaster to expose his King on the Rook's flank!

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    1. Just wanted to say thank you for this input. Most interesting.

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  13. I didn't understand why the killer did what he did. What was the reference to his sister? Why the doll?

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    1. As I recall, he abused his sister. She hid a description of his unwelcome attentions in the doll, and ended up committing suicide by drowning herself. Haunted by his dead sister, he kept killing people who frustrated him. Basically: he was completely nuts.

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