Things are changing for the Oxford Constabulary - for one thing, it's looking at a name change. Morse and Robbie Lewis's Thames Valley Police is on the way in and it's uncertain who will make the cut. Older coppers like Bright and Thursday fret about retirement; Morse worries he'll be reassigned elsewhere. Meanwhile, in come the young crowd. Sociable young constable George Fancy is Morse's new protege, a sort of proto-Lewis with an eye for the ladies. In fact, Fancy chats up the first lady he meets, Trewlove, which immediately made me guess where the episode's themes were going.
Sure enough, the story's pretty easy to predict, though the sheer number of names and faces keeps us too unsteady to quite guess the ending. Several characters appear only once, speaking roles which lead nowhere. Male suspects are awful and unlikeable; female suspects are imperfect but usually sympathetic. That said, Muse is a welcome return from the Oxford gang. The show's quality remains high - something I'd been curious about in this new, longer season. The dialogue and relationships between our main cast remain winsome and subtle. Russell Lewis has lived with these characters for five years, and it shows.
The first victim dies in a car, shot two times, with a stake driven through his ear. Joey Sikes was a taxi driver and an ex-boxer for Eddie Nero, a con-man who's obviously very familiar to Thursday.
The second victim, quick on the heels of the first, is a Lonsdale don named Robin Gray - dead in bed with his eyes gouged out. Morse met him the day before, investigating a break-in at a museum. The museum was showing a Faberge egg owned by one of the Romanovs. A rose left at the scene of the crime is the calling card of the notorious thief, "the Shadow" (Morse can barely hold in his contempt).
A woman in a white coat, Eve Thorne, was seen going to Gray's flat before he was murdered. Eve is a life model for Gray's art classes. Gray left behind his young widow, Lucy, who quickly catches the attention of the other men around college, particularly Gray's friends, Tancred Howlett and Adrian Crowley. Yet another woman's name is on a beer mat - "Delilah" - who Morse initially assumes is a stripper named Paula Ellis, but which is actually a working name for Eve, who is, herself, in the pay of a pimp named Lefty Townsend.
The third victim is Simon Lake, best man of Robin Gray, this time decapitated, with the Faberge egg stolen from his safe. Eve Thorne was sleeping with him the day Joey Sikes was murdered - and Sikes had just dropped her off at Lake's flat. Morse shows an unusual amount of disdain for Thorne, calling her "a common prostitute." It's not that I'd think he wouldn't dislike her as something "vulgar," but coming right out and saying it seems uncharacteristically discourteous (and unnecessary, to boot - what's the point in saying it? Compare his awkward but courteous response to Camilla in The Secret of Bay 5B.)
The episode sees the surprisingly unceremonious return of Joan. I expected the series to go right back to hinting vaguely about Joan's whereabouts, but she meets Morse quickly and immediately brings up the elephant in the room. "I slipped," she says, simply. Morse seems to accept it. Joan is clearly in a better place - she's away from the scummy boyfriend, she's in contact with her parents. But Fred is still worried. Is he just being paranoid, or is there more to the story than that she's simply living happily with some friends?
Morse, meanwhile, is frustrated about his uncertain future and is (ha! but of course!) rooming with Strange. "Beggars can't," Thursday says, and he might be talking about Morse's new protege, as well. As Lewis will note later in Endeavour's life, it's a different story when Morse's inferior officer isn't a female (Morse: Wouldn't you say I was fair? Lewis: Fairer to women than men, sometimes. Morse: Well, they're the fair sex.)
And everyone else? The whole gang is back and they're in fine form. Dorothea is quick to the scene after the museum burglary - her big-sister relationship with Morse is adorable - though that's the only moment she has in the episode. Max is snarktastic. Jim Strange gets to be Morse's bro roommate, which is hilarious. Thursday feels like he's back to his old self, dropping most of the internal angst he's gained since Blenheim Vale and getting to chew his way through some delightful insults. That said, his worry for Joan still hangs over him like a shadow.
There's a lot for the episode to forge through - reestablishing characters, introducing a new cast member, dealing with a panoply of suspects, and setting up story lines for the rest of the series - so it's not surprising that it feels like each aspect get a bit of short shrift in the extremely brief denouement. All in all, though, it's thoroughly watchable, enjoyable stuff, and the dialogue alone, zippy and jam-packed with period slang and literary references, makes the show worth watching, never mind the wonderful performances from our lead and supporting cast. With six episodes instead of four, we'll have plenty of time to unpack what's next for the characters - and we're off to a promising start.
My review of the next episode: Cartouche.
- Jim Strange plays the trombone. This is perfect. I am going to assume he continues this practice in Inspector Morse from now on.
- I loved how that scene between Joan and Fred played out. They're so similar. Both too proud to admit weakness. Fred's controlling; Joan's independent. She can't accept his love.
- Morse had his own "didn't any of you guys go to Sunday School?" moment.
If you enjoyed this article, check out my full list of detective reviews.
If you want to keep up with great TV mysteries, follow my detective news site Murder! 'Orrible Murder! on Tumblr, Twitter, or Facebook.