This review contains spoilers.
A serial killer is stalking Oxford in autumn 1966, and Vivienne Haldane, wife of an eminent physicist at the university, is the latest victim. Morse quickly establishes a pattern to the murders; apart from the fact that all three dead women were found with a particular brand of expensive silk stocking, ‘Le Minou Noir’, around their necks, each was married, but has had her wedding ring removed by the killer. Pathologist Dr DeBryn finds that Mrs Haldane had had intercourse not long before her death, but it was certainly not with husband Rufus (Michael Thomas), from whom she had long been estranged. The hunt is on for a murderer with a type: married women who he seduces and kills, for reasons the police can only guess at.
Burridges’ department store is the sole local outlet for the stockings, and enquiries there turn up a number of interesting leads. Morse interviews Joey Lisk (Max Wrottesley), the seedy supplier of the goods, whose womanising ways immediately place him under suspicion. After a fourth corpse is discovered, and evidence points to Lisk’s having been the secret lover all four victims had in common, the case seems straightforward enough. Matters are soon complicated, however, by the brutal stabbing of Burridges employee, Norman Parkis (Matthew Wilson). Morse finds it difficult to believe that this latest murder was a robbery gone wrong, as the trail of blood leads back to the very cabinet in which the stockings were kept. Did Parkis see too much?
As the police race to find the true killer, Morse and Thursday are both preoccupied by romantic entanglements. Thursday’s silver wedding anniversary is approaching, but his world is shaken by a chance meeting with saleswoman Luisa Armstrong (Cécile Paoli), a lost love he believed dead for twenty-five years. We’ve learnt something of Thursday’s wartime experience in the past, but Sway sheds more light on his tragic experience in occupied Italy. He and Luisa were comrades, but when her clandestine activities in aiding the Allied troops were discovered, she was condemned to death. Miraculously, she survived, and was rescued by her future husband, the now deceased Captain Armstrong. Thursday – already married to Win – witnessed her apparent shooting, and has cherished the memory of their affair ever since. Luisa, however, has kept her own secret for two decades, one which reunion with Thursday will bring into the open. Morse, meanwhile, takes his romance with nurse Monica to another level on an eventful Bonfire Night – but will the lure of happy domesticity draw him in for long?
This series of Endeavour’s been marked by excellent, atmospheric direction, and Sway is no exception. Pleasing references to Sixties culture abound, from the Hitchcockian woman in peril, glamorous blonde Gloria Deeks (Gina Bramhill) to Lisk, the smarmy predator who knowingly styles himself on Michael Caine’s cold-hearted love rat, Alfie. The love story at the episode’s core, however, harks back to the era in which it began, the 1940s, with a tale of doomed romance worthy of Brief Encounter. Roger Allam and Cécile Paoli give restrained, period-appropriate performances, but real poignancy is supplied by Thursday’s lovely, long-suffering wife, Win (Caroline O’Neill), clueless about her rival but painfully aware that all is not quite as it should be in her marriage.
Against the backdrop of Oxford’s Remembrance Sunday commemorations, moving backstories of wartime experience emerge. Burridges’ employees carry burdensome memories, from Luisa’s tragic background of torture, suffering and guilt to the feelings expressed by Mr. Quinbury (Tim McMullan), embarrassed to admit he has appropriated some of the stockings to ease the discomfort of his prosthetic leg, even as he enthuses to Morse about the love for his country he discovered as he served in the RAF. With a sensitivity typical of Endeavour, all these characters serve to represent the complexity of wartime experience, something which even the empathetic Morse cannot hope to fully understand. Similar compassion is extended to learning disabled warehouseman Norman, bullied by his workmates but possessed of deep reserves of courage when he attempts to protect his beloved Gloria from Lisk’s unwelcome advances, and to Charles Highbank (Adrian Schiller), whose wit conceals bittersweet memories of his own lost love, shared with his confidante Luisa as she tells him of her unexpected reunion with Thursday.
The deadlier side of rejection is, it transpires, the key to the case; quiet Roy Huggins (Rob Jarvis) has harboured a loathing of Lisk ever since discovering that his own wife had embarked on an affair with the chancer. In the end, a mysterious chalk symbol found at the crime scene has a far more prosaic meaning than the sharp-eyed Morse initially assumes. As Thursday learns when he reads the final letter left to him by Luisa after her lonely suicide, not everything is quite as it seems, with emotional turmoil lurking beneath the respectable surface of Oxford life. Like many of that stoic wartime generation, she lived with her pain for many years, but ultimately, as Thursday puts it, ‘died of wounds’.
Read Gem’s review of the previous episode, Nocturne, here.
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