This review contains spoilers.
When Ingrid Hjort (Eleanor Williams) goes missing after an evening out, the police can find no trace of the Danish au pair. Her employer, widowed scientist Dr Hector Lorenz (Milo Twomey) claims to know nothing about her disappearance, while her fellow students at the night school she attended are similarly clueless. Thursday’s convinced that the presumed murder is linked to the vicious attack in 1963 that left another young woman in a coma, but in the absence of Ingrid’s body, nothing can be proved.
The investigation soon takes a turn for the macabre when a man’s severed arm is retrieved from the river. The victim, Ricky Parker (David Burnett) was having fun on the riverbank at night with friends when he disappeared without a trace. Morse is then despatched to look into the whereabouts of a missing birdwatcher, Moxem, but finds only his torn tent in the woods. The savage slaughter of a pet dog and a goat at a nearby family home is the first sign that the ‘murderer’ in this particular case might be a little more exotic than the average Oxford-based serial killer. DeBryn returns from his fishing holiday just in time for an angry dispute with his arrogant stand-in, and confirms that the marks on Parker’s arm are consistent with an attack by a tiger.
The trail seems to point to the estate owned by the aristocratic Mortmaigne family, who have experienced more than their fair share of tragedy. Brother Guy (Ed Lambert) plans to turn the estate into a safari park, despite the scars – both physical and psychological – inflicted on his sister Georgina (Stefanie Martini) when attacked by a tiger as a girl. Julia Mortmaigne (Amy McCallum) is grieving for her dead husband while caring for her infant son, and considers the Mortmaignes to be tainted by bad blood. The stage is set for a terrifying confrontation that will test all Morse’s reserves of courage.
Prey features one of the most unusual cases we’ve ever seen in Endeavour, and is a hugely rewarding watch on an emotional level, particularly for long-standing fans of the show. Jakes’ departure has changed the dynamics of Morse’s workplace quite considerably, and the repercussions are felt immediately. With Strange promoted to Detective Sergeant in Jakes’ place, the relationship between him and Morse – always awkward after the events of series two, which saw Strange begin to climb the ladder by joining the Freemasons and rubbing shoulders with the top brass – is becoming a little combative. Despite Strange’s touching attempts to win over his cultured colleague with a classical music LP and a pint, it’s clear that things will never quite be the same again. Slowly but surely, Shaun Evans’ Morse is acquiring that tetchy edge familiar from John Thaw’s older Inspector, which is both sad and oddly comforting. One thing’s for certain: what Morse has gained in cynicism, he certainly hasn’t lost in bravery, as this episode’s exciting and tense conclusion proves.
Morse’s evolution may be a pleasure to watch, but Thursday’s continuing suffering is anything but. The two men’s responses to the fallout from series two’s dramatic finale have shifted subtly. We saw Morse reject his career in the police, only to return with renewed determination and a thicker skin. His decision to take his Inspector’s exam at the end of this episode is a far cry from his disaffection at the beginning of series three, yet it feels inevitable even without our prior knowledge of his ultimate fate. Thursday, by contrast, has lost all the calm stoicism he displayed when trying to persuade Morse to return to the force. Aware now that he’s living on borrowed time, he’s haunted by memories of those he couldn’t bring to justice. That bitterness leads to an uncharacteristic violent outburst that almost lets a guilty man walk free.
Roger Allam is utterly convincing in his depiction of Thursday’s breakdown, and is matched here by the brilliant Anton Lesser. Chief Superintendent Bright has shown a far more human side this series, having previously been a remote and authoritarian figure. In this episode, we learn of his guilt and grief at having been unable to save the life of a colleague when attempting to bring down a man-eating tiger in colonial India. The presence of WPC Trewlove seems to have brought out his more paternal characteristics, leading to a decisive moment at the episode’s conclusion that cements Bright’s place within the team once and for all.
One of the incidental pleasures of watching Endeavour is, of course, the presence of nods to the established continuity of Inspector Morse and Lewis. Prey features perhaps the most enjoyable allusion yet, in the presence of a young gardener named Philip Hathaway (Rob Callender). Although writer Russell Lewis wisely avoids any obvious explanations, it’s clear that this Hathaway is the father of a certain cool blond Inspector best known to us as the right-hand man of Morse’s future sidekick, Robbie Lewis. If the Mortmaigne name rings bells, it should: in the season four Lewis episode, The Dead of Winter, Hathaway was forced to return to the estate, which had been his childhood home as well as his father’s workplace, in the course of another murder investigation. We’ll never have the pleasure of seeing Morse and the younger Hathaway cross paths, but this is surely the next best thing.
Read Gem’s review of the previous episode, Arcadia, here.