This review contains spoilers.
Progress is a funny thing. A new estate of high-rise flats springs up in Oxford, trumpeted in the local press and enthusiastically promoted by Councillor Clive Burkitt (Alexander Hanson). Olive Reynolds (Faith Omole) and her daughter Sandra (Zaris-Angel Hator) are the first residents to move in, beaming with delight and pride in their new home. It isn’t long, however, before the cracks begin to show – quite literally. The building they occupy is called Cranmer House, and the estate on which it stands is Martyrs’ Grove: names redolent of death and persecution, in a city dense with such ancient memories. As new victims of the deadly trade in quinine-laced heroin are discovered, coldly dismissed as ‘junkies’ by Box and Jago, it’s a reminder that modernity often brings with it yet more opportunities for human suffering.
The discovery of librarian Osbert Page (Michael Jenn), stabbed in the back amongst the Bodleian’s bookstacks, presents Morse and Thursday with a fresh puzzle. Another member of staff, Lucy Paroo (Precious Mustapha), reveals information about the last visitors to the library on the day of the murder that leads the detectives in a number of interesting directions. One promising avenue of enquiry involves Dr Jasper Nicholson (Aidan McArdle), a mathematician whose unusual request for a book of Edwardian erotica, from a collection kept under lock and key due to its subject matter, strikes the policemen as odd. Nicholson’s shock at the sight of a word scrawled on his blackboard raises further questions.
Nicholson’s connection to the case becomes particularly intriguing when more’s revealed about his connections in Germany during World War Two. Professor Ernest Burrowes (Paul Jesson) has carried a private grief for many years, and new knowledge that a loved one and her family could have been spared has lit a spark of revenge. Morse’s visit to Deborah Teagarden (Laura Donoughue), granddaughter of a Jewish physicist who fled his homeland during those terrible years, yields new insights. The Talmudic legend of the golem, a figure brought to life from inanimate matter and imbued with the potential for good or evil, is a potent image that encapsulates the moral conundrum at the heart of this episode. Tragedy takes many forms, and the old palimpsest of human suffering has been rewritten again and again.
When catastrophe strikes at Cranmer House, it’s left to Morse and colleagues to locate the terrified survivors amid the wreckage of their dream homes. Set against this tragedy, there’s another shock. A man’s body is found in what was the basement, his hands tied: shot twice in the back, he was buried in liquid concrete and dumped in the building’s foundations. Nothing can be found to identify the corpse, but Morse’s dogged pursuit of the truth uncovers some disturbing links to a much greater conspiracy, one with ramifications for him and everyone at Castle Gate. A surveyor’s disappearance is the first link in a chain of events that goes right to the top. Who will end up on the right side of the very thin line between the just and the unjust?
This sixth series of Endeavour has been all about change: the passage of time, the shuffling of fate’s cards, and the impact all that has upon what was once the fellowship of Oxford City. It’s wrought havoc among these men’s lives, in different ways. Those disparate threads are brought together in this episode, and the stakes for all involved are high. That mysterious title carries a grim significance. The degüello is a bugle call, as played by the Mexican Army to signal that there would be no quarter given, as Santa Anna’s forces laid siege to the garrison at the Alamo in 1836. The lingering sense of a threat from the inside has added a note of fear to proceedings throughout a strong set of cases, hovering at Morse’s shoulder in the bleakly lit environs of Castle Hill. Now, finally, it emerges from the shadows. Box, with his glib tongue and his elastic conscience, was never the real enemy. As so often, the true mastermind is hiding in plain sight.
In a gripping, tense conclusion to the ongoing conspiracy, old scores are settled and a friend avenged at long last. Fred is presented with an ultimatum by his beloved Win (Caroline O’Neill, better than ever this series as the long-suffering Mrs Thursday, who’s now barely able to conceal her pent-up anger and resentment) and Bright grieves for the imminent loss of his own wife, in moving scenes that will prove a tough watch for those who have followed these characters from the beginning.
The terrifying collapse of the tower block is horrifyingly depicted in an episode not short on visual flair, helmed by Jamie Donoughue. It’s an incident both appropriate to the decade of Ronan Point and reminiscent of other, more recent tragedies. As usual, a fine guest cast bring additional class; Aidan McArdle is particularly impressive as a man bearing an immense burden of guilt. Our regulars shine as brightly as ever, with Anton Lesser and Roger Allam in the spotlight. Simon Harrison’s Box, meanwhile, reveals interesting depths in this episode that complicate any easy assumptions about good and evil. As for Jago? Nobody puts DeBryn in a car boot and gets away with it.
We begin the episode with a bright new home that turned out to be a death trap; we end it with a charnel house, emptied now of its unhappy occupants, and ready to offer a guarded welcome to a new owner. It’s strangely fitting that this place of death should pass into the hands of the last person to show its former inhabitants any kindness. If that squalid living room looked vaguely familiar, you’ll soon realise why.
He’ll be needing a car, then.
Read Gem’s review of the previous episode, Confection, here.