Lovelorn Endeavour Morse has hit the bottle, the IRA is threatening to shoot a footballer, and a college has been bombed – it’s 1971, and the decade is not off to a good start for our morose detective hero.
After the pseudo-operatic farce of the last season, all doomed love, implausible insurance scams and unconvincing set-tos in Venice, can we hope for a more plausible, grounded season this time around? Speculation is that actor Shaun Evans is continuing to have an influence on the plots and character development of Endeavour, so maybe not. Trouble is that when he’s had enough, the series presumably has to come to an end, so everyone has to keep him sweet. This doesn’t bode well, and makes it unlikely that the dangling plot threads connecting Endeavour to Inspector Morse will be satisfactorily resolved. He also directs this episode, making a perfectly good job of it.
Opening the episode Striker with The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again, with its association with long-running detective show CSI, certainly isn’t a good start, though as a scene-setter for the gritty, gloomy ‘70s, it couldn’t be bettered.
The postmen are on strike, decimalisation is coming, and Oxford Wanderers are playing an ill-tempered football match in the rain. Fred is duffing up pickpockets; his son Sam is on duty in Northern Ireland. Morse is slumped on his sofa surrounded by empty bottles. But is the phone call from someone claiming to be the IRA, threatening to shoot striker Jack Swift, genuine, or a bookie’s attempt to fix the next match?
When a bomb explodes in Morse’s old college, Lonsdale, the victims include young secretary Margaret Widdowson (Mia McCallum) – though it’s assumed the intended victim was the Master of the college. (But Morse has an affair with a Sue Widdowson in Last Bus to Woodstock – any relation?)
Morse theorises that the bomb may have been a protest against the college accepting funds from arms company Buchanan – they make Agent Orange, a defoliant used in Vietnam. (In fact, Agent Orange was largely made by Dow and Monsanto, but its main ingredient, dioxin, was later used in Bayer’s weedkiller Roundup, and is the subject of current legal action – so the reference has both contemporary and current relevance).
Strange is assigned the bombing case. Actor Sean Rigby has lost a load of weight and is almost unrecognisable – well, Strange was stabbed at the end of the last series, and we gather has been off work for some time.
Could a survivor of the bomb blast, Miss Newell, have some bearing on the case? We’re betting she does, as she’s played by trouper Harriet Thorpe. Could she have been the target, as she was normally in the office early?
Meanwhile, Morse gets to bodyguard mixed-race, Irish Oxford Wanderers footballer Jack Swift (Julian Moore-Cook), a sort of Georgie Best figure, who is under threat from the IRA – journalist Dorothea Frazil has got hold of the story, but is keeping it out of the papers. Is it a genuine IRA threat, a crank, or a racist? (Well, if it was the IRA, they’d have an agreed code – so we’re betting it wasn’t them).
CS Bright (Anton Lesser, now looking years past retirement age), assigns Morse to the football case because he isn’t likely to be starstruck – yeah, but he wouldn’t know his way around a changing room either. As for Morse’s wellbeing, “Morse is Morse” says Fred – despite the trauma of the previous year, no-one’s suggesting letting him take it easy. No PTSD counselling in the 70s.
Someone’s certainly stalking Swift – is it an old mate, George Sellers, who he spotted around town? Or is it rival player Martinelli (Gabriel Tierney), who is also from Ireland?
Swift attends a photoshoot for a new bike (a Grenville Striker, though it looks like a Raleigh Chopper to us) hosted by sleazy agent Ray Jubba (Elliot Levey). (The cameraman has what looks like a Hasselblad camera, in which the viewfinder image should appear upside-down, but here it’s the right way up).
Discussing possible transfer deals, Dorothea quotes Tennyson: “The old order changeth, yielding place to new” – could Jubba and his lucrative endorsement business be connected to the death threat?
Swift visits a fashion show held by Oxford Wanderers chairman Robert Fenner (Joseph Millson, camping it up something awful) – T. Rex’s Ride a White Swan plays. Morse overhears suspicious whisperings, but it turns out to be plans for a surprise visit by the This Is Your Life team – presenter Eamonn Andrews played by Lewis Mcleod.
When the mysterious George Sellars and his wife, talent scout Duke Ward and rival footballer Martinelli turn up as guests, should we be suspicious? (The Kinks’ Lola plays at the after-party – are we to assume that Fenner’s wife Cecily has something extra hidden in her undies?)
Strange finds Margaret Widdowson’s sister Frida (Roxanne Palmer), who is living in a women’s refuge run by Joan Thursday (Sara Vickers). Margaret, we’re told, was engaged – so why did she have cryptic Valentine’s cards both in the office, and at home? Strange asks Joan out on a date, which is bound to end badly.
Swift is having girl trouble too, when his girlfriend Brigitte (Evelina Järrebring) catches him with two tarts – ‘the breakfast of champions’ as he puts it, quoting the Wheaties slogan. Morse sleeps through the incident, only woken when his Special Branch relief Bill Shaw (Christopher Brand) turns up.
At the big Cup Tie match, Swift scores the winning goal, but afterwards Morse gets tied up with chairman Fenner, who says ‘it’s good to be king’ – again quoting an ad, this time Budweiser beer. Meanwhile, Swift is being killed – except it isn’t Swift, it’s rival Martinelli, found clubbed and drowned in a bath, wearing Swift’s shirt. But could this possibly have been a mix-up? And where is Swift?
Up to this point, events have been proceeding pretty slowly, with not much detection being done, though it should be obvious to anyone that the bomb was nothing to do with the IRA, and neither is the threat to Swift.
Apparently there’s some sort of match-fixing scheme going on, with agent Jubba at the centre – by why would that be a motive to kill Martinelli, or threaten Swift? There’s a reference to Fulchester, the team featured in Viz comic strip Billy the Fish.
Swift is eventually tracked down in his luxury home – he has iconic 70s furniture including a tulip chair dining set, an Eames lounge chair and ottoman, and a GEC Weltron flying saucer shaped hi-fi system. He also has a lifestyle magazine featuring Cecily Fenner, and is that the alarm clock used to make the bomb?
Fingerprint evidence in the murder of Martinelli implicates talent scout Duke Ward, who confesses that he’s argued with Martinelli over the match-fixing scheme, but denies harming him. Morse gets a lead on the bomb case when he finds a Marxist analysis of Pride and Prejudice that Margaret Widdowson was typing up for student John Sarson (Angus Yellowlees); visits Joan Thursday’s women’s refuge, has an awkward encounter with Joan, and discovers a Dictaphone cassette that Margaret had hidden with her sister.
This all leads to the denouement of the bomb case; football club chairman Fenner had been colluding with the Master of Lonsdale to sell the ground to a developer, Margaret had tried to blackmail him, and he’d bumped her off.
So who killed Martinelli? Morse comes back to George Sellars, whose wife admits that he’s a Loyalist gunman, sent to kill Swift, and also happens to have caught her canoodling with Martinelli. Sellars does indeed shoot Swift’s
Special Branch guard, but Morse and Thursday turn up in time to disarm him.
In all this, Morse and Fred Thursday seem to be getting on remarkably well, with no hint of the trauma of the previous series; Morse doesn’t seem more than usually morose, and though he’s drinking too much and says “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”, quoting from who knows where, he doesn’t seem to have much trouble kipping on various sofas.
So, a bit of a game of two halves; some solid plotting, some satisfying red herrings, a few amusing pop culture references, but none of the histrionics associated with the last series. At the same time, the pace was rather slow, there wasn’t much character development, and we didn’t see any sign of a movement towards resolving the loose ends necessary to mark the transition from Endeavour to Inspector Morse. Let’s call this one a score draw, and hope for a better result later in the season.