This review contains spoilers.
With Morse back at work after the dramatic events of the series three opener, it’s business as usual for Oxford’s sharpest detective. When artist Simon Hallward is killed in a terrible fire at his flat, the police initially assume that his death is nothing more than an accident. However, Morse’s attention is drawn to a Teasmaid next to the dead man’s bed that appears to have been the seat of the fire. Further investigation reveals that Hallward was responsible for poisoning food supplied to local supermarket, Richardson’s. This turns out to have been the cause of a mysterious recent ‘tummy bug’ which caused the death of a local woman. Hallward’s links with a nearby commune run by overbearing Gideon Finn (Max Bennett) intrigue Morse, while Finn’s abusive relationship with unworldly Ayesha (Amelia Clarkson) attracts Thursday’s ire. The kindly detective is of the opinion that ‘free love’ always ends up being the most costly variety of all.
The targets of the hate campaign appear to be owner Leo Richardson (Richard Dillane) and his dissatisfied wife, Annette (Genevieve O’Reilly). Possible culprits abound. Political activist Cuthbert Mukamba (Charles Babalola) is protesting against Richardson’s possible involvement in importing prohibited Rhodesian goods, giving him a plausible motive for transforming peaceful protest into terrorism. Store manager Ivor Maddox (Chris Larkin) has a difficult history with his employer. His grandfather was a co-owner of the firm, which was founded on staunch Quaker principles, until his pacifist beliefs conflicted with his partner’s decision to supply the army with provisions during WWI. It soon emerges that Richardson’s has been the target of a blackmailer for some time. Its owner was content to dismiss the letters as the work of a crank, but the kidnap of his daughter Verity (Gala Gordon) proves that those responsible mean business. When the kidnapper calls to demand £100,000 in return for letting Verity live, the investigation turns into a frantic race against time.
As always with Endeavour, there’s a quieter but no less compelling emotional thread running through the episode. As one familiar face departs, a new character is introduced. Jakes’ life has been transformed by a whirlwind romance with an American student and an unplanned pregnancy. Much to his own surprise, Jakes is delighted to be settling down, though it won’t be in Oxford. He and his bride-to-be are moving across the Atlantic to live in her home state of Wyoming. Morse has forged a strong friendship with his former rival since the revelation of Jakes’ horrendous years at the Blenheim Vale boys’ home, and is saddened to be losing a colleague whose acerbic wit kept him on his toes. New recruit WPC Shirley Trewlove (Dakota Blue Richards) looks set to be a fine addition to Thursday’s team, however. Morse is impressed by her powers of observation, while she appears to have been rather taken by him. The young detective is a popular man this week, in fact, as he struggles to resist temptation in the shape of the glamorous and persistent Annette Richardson. Joan Thursday (Sara Vickers) is also still hoping that Morse will take a hint, as is the audience, despite our knowledge that a happy home life is destined always to be beyond poor Endeavour’s grasp.
After the literary allusions and complicated twists of last week’s episode, Arcadia is a return to the suburban drama more typical of Endeavour. Lovers of retro trappings will be entranced by Richardson’s, with its pastel colours and Green Shield stamps, while those with a long-term investment in Morse’s world will savour some lovely character moments. Jakes was a prickly presence in earlier series, but his relationship with Morse has softened into something rather touching in recent episodes, and their final farewell gives both Jack Laskey and Shaun Evans a chance to shine. Another highlight is Morse’s brief discussion of his late mother, herself a devout Quaker, with Maddox’s wife Prudence (Joanna Roth), which sheds a little more light upon his sad past. Abigail Thaw makes a welcome appearance as Morse’s old pal in the press, Dorothea Frazil, who has helpful information regarding the history of the beleaguered store.
New character dynamics look set to provide interesting developments as this series continues. WPC Trewlove is a bright and likeable addition to the group, while her arrival seems to herald a new era for Chief Superintendent Bright, who’s mellowed considerably in this series. By contrast, DI Thursday has become rather withdrawn. Despite his insistence to Morse that he’d been comfortable with returning to the force after the horrifying events at the end of series two, we’re left to wonder whether his brush with death has left deeper scars than he’s willing to admit. The theme of past trauma haunting those who have lived through it has loomed large so far this season, and it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere fast.
Read Gem’s review of the previous episode, Ride, here.