So is this the big one? Is this where we finally find out why the older Morse never spoke of his former boss Fred Thursday? Is this, in fact, the final scene of the opera, the one in which the tragic heroine dies and the hero’s heart is broken? All the signs point that way in Zenana, in which we must surely be delivered a solution to the riddle of the towpath murders, and a conclusion to the love triangle of Morse, Violetta and Ludo?
Following on from the Indian theme of last week’s Raga, this episode deals with dark doings in a women’s college – zenana is a perhaps less familiar word for a harem or women’s place.
The episode opens with a debate at Lady Matilda’s women’s college (previously mentioned both in Lewis and Endeavour, and actually filmed in Lady Margaret Hall), as to whether to admit men – to let the ‘wolf into the fold’.
Meanwhile, the third victim of the towpath murderer, bargirl Bridget, has been found, apparently the victim of attempted vampirism. Fred, doggedly clinging to his belief that first victim Molly’s boyfriend Carl was the perpetrator, has him arrested – but why would he be whistling music-hall standard ‘Oh, oh Antonio’ on the towpath, Morse asks?
Morse has got it into his mind that Dorothea Frazil’s series of deaths by misadventure are anything but – is someone bumping off isolated home-owners for their life insurance? – he’s determined to investigate despite Fred’s opposition.
Meanwhile, to our astonishment, Violetta has set herself up in a friend’s sex-pad in Oxford, and Morse is visiting her for regular rumpy-pumpy, or as the Italians say, la cavalcata selvaggia.
Once the wild ride is over Violetta announces that she and Ludo are planning to go to Cortina D’Ampezzo for Christmas – Morse immediately recognises it as a ski resort, which is very well-informed of him. He speaks blithely of telling Ludo about the affair – she says Ludo would be more upset at losing him than her. Somehow we don’t think so, and we’re pretty sure Ludo is the type to own duelling pistols.
When yet another young woman, Petra Cornwell, is murdered on the towpath (don’t any of them have the sense to stay away from the canal?) Fred’s suspicions of Carl Sturgis seem groundless; he and Morse have a blistering row, Morse accusing Fred of having no touch to have lost; Max and Strange both tear them off a strip, and Morse says he’ll put in for a transfer to McNutt’s department in Kidlington (we have previously met McNutt, played by Iain Cuthbertson, in Morse episode The Magic Flute. As this was the one in which Morse’s nemesis Hugo de Vries popped up, is this a hint about the identity of Ludo?)
Bright castigates Fred over his obsession with Carl Sturgis, who quite rightly threatens to sue; but is this some sort of set-up?
Petra’s tutor Maggie Byrne (Marianne Oldham), one of the main proponents of keeping Lady Matilda’s a women-only college, criticises the police’s inability to stop the towpath killings, and quite right too. Anywhere else, if four people had been murdered in the same place in the space of 11 months, the whole area would be swarming with coppers as far as the eye could see.
Morse’s first suspect is Dr Dai Ferman (Richard Harrington), Welsh chauvinist pig who we met in first episode Oracle; but despite Petra’s complaints of sexist behaviour against him he can’t be placed at the scene of her murder. Then Morse goes to see psychic Jenny Tate (Holli Dempsey) to see if she has had any visions of the latest murder; only to find her descending into a psychotic state haunted by demonic figures from her abusive childhood.
Bright’s wife is back from experimental treatment in America, feeling remarkably perky after treatment for her lung disease by a Dr Schneider; Fred’s trying to keep the cat away from his canaries (did we know the Thursdays had a cat?)
Ludo turns up at Morse’s one evening – he at least has finished the wallpapering and even has net curtains up, but despite Strange’s warnings is still taking case files home. Ludo asks for advice about Violetta, who he thinks is having an affair – ‘I’m the last person you should ask about this’ says Morse – no kidding.
There’s another death of a ‘Matildabeast’ – a tutor, Dr Nancy Levine (Naomi Yang) falls from a library ladder – but was this one of Dorothea Frazil’s life insurance ‘accidents’?
As Morse investigates, Ludo and Violetta stroll past. What’s Ludo’s interest in the bursar of the college – or has he been up to something more sinister?
Morse helps Dorothea with the crossword (God knows how he got ‘misanthrope’ from that clue), and by another huge coincidence, Dai Ferman is in the pub, fondling students. Morse is more interested in investigating Jenny Tate’s childhood – might she be disturbed enough to have become a murderer?
Next full moon, the whistling attacker strikes again, but this time the Matildabeasts are out in full force, and chase him under a lorry; was David Clemons, who claimed to have found the body of the first victim, in fact the murderer, or a copycat? He wasn’t whistling the right tune, and Morse reminds Fred of this amid the celebrations.
Mrs Bright has asked for help from her faith healer to find Christmas decorations in the attic – oh dear, we can foresee an accident with a loft ladder. Are the faith healers in fact hastening people’s unfortunate ends?
Ludo invites Morse to lunch and confronts him and Violetta about their affair – he’s recognised the phone number of Violetta’s friend’s flat. But what would have possessed Morse to leave it as a contact number? It’s all very unconvincing. Wouldn’t it just have been easier for Ludo to say that as he had suspicions of Violetta, he had her followed?
Anyway, the secret is out, and if Morse expected Violetta to choose him over a luxurious lifestyle with Ludo, he’s soon disillusioned. Did she feel anything for him? She says not, but one suspects this is for Ludo’s benefit. It’s all done in a very civilized manner, in a restaurant that looks oddly like someone’s back parlour. But will Ludo actually be out for bloody revenge?
Dorothea, despite being editor of a paper with a massive office in Oxford, calls Fred from a phone box to break the news that Mrs Bright has been found dead, electrocuted while hanging Christmas decorations – how on earth has she found out before the cops? Fred breaks the news with customary lack of grace and Bright of course is in pieces.
Morse is chastised for airing his theory about the insurance accidents. Once again we hear the noise of the grinding of reviewers’ teeth as coincidence rears its abominable head – for Bright’s wife to have been the victim of a crime Morse is investigating just makes us fume.
Anyway, Morse has figured out the scam – someone’s buying up life insurance policies, then arranging accidents so they can cash them in. He visits a pub, the Wolf’s Head (nothing sinister there then) and learns about a terrible fire that killed the previous tenants – anything to do with Jenny Tate’s childhood trauma? He finds a link to the Sturgis family, as in towpath suspect Carl Sturgis.
And Sturgis it is who Strange finds ‘looking after’ the rambling Psycho-style house of one of the accident victims. Even more tellingly, tied up in a bedroom is Jenny Tate. Strange gets stabbed (by the wolf-head sword cane we saw the towpath murderer using) and Morse, in pursuit of Sturgis, knocks him down the stairs to his death.
By this point we’re fairly confused, as is Fred, so Morse has to explain everything to him and us. Carl Sturgis was actually Jenny’s brother, Johnny Linden – supposedly dead in a pub fire. His taste for cruelty to animals (Dorothea’s phantom cat mutilations) developed into child abduction (one of Fred’s old cases around the time of the pub fire) then serial murder. So were Jenny’s visions genuine, some sort of psychic connection to her brother, or purely products of her disturbed mind? We don’t know, and by this stage we’re not sure we care.
So was Sturgis’s job at the undertakers relevant to the insurance scam? How did he have an alibi for the first towpath killing? Is Fred’s gut instinct now entirely vindicated, or has he still missed something vital? If Sturgis was on remand when Petra Cornwell died, who killed her? (Our money’s on the warden of her college).
Is Morse completely off the rails making a connection with the death of Mrs Bright, the locations of the insurance scams and the name LUDO? Bright gives him short shrift (but what’s he doing in work, hours after the death of his wife?). Morse and Fred have another spat, Fred revealing that he knows about Violetta, and they part on the worst possible terms.
Christmas comes, Morse sends remorseful letters to Fred and Bright, and heads for Venice (note he has a gondola ornament on his writing desk). He leaves Fred the evidence of the insurance scam, and Bright admits that he and his wife had cashed in their life insurance – and Ludo’s name is all over the paperwork.
Morse intends to confront Violetta at the opera on New Year’s Eve – implausibly, and this is getting more and more like a bad pastiche of Sherlock Holmes, Fred follows Morse to Venice.
At the opera (La Sposa del Demonio o La Cura per l’Amore, as seen in episode 1, not we think a genuine opera but a composition by series composer Matthew Slater), Morse confronts Violetta, tells her he knows Ludo is behind the insurance murders and she is complicit, and that he’s there to take them in. Take them in? TAKE THEM IN? In what twisted version of international policing would a British policeman be allowed to arrest two (presumably Italian) citizens and shanghai them back to Oxford? It’s nutty beyond belief.
Anyway, Violetta promises to hand over Ludo in return for a head start, and she arranges a rendezvous at the Cimetero de San Michele (a Venetian island used as a cemetery since 1807 – Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Diaghilev and Ezra Pound are buried there among others).
At least Morse has the sense to bring a gun (which we saw him loading at the start of Episode 1 – has he just merrily carted that through Customs? – for when he confronts Ludo. Perched saucily on a gravestone bearing the name he has evidently hijacked, ‘Ludo’ hardly seems surprised to see Morse, quotes As You Like It and Lenin, and explains that he masqueraded as Mrs Bright’s faith healer (and presumably as the handyman who did various jobs of sabotage to bring about the other convenient accidents).
In the final confrontation, Ludo shoots Violetta, who dies professing her love for Morse; Fred shoots Ludo, who plunges into the lagoon, and we feel like shooting ourselves, having sat through this overblown tripe to the detriment of our mental well-being.
Umpteen questions are left unanswered – had Ludo then actually been up at Oxford with Morse? Presumably not, since he wasn’t even actually Ludo. Is he Hugo de Vries? We probably won’t know until the end of Endeavour. Was the theft of Morse’s wallet last week staged to engineer an introduction, and if so had Ludo engineered the original meeting with Violetta? And if so, why? Was Ludo really living an international jet-set lifestyle on the proceeds of a few life insurance payouts? Who killed Petra Cornwell? And why did Morse put up nets, but not actual curtains?
While the last season of Endeavour seemed to be more about picking up ‘easter eggs’ than the actual cases, this season was all about the Morse/Ludo/Violetta triangle, and barely about the cases at all. Precious little deduction was done, with last week’s case essentially solved by fingerprint evidence. The towpath murders were so festooned with red herrings, random supernatural references and implausibility that one got completely fed up of the whole business long before its conclusion.
And there were some bizarre directorial slips, such as the scene where Morse, Thursday, Max and Strange all walk away from the towpath leaving the dead body of Petra lying on the ground, as if the production just couldn’t afford a couple of uniformed officers in the scene; and Dorothea Frazil making a call from a phone box rather than her comfortable office.
If we were hoping that this season would lay the groundwork for the transition to Inspector Morse, or at least explain some plot threads such as lack of mention of Fred Thursday in later years, we were to be disappointed; in fact, disappointment must be the only way to express what we feel about this season.
Rather than showing increased maturity, sophistication and psychological insight, Endeavour seems to be degenerating into cheap melodrama not even worthy of light opera. Time to bring down the curtain?
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE ONE REVIEW
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE TWO REVIEW