This review contains spoilers.
Endeavour’s second series ended its run back in April 2014, leaving us desperate to find out how the events of its final episode would be resolved. We last saw the young Endeavour Morse in prison, falsely accused of the murder of Chief Constable Standish. His mentor, Detective Inspector Fred Thursday, was at death’s door after his shooting by the real killer, corrupt Assistant Chief Constable Deare. Would Morse be freed, and would Thursday survive the attack? The first of those questions wasn’t too hard to answer for long-time fans of the future Inspector Morse, but the second was considerably more troubling.
Ride begins in summer 1967, a year after the events of series two. It’s a relief to find Thursday alive and back on duty, although suffering from lingering discomfort caused by the bullet lodged in his lung. Morse is a free man, but he’s giving his former colleagues a wide berth. It transpires that the conspiracy brought out into the open in that dramatic finale has been thwarted, though the hideous abuse perpetrated against the children resident in the Blenheim Vale Boys’ Home has, predictably, been classified for fifty years.
As his old friend Jim Strange (Sean Rigby) tells Morse, prison was the safest place for him during the painstaking process of uncovering the culprits and proving his innocence. This knowledge doesn’t do anything to assuage Morse’s guilt and anger at his appalling treatment, or to relieve the trauma he clearly experienced during his time in prison. He wants nothing more to do with a force he has lost all faith in, and seeks refuge with wealthy friends from his former college. Their gilded, hedonistic lifestyle suits his current mood. Even his steady relationship with sweet nurse Monica (Shvorne Marks) has fallen apart under the strain. No amount of suffering, however, can dull that brilliant analytical mind. When bus conductor (or ‘clippie’) Jeannie Hearne (Meghan Treadway) is found murdered in the woods outside Oxford, Morse finds himself drawn back into the fold, despite his earnest desire to leave the bleak world of police work far behind him.
The swift resolution of series two’s conspiracy may have taken place off-screen, but its repercussions will clearly be felt for some time to come. Shaun Evans movingly conveys Morse’s obvious pain and guilt, while the relationship between the young detective and his father figure, Thursday (Roger Allam) is as affecting as ever. In one quietly touching scene between the two men, Thursday tells Morse never to feel culpable for what happened to him. He could have saved his own neck, but he made a stand when it counted, and that’s all that matters. Morse’s often fractious relationship with his other colleagues looks set to improve in series three; Chief Superintendent Bright (Anton Lesser) even makes an apology of sorts in expressing his hope for ‘a better tomorrow’.
The case itself is complex and surprising, with a twist that will be particularly appreciated by those who watched the recent Sherlock special. Sometimes, it appears, it really is twins. Endeavour’s always played with literary references, and this episode’s allusions to The Great Gatsby stand out. Morse is a fine choice to play Nick Carraway to Joss Bixby (David Oakes), the wealthy and mysterious neighbour whose tragic story hinges, like Gatsby’s, on his buried past and the ongoing agony of a doomed love affair. The object of Bixby’s affections is Kay Buchan (Jemima West), the wife of the boorish Bruce (Ben Mansfield). Her seductive powers even work their magic on Morse, until he begins to discern the coldness behind the glamorous veneer. Strange and Morse’s former foe DS Jakes (Jack Laskey) find their absentee colleague’s association with his wealthy new friends to be out of character for him, a sentiment the audience will likely share. Morse’s attempt to seek solace in his old university acquaintances makes good psychological sense, however. He is, after all, always sailing against the current, into a past we know will ultimately prove to be inescapable.
References to the wider Morse universe are always part of the fun when watching Endeavour. This week, we encountered the detective’s ill-fated former roommate Tony Donn (Samuel Bartlett) who ended up on the mortuary slab himself in the series three Inspector Morse episode, Deceived By Flight (1989). One especially amusing reference was provided by Morse’s guided tour of Bixby’s impressive collection of cars. He expresses an interest in a sporty red Jaguar, which Bixby immediately offers him as a gift. Whether it’s that Jag, of course, remains to be seen…
The story ends, of course, in tragedy. Saddened by the course of events, the sensitive Morse wonders aloud whether he could have changed the outcome by warning Bixby off the amoral Buchans. Thursday tells him it wouldn’t have changed a thing, and Morse ruefully accepts that truth. ‘Back to work, then?’ asks Thursday. ‘Back to work,’ Morse answers. For good or ill, Oxford’s finest is back where he belongs.
Read Gem’s review of the series two finale, Neverland, here.