Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Endeavour Series 7 - Zenana - Review



My review of the previous episode: Raga

Is it the 1980s yet? I feel like I just lived an entire decade in one episode. Rocketing from one plot twist to another, with red herrings galore and operatic aspirations, Zenana is certainly never dull. But is it good?

The story starts with yet another tow-path murder. Thursday is furious. It's the young woman he'd warned in the previous episode, Bridget Mulcahy. He has some strong words for Morse, who remained convinced that Professor Blish was the tow-path killer. The chef, Tony Jakkobsen, was killed in an unrelated incident, Morse thought. But with Bridget's murder, it seems undeniable that the killer is still at large.


Thursday immediately arrests the first victim's boyfriend, Carl Sturgis. Morse, having lost the confidence of both Thursday and Bright, continues investigating the series of freak accidents which Dorothea keeps bringing to his attention. Nothing connects the dead, it seems. But Morse doesn't have official approval to continue investigating.


But then there's another murder! Thursday was wrong. Carl Sturgis didn't kill this latest victim since he was imprisoned. He's released, whereupon he crows loudly to the media and goes his merry way. The victim, Petra Cornwell, was a student at a local women's college, where a debate is currently underway about whether to become coed. Sexist Magdalena Byrne is firmly against it, while others think it's not such a bad idea. She'd complained earlier about Dr. Dai Ferman, who returns, a suspicious reminder of his status as a suspect in the first episode. Endeavour really has given up any pretensions of being a handful of episodes - this season was a miniseries.

Next up, Morse revisits Jenny Tate, the psychic woman who saw glimpses of the tow-path murderer in her dreams. She reveals to him the depths of her psychosis, and the horrifying backstory (a bullying older brother, a fire of which she was the only survivor).


Another freak accident leaves another woman dead at the college, but by this time, Thursday has had it with Morse's cleverness. After a snarled argument over Petra's body, Morse volunteers to transfer to Castlegate, and when he refuses to drop the freak accident line of inquiry, Thursday takes him off the tow-path killing investigation entirely.

Meanwhile, the women of Oxford band together and catch...a copycat killer? Morse sneers at the beat cops' celebrations, a plain vision of the snob he'll become.


"You stand there and you look down your nose at everyone," Thursday says. "Nobody's good enough."

"Well, there was one person," Morse returns, "but he lost his way."

About this time, Ludo reveals that he's discovered Violetta and Morse, but she decides to stay with her husband. A few minutes later we find out that, despite seemingly successful cancer treatments, Mrs. Bright has died in a freak accident. And we're only halfway through the episode at this point!

Morse did not expect to find himself in the plot of Knives Out, but here we are.

Creeping up to the hour point, Morse finally reveals that he's cracked the freak accident case. It's a truly clever scheme, explaining why all of the cases are connected while no one seems to have a motivation to kill the victims. This leads to a tense standoff in a creepy abandoned house, a brutal stabbing (reader, I gaped at the screen for a full five seconds), another Morse-Thursday tete-a-tete and finally, Morse doing the unforgivable - he hurts Bright's feelings (I mean, he does a good deal more than that, but that is the unforgivable sin of Endeavour World.)

This places Morse firmly outside the familial bourn. He sends what I thought at first was a suicide note, but is instead an apology, to Joan Thursday, to pass on to her father. It's not a suicide note, but it has strong echoes of such a missive, for Morse is hurtling off, gun in hand, to meet his destiny in Venice. Nothing about this situation is gonna end well.

Ryan Gage really owns every scene he's in. It's the accent.
This is the closest the show has had to an operatic finale since Coda. That may be a debatable statement, but I don't think all the elements of grand tragedy and romance have fallen together quite like this since season 3 (season 4 focused on domestic drama, season 5 on gang warfare, season 6 lacked any romantic element). But in the end, it just doesn't pay off on the lovely buildup.

We get Venice, we get Ludo being a smarmy mustache-twirly bad guy, we get some vague Bond Villain lines about how Morse was set up...but is Morse really faced with a status-quo-altering truth about his behavior this season? He's behaved very badly, but he not only doesn't cause this tragedy himself, but he doesn't have to face or grapple with the uncomfortable idea that Violetta never cared for him. Her dying declaration of love seems to validate his attentions, which were a betrayal of friendship and fidelity (a betrayal which he himself thought wrong). Does he repent of his breach with Thursday face-to-face? All of that change happens off-screen - he apologizes through voiceover. He barely reacts when Fred turns up in Venice. How does this change him?

The final confrontation is shot in a graveyard, but charmlessly. We get a sort of ugly gray confrontation instead of a grand setting to reflect the drama. Boring! Bring back the soaring cloudy skylines and gold accents of Fugue.


Series 7 Overview

In this season, Russell Lewis completely embraced the interconnected storytelling which has grown throughout the show's run. Even individual cases aren't fully wrapped up, as one story bleeds into another. It's an ambitious experiment, but one that doesn't really work. I'm left with a lot of questions.

Where has the psycho cannibal brother been all these years? Did he just casually know the wife of the other murder victim? Did he also kill the flasher on the tow-path? The way that was shot made it look like a woman killed him with a sword stick. Was that sword stick what Carl used to stab Strange? Speaking of which: How did Strange survive that and why was nobody panicking about that? And right after that, why would Morse leave a wounded Strange and tied-up Jenny alone to go look for the killer when all he had to do was shut the door and wait for backup?

Why did Ludo want to entrap Morse, what was his advantage? Why take such a huge risk by murdering Mrs. Bright? What was motivating him anyway? Did Violetta really expect us to believe that she hated everything Ludo was doing and was somehow secretly noble? She's still a cipher! How did they arrange for the woman to fall off the ladder?

Why did Morse apologize to Thursday? What changed?

So many things are happening that the episode is largely able to hide the contrivances at its center, but contrivances they remain. I feel that even another ten minutes could have helped smoothing over these details, but as it is, much of it is soapier than it first seems, being delivered by such a distinguished and dignified cast.
  • Strange's loyalty to Morse is endearing. He doesn't have Thursday's baggage, but he should feel Morse's arrogance more keenly. He shrugs it off instead. He's growing up, and knows Morse's value as a clever, if insolent, detective, kept on a short leash. It's becoming more natural to see how he will become Morse's superior office.
  • Up to this episode, Max really didn't have a standout moment in this season, but boy, did he make up for it with his impassioned rebuke of the squabbling Morse and Thursday. I half-expected Thursday to mumble "yes, sir."
  • Anton Lesser has a very good line in Slowly Crumbling Inside which he gets to demonstrate to great effect here. But killing Mrs. Bright in such a way was a cheap twist.
  • I fail to understand why Morse and Strange didn't just constantly regale Lewis with tales of the days when they sustained gunshot wounds, tiger attacks, and seemingly fatal stabs from psychopaths.
My reviews of Endeavour:
Series 1
Series 2
Series 3
Series 4
Series 5
Series 6


Longish

5 comments:

  1. Despite its flaws, Endeavour is the last remaining enjoyable British murder mystery. Vera has been running on basic formula for at least two series now.

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    1. That makes me feel better about not watching the last few seasons of Vera. It's a shame, because it was so strong and sharp in the first three seasons. Have you been keeping up with Shetland? It started off good, though it was getting pulpy the last I watched (season 3, I think.)

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  2. It's definitely the weakest the show's been so far, feeling needlessly political sometimes with the sexism and racism storylines feeling more like posturing than adding anything new to the conversation. If Season 8 is to be the last it would be nice to have 4 very Morse like episodes, with more brainbox puzzle episodes, Wagner and crosswords. (It would also be nice to have the Sara Thursday plotlined finished up, it would be nice if she ended up Mrs. Strange, as going by the timeline, Strange is needing a wife and kisd pretty soon)

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  3. Hi Hanna
    Just watching series 7 in Australia where it has strted to screen. Was struck by the apparent lack of reference to the end of series 6 including the fate of DI Box left with a 50:50 chance at the end of Deguello? I wonder what you thought. Very much appreciate your insightful reviews and comments regards Charles

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  4. Hi! Series 7 of Endeavour seems to have been a "bit of a salamagundi", as Max might have put it. It's infuriated some viewers, and left others (like me) absolutely spellbound. It's not perfect, but it's only entertainment. As at the cinema, you leave your brain at the door, and watch what's happening on screen.
    Anyway, the scene that I "enjoyed", for want of a better word, was the two-hander with Fred Thursday and Reginald Bright, after Dorothea Frazil's 'phone call. Anton Lesser delivered a magnificent performance of denial after Roger Allam tells him his wife's "accident" was fatal. Wonderful stuff!

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