Saturday, June 15, 2013

Lewis Series VI: Everything Much Change, Even in Oxford

If this really is the final appearance of Detective Inspector Robert “Robbie” Lewis, Masterpiece: Mystery really ought to play it up more.  Kevin Whately’s character has been a PBS fixture for years, dating back to his stint as second fiddle to John Thaw’s Inspector Morse.  However, ITV seems to think he will be back in a format yet to be determined.  In any event, Lewis will most likely investigate his final case with Detective Sergeant James Hathaway in Lewis Series VI (promo here), which begins this Sunday on most PBS outlets.

Season opener Down Among the Faithful begins a rough patch for DS Hathaway, who will spend most of the episode in a neck brace thanks to a fender bender.  The former seminarian also finds aspects of their latest case distasteful.  The victim in question was a clinical psychology research fellow, whose experiment attempted to irreparably undermine his subjects’ religious faith.  Bafflingly, the late Reuben Beatty also moonlighted as a psychic, causing much resentment from his fortune telling colleagues.  Faithful is a pretty straight forward procedural, but it is a nice example of how the series addresses hot button topics (in this case euthanasia) in a manner that should not perturb ardent partisans for either side.

Ostensibly, Hathaway gets a break in Ramblin’ Boy.  He will spend most of the episode on holiday, volunteering for a do-gooder mission in Pristina.  It does not sound like much of a vacation to Lewis either, so when he uncovers a Croatian connection to his latest case, he does not hesitate to call on Hathaway.

When a body supposedly cremated is discovered in a dumping ground, Lewis follows the trail from the funeral parlor to its dodgy co-owner, Peter Falkner, who has a long history of stymieing the Thames Valley constabulary.  Presumably, he had another body incinerated in the place of the embalmed corpse, but the tricky part for Lewis will be figuring out who that might be.  DC Alex Gray will do his best to pinch hit for Hathaway, but Lewis has other things on his mind, including finally putting the moves on the ever patience Dr. Laura Hobson, his forensic colleague.

Obviously, this episode delivers some long awaited payoff for series loyalists.  There has always been nice chemistry between Whately and Clare Holman and they ease into their late middle aged romance in a mature, believable manner.  Likewise, Babou Ceesay is appealingly earnest as Gray, while former Doctor Who Peter Davison (also familiar to Masterpiece Mystery viewers as Campion) plays Falkner with snide relish.  Clearly setting the stage for character life changes, Ramblin’ is one of the strongest episodes of the entire series, in part because of the way it temporarily breaks format, only to bring it all back together at the end.

Whether or not Intelligent Design is the final episode of Lewis, it will be the end of an era.  Hathaway is back from the Balkans and he is moodier than ever.  In contrast, Lewis is pleased as pie with the way things are going with the good Dr. Hobson.  The latest vic was not so happy in his relationship.  Richard Seager, a chemist and advocate of the theory of intelligent design (in Oxford, really?), just served a prison sentence for a drunk driving fatality. On his first night of freedom, he was lured out to his driveway and run over with the same fateful Jaguar (in a nice hat-tip to Morse).  

While the family of his victim does not exactly mourn his passing, it seems the deceased was still planning to divorce his long suffering vicar wife.  Lewis and Hathaway will have plenty of suspects, some of whom will not survive to see the closing credits.  The Sergeant will be particularly troubled by this, leading him to question his career choice.

Fans should rest assured, nobody will leave Lewis in the manner Dan Stevens’ Cousin Matthew exited Downton Abbey.  Laurence Fox notably closes his run on the show by appearing with his uncle, Edward Fox, who plays the college master, Dr. Yardley, with his patented British upper-crustness.  Fittingly, the investigative narrative is a cut above average and the scenes between the retirement-planning mentor and his disillusioned protégé are endearing but suitably restrained.

Although Endeavour, the chronicles of the young Morse, is well positioned to inherit the Lewis-Morse viewership, it is not hard to envision how the Lewis franchise could continue in a less demanding fashion for Whately.  Holman is a well established character by now, who could easily become the focus, periodically consulting on cases with now just plain Robbie Lewis at home.  Rebecca Front’s Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent is still a perfectly good mum and DC Gray could easily be bumped up to DS.  This is all speculation, but that is what mystery fans do.

Lewis has been a rare warhorse in the Masterpiece Mystery stable that has improved with age.  Lewis, Hathaway, and Holman are likably human, but they also have more than a bit of attitude.  They all enjoy a pint or two as well, which hardly hurts, either.  The formula really works here, so it would be nice if ITV can reconfigure it.  Regardless, Lewis series VI is easily recommended for British mystery fans when it premieres on PBS this Sunday (6/16), concluding two weeks later (6/30).