The start. Back to the beginning.
I watched Inspector Morse sporadically, it was perfect when I was in the mood and grated when I wasn’t. Lewis I found easier to connect to but Endeavour has been the real highlight of the group for me. A fourth season has been announced and I decided to re-watch and write up as I went along. This is not a review, it’s biased and personal and I won’t apologise for that.
Oh, and spoilers. Obviously.
I went into the pilot knowing little about the series other than that Russell Lewis had written it. That was enough for me. He’s a favourite writer of mine and when he puts pen to paper I show up. If all we had was a single episode it would have stood alone as an ode to Inspector Morse and everyone who had been involved. As it is, the pilot is a wonderful opener to a series I just adore.
We start with a little light scene setting. Classical instrumental music, which calls us back to the last time we saw Morse, and a car. We’re back in Morse country now. A news report on the radio sets the historical mood and the threat level begins to slow ratchet up as we see a girl obviously in trouble and a man unwilling to stop.
Endeavour has a deliberately similar feel to Inspector Morse and Lewis. Episodes open with the puzzle pieces being placed on the table. In the pilot, men in tuxes playing backgammon with a background of debauchery, a missing schoolgirl, Morse drafting a letter of resignation, the ever-present Oxford lecture and tutorial, an apparent suicide, early 60s abortion, police corruption, crosswords.
This is a familiar space for us to go to and yet the stories are new and the characters, even those we recognise, are fresh.
Connection is the heart of Endeavour, how the puzzle pieces fit together. We love Morse because he is able to see how things relate to one another, to make the connections that others miss. Morse’s central tragedy is the usually-so-simple connections that pass him right by.
Throughout the show there are nods to their predecessors. Abigail Thaw (daughter of the irreplaceable John Thaw who placed the original incarnation of Morse) is named Dorethea Frazil (d-ice!) for example but right off the bat there is a bus heading to Woodstock. It’s a reassuring smile aimed at old fans to let them know that the cast and crew are aware of the weight of love that people have for the characters involved. The references are wide and deep, you can glance over all of them and lose nothing from the story, you can get the obvious and miss the subtle or you can watch, rewatch and notice more each time*.
After introducing Morse (Shaun Evans) and the police station and meeting Inspector Thursday (Roger Allam) we begin to see ominous portents creeping back in. Whispers of the schoolgirl’s friends, a (for now) unrelated suicide. Two separate cases with seemingly nothing to link them together, except Morse. Puzzle pieces. Even at this early stage in Morse’s career he is seeing things that others miss.
The interaction between Morse and Doctor DeBryn is lovely, easy and a careful precursor to what we know they become to one another in the future. The meeting of Frazil and Morse is beautiful and deliberate. I remember so many people being nervous when Endeavour was first announced but knowing that Abigail Thaw was involved was a signal that the character was in good hands. Another fantastic touch is the ongoing cameos of Colin Dexter, nearby, keeping an eye on his legacy.
And good grief, the cinematography is beautiful, a part of the storytelling not just a compliment to it. As Morse stands before Lonsdale college his coat, even his hair appears to blend into the stone buildings in front of him. He belongs, it is a part of him and he of it. It is striking how right it feels to see this man standing in Oxford, both town behind him and college before him.
The episode builds, heading towards a catastrophic end, references throughout to Madama Butterfly foreshadowing the true suicide only minutes after revealing the false suicide from earlier in the episode. As ever when Morse is concerned, the clues are in the music.
The ending was a little bit of a stretch, we saw Morse putting everything together but without being shown any tangible evidence. It is a credit to the actors and creators that we believe that Morse could work it all out. Being correct, finding the right answer, hurts Morse. As it always has and we know always will. His dogged determination to find out the who and the how makes him enemies, destroys his heroes and leaves him lonely. But it is in fact what makes him the towering personality that holds so much together.
There is a great deal of the Morse we already knew in this pilot episode. His cringe-worthy awkwardness with women, his refusal to bow to the unworthy, his stalwart adherence to the right, to procedure no matter the pressure, his stubbornness and refusal to acknowledge that he might be wrong, his tenderness and fragility.
The most heartwrenching moment comes in the last few seconds of the episode as Evans looks in the rear-view mirror of the Jag he’s driving and sees John Thaw’s face reflected back as sharp morse-code notes** pick up and the Endeavour theme drifts back in. The transitions elegantly handled both in musical and emotional terms.
The plot is well balanced, reveals crossed with further complications and police procedure tempered with character rich moments. It shows the start of a journey to see where Morse came from and the moments, turning points that made him the character we know and love.
Thank goodness it wasn’t just a standalone episode.
*I’m not going to list the trivia, I’ll mention the ones I love but IMDb has a pretty good list. Sometimes however it feels a little like asking if the curtains in a novel are blue because the characters are depressed…
**Someone can surely fill in the gaps here but I’ve no idea if they have kept the same theme going as the original series in giving away extra information hidden in the morse code on the soundtrack.