This review contains spoilers.
When a man’s skeleton is discovered at Bramford Mere, Thursday’s mind immediately turns to the unsolved disappearance of Matthew Laxman, an Oxford botanist who vanished in autumn 1962. Dr DeBryn soon reveals, however, that the bones belonged to a man who died in what appears to have been a ritual sacrifice two thousand years earlier; as Strange puts it, looking for next of kin won’t be too easy. Morse spots a pair of spectacles in the disturbed earth, which Laxman’s wife Alison (Natalie Burt) is able to identify as likely belonging to her husband. She points the detectives in the direction of Professor Donald Bagley (Michael Pennington), a physicist friend of Laxman’s at Wolsey College. It soon emerges that the two men were involved in resistance to the local nuclear power plant, Bramford B, which Bagley – once a proponent of atomic energy – has opposed since the loss of his wife to an aggressive form of leukaemia caused by exposure to radiation.
Morse, still distracted by the subterfuge surrounding his meeting with Joan, doesn’t understand why Thursday’s insisting that they look more closely at the Laxman case; after all, County investigated at the time and found nothing. Thursday points out that “County couldn’t find their arse with two hands and a map”, which justifies further inquiries on their part. Morse sets out for the village of Bramford to question the residents, only to collide with a wall of cheery, eerie silence. A missing person everyone claims never to have seen, ancient local rites connected with the harvest, and an intense young policeman stumbling onto that which would have been best left undisturbed? You’ll be relieved to hear that the corn dollies hanging over the church door are the closest we actually get to horrifying wicker effigies…
One of the villagers Morse meets is young American Ros Levin (Emily Forbes). Her husband Jon (Alex Wyndham) works at the plant, and his evasiveness as to whether he was in England at the time of Laxman’s disappearance raises Morse’s suspicions. Gaining access to the facilities proves difficult, and it’s only with Dorothea Frazil’s assistance that Morse manages to sneak in and speak to its manager, Elliott Blake (Adam Levy), who insists that locals’ concerns about the plant are worth disregarding in the name of scientific progress. Dowsable Chattox, Bramford’s resident soothsayer, is not in agreement. Her home will be destroyed when the area is flooded as part of the plant’s expansion, although she maintains that the land she and son Seth (Christopher Coghill) cherish will endure, even after they are gone. Seth’s interest in the activities of Selina Berger (Joanna Horton), unmarried sister of the distinctly sinister Dr Tristan Berger (Sam Hoare), will prove to be the key to the mystery. Morse, meanwhile, continues to struggle with his own thwarted love, even as Thursday finally discovers Joan’s whereabouts.
Harvest closes the current series of Endeavour with a final tribute to John Thaw’s Inspector Morse; the thirtieth anniversary of his first appearance on our screens has been marked in each episode of this fourth run. The tarot reader whose cards have been dealt at the end of every film is now revealed to be Mrs Chattox, who’s been expecting Morse for a long time. It’s fitting, then, that she should be played by Thaw’s widow, Sheila Hancock, who, in tandem with Coghill’s Seth, brings a suitable blend of earthiness and mysticism to the episode. The presence of Abigail Thaw’s Frazil is another nice touch; her ability to make Shaun Evans’ beleaguered Morse smile is always a pleasure to watch. The scheme concocted by the two of them to get Morse inside the plant provides some fun moments, notably Morse’s assumed identity as press photographer ‘Snappy’ Jenkins. Well, he can be, as the perceptive Ms Frazil observes.
Endeavour is usually full of references to classic film and television, and Harvest is particularly rich in allusions to classic genre fiction. The affectionate pastiche of The Wicker Man will delight fans of that legendary horror, although the ominous undercurrents beneath Bramford’s picture-postcard charms turn out to have nothing to do with Morse’s case, in a twist that nicely subverts our expectations. The other major plot thread concerns the cover-up at Bramford B, and leads us onto very different territory. Bagley’s tense final confrontation with Blake and Levin in the plant control room, aided by the zealous Nigel Warren (Simon Meacock), evokes 1979 thriller The China Syndrome in its depiction of nuclear power’s potential for destruction and a dark conspiracy to keep such a threat from the public eye.
The prophecy of death issued to Morse by the tarot reader proves to be accurate; its realisation, however, is less dramatic than might have been expected, although no less sad for that. Joan’s fate is even bleaker than Morse had thought, and Thursday’s intervention only serves to make matters worse. As the episode comes to a close, it’s unclear how matters will develop, although more sadness seems certain. As we follow the young Endeavour Morse into 1968, the six episodes lined up for series five will give writer Russell Lewis plenty of space in which to explore the unforgettable character first introduced to us by John Thaw thirty years ago.
Read Gem’s review of the previous episode, Lazaretto, here.