This review contains spoilers.
The dramatic ending to Endeavour series seven’s eerie opener has left us in a strange position. Morse – along with most of his colleagues – believes that they’ve got the towpath murderer safely in custody. Thursday thinks differently, and we know he’s right. Not that Oxford’s finest don’t have quite enough to preoccupy them as another tangled web of crimes reveals itself. As an election draws near, tensions are rising in the city thanks to far-right agitators led by Martin Gorman (Jason Merrells) and racially motivated violence between rival gangs of youths is becoming an issue. Belonging is a consistent theme here, from the confused identity of half-Polish Gary Rogers (William Allam) to the feelings of alienation experienced by the younger members of the Sardar family, whose Bengali heritage means different things to them all. It’s a powder keg waiting to ignite, and Morse, as ever, is there to witness the grim aftermath.
The strange disappearance of deliveryman Mr Aziz (Raj Awasti) is the first in a series of puzzles that draw Thursday’s and Morse’s attention to the staff of The Jolly Rajah, a popular Indian restaurant. When the poor man’s body is discovered by Morse at one of the addresses on Aziz’s round, the investigation steps up a gear. The property’s owned by TV chef Oberon Prince (Neil Roberts), but he’s nowhere to be found. The police draw a blank with the dead man’s employers, too. Restaurant owner Uqbah Sardar (Madhav Sharma, in an affecting performance) is struggling to come to terms with the fact that he’s living with dementia and in denial about its impact on his memory. Unease is building in his family, with discord increasing between doctor Farook (Sia Alipour) and brother Salim (Shane Zaza), who’s starting to concern his wife Nuha (Hiftu Quasem) with his mysterious behaviour.
Trouble’s also brewing between Morse and Thursday. It’s becoming apparent now, as we inch towards a future we’ve already seen, that there’s a reason why Thursday disappears from Morse’s life. The possibility of corruption might not have been able to shatter an alliance of mentor and pupil that once seemed gold-plated, but disaffection just might corrode it beyond restoration. There’s still affection and loyalty between them, but Morse is avoiding their cosy evenings in the pub, and Thursday’s noticed. He’s lost in his own thoughts more often than not now, to Win’s concern, and even Frazil’s picked up on Fred’s lack of enthusiasm for a job that once took up most of his waking thoughts.
Morse is still pressing on with redecorating a house that it’s hard not to think of as old, filled as it already is in our minds with echoes of the life to come. For now, though, light fills a living room denuded of its paper: the ghosts of its previous, tragic occupants seemingly at their rest. Morse’s even starting to move on from his doomed love for Joan Thursday, as we see in a brief conversation with Win. But the light is followed by deep shadow, and never more so than when Morse reluctantly finds himself crossing paths with college acquaintance Ludo and the woman we now know to be Ludo’s wife, Violetta. Despite our man’s best efforts, Violetta’s determined not to leave their passionate Venetian tryst to memory. Tragedy is on its way in next week’s finale, it seems. In the moment, all is bliss.
Shaun Evans did a superb job of setting up this three-act drama, and director Zam Salim takes up that baton with finesse in ‘Raga’. That title, incidentally, refers to a pattern of notes in Indian classical music. How appropriate for a show renowned for its haunting theme tune, composed by the great Barrington Pheloung, who passed away last summer aged just 65: a bitter loss indeed.
Matthew Slater’s music captures this episode’s dramatic heft with typical grace, as James Aspinall’s cinematography lends some strikingly tense sequences a noirish depth, clashing pleasingly against the stark sunshine of Oxford’s days. Once again, the episode tackles timely concerns. The past may be another country, but they don’t, it turns out, do things all that differently from us. Rebecca Saire’s fine depiction of crushing grief is a particular highlight in a series always blessed in its supporting cast, as it is in its main players.
It’s not all bleak, though. The advent of wrestling and TV cookery shows leaves plenty of opportunity for Russell Lewis’s sharp script to make some cheeky nods, including the juxtaposition of two names that leave even the unflappable Morse blinking. The marvellous Anton Lesser sells one gag about food critics with a deliciously pregnant pause.
Comedy or tragedy, then? We’ll find out soon enough.