This review contains spoilers.
It’s the dawn of a new year. A new decade, in fact. Yet, the more things change, the more they remain the same. The cold light of early morning brings with it a gruesome discovery, as the corpse of barmaid Molly Andrews (Lucy Farrar) is found not far from the pub where she worked. Accusing fingers are soon pointed at her boyfriend, Carl Sturgis (Sam Ferriday), but something doesn’t quite add up. Max DeBryn is unable to say for certain how Molly’s neck was broken, which doesn’t improve Fred Thursday’s mood. Years of murder cases are starting to take their toll on him, as he gloomily tells Dorothea Frazil (Abigail Thaw). Even more troublingly, the cumulative effect of such human misery seems to be having an impact on his performance as a detective.
Something’s missing from this picture: or rather, someone. We find Endeavour Morse in Venice, enjoying the sights of La Serenissima, not to mention some more visceral pleasures. Only Morse could make two weeks’ leave into a romantic sojourn worthy of an opera. Three guesses as to which cultural pursuit Morse has been partaking in, by the way. Is it too much of a spoiler to say that you won’t be needing two of them?
A passionate encounter with the glamorous Violetta (Stephanie Leonidas) leaves our man lovelorn and wistful on his return to work, haunted by flashes of sensuous memory. The only thing Endeavour’s stripping off in Oxford is faded wallpaper. When an old college friend returns to his life – Ludo (Ryan Gage), charming, urbane and Italian – the atmosphere shifts again. Comedy or tragedy? We’ll see how this particular opera plays out in the next two episodes, but that opening sequence doesn’t exactly promise laughs.
The lure of a TV career uncovers a nest of vipers within Oxford’s scientific community, as various contenders vie for a role as presenter. Young researcher Naomi Benford (Naomi Battrick) stands out against her colleagues, sneering misogynist Dai Ferman (Richard Harrington), downtrodden Jeremy Kreitsek (Reece Ritchie) and the condescending Professor Blish (Angus Wright). Her success, and her colleagues’ poisonous resentments, set off a chain reaction that leads to a horrible tragedy. What does all this have to do with a sex pest, the towpath murder, and the strange visions experienced by barmaid Jenny Tate (Holli Dempsey)? A certain tension builds between the jaded Fred and a frustrated Endeavour as hints of incompetence are dropped. Could it be that even Morse hasn’t quite grasped the full span of this supernaturally tinged mystery?
After his triumphant directorial debut on the show last year, long-time Endeavour viewers will have been quietly crossing their fingers for Shaun Evans to get behind the camera once again. Oracle sees him do double duty for a second time, and it was worth the wait. Spectacular shots of Venice, drenched in vivid atmosphere, swim back into view in flashback as Morse returns to an Oxford of bleak beauty tinged with loss. The murder scene, framed against a chilly January morning, is all the starker for this contrast. A stolen love affair and a lingering regret, all summed up by Morse with a quiet, “Oh, you know…” when Thursday asks how his jaunt abroad went. Couple this with Bright’s protracted grief as he watches his sick wife (Carol Royle) try everything in her search for a cure, and the scene is set for a powerful run of episodes. With the help of a mordantly funny script by writer Russell Lewis, Evans has proved that he has Morse’s measure.
After a deep dive into the changing mores of the Swinging Sixties over the past six series, Endeavour has reached a new decade. 1970’s Oxford is that bit harsher and more cynical than we’ve seen it before, but how could it be otherwise after the near-disaster that hit the city’s finest at the end of the previous run of episodes? Cinematic references to Don’t Look Now abound, and not just in the use of Venice as a location. The supernatural element is conveyed with a frisson of genuine horror worthy of M. R. James, while these disconcerting elements of the story are grounded by the more mundane – if no less distressing – sexism ingrained in Dr Benford’s sad fate. Questions of power, agency and spiteful revenge call forward to crimes that are, sadly, still very current. It’s an intriguing mix that kicks off this all-too-brief seventh series in style.