This review contains spoilers.
The final episode of Endeavour’s current series opens with two big shocks. Bright informs his team that Cowley station will be closing at the end of the month and that they will be reassigned elsewhere. Just as we’re digesting this development, we learn that Morse seems to have already found alternative employment. He’s starting his first day as a teacher for the Lower Sixth class at the aptly named Coldwater, a forbidding boys’ public school. Before you start wondering how they’re going to make this forgotten professional detour fit into established Morse continuity, worry not; he’s undercover. The mysterious disappearance of the man he’s replaced, James Ivory, has attracted the attention of Bright’s superiors after the death in a car crash of the investigating DI and his bagman. Morse’s job is to infiltrate the hermetically sealed world of the school and find out what’s really going on. Trewlove, meanwhile, is posing as his wife, and will make discreet enquiries with the missing man’s spouse, Kate (Caroline Martin) while helping maintain Morse’s cover.
Morse’s new charges are, by and large, a fairly unpleasant bunch. From anti-semitic poison aimed at the unfortunately named Morris Minor (Thomas Panay) to snobbish barbs launched at Eddie Nero’s son, Brett (Anson Boon), Morse’s well-developed sense of decency is taking quite a pummelling. It quickly becomes clear that Ivory wasn’t the most suitable candidate for helping impressionable young men learn to navigate the world. Neither is Mr Blackwell (Felix Scott), the sadistic games teacher, who insists that flogging builds character and has a particular hatred for the shy, gentle Stanlow (Aldo Maland). Morse’s only real ally is the genial Mr Bodnar (Andrew Buckley), who cheerfully welcomes him to ‘St Bastard’s’ and is genuinely concerned about the boys’ welfare. He ought to be: the sinister ‘Praetorians’ led by Clunchfist (Louis Strong) are determined to put the wind up Morse, asking pointed questions about the deaths of the two policemen while insinuating that the crash they were involved in was no accident after all.
The ongoing investigation into Eddie Nero’s gangland activities seems to be drawing to a head as arrests are finally made, but Thursday’s hope for a satisfying resolution to the case as he approaches the end of his career is dashed by unexpected developments. Nero’s being threatened by Cromwell Ames (David Jonsson) who has designs on his patch, and the conflict between them isn’t going to be pretty. Fred’s got big problems at home, too. His fateful decision to loan his brother Charlie (Phil Daniels) a large sum of money backfires spectacularly when Charlie calls him to London to break the terrible news that some lowlifes to whom he also owes cash have pushed him into using his business as a front for fraudulent activity. Not only has Fred’s money gone, but the chance that the cheque could be traced back to him will have him looking over his shoulder for the rest of what’s going to be a much longer career than he’d hoped. When he breaks the news to Win, she’s uncharacteristically furious, and only a reconciliation with Joan can help raise his spirits.
Morse is struggling with his loneliness after Claudine’s departure, and the awkwardness of his and Trewlove’s masquerade as a married couple only serves to highlight that. Fancy’s not at all happy about the situation and warns Morse off, only to be told sharply to grow up and concentrate on his police work. It’s a justified rebuke, but one Morse will soon come to regret. He and Trewlove have a heart-to-heart one evening, during which she tells him that she’s not quite as keen as George is, though she’s hoping they’ll still be able to see each other when she requests a transfer to Scotland Yard. Morse reminds her that work isn’t everything: ‘If I found someone, all of this wouldn’t matter at all.’
While the case itself is interesting and twisty, with its darkly atmospheric setting and odd cast of characters on nodding terms with Lindsay Anderson’s If, the emotional heft of this episode is its main draw. Thursday’s unexpected rift with Win is a major blow, but a devastating tragedy concentrates the Cowley coppers’ minds on bringing a murderer to justice as a very personal loss shakes the foundations of their tight-knit group. As they comfort each other in their grief, Morse finally takes up the reins of his life and accepts a long-postponed invitation to coffee. We’ll see what 1969 has in store.
Read Gem’s review of the previous episode, Quartet, here.