Come, friends, gather. Tonight we sing the praises of Endeavour.
Welcome to my favourite episode of Season One, Fugue, and of course it is focused on music. Morse and music go together better than bacon and eggs. The episode opens with choral singers, specifically Morse, who has been spotted by the local newspaper as he leaves a concert he performed in.
As ever, we settle back into the pattern of seeing all of the puzzle pieces in the opening interspersed with the credits. Pieces, players, games. This plot rotates completely around Morse but the mystery beneath it all is fascinating without that. A serial killer is working his way through Oxford using the deaths in operas as a means of killing his victims. The killer leaves clues for Morse, taunting him, and eventually stabbing him as he leads Morse a merry chase. Meanwhile there is a traitor in the camp and every one we see seems to be tied back to a musical theme.
Morse is drinking each time we see him in the first scenes, a worrying indicator of the Inspector Morse we knew so well. The man he becomes, more than ever, in this episode as he sets off on a self-destructive road, driven not by one event but many.
Music precedes each revelation. We hear the opera and then see the crime or conclusion.
The cinematography is exceptional in Fugue, the framing of each shot is in turns elegant and haunting. When each frame is taken alone they look like a series of photographs, fragments, like the pieces of the story that always fall into place as the plot progresses. When we see the first victim she is framed diagonally across the screen, leading our eye into the story. Thursday is foregrounded and Jakes is left in soft focus as we hear Morse’s account of the crime. As we hear Bright say “No man likes to be thought a cuckold” we see a framed photograph of a woman, his wife, in the background, just over his shoulder. It’s a small thing but all of these little touches do add up.
Have I expressed enough how much I fucking love this show?
We go from the victim’s husband and Thursday talking about how women are easily influenced to Bright and Thursday discussing the case, two older white men in a literally smoke-filled room. Endeavour knows it is set in an age where prejudice runs rife, where equality is a long way off and rather than hide from it we see all of the flaws of a closed mind and a closed off system.
Chase and follow, the camera matches the mood. Light lands on the righteous and hides secrets. The movements leading Morse deeper into the case, the camera pulling us along with it. Each different encounter employs a different technique.
The tropes in Fugue are so familiar these days, manifesto to the media but delivered slowly, carefully. At first it seems like every other episode, Morse figuring it out just ahead of the others until it turns and we see how tailored the crimes have been.
This episode proves, more than ever, that no decision on the show is taken lightly. Each action and word deliberate and it makes such a difference. There is no sloppy story-telling and no filler.
And so to Strange, he appears regularly as is so often the case in TV dramas, but this time it is more than mere comfort for the viewer of the familiar. We are seeing the change that happens, in Fugue he is disparaging of police giving information to the media. Later we see his attitude change as he begins to climb the ladder, a new way of viewing Morse.
I know, I know. I bash on about the writing in general and Russell Lewis in specific but this episode has my second favourite line of dialogue to date.
“If that’s the stuff the chimps drink, I’m a Chinaman.”
Duplicity in its many forms is the turn of the episode and the case.
As Morse begins to see how the cases intertwine and are linked by the operas he loves we find him on the floor with his records spread before him. The episode has cut to him, head bowed, white shirt dominating the scene. Music is his religion and here he worships. He works through, seeing and knowing that he is missing something. An ultimate betrayal when the thing he loves most is the mystery. Slam. The record player closed and we are back to the cold reality of everyday life as we move to Thursday’s morning routine and everything kept from Morse. A family home. Loved ones waiting for him.
As an aside, and it’s not something I usually mention, holy pajamas Shaun Evans is good. The way he lets us see his mind working is beautiful. He’s entirely Morse and yet not the Inspector Morse we know.It’s a joy to watch him inhabit this character that is simultaneously lovable and frustrating.
Fugue is a glimpse into the mind of a serial killer but also we see music and intelligence interwoven, uncomfortably close to how Morse’s mind works.
Half of the battle with a crime story is the villain. Smart enough to be a problem, cruel enough to incur the wrath of the audience, weak enough to be caught before the end. From the minute we meet Dr Cronyn he and Morse are antagonists. Morse mocks him outwardly, watches him from the corner of his eye. Gauntlet set and taken up. The killer making a promise to make things worse, Morse promising to catch him. They are in the same room, breathing the same air and sizing each other up. When his other-self in the guise of Cronyn, describes Keith Miller, he not only gives the reasons he is the main suspect but also sings his praises. He had warned the police that they were looking for someone arrogant and then delivers, calling himself a prodigy, later describing his clues as brilliant.
Breadcrumbs are dropped for us as they are for Morse. Endeavour is a show that rewards re-watching.
No one sees it. The eternal theme where Morse is concerned but in Fugue it is deliberate. This is a song to why we should love the character.
In Fugue we clearly see Morse vs the World. His comfort, his music is violated. We see his world of work and Thursday’s warm home-life. We see corruption and honesty. How the killer works behind several layers of anonymity and Morse works by being his most honest self. Morse acknowledges this at the end of the episode, asking how to live with the work that they do. Thursday counters the killer’s prophesy, that Morse will be forever alone, with a promise that music will always be the light in his life. Music. It emotes and deceives, tricks and answers, calls and questions. Out of all of the Endeavour episodes this is my favourite. It is pure Morse and we can’t ask for more than that.