Endeavour: Fred Thursday’s Final Scene Is Even More Devastating Than We Thought

What does “Morse, Sir. Just Morse” really mean? Shaun Evans explains.

Roger Allam and Shaun Evans in Endeavour series 9 (key art)
Photo: Mammoth Screen/ITV1

Warning: contains spoilers for the Endeavour series nine finale ‘Exeunt’.

Relief! That was the main emotion felt by Endeavour fans as the credits rolled on the series finale. Not only had this excellent drama gone out on a high, but beloved character DCI Fred Thursday had survived. Fred wasn’t – as many fans had feared – carried out of Thames Valley Police Station feet first. He lived to ‘mind how you go’ another day. 

What’s more, Fred’s daughter Joan survived too, as did Winn, and Sam. The whole Thursday lot lasted out the series, with barely a scratch on them. Phew. Breathe out. What a relief.

In the general ‘thank goodness’ of it all, it was easy to miss that Fred Thursday’s exit from Endeavour was in fact bitterly cruel, and perhaps even worse than if he had been killed off. No, Fred didn’t die, but, boy, did he fall from his pedestal. In the finale, Thursday disappointed his protegee so deeply that Morse severed all ties with him. As actor-director Shaun Evans explained on the Masterpiece Studio podcast, “I just don’t think [Morse] can bear to see him as well any more in the future, he is now dead to him.”

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So much for celebration. 

Someone’s Son’

In “Exeunt”, Fred’s son Sam Thursday is spiralling downwards after leaving the army in Northern Ireland. The ex-soldier is drinking, stealing cash from his parents, and dealing drugs. Sam’s drug-dealing makes him an enemy of the Death Head motorcycle gang. When one of their members, Tomahawk, threatens to kill Sam, Fred Thursday steps in to protect his son. Fred fatally stabs Tomahawk, unbeknownst to Sam, and pins the blame on DI Lott’s corrupt police officers.

Fred should have realised though, that one exceptional mind would solve Tomahawk’s murder: his former bagman Endeavour Morse. The pair’s penultimate scene together is a quite brilliant one in the context of a detective series – Morse confronts his perp with the facts of the case, only this time, that perp is Fred. Over a pint, the young detective lays out the truth of the matter: it was Fred who killed Tomahawk, but the biker gang will blame Sam, so the Thursdays need to disappear. Fred says he’ll take them away, and Endeavour promises to keep the secret and to keep an eye on Fred’s daughter, newly styled Joan Strange

What might not be clear in that scene until a third or fourth viewing – or at least, wasn’t for me – is just how bitterly Endeavour feels towards Fred, and how Fred’s actions and attitudes have so thoroughly destroyed Morse’s former image of the man. Not only is Fred a murderer outside of the battlefield, but he sneered at his victim, saying “That type, he was nothing.” 

That “type” was in fact Peter Williams, the abused child for whose body they’d been searching the grounds of Blenheim Vale. Morse keeps that fact from Fred perhaps as an act of grace for the man he once revered, but his patience is clearly worn through, as Shaun Evans’ blistering performance shows. Morse can barely contain his anger at Fred, the captain he says he “would have followed into hell.” When he quotes Henry IV and tells Fred “I know thee not, old man,” the words are spit through tears. 

‘But Not Mine’

Tomahawk/Peter was “someone’s son” Morse insists to Fred. “But not mine,” answers Fred. “Not mine.” A moment of understanding seems to pass over Endeavour’s eyes as Fred says those words, as if the ersatz familial connection between this pair has been severed. Endeavour is also not Fred’s son, and never was.

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One final act of grace remains before Morse sends Fred Thursday into exile – the return of his stolen life savings. That done, Morse is all business in their goodbye. His coolness was established earlier in the episode, when Fred suggested going for a pint. “Yeah, half maybe,” was Morse’s detached reply.

The aloofness continues in their final scene. Fred tries to switch the tone to something more intimate and familial, befitting their years together and the ground travelled between them. “You turned out alright. Knew you would.”

The younger man won’t bite. He’s resolved to banish Fred not just from Oxford but also from his heart. “Mind you, you had a good teacher,” adds Fred. “The best,” says Morse with a nod but no smile. He extends his hand with a “Goodbye, sir.” Thanks to Roger Allam’s skill, we sense Fred sensing the coldness, so he tries one last time for an emotional connection. With wet eyes, he calls his man “Endeavour” but is corrected. “Morse, sir. Just Morse.” And with no hug and no fond smile, Endeavour watches his former hero walk away on feet of clay. 

‘Morse, Sir, Just Morse’

That correction from the warmth and intimacy of “Endeavour” to “Morse, just Morse,” signifies a door closed for the character, says Shaun Evans. Speaking on the Masterpiece Studio podcast, he explains: 

“I think it’s huge. This person, who had been something of a father figure to him, and also had shown him what a man is and what a man could be – at least that’s what Endeavour put on him, whether rightly or wrongly – then completely disappoints him. I think coming on the back of his disappointment with Joan, it’s about an emotional shutdown.”

“[…] As soon as Thursday reaches out and tries to use his Christian name, it’s a way of saying ‘you don’t deserve that anymore, we’re done, this is done here’. It’s a pulling up of the drawbridge for everyone in his life from thereon in, so it’s a huge moment.”

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Put like that, and you could wonder whether Fred’s fall from grace and banishment wasn’t a more painful exit than the character dying a hero. Careful what you wish for, teaches this layered, beautifully acted and written series.

Endeavour series nine is available to stream on ITVX in the UK and PBS Masterpiece in the US.