This review contains spoilers.
It’s late summer inOxford: a time for picnics, laughter and lazy afternoons by the river. This being the 1960s, it’s also time for a bout of Jeux Sans Frontières, also known as It’s A Knockout, in which we’re treated to period-appropriate frivolity narrated for television by a host whose rictus grin can’t quite sell the good-natured weirdness of Europe’s most charmingly eccentric competitive event. All right, its second most charmingly eccentric competitive event. The perils of nul points at Eurovision are as nothing to the risks of this particular contest, however.
Fancy manages to get Morse to replace him in the giant running race, which gifts us with the sight of Shaun Evans struggling to get out of an oversized mascot’s costume. The day ends up being memorable for far bleaker reasons; the West German competitor slumps to the ground, seemingly from heatstroke, just as a young boy (Hector Bateman-Hardman) in the crowd crumples to the floor in agony as his mother (Jennifer Tollady) screams for help. Both have been shot. The German, Pfuscher, is dead, but DeBryn manages to do enough in the ambulance to save the unlucky lad’s life. Suspicion quickly falls on the Swiss contestant, who’s disappeared. He replaced a man called Verfelli at short notice. Morse heads to Verfelli’s hotel to find answers, only to discover the man’s dead body stuffed into a wardrobe. It soon becomes apparent that this killing was committed to facilitate the German’s assassination, but, as Thursday puts it, why disrupt the ‘silly fun’ of the contest to do so?
The mystery behind this strange affair deepens when Special Branch arrive to take over the murder investigation. Morse is disgusted by the lack of official interest in finding the boy’s potential murderer, and resolves to continue digging on his own. The discovery that Pfuscher’s dentures were made in the Communist East Germany rather than Bavaria, his supposed home state, raises suitably red flags. A love note from a Czech trade representative hints at further complications, while a summons to London for Morse drags him ever further into a case rather different from any the young policeman has seen before. Thursday, meanwhile, grows deeply concerned that local newsagent Joe Dozier (Andrew Paul) is inflicting vicious physical abuse on his wife, Elsie (Mary Roscoe). This seemingly unrelated vignette of domestic misery runs in the background of the international conspiracy that our Endeavour finds himself drawn into, leading us towards a conclusion in which the seedy glamour of Cold War espionage is thrust aside to reveal the human misery behind political violence and insurrection.
Quartet is a nicely paced and compelling episode which weaves together a number of appealing and atmospheric themes: upper-crust English political wrangling clashes with Cold War-era divisions on the Continent, with machinations in high places and clandestine operations behind the most reassuringly familiar facades. Fans of the decade’s spy thrillers will appreciate the numerous visual references and the cold stylishness of Geoff Sax’s direction. Morse fills Harry Palmer’s shoes rather nicely, it must be said, styled with lashings of working-class British contempt for the conspiratorial toffs at the top. A good balance is struck between the genuine poignancy of political division and the winking comedy of this decade’s films; a gloriously weird cutting about Pfuscher’s visit to the University’s German society comes with a headline worthy of the glory days of regional news. We even get a villain worthy of a Bond movie in flamboyant perfumier Sebastian Fenix (Mark Ready), complete with a pet fish that might just be the most terrifying character we’ve seen in Endeavour to date.
There’s a lingering melancholy to this episode, too, as Morse notices Claudine slipping away from him. Dorothea Frazil is on hand to offer him some timely advice about missed opportunities; their bond remains as sweetly argumentative as ever. Morse pays heed to this counsel and takes advantage of an unexpected Sunday off to visit his girlfriend, only to find her packing some clothing away. She claims to be tidying, but he’s concerned that she’s planning to leave town. A punting trip in the late-summer sunshine reveals another surprise, as Morse spots Trewlove and Fancy kissing on a bridge over the river. Lasting happiness, it seems, comes to everyone but him. Claudine wants to enjoy the moment, but his mind’s always somewhere else, as if watching from a distance; as he told Joan so recently, this is as close as he gets. Claudine snaps a candid photo of him, and he protests that he isn’t ready. “That’s the point!” His new love is eager to enjoy the last days of summer for what they are, but Morse senses a chill in the air. “The year’s turned. Pretty soon it’ll be bonfires and hoarfrost. Winter’s on its way.”
Another loss looms as Thursday reveals his plans to retire at the end of the year, much to Win’s relief. Morse learns this as they sit in their favourite spot in the pub, the mentor and his pupil comfortable now in their easy friendship. Fred’s ready to turn in the ‘tin star’, a sheriff set in the old ways and losing patience with this murkier new world of bureaucratic interference and thuggish interlopers. Morse, who’s experienced his fair share of Third Man-style nastiness in this episode, is left sitting alone, with the empty seat opposite him a vision of the future. Fred Thursday’s place in his life won’t easily be filled, but we know, though Morse doesn’t, that another family man with a strong moral compass will one day occupy that chair. Winter might be on its way, but the hoarfrost will melt under a northern sun.
Read Gem’s review of the previous episode, Colours, here.