After last week’s magical mystery tour, two parts The Great Gatsby to a measure of The Prestige, let’s hope that this story of artists and models isn’t a load of old Pollocks. Back in harness after his sojourn in the nick, young Morse and old Fred Thursday find themselves in the world of action painting, hippy communes and Tony Hancock (wha…?)
While protesters picket supermarket Richardson’s over links with Rhodesia, the first serious victim is a young woman who dies after a visit to the supermarket. Owners Leo (Richard Dilllane) and Annette Richardson (Genevieve O’Reilly) are too busy getting pulled over for drink-driving to deal with what sounds like a blackmail plot against their company.
A bunch of posh hooligans have thrown a black student, Mukamba, into the river, but Morse has a more pressing case when an unconvincing CGI gas explosion in Jericho kills action painting artist Simon Hallward (whose landlady Mrs Cravat shares her name with failed artist Anthony Hancock’s in 1961 film The Rebel).
Morse spots some oddities about the scene but WPC Shirley Trewlove (Dakota Blue Richards, familiar from Skins) picks up more clues.
Hallward’s hippy mentor ‘Brother’ Gideon Finn (Max Bennett) explains the principles of their commune, and Fred (the Jeremy Clarkson of his day) reckons that a spell in the glasshouse would sort out these filthy hippies. Of course Morse, who is starting his social life anew in a dingy basement flat, is rather taken by hippy Ayesha (Amelia Clarkson).
Hallward may have been putting arsenic and broken glass in Richardson’s food, but was he bumped off by manager Ivor Maddox (Chris Larkin) or his creepy son Mike (Tom York)? Morse’s mucker journalist Dorothea Frazil (Abigail Thaw, John Thaw’s daughter), digs into the murky background of the Quaker Richardsons – oddly, Morse doesn’t mention his Quaker upbringing at this stage.
Jakes has handed in his notice – he’s going to America with a girlfriend – so we reckon he’s doomed – and after the Richardsons admit their business is being blackmailed, Morse manfully resists the blandishments of the seductive Mrs Richardson. But things get more complex when her daughter Verity (Gala Gordon) is apparently kidnapped.
When Morse goes to drop off the ransom, he’s run around various phone boxes then slugged on open ground; but a trail is followed to a chalk pit where Verity is found alive. Valiant Jakes almost dies in an explosion – who plants a bomb next to a kidnap victim? – but we’re oddly relieved to see him survive. Jakes was painted as a bit of a swine in early episodes, but he’s stuck by Morse and has become a much more rounded character.
While Ivor claims to be relieved that Verity has been found, is he in fact part of the plot? He claims he’s happy with his middle-management lot, but his grandfather was cheated out of a share in the company, and certainly the bomb was suspicious – it was detonated remotely, not by a timer, so clearly there was no intention of harming Verity.
Morse tries to establish Hallward’s real involvement in the blackmail plot, but is diverted to a Friends House (a Quaker meeting place) by Mike Maddox. He reveals to Mrs Maddox (Joanna Roth) that he was brought up a Quaker, but lapsed after his mother’s death.
Morse questions protest organiser Marion Brooke (Elisabeth Hopper). (OMG – this character of course recurs, played by Diane Fletcher, in the Inspector Morse episode Masonic Mysteries, and is a key figure in Morse’s complex emotional background).
Marion reveals that Verity has been in Rhodesia working with alleged terrorists – including people who know how to make bombs? Verity also had her portrait painted by Hallward – had Mrs Richardson seduced him? Morse gets a slap in the face for suggesting so, which implies he might be right.
Reviewing the ransom call, Morse hears chimes in the background which locate it to Gideon Finn’s commune; but there’s no joy to be had there. More emerges from questioning political refugee Cuthbert Mukamba (Charles Babalola), who admits that he got Verity pregnant and that her parents procured a dodgy abortion. This seems to have been Verity’s motive for blackmailing her own parents; but a Get Well card from Ayesha provides the missing link to the commune.
Ayesha meanwhile has gone loopy and kidnapped a baby from outside a Richardson’s store; she had met Verity at the abortion clinic. When the jig’s up, Ayesha poisons herself.
Morse admits that he’ll miss Jakes, who kept him on his toes; and he obviously envies his happiness. But it’s odd that Morse himself never takes an interest in any of the many available women (Fred Thursday’s daughter prime among them) who set their cap at him.
Although it was pretty obvious throughout that this was a family plot, probably involving Verity, the fine details took a long time to get to, and many false leads simply fizzled out, leaving the obvious as the only solution.
Set against the background of sanctions against Rhodesia, dropout counter-culture and society becoming consumed with Green Shield Stamps and shopping as a lifestyle, Arcadia seemed to come down oddly in favour of the conventional; the hippie commune is in fact hell, and when it breaks up, we assume the flower children get jobs in banks. Jakes escapes to what is of course the ultimate consumer society, America.
Only Morse, who remains aloof from both sides of society, seems to remain entirely his own man; and as we know, that is hardly going to bring him any happiness. The seeds of his downfall are sown in the Marion Brooke arc; who would have thought that 30 years later she’d be consumed with hatred for him?
For our episode one review, go here
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