This review contains spoilers.
All Arthur’s knights were brought down by earthly vices in the end: Lancelot by desire, Gawain by his pride and anger. Even the best of men had their price – all save one, Galahad. His destiny was to find the Grail, and to die as soon as he did so. No ties of love or family could bind him to this world for long. He saw men’s deeds with an outsider’s eye, and paid the outsider’s price in loneliness for doing so. It was the path forecast for him before his birth; there was none other open to him.
How appropriate, then, to be reminded of Galahad as we observe Morse at worship in the opening scenes of Neverland, the devastating final episode of Endeavour’s impressive second series. Raymond Chandler described his Philip Marlowe as a ‘shop-soiled Galahad’, a man whose purity of heart was tempered by a toughness necessary on streets meaner than the chivalric code could ever have predicted. Endeavour’s Morse may not yet be as hard boiled as his older self, but cases such as the one he investigates here will test his personal code of honour to its limits.
The disappearance of young Tommy Cork (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), a ten-year-old in fear of his brutal father, seems at first to have no bearing on the strange death of journalist Eric Patterson, an investigative reporter and friend of Morse’s trusty associate, Dorothea Frazil (Abigail Thaw). Frazil tells Morse that Patterson was supposed to be meeting her with news of a big story on the night he died, leading the thoughtful DC to believe that the dead man’s death was more than drunken misadventure. Patterson was last seen questioning Alderman Gerald Wintergreen (Gordon Kennedy) at a council function to celebrate the redevelopment of former young offenders’ institution Blenheim Vale by Landesman construction company. Tommy is found hiding on a local caravan site, but later absconds again; Morse soon deduces that the lad is on the run after witnessing the murder of escaped prisoner George Aldridge, a former Blenheim boy. Aldridge’s cellmate, ‘Nosey’ Parker (Martin Hancock), tells Morse that Aldridge took fright after seeing a mysterious personals ad in the local paper – but why?
After realising that the ‘A41’ tattoo on Aldridge’s arm was a reference to the Musketeers and their ‘all for one’ motto, Morse tracks down the remaining members of Aldridge’s gang of friends: ventriloquist Benny Topling (Oliver Lansley) and Nicholas Myers (Andrew Gower) who works on the classified adverts section at the newspaper, and was responsible for placing what Morse learns was a call for help. The old pals, still struggling to deal with the appalling abuse they experienced in Blenheim Vale, are trying to uncover the body of ‘Big Pete’, a friend who vanished after he was found to have torched the car of the vile Wintergreen, who led the brutality. Henry Portmore, another gang member who has forged a new life as an academic, is leading an archaeological dig as a front for the search, but has been thwarted by the suspicious council. When Wintergreen’s found stabbed to death in his office, Morse is perplexed by his colleague Jakes’ evident horror, but the trail he and Thursday follow uncovers a terrifying conspiracy that will cause Morse to view many of his fellow coppers in a new light.
Neverland dealt with horribly topical subject matter in the same compassionate, tasteful manner to which we’ve become accustomed over Endeavour’s two series so far. The suffering of Wintergreen’s victims – and the hypocrisy of a society that swept their misery under the carpet for the sake of keeping up appearances – is conveyed through deft touches. Topling, the entertainer, can only recount his memories of the past by assuming the wisecracking, reproachful persona of his ventriloquist’s dummy; Jakes – revealed, heartbreakingly, as ‘Little Pete’, the last member of the band of brothers – falls apart before Morse’s horrified eyes, his familiar bravado revealed as nothing more than a shield for a damaged soul. ‘Neverland’ depicts a society in denial of its worst impulses even as it indulges them under cover of ‘charity’ to its least fortunate.
Morse, meanwhile, is on his own journey of self-discovery, one on which he learns what truly matters to him. The prospect of a new life abroad with girlfriend Monica holds some appeal, yet it is never quite enough for one of the few men of honour on the force. Neverland shows us the first steps on Morse’s long and lonely road to Inspector status, and creates a welcome continuity between the young detective and his jaded future self. As Morse and Thursday wait for a bloody showdown with crazed senior policeman Clive Deare (James Wilby), Morse recites ‘XVI – (How clear, how lovely bright)’ by A.E. Housman. It stands as a tribute to his bond with Thursday, but also points forward to the next time we will hear it, on that ‘remorseful day’ when Morse himself will finally come to the end of his quest for a better world.
We end on a cliffhanger, with Thursday fighting for his life in hospital and Morse languishing in prison, accused of murder. He will, of course, be cleared, but the fury at a meddling, corrupt top brass will never leave him. The rest we can imagine for ourselves. He and Monica will drift apart, as Morse retreats into his work. Others, like the pliant Strange, will be promoted in his stead. And up in Newcastle, the young Robbie Lewis will already be thinking of becoming a policeman.
Read Gem’s review of the previous episode, Sway, here.
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