This review contains spoilers.
The disappearance of Frances Porter (Lydea Perkins) seems at first to be a run-of-the-mill missing persons case; as Morse reassures her concerned husband, Noel (Edwin Thomas) and sister, Jilly (Rosalie Craig), most such incidents are resolved quickly. Mrs Porter proves elusive, however, and Morse’s visit to the rather fabulous boutique she works at – Alice’s Marmalade Cat, which is the sort of thing Granny might have seen on her famous trip – turns up no clues apart from the identity of the vanished woman’s lover, a man named Don. Fellow sales assistant Anouska (Celeste Dodwell) also reveals that Frances borrowed some clothes from the shop to dress up for an assignation with the mystery man, a clue that will prove vital to solving this increasingly odd case. When Don (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) is eventually located, he insists that he knew Frances as Jilly. It appears that his paramour was posing as her sister to avoid detection, but could there be more to this than meets the eye?
Morse follows the train route Frances took on her last known journey and finds himself at the ominously named Gibbet’s End, a disused station closed during the Beeching reforms of 1964. In a locked office on the platform, he makes the grim discovery of Frances’s body, strangled and missing her shoes. Thursday, Strange, and Fancy arrive at the scene, looking on respectfully as DeBryn performs an examination with his usual compassion. Ms Frazil collars Morse and Thursday outside, asking searching questions about the case’s resemblance to the still unsolved murder of teenager Linda Gresham, also in 1964. Thursday’s wary of jumping to conclusions, but Morse begins to wonder whether a serial predator could be at work in Oxford.
Another killing is also under investigation, though the circumstances are very different. The murder of a lorry driver during a hijack infuriates Thursday with its senseless brutality; as he tells Morse, ‘That could have been my old man, or yours’. His promotion to Detective Chief Inspector has brought with it changes in responsibility, and even Bright can’t prevent the assignment of robbery detectives DI Ronnie Box (Simon Harrison) and DS Patrick Dawson (Thomas Coombes, back on the right side of the law after his appearance in last year’s Prime Suspect 1973). As another crime series starring the late, great John Thaw would doubtless have had it, Box and Dawson are a right couple of slags. The future of policing, as Box informs an appalled Bright during a tense scene late in the episode, is going to be about results rather than procedure. For now, though, the old ways prevail, and Oxford’s finest aren’t about to take Box’s disgraceful sexist abuse of Trewlove lying down. Far be it from me to glorify violence, but when a punch-up’s this entertaining, it’s worth an appreciative nod.
Trewlove and Fancy – sorry, George – are starting to get closer, which Morse finds hilarious. He’ll regret that one of these days, I bet. For now, he’s still pining for Joan, who’s making her Sixties swing in fine style with a groovy flatwarming party, to which Morse is invited. He stays for all of five minutes, after being rejected decisively when Joan tries to set him up with a friend of hers, French photographer Claudine. Shaun Evans captures Morse’s restrained grief at another lost opportunity with small gestures which delicately convey our man’s profound isolation. There’s a lovely moment as he watches Joan look out at the beautiful view over Oxford’s dreaming spires from the rooftop of her new digs. She calls to him to come closer, but he stays at a distance, looking at her as if behind glass. ‘This is as close as I get.’ Still, hope springs eternal, and a chance encounter in the street with a very Gallic siren who just might be Claudine puts a spring back in his step.
Passenger carefully depicts the clash between two very different historical memories of 1968: the quiet, suburban world Morse has worked in for so long, still with its vestiges of the previous decade and the longer shadow of the war behind it, as opposed to the garish, louche vibes of an outside world that is fast encroaching on Oxford’s tranquillity. The contrast between the psychedelic tones of Marty Bedlow’s (Hadley Fraser) clothes shop and the sedate, muted décor of the beautiful period trains and buses featured in this episode is jarring, and it should be. This collision of ideas and attitudes, and the emotional fallout it leaves behind, lends Endeavour’s fifth series a tone quite unlike its earlier outings. Morse won’t be the only one left on the outside, looking in.
Read Gem’s review of the previous episode, Cartouche, here.