This review contains spoilers.
There’s a reason nobody wants to be assigned to bed 10 in Cowley General Hospital’s Fosdick Ward. Three patients have died in it in the past five weeks, and even the medical team don’t quite seem reassured by the official explanation that the high mortality rate is down to the particularly severe ill health of those who have passed away. None of this would seem likely to attract the attention of Oxford’s police, were it not for the fact that Terence Bakewell (Alex McSweeney) has been taken there for surgery. Bakewell is a career criminal and the star witness in the planned trial of the members of the Matthews gang, whose brutal bank robbery provided the dramatic ending to Endeavour’s third series. His survival is DI Thursday’s priority, so his status as bed 10’s latest occupant doesn’t bode well for the upcoming trial. Chief Superintendent Bright’s own hospitalisation with an ulcer complicates matters further, as Thursday reluctantly assumes his boss’s duties.
While Morse and his colleagues attempt to protect Bakewell from any attempt on his life, another mysterious death takes place. A Mrs Zacharides is found dead in her home, surrounded by strewn papers and belongings that could indicate either a seizure or foul play. Nothing immediately seems to link her to the hospital, but a conversation with her daughter Donna (Claire Lichie) reveals that her husband had died in bed 10 several months earlier. Mrs Zacharides was convinced that some of his possessions had been stolen by the staff, and had pursued the matter forcefully enough to be barred from the premises. Donna mentions that her mother had been expecting a visitor from the hospital on the day of her death, having received a letter that set up a meeting to discuss the matter. That letter, however, is nowhere to be found.
The formidable Sister Clodagh McMahon (Amy Marston) clearly knows far more than she’s letting on, as the meaningful looks she exchanges with dashing Dr Dean Powell (John Hopkins) indicate. Powell, along with many of his staff, is of the opinion that the real cover-up on the Fosdick Ward is that of the encroaching infirmity of eminent surgeon Sir Merlyn Chubb (David Yelland), who had operated on all the deceased patients. While the simmering rivalry between the two doctors distracts attention, the mysterious presence of white sweet peas on the bed after each occupant is stretchered to the mortuary remains a sinister loose end. Morse, quick to pick up on the atmosphere of unease and intrigued by the gossip cheerfully imparted by patient Burt Talbot (Glen Davies), begins to investigate.
Lazaretto is another enthralling mystery in what has been Endeavour’s strongest series to date. The title – a reference both to a prison hospital, and to one used to quarantine patients suffering from infectious diseases – is an early hint at the darkness of the episode. It manages to capture the Carry On overtones of its 1960s hospital ward, with a whimsically named surgeon and nurses batting their eyelashes from under starched white caps, even as nightfall brings a sinister tonal change with a pervasive sense of threat haunting the sterile corridors. Director Börkur Sigþórsson’s previous work on the atmospheric Icelandic thriller, Trapped, promised great things for this episode. The bleak claustrophobia of the most powerful scenes here delivers on that promise in spades; indeed, all three episodes of the series so far have been rich in eerie atmosphere. As Lazaretto opens, we watch as the most recent victim is carefully prepared for his journey to the mortuary. The mounting dread as the corpse is wheeled through the darkness to its temporary resting place sets the scene for one of Endeavour’s most creepily memorable episodes.
In addition to the compelling case at its centre, Lazaretto succeeds thanks to the excellent character work that has been another prominent feature of Endeavour’s fourth series. The ongoing trial of the Matthews gang coincides with the reappearance of Joan Thursday (Sara Vickers), who was held hostage along with Morse during the bank robbery. Morse tracks her down in nearby Leamington but she’s determined not to return to Oxford, despite her parents’ misery, and makes him promise not to tell Thursday that they’ve been in contact. This deceit looks set to cause further problems for the gentlemanly young detective, as Win Thursday’s depression is becoming worryingly severe.
Morse’s lovelorn past is delicately explored in this episode, culminating in a wonderful scene, fraught with romantic potential, between him and the unhappy Joan. No moves are made – come on, it’s Morse – but the tension’s palpable as the two contemplate what could have happened on all those chaste walks home. Ex-girlfriend Monica (Shvorne Marks) briefly crosses Morse’s path as he pursues his investigation at the hospital; little is said of the sad ending to their relationship, but her parting shot is a reminder to treat his next lover better. Long-time Morse watchers will appreciate the brief glimpse of his former fiancée Susan, whose presence looms large once more when he bumps into her snobbish mother Caroline (Phoebe Nicholls). As Morse lays these old ghosts to rest, the way seems to be clear for a romance with Joan, but we all know that lasting happiness is destined to elude our Endeavour. After all, it’s written in the cards…