With the events at the Blenheim Vale Boys’ Home brushed under the carpet and Morse suspended, Fred Thursday, barely recovered from being shot, seeks out Morse for help in the disappearance of a young woman. But is Morse burned out? At the end of the last series, Morse and Thursday broke a paedophile conspiracy involving government officials and high-ranking police officers; but Thursday was shot, and Morse accused of murder. Now it’s 1967, and though he has been released from jail pending an enquiry, Morse understandably feels he’s done with the police, and has taken to a ‘dacha’ at Lake Silence (like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude?), and fallen in with a ‘fast’ crowd – literally, in the case of mysterious playboy Bixby, who’s going for a water speed record.
Joss Bixby (David Oakes) might as well have been called Gatsby, as that’s obviously who he’s based on; he owns casinos, holds masked balls, quotes Kipling, and plays The Velvet Underground and The Electric Prunes. He takes to Morse, offering him a job; but someone’s out to get him, carving biblical quotes on his car.
Meanwhile a young clippie has been murdered after a night at the fair, and a student has died of an overdose of Chinese heroin. Is there a connection?
Morse is still his same old self – he even wears a tie to chop logs – but he’s disenchanted with police work, and refuses Thursday’s plea for help. But something draws him to the funfair where he finds all sorts of creepy suspects, and a clue in the form of the girl’s missing handbag containing a chip from Bixby’s casino.
Morse introduces his neighbours Lord Belborough (Ben Mansfield) and Lady Kay Belborough (Jemima West) to Bixby, who obviously recognises Lady Belborough; the society beauty Kay has been cuddling up to Morse, so what does she know about Bixby? Bixby’s other guests include underworld fixer Harry Rose (Vincent Riotta), and a Roddy Llewellyn type who’s after him for money.
Thursday questions Bixby about the chip, and warns Morse about Rose; Kay questions Morse about his nickname, Pagan, which he explains is because he doesn’t use his Christian name, and she accuses her husband of having an affiar with the dead Jeannie. But fisticuffs break out between Belborough and Bixby, who is clearly infatuated with Kay.
Morse returns to his shack to listen to Verdi (Rigoletto, of course, a tale of revenge gone dreadfully awry) – then he hears a shotgun in the woods. Bixby is dead, but at whose hands? And is it really Bixby? – the face is too badly injured to be sure.
Now that Morse wants to return to work, he can’t, of course, because he’s involved in the case; but he pokes around while Thursday and Jakes question the Belboroughs. Kay denies any involvement with Bixby, a clear lie, and Belborough denies an affair with Jeannie, and is alibied by Morse’s chum Tony.
Thursday and Morse question Zambezi (Hilton McRae) the funfair magician who had Jeannie on stage, and find evidence of drugs in a cuddly toy in the caravan of his assistant Swopes; was Jeannie a drugs mule, carrying for Harry Rose’s local boys?
Morse and Thursday question Rose, but can’t work out who was double-crossing who; then Morse searches Bixby’s massive house and finds a love letter from Kay to a ‘Charlie Greel’. Kay overdoses, but Morse arrives in time to save her. But what was her relationship to Charlie Greel?
Morse returns to Bixby’s house, and who should turn up but Bixby; he’d been in town, and says that the corpse must have been wastrel Roddy Farthingale.
Morse examines scrapbooks taken from Swopes’ caravan, while Jakes follows the lead of a score card to a golf club; together the they conclude that there were in fact two Bixbys; twin boys Charllie and Conrad Greel, identical sons of magician Zambesi. The dead man was the real ‘Bixby’, while his evil twin had taken his place.
‘Swopes’ was in fact Conrad in disguise, and the two had fallen out years previously over Kay. ‘Bixby’s’ fortune was the result of laundering Harry Rose’s money, and Conrad had killed Jeannie when she became a threat to Rose’s drug schemes. No-one seems too upset when Zambesi shoots Conrad.
Only a couple of days ago, Sherlock Holmes in the New Year edition of Sherlock said ‘it’s never identical twins’. Well, this time it was, and if the plot is more than somewhat reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige – well, that’s magic. We even get to see the identical twin disguised in the background, as we do in The Prestige – as Morse concludes, ‘There’s no real magic in this world, only love – the rest is just smoke and mirrors.”
We’ve been tricked by a very slight tale which steals all its ideas from The Great Gatsby and The Prestige, but it’s so nice to have Morse and Thursday back, that we don’t really mind. With Endavour back on the beat and a revitalised Thursday in the driving seat, the magic has returned.