We've seen Shaun Evans in front of the camera, but this is our first chance to see what he can do behind it. It turns out, the answer is: quite a lot. After a rather functional finale established the new status quo, Endeavour finds time to dig into real character conflict in this insightful, thematically rich second episode that balances all of its subplots beautifully.
The story starts with Adam Drake - a snarky jerk - and his girlfriend, Christine Chase. They attend a party with Drake's colleagues - the Humbolts and Wingqvists. Adam and Christine's bodies are discovered the next day at the scene of an apparent wreck.
Meanwhile, Thursday is assaulted by some thugs and on doctor's orders he's put on light duties, which means he and Morse - newly reassigned to Castlegate CID - investigate the wreck together. Christine's body has been disturbed, and it looks like she died before the "accident."
Morse and Thursday narrow it down to two main groups of suspects. There are Drake's friends, who work with him at the observatory (it's 1969, so guess what major historical event is about to occur). Larry Humboldt and his wife Isobel have two children, an insouciant teenager named Flora and a small boy named Matthew. The other couple are Elliot Wingkvist and his wife, Natalie, who hosted the party. Natalie burned something in the garden before the police arrived.
The dead woman, Christine, on the other hand, was an assistant at a TV studio producing a puppet scifi show for kids. Brother and sister Jeff and Hildegard Slayton run the studio, and another couple, Eric and Marilyn Gidby, are puppeteers. Eric obviously dramatically disliked Adam Drake.
One last outlier suspect: Gideon van Horne. He's a self-help guru who helps people unlock their inner selfishness. Or so Morse puts it, when he confronts Van Horne in the latter's pristine white offices. Van Horne seems utterly unconcerned. He has no shame. Shame is a negative emotion.
And this is a story about shame, or rather, the way shame works in connection to human reputation. All of the scientists are social climbers, jockeying for position. Bright is concerned that he looks a fool because of the Pelican campaign (he's right to be worried). Thursday is worried what Win thinks of him, and he's ashamed that he's not really up to the job anymore. The murderer's motivations, in the end, revolve around humiliation. Morse is no exception. Thursday rebukes Morse for being more concerned for his own reputation than the suspects'. He's wrong in that particular instance, but Morse is worried what everyone thinks of him. "We all know you're smart. You don't have to prove it all the time. Take a day off," snaps Joan when Morse is being a jerk.
That particular scene feels like a snapshot of Older Morse at his worst. It's not the only flash-forward. At one point in the episode, Thursday and Morse are looking at cars. They find a beat-up old jag. Significant Music plays. Could this be Morse's iconic red jaguar?
These feel like real, substantive steps towards an end goal - and if Russell Lewis to be believed, the end is not far away. The signs are more than just respectful nods to the older show (I notice, appreciatively, every time Shaun Evans tugs his ear in the same way that John Thaw did), but more significantly, Morse is starting to show the prickliness and condescension that will insulate him from the world in later life. Sometimes that condescension is warranted, such as when it's directed at D.C.I. Box. But with Joan, it rather dramatically isn't. When she refuses to give in to his bullying, Morse charges off, breaking protocol to interview a minor because Joan wouldn't answer his questions.
This impulsive malcontent seems very similar to Thaw's Morse, while not out of step with the more innocent Endeavour we've known. (Frankly, the mustache is probably here to help take the shine off of Shaun Evans' youthful face.) Morse's wistfulness and idealistic certainty have morphed into frustration and arrogance. His anger is understandable, if his outbursts aren't. This is going to become a habit one day.
Of course, wistfulness remains the sweetness in the bitterness. That scene is followed by another between Fred Thursday and Bright. They're lamenting changing times, times that are leaving them behind. It's a beautifully judged scene and if it and the previous scene were the only good character moments of the episode, it would be excellent, but the story is chock full. Morse quickly realizes Strange is lying about his attempts to find Fancy's killer. Morse meets with Bright, who is genuinely happy to see him (how times have changed!)
The one thing that lets the episode down is how the ultimate resolution hangs on so many coincidences. There's an accident and a sabotage gone wrong and another murder to frame a third party for the sabotage. That last one only worked because part of the car was involved in a hit and run and one of Eddie Nero's men covered it up...Oxford really is the crime capital of the world.
But I guess we already knew that.
My review of next week's episode: Confection.
My reviews of Endeavour:
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