Saturday, July 06, 2013

Endeavour: the First Full Season

Detective Constable Morse is repeatedly told to pay more attention to traditional police work than his hunches.  However, the young policeman’s instincts often prove correct.  Such will not necessarily be the case later in his career.  Viewers will start to understand why Robbie Lewis often had to tidy up after his mentor in the first full season of Endeavour (promo here), which airs this Sunday as part of the current season of PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery.

Following last year’s successful one-off, the socially awkward Morse has impressed the dapper DI Fred Thursday with his aptitude, but he is not especially popular with the rest of the force.  This definitely includes their new by-the-book-seniority-over-merit Chief Superintendent.  Morse will not do his career many favors as he openly defies orders and protocol in the season opening, Girl

When a prominent nuclear researcher’s unstable daughter becomes the prime suspect for murder, Morse sets out to clear her name.  Obviously, this is not Superintendent Bright’s policy and even the only-so-indulgent Thursday is skeptical.  An okay procedural, Girl goes out of its way to portray the Edward Teller-ish character in a negative light. While it introduces the supercilious Bright and the stalwart Constable Jim Strange, it is the weakest the series, so far.

Quickly rebounding, Fugue represents Endeavour at its strongest.  Morse has been busted down to “general duties,” but when a murderer starts leaving opera-related clues, the inexperienced DC is pulled back into the thick of things.  Crisply helmed by Tom Vaughan (best known stateside for Harrison Ford’s middling Extraordinary Measures), Fugue incorporates several clever clues and nicely evokes the time when police forces were only just beginning to come to terms with the serial killer concept.

The current season maintains it momentum with Rocket, another strong crime story with particularly strong period details.  During the relatively new Queen Elizabeth’s state visit to a struggling munitions plant, a worker is murdered in the back office area.  It turns out Percy Malleson was the factory’s equivalent of Morse, a standoffish fellow suspected by his fellow workers of being a management snitch. 

However, he was not really Malleson, but Eustace Kendrick, the prime suspect in a local girl’s unsolved disappearance several years ago.  A well written case, Rocket’s ultimate murderer could never conceivably be the perp in a Hollywood produced show, which makes it jolly refreshing.

The season concluding Home is not a bad episode, but it emphasizes character development over the investigation.  Morse and Thursday largely chase their tails as they try to deduce the murderer of an Oxford professor.  However, fans will get a large helping of backstory when Thursday confronts the London gangster whom he blames for the death of his former Sergeant.

Shaun Evans settles in quite nicely as the title character, playing him with the right mix of prickliness and earnest guilelessness. Likewise, Roger Allam’s Thursday might be the smartest character currently on television.  Morse fans will also be happy to hear John Thaw’s daughter Abigail regularly appears as muckraking editor Dorothea Frazil (she rather grows on viewers, in fact).  Anton Lessor (recognizable from The Hour, The Scapegoat, and Spies of Warsaw) is a bit buffoonish as Bright, but humanizes him a bit in the series closer.

Endeavour is one of the better British mysteries going.  Evans and Allam play off each other well and vivid sense of time and place—Oxford in the early 1960’s—adds a distinctive flavor. Recommended for fans of Colin Dexter’s characters as well as those interested in the era, the first full season of Endeavour launches tomorrow night (7/7) on most PBS outlets nationwide.