Joan Thursday and Endeavour Morse can’t end up together. That’s the unavoidable truth casting a pall over their every encounter. However much chemistry and yearning those two share, when Inspector Morse begins sixteen years down their timeline, Miss Thursday won’t be part of Morse’s life. Colin Dexter’s Inspector is destined to remain unmarried and to live out his days alone, in the very house that Endeavour fans saw him buy in the series six finale.
That house – which, like Morse of late, has been in a bit of a state and requires some work – is destined never to be a family home, just as Morse is destined never to be a husband or father. The destiny of Sara Vickers’ Joan Thursday however, is still to be decided. As Endeavour nears its ultimate conclusion (series nine is likely but yet to be announced), series eight has offered up one suggestion for Joan’s future in a burgeoning relationship with DS Jim Strange.
Jim Strange? The unglamorous, unimaginative company man who aspires to climb the ladder and keep his nose clean. Wearer of tank tops, drinker of Double Diamond and bearer of James Last Orchestra LPs? Compared to clever, cultured, tortured Morse, what would Joan Thursday ever see in him?
Plenty, if she knows what’s good for her, which Joan seems to of late. It’s a long time since her head was turned by a chancer like DS Jakes, and years since she got involved with a married man who became physically abusive before leaving her pregnant and homeless. Joan ended up in hospital when the pregnancy was lost, after a doubtless euphemistic “fall”. That may have been rock bottom for her, but it was by no means the end. Like Morse, she’s been through the wringer, but unlike him, she’s dealt with her experiences and used them to make meaningful changes.
When Joan returned to Oxford after the Leamington interlude, never sounding more like her father she told Endeavour, “Something happens. You have to look a bad thing in the eye. Break the spell.” Plenty of bad things have happened to Morse, not least the murder of his lover in Venice in series seven’s finale, but unlike Joan, he’s failed to look them in the eye and break their spell. In series eight, he’s mostly been looking in the bottom of a bottle and it’s sent him on a downward spiral.
While Joan has found real meaning in her career as a social worker (she too is saving the world, one woman at a time), thanks to Fred Thursday, she grew up with the message drummed into her that work should be left on the hall stand, by the front door. However many times Fred tells Endeavour that “there’s more to life than coppering,” it’s a lesson he never learns. Even as his drinking starts to make him unreliable at his job, Morse’s work is everything to him. That’s not going to cut it for Joan. While she’s hardly going to step into Win’s role and send any future husband off each morning with his sandwiches, she’s also been raised to know that work isn’t the be all and end all.
Someone who seems to share that perspective is DS Jim Strange, whose ambition to steadily climb the ladder we know pays off in later life when he becomes Chief Superintendent to Morse’s Inspector. Boring, perhaps, but reliable and solid in a way that the increasingly cynical and petulant Morse will never be.
Unlike Morse, Jim Strange has never hurt Joan’s feelings or belittled her. The opposite in fact – when she was arrested in series five at an anti-racism protest that turned violent, Jim took it upon himself to check she was okay and send her home, fudging the station’s records so that she wouldn’t be charged. Trying to curry favour by helping the guvnor’s daughter? Maybe. All the same, he looked out for her and unlike some of the other men in her life, asked nothing in return. And though Jim can’t truly make head nor tail of Endeavour, he’s even been a steady sort of friend, and flatmate, to him over the years. When Morse is “marinating” his sorrows over the loss of Claudine, it’s Jim that Joan offers to call to see him home safe.
In series eight, Sean Rigby’s Jim Strange is cutting an entirely new romantic figure. He’s clearly besotted with Joan, who seems to genuinely enjoy herself with him, too. When she accompanies him to a masonic ladies night, he’s very sweet and treats her well. They dance together to ‘Earth Angel’ and his esteem for her is made clear when after she leaves, the 1970s cabbie describes her as “a nice bit of crumpet” and Strange corrects him: “She’s not crumpet. She’s a smart, bright, independent young woman.” When the pair win tickets to see The Carpenters in London in a raffle, Strange is endearingly unassuming and gives Joan a get-out in case she feels trapped into going, but Miss Thursday’s quite clear that she’ll be snapping up the opportunity.
Jim Strange may be worlds away from Endeavour Morse, but he’s a good man and a reliable one. He’s certainly no genius, but he’s also not a womaniser, or a problem drinker, and he has a little of Fred Thursday’s steadiness about him. He clearly thinks the world of Joan and would no doubt benefit from a bit of her political conscience and intelligence rubbing off. Joan and Endeavour may have fire, but Joan and Jim have gentle warmth. And, to quote the wise words of Fred Thursday, there’s a lot to be said for being settled – something Joan seems to be recognising for herself this series.
That’s all assuming that the Endeavour-Joan-Jim love triangle is allowed a relatively happy ending by Endeavour’s creator. Joan’s future could be far from settled if Russell Lewis chooses to sacrifice her character as part of Morse’s journey to bachelorhood. Let’s face it, she wouldn’t be the first woman fridged to nurture Endeavour’s growing malaise. Perhaps fans hoping that Joan and Jim won’t work out should be careful what they wish for. If joining one of Oxford’s many alternative (but murder-filled) communes and living out her days as a free spirit’s not an option, that’s why Joan has to choose Strange over Morse – the alternative could be too sad to bear.
Endeavour Series 8 concludes on Sunday the 26th of September at 9pm on ITV.