Prequels are necessarily constrained by the work that follows them. Anyone who wants to know what happens to Endeavour Morse after Endeavour can simply track down the first episode of Inspector Morse to see what becomes of the young detective. And it isn’t a particularly pretty picture.
(22 June 2014) Alone, prickly, with a tendency towards irritable exactitude and a habit of kicking against the goads, John Thaw’s older Morse is an unwilling misfit in his chosen profession. For all his genius and good impulses, he is also a wounded, often bitter man.
So Endeavour must be, to some degree, the story of how the fresh-faced DC Morse became the jaded DCI. But while young Endeavour Morse has certainly taken a beating over these two series — several beatings, in fact, plus a stabbing, a fall through the floor, and a shot, as well as becoming a serial killer’s fixation and losing his father — he has always seemed to bounce back. At last, in ‘Neverland’, the final episode of the second series, Morse is dealt a blow from which he may not recover, and which will doubtless leave a scar.
For all that, ‘Neverland’ begins peacefully, if not without portent. Set against an arrangement of Purcell’s ‘Nunc Dimmitis’ (‘Now you dismiss’), the introductory montage hints at the threads of plot, and (as usual) there are a lot of them, but two are of particular note: we see Fred Thursday having a foreboding medical check-up, complete with eye-chart and tongue-depressor, and we hear an Oxford don deliver a lecture on Arthurian legend: “At the Round Table, there was one seat kept always vacant, reserved by Merlin for the knight destined to claim the Grail and heal the wounded land…”As the don speaks, there is a shot of Morse’s empty desk chair, casting him as the Oxford constabulary’s Galahad — although, for the moment, Morse has only vacated the chair for choir practice.
Morse, our Galahad, has his work cut out for him: this land is certainly in need of healing. The City and County police forces are preparing for a potential merger, but tensions are high on all sides. As Morse and Thursday look into their cases — an escaped prisoner, a missing boy, and a reporter’s body found by the train tracks — they quickly find themselves obstructed by corruption and inter-service hostility. Before long they are approached by Assistant Chief Commissioner Deare, who says he needs two men he can trust help “clear the stables,” as he puts it. As their investigations proceed, connections emerge between each case and with Blenheim Vale, the now-closed boys’ school where the new, post-merger police station is to be built. But Blenheim Vale has cast a surprisingly long shadow for those who were there, masters and boys alike, and slowly, Morse and Thursday discover that the rot in the system goes higher up the chain of command than they had ever suspected.
Summarising all the twists and turns of Russell Lewis’s script would take paragraphs, but the mystery is complex without being convoluted, and I consider it the strongest script of this series, which has tended towards noir elements. Our heroes (slightly tarnished, like the best noir protagonists, but good men nonetheless) are up against crooked and far-reaching powers, against which victory is by no means certain. ‘Neverland’ is a noir conspiracy-thriller, with the tension slowly rising to its fever-pitched climax.
(Significant spoilers follow from here! You’ve been warned, Matey.)
Part of the script’s strength comes from Lewis’s incorporation of details seeded throughout earlier episodes, stretching as far back as a first series mention of Landesman Construction in ‘Home’. This is the company contracted to build the new station on the site of Blenheim Vale, which, in turn we first heard mentioned in ‘Sway’. DI Church from County makes another appearance, and DI Chard, named but not seen before, makes his entrance as a suitably menacing figure, still angry with Morse’s debunking his case in the previous episode. Throughout the course of proceedings there is also the shadow of the upcoming merger, which has been built up quietly throughout the series, and leaves both Thursday and Morse questioning their places in the force.
There are plenty of intra-episode connections as well. Everything from Morse’s new scarf, to the face one character makes when introduced to another — easily missed on first viewing — are called back by the end of the episode, with tragic significance. Foreshadowing is a huge part of ‘Neverland’, some of it subtle, some of it less so. And speaking of foreshadowing: I’m sorry to say that most of the shadows in question hang over our favourite Detective Inspector.
Remember that check-up Thursday had at the beginning? For Thursday, it’s an inadvertent memento mori, a reminder that he’s not the young man he once was (and that his blood pressure is dodgy). And the cantata played over it, Purcell’s ‘Nunc Dimmitis’? It’s a setting of a Biblical passage in the Book of Luke, where Simeon, a righteous Jew who had been promised he would not die until he saw the Messiah, praises God upon seeing the infant Christ: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word / For mine eyes have seen thy salvation…” Even in the opening montage, as Morse is cast in a salvific role, Thursday’s fate is called into question.
More explicitly, with the ‘streamlining’ that comes with the merger, Superintendent Bright gently hints that perhaps the DI ought to consider retiring from the field, and Thursday begins to wonder if Bright might be right. “I’m too set in my ways to start over,” he tells Morse, but Morse’s loyalty to Thursday is far stronger than his loyalty to the force. When Thursday assures him that he’d make sure he was looked after (calling forward to one of Morse’s future guvs), Morse retorts that “I didn’t stay in Oxford to work under McKnutt…”
Naturally, then, Thursday’s doubts become Morse’s doubts, and reveal themselves elsewhere: in Morse’s relationship with Monica. “Happy?” she asks him early in the episode, and he nods. “You?” he asks, and she nods in return. To some degree, it seems they are just trying to convince themselves. They are affectionate, but have little to say to one another. Morse (now and, as the Inspector Morse viewer knows, evermore) can never really stop working, even as he tells Monica he’s planning to leave the police. Though he looks at rings, and promises they’ll go away together, we know their relationship is doomed: the only question is how it will end.
All the regular cast deliver strong performances. Roger Allam, of course, portrays Thursday’s doubts — and his eventual resolve — with great humanity and subtlety, as well as a smattering of humour to lighten the episode’s mood (after getting a bad report on his medical, Thursday decides to walk home rather than get a lift: “It’ll do me good, a bit of exercise,” he says, bouncing his knees). Jake Laskey deserves particular praise in his role as DS Peter Jakes here. In series two, Jakes has gone from Morse’s rival to a more respectful colleague, and we’ve seen more hints at his past and personality than in series one. Finally, in ‘Neverland’, those hints pay off, and Laskey does a masterful job showing us the real depth and complexity of Jakes’s character. Anton Lesser is understated and brilliant as ever, and Sean Rigby gets the chance to give PC Strange some spine, even menace.
And of course, there’s the ending, which gathers together many of the threads but leaves the fate of so many characters in question. Thursday, having firmly resolved to remain a copper “to the end,” is shot (somewhere considerably more deadly than the leg), and we last see him loaded into an ambulance. Morse, who resolved to remain by Thursday’s side, has been framed for murder (possibly with more charges to follow given the scene he left behind) and is taken to jail. Jakes has been forced to face his past traumas, and we last see him drunk in a state of near-collapse. It’s unclear where Bright and Strange will stand in the fallout. And still several plot threads remain unresolved: in particular, who has been stealing evidence, and why? It all begs for a third series.
Obviously, the audience knows that Morse will not remain in prison, but Russell Lewis has still found a way to end the series with a real sense of peril: almost every relationship Morse has built throughout Endeavour is now in danger, and Thursday, his mentor and father-figure, may very well die. If he does, he will not have ‘departed in peace’ like righteous Simeon — he will become a ghost in Morse’s memory, one never to be mentioned to his future Sergeant, more impetus for the transformation from uncertain Detective Constable to brooding Detective Chief Inspector. Ultimately, this series finale is an episode about how people deal with trauma, find resolution, or live with the lack thereof, and in the end, only one thing is sure: for Morse, the events of ‘Neverland’ will leave more than physical scars. And like Morse, Monica, Win, Sam, and Joan, we are all left waiting to see what the damage will be.
(Review by Sunny and Kayleigh)