Warning: contains spoilers for the Endeavour series 8 finale ‘Terminus’.
At the end of ‘Terminus’, Morse emerged from a night of horrors and a year of sorrow. In what could be read as an image of his series eight journey in miniature, Endeavour had spent the night trapped in a snowstorm fighting a killer. He and a busload of fellow travellers had been stranded in an abandoned country house, where a complex murder plot played out. Morse chased the culprits while struggling with the urge to drink – a temptation into which he’s fallen so deeply and so often of late. After the murderous plot had been unravelled and the culprits were led away, Endeavour stood outside with Fred Thursday in the approaching dawn.
A day earlier, Morse had irritably batted away Thursday’s order to take leave from work and discreetly get the help he needs to break his drinking habit before it breaks him. In the light of the new morning, that hostility had melted away. With uncharacteristic humility, Endeavour asked to take Fred up on the offer of four weeks away “if the offer’s still there.” “As long as you need,” came Thursday’s instant answer. Endeavour paused, then nodded at the snow-covered grounds and remarked, “Beginning to thaw.”
Fans of course recognise the wordplay at work in creator Russell Lewis’ line, which does more than just point towards a defrosting of the recent froideur between Morse and Thursday, and of Endeavour’s frozen grief after Violetta’s death. The line also pays tribute to John Thaw, the actor who made Inspector Morse famous and played him on screen between 1987 – 2000. Employing the slipperiness of one of Morse’s beloved cryptic crossword clues, it’s both definition and description – Shaun Evans’ character is the beginning to Thaw’s, while beginning to thaw is exactly what Endeavour is doing now.
Playful yet unobtrusive, it’s a line you could imagine Inspector Morse novelist and crossword setter Colin Dexter getting a kick out of. Cryptic crosswords are built on obscured messages sent from setter to solver, a tradition that Endeavour writer Russell Lewis keeps alive in his scripts through nods to film, books and the original Inspector Morse TV series that fans eagerly wait to interpret with each new episode. (See the definition of “Frazil”, the surname of the character played by John Thaw’s actor daughter Abigail, for another ice-based allusion to the family name.)
A love of crosswords, incidentally, isn’t just a character trait for Morse. The detective is famously named after one of Dexter’s fellow cryptic solvers Sir Jeremy Morse, just as his colleague Lewis is named after the pseudonymous solver and setter ‘Mrs B Lewis’ aka Dorothy Taylor. The name ‘Endeavour’, it’s also fun to note, first appeared in the TV series as a nine-letter solution to Morse’s clue “My whole life’s effort is around Eve.”
The “beginning to thaw” moment in the series eight finale is played with beautiful understatement by Shaun Evans and Roger Allam, and could have served perfectly as the scene’s last line. Instead though, of leaving us with a traumatised Endeavour taking his first shaky step towards recovery, the drama gave us the paternal comfort of ending on a Fred Thursday adage. “Sun always comes up,” Fred told Endeavour. “Just got to hold on for it a bit longer sometimes, is all.”
Thursday’s evocation of the sun recalls a poetic mainstay of the Morse character – A.E. Housman’s ‘How Clear, How Lovely Bright.’ In the final Inspector Morse episode, adapted from Dexter’s novel The Remorseful Day, Thaw’s character quotes these lines from Housman’s poem, which uses the passage of the sun across the sky to contemplate the journey from birth to death: Ensanguining the skies / How heavily it dies / Into the west away; / Past touch and sight and sound / Not further to be found, / How hopeless under ground / Falls the remorseful day.
(The presence of ‘morse’ in that last line doubtless appealed too greatly to Dexter’s cruciverbalist mind not to turn to his own use!)
Endeavour recites those same lines in the series two finale ‘Neverland’, just before Fred Thursday is shot. The poem is both a tribute to Colin Dexter’s love of Housman (like Morse, an alumnus of St John’s College, Oxford whose period of study ended with more a whimper than a bang), but also a confrontation of regret. Housman’s “beams of morning” and “delightful day” inevitably end up “past touch and sight and sound” and “hopeless under ground”, no matter how much the poet resolves not to squander life and to retrieve days lost. As such, it’s a meaningful elegy to the man that Endeavour becomes – brilliant, but alone.
However, it’s not sunset and regret, but sunrise and hope that Thursday evokes at the end of series eight. Though the night is dark and long, says Fred, dawn will come. As well as comforting Endeavour with those words, Fred is also trying to comfort himself, having spent the episode sick with worry for his missing son Sam, a British army solider in Northern Ireland.
Thursday’s words are also meant as a comfort to another audience: us. In the spirit of a crossword setter’s coded messages to their solvers, Russell Lewis chose to end series eight with an address to viewers living through a pandemic. As the Endeavour creator explained on Twitter during a generous post-finale exchange with fans, “we all agreed at the outset that there’d probably been enough cause for tears this last eighteen months without our adding to them.” Hence the decision to end on a positive note rather than say, the death of Fred Thursday that many fans had been predicting (and with it, the explanation for why Morse never mentions him or his daughter Joan in his later years). Fred though, lived to copper another day and “Thursday’s hopeful note,” said Lewis, “felt the one to go out on.”
Surely that makes series nine a necessity, for the required closure to Thursday’s story? When fans asked him the question on Twitter, Lewis gave the answer, “As to further adventures, nothing is written.” Spoken like a true cryptic setter…
Endeavour series 8 is available now on Britbox and ITV Hub.