Endeavour series 4 episode 2 review: Canticle

1960s counter-culture comes to Oxford in the latest engrossing episode of Endeavour...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

This review contains spoilers.

4.2 Canticle

After last week’s strong start, the fourth series continues with another engrossing case that sees Morse and his colleagues confronted by 60s counterculture and its vociferous opponents. The arrival of trendy band The Wildwood in Oxford attracts a lot of press, as does a visit by moral campaigner Joy Pettybon (Sylvestra Le Touzel). The long-haired heartthrobs are just the type of dope-smoking, free-loving hippies she loathes, and an appearance on TV show Almanac looks set to fan the flames of controversy. After a succession of death threats, Pettybon approaches the police, and Morse – much against his will – is ordered to provide protection. This brings him into contact with her unhappy daughter Bettina (Pearl Chanda) who sees the young policeman as a means of escape from her controlling mother.

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When Pettybon’s fellow campaigner Reverend Golightly (Paul Bown) is found dead as a result of eating poisoned chocolates intended for her, suspicion immediately falls upon Dudley Jessop (Matthew Needham). His magazine’s been shut down and he has a criminal record to his name after crossing swords with Pettybon over gay rights. Their repeated public confrontations earn him a beating from her vicious supporters and an interview with the police. The Wildwood’s run-in with the Pettybon crusade, meanwhile, isn’t their first encounter with Oxford’s finest. Barry Finch, a young labourer who worked near the stately pile they’re currently occupying, has been found strangled. DeBryn notes that the ligature didn’t actually kill him; instead, his heart gave out for reasons unknown. The band’s history of drug use and their manager’s readiness to bend the law arouse Morse’s suspicions, leading to a complex mystery that unfolds against the backdrop of the sweltering summer of 1967.

The clash of values and beliefs explored in this episode is approached in an even-handed and empathetic manner, skilfully displaying various sides of the bitter debate while laying bare the destructive potential inherent in black-and-white moral judgements. Pettybon’s a distasteful character whose pitiless condemnation of all those who fall short of her version of morality is undermined by her willingness to lie when it suits her, but she isn’t portrayed as in any way representative of her proclaimed faith. Similarly, the band’s free and easy lifestyle isn’t depicted in an entirely positive light. Their selfishness, squabbles and cavalier attitude to the women in their lives doesn’t win them favour with either Morse or Thursday, both still struggling with their fears for the missing Joan. 

Morse’s own isolation and sadness is reflected in the loneliness of several of those he meets in ‘Canticle’; as always with Endeavour, a fine guest cast adds much to the episode. Needham’s dedicated, ardent campaigner provides the narrative with its true moral centre, while Chanda’s Bettina is moving in her quiet desperation and concealed grief for a life ebbing away under her dominating mother’s thumb. Bettina’s struggles resonate with Thursday, whose domestic misery is worsening as a rift emerges between him and the stoical Win. Even her patience has its limits, and the uncertainty around Joan’s whereabouts is beginning to take its toll on their marriage. The happy home Morse once envied is now eerily quiet and bleak, and the final moments of the episode look set to complicate this fraught situation even further.

Despite the sadness, there’s fun to be had. The Wildwood are an amusing composite of various ‘60s bands, from their quirky drummer to their overbearing manager, Ralph Spender (David Sturzaker). Aficionados of period detail will appreciate the posters and cover art on display during the episode, which vividly evoke the era. James Bradshaw as DeBryn gets many of the best lines each week, and ‘Canticle’ is no exception. His attempt to demonstrate strangulation on a most unwilling Morse is a highlight, as is his combative relationship with the perennially under-informed PC Strange (Sean Rigby). Anton Lesser and Roger Allam get a quiet moment together in which to ponder the strangeness of the modern world and all its violence. Thursday ruefully points out that human hate’s been a damaging force in the world since Cain and Abel, an allusion that will turn long-standing Morse fans’ minds straight to ‘Daughters of Cain’: a nice touch in this anniversary year for the character.

Recurring glimpses of a sinister tarot reader at the end of this episode and the last offer worrying portents of trouble ahead. Before all that, though, there’s a moment of affection between Morse and Thursday that viewers will cherish. After the young detective suffers a gruelling experience, we’re treated to a brief exchange between the two that’s too good to spoil here. Let’s just say that, as long as corned beef means it’s a Friday, not all is lost.

Read Gem’s review of the previous episode, Game, here.