Warning: contains spoilers for the Endeavour Series 9 finale ‘Exeunt’.
With funereal imagery and talk of death, the Endeavour finale presaged tragedy, but then took its leave with merciful care. Its characters were dispatched like a fond parent putting to bed a favourite child. All survived, and went away with assurances to us about their futures. Bright, DeBryn, Miss Frazil, Jim, Jakes, and the Thursdays were generously waved off into the sunshine in an emotional ending.
All survived. But did they? The one character we knew had to live past the finale’s credits was, in a cryptic way that befits this playful series, perhaps its sole victim. This whole time, we’ve been clocking up the many and frequent portents of Fred’s death, forgetting that this ending was always destined to symbolically kill off somebody else – Endeavour, to leave behind Morse. Just Morse. That was perhaps the significance of the gunshot in the churchyard, the choral requiem, and the two Jags crossing on the bridge. There were always two men: Endeavour, and Morse. One had to exit the stage so the other could enter.
Without tipping into ponderousness or self-indulgence, the ending also pointed to its own fictionality with Anton Lesser’s beautifully read epilogue from The Tempest and its accompanying montage (welcome back, Trewlove and Fancy). From its stage-direction title ‘Exeunt’, to the dream sequence kiss, to the wedding functioning as a kind of curtain call for our favourites, this finale acknowledged that Endeavour has always been playing in somebody else’s toy box, and paid elegant tribute.
About that dream sequence kiss: thank you. Pure indulgence, and much appreciated. If this were 1987, the year Inspector Morse began, that moment on the VHS tape would be worn juddery through rewind and replay in video players countrywide.
We’re not to worry about Joan, said the finale. She made her choice and it was by no means the short straw. Jim Strange’s every appearance in the episode showcased his adoration and kindness. He even offered Joan a way out, and when she refused it, she may as well have turned to camera to deliver her line about never being surer of anything than marrying him. We know that Jim Strange will put Joan before the job, something Endeavour could never manage.
Still, the ache. ‘The Wonder of You’ turning to ‘Rocket Man’. Morse standing alone, odd man out, watching her leave. Oh, it’s lonely out in space alright.
And none of it would have meant a thing if not for Shaun Evans’ performance. He’s been remarkable in this role for so long that it goes without saying, but if now’s not the time to say it, then when? Evans’ talent is in the detail, in the slightly withdrawn posture – head bowed, hands clasped behind back. It’s in the face – the smile that doesn’t reach the eyes, the coltish temper and barely coated vulnerability. It’s in the voice – a rush of words when he’s sure he’s right, a hesitating, swallowed delivery of anything that really matters, and a retreat behind quotation for anything that really, really matters. Combined with Russell Lewis’ words and Matthew Slater’s score? It adds up to something supreme.
Speaking of supremacy, ladies and gentlemen: Roger Allam. Take your pick of moments to send to the Bafta committee – cursing the threat to what he loves, cruelly hitting out at Morse after returning home from that biker bar, his choked gratitude when presented with the return of his life savings… Allam’s up there with the best of them. The loss of DCI Thursday on Sunday nights will be felt.
Properly, this was Fred’s finale. He was DI Lott’s target, and had been ever since Fred ran Lott out of Oxford for corruption in Endeavour’s 2012 pilot. Charlie Thursday didn’t lose his brother’s life savings in a bad investment in Series 5, he’d been forced to weasel the money away so Lott and his corrupt cronies in Vice and the Drugs Squad would have leverage over Fred when required. Lott, like ACC Deare, was part of Blenheim Vale, exploiting its children to powerful men while using the derelict site as his personal graveyard. Well, thanks to the biker gang, there’s now one more corpse on its grounds, and good riddance.
Fred’s story turned out to be about how far a man would go to protect his family. Much further than Carshall Newtown, it turns out. The beating Fred gave Joan’s Leamington cad in Series 4 was one indication, the knife he stuck in Sam’s would-be assailant was another. Now the bikers are out for Sam’s blood, and so the Thursdays (minus the newly styled Mrs Strange) must go to ground. That’s what explains Fred’s absence from Morse’s later life. Not a death or a betrayal, but a necessity and a secret to be kept.
Morse can be relied on to do that. Not only did he keep DS Jakes’ childhood trauma private, but for Fred’s sake, he didn’t tell him that the biker he stabbed was Peter Williams, the boy whose body they’d been searching for at Blenheim Vale. Peter hadn’t been killed, but traded on, and he’d grown up to become a violent killer.
The revelation that Raymond Kennett aka Tomohawk started life as Peter Williams complicated our idea of Fred as a hero. When motivated only to protect our own, we’re rarely our best, as illustrated to an extreme degree by the finale’s racist, homophobic serial killer. After episode two‘s righteous evisceration of the Bullingdon Club, ‘Exeunt’ appeared to draw a straight line between Bingley’s bigoted ranting and raving about the 1972 European Communities Act and similar opinions voiced post-2016. Endeavour being set 50 years ago has never stopped it from being a state-of-the-nation drama on top of a detective show.
Though clever and diverting (and containing the customary Colin Dexter nod in the mention of his crossword-setter alias Codex), the case of the week was really busywork while the proper stuff played out. Not Jakes, Lott and Blenheim Vale, which were neatly plotted if a little perfunctory, but our goodbyes.
Run-time was spared for lovely moments, from the little make-up scene between Joan and her mother after Win’s harsh words in the Series 8 finale, to the appearance of the ‘Wednesday Special‘ sandwich (you’ve bested us again, Russell, we’ll clearly never find out), confirmation that Brenda Lewis was indeed a relative of Robbie Lewis, plus the visual nods to Inspector Morse‘s finale in Fred’s Lonsdale College lawn collapse, the requiem from ‘The Remorseful Day’ and the return of John Thaw’s eyes in that rear view mirror. Elegantly done by director Kate Saxon, and gratefully received.
Teasing tragedy, but surprising us with mercy, Endeavour bid a generous farewell. Is that it? That, unfortunately, is it. Mind how you go.
Endeavour Series 9 is available to stream on ITVX in the UK. It will air on PBS Masterpiece at a later date.