Endeavour recap: the story so far

With series 6 fast approaching, Gem gets us up to speed with ITV's Inspector Morse prequel. Major series 1 - 5 spoilers ahead...

Predictably, this contains major spoilers for Endeavour series one to five

When Endeavour’s pilot aired in 2012, it had a tough task ahead of it. Reintroducing viewers to a beloved character – this time, embodied by a different actor – always requires a delicate balancing act: respect for the past coupled with a need to uncover new insights, all while remaining entertaining. The experiment, crafted by writer Russell Lewis, proved to be a huge success.

Shaun Evans gave us a brittle, earnest, and immensely likeable take on young Detective Constable Endeavour Morse. The unusual atmosphere that’s suffused Endeavour from the beginning, a powerful blend of hope and melancholy, was present immediately. As Endeavour looked into his car’s rear view mirror in the pilot’s final moments when asked to imagine himself in twenty years’ time, the eyes he saw in the reflection were those of the late, and much missed, John Thaw, who played the older Inspector to huge acclaim from 1987 to 2000. It was a beautiful moment, winning over old fans and attracting new viewers eager to learn more about the legendary detective’s early career.

Few were surprised when a full series was commissioned. Since 2013, we’ve watched Endeavour Morse and his colleagues investigate numerous twisting, intricate cases over five sets of films, each playing out against the backdrop of a year in the ‘60s, with all the social change and fascinating historical detail that implies. 1967 was a year so rich in incident that it required both series three and four to do it justice, even if Morse’s own ‘summer of love’ was, rather typically, postponed to the altogether more politically turbulent 1968.

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While the murders, robberies, and scandals uncovered by Endeavour and his fellow dogged officers tend to be resolved in a single episode, a number of themes and relationships have developed over the years that require a spot of explanation for newcomers to Endeavour. A note before we get started: while there’s no real need to have watched Inspector Morse first – or, for that matter, to have read Colin Dexter’s novels – the prequel series features numerous references and in-jokes that are great fun to decode. The more Morse, the merrier, as we absolutely won’t be attempting to say after downing a few pints in our favourite Oxford watering holes.

Morse’s love life is a source of almost perpetual grief, both to the youthful policeman himself and to Endeavour’s viewers. Opinions will differ as to which of the women with whom he’s conducted bittersweet, doomed affairs might have successfully wrenched him out of his solitary lifestyle, if only Morse’s romantic future hadn’t already been written. Sweet nurse Monica (Shvorne Marks) was a strong contender, but she is, sadly, long forgotten, while Endeavour’s lost love, Susan, cast a long shadow over earlier series. Those who followed Inspector Morse will recall how that particular story ended.

For now, Morse’s slow-burn ardour for Joan Thursday (Sara Vickers) looks set to be a plot point again in series six. His boss’s daughter cast yearning glances at him while he pursued others until series three’s finale, ‘Coda’, which saw these two shy young people trapped together in a bank heist, a nightmare that brought previously unacknowledged feelings bubbling to the surface. Morse’s touching attempt to declare himself to a traumatised Joan didn’t, however, go as planned. Since then, he’s proved a tender and constant source of support as Joan’s fled an abusive relationship and chased her dreams of professional fulfilment. Personal tragedy inspired Endeavour to renew his, er, endeavours in that direction as series five drew to a close. Whether the ill-starred pair will find happiness, however briefly, as we enter 1969 is anybody’s guess, but the long-term forecast’s looking pretty bleak.

Morse’s bond with another member of the Thursday family has, by contrast, weathered many storms, and seems likely to endure forever. DI Fred Thursday (Roger Allam) is Morse’s mirror image in all but moral integrity, the sheriff to his Sherlock, but the two men’s relationship has evolved satisfyingly through Endeavour’s five series to date. Thursday’s revealed surprising depths as we’ve learned of his doomed romance with an Italian girl he met during World War Two – a rare blight on his strong marriage to Win (Caroline O’Neill) – and his years-long pursuit of deadly London gangsters such as Vic Kasper and a more recent menace, Eddie Nero.

Nero’s no longer a problem; the investigation into his drug network that provided an ongoing plot thread in series five concluded with the thug’s death, gunned down along with his associates. Another victim of the carnage, though, was eager novice George Fancy (Lewis Peek), desperate to impress his mentor, Morse, a keenness that drove him to make the deadly error of heading in to confront Nero without back-up. His devastated girlfriend, ambitious WPC Shirley Trewlove (Dakota Blue Richards), abandoned the Oxford City force for Scotland Yard in the aftermath. Fancy’s remaining colleagues, however, are still on the trail of his murderer. Home Office coroner Max DeBryn (James Bradshaw) has revealed that the weapon that claimed Fancy’s life was not present at the crime scene. Series six is unlikely to leave this avenue of enquiry unexplored.

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Change is coming, though; indeed, it’s already arrived. Chief Superintendent Bright (Anton Lesser) has resigned after Fancy’s death, while Thursday’s planned retirement is on hold after his foolish decision to lend money to his feckless brother. Oxford City itself will soon be a thing of the past, as forces are merged and Morse’s destiny at Thames Valley hovers on the horizon. Bureaucracy isn’t Morse’s only enemy, either. His run-ins with higher-ups, who’ve put the blockers on his career in the past thanks to his persistence in challenging authority – most memorably, leading to a brief prison term when he was wrongly accused of murder after uncovering a diabolical child-abuse conspiracy at the end of series two – look set to continue. Meanwhile, his prickly friendship with odd-couple housemate Jim Strange, the malleable company man who will, as Morse fans know all too well, one day occupy Bright’s vacant chair, will no doubt face further hurdles as the latter continues his inexorable rise through the ranks.

One thing’s for certain. Endeavour Morse, and the others we’ve come to know well over Endeavour’s five series, will confront more challenges – personal and professional – before this fractious decade finally draws to a close.

Endeavour series six is coming soon to ITV1. As soon as an air date is confirmed, we’ll let you know.