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, snobbish and sarcastic.
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, their 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' overt 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
- 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.
- *Richard Britton identified a reference to The Day Today.
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