I think it’s fairly well established at this point that I enjoy mysteries and I LOVE Oxford, and so when you combine those so brilliantly the way that British television has been doing for decades, you’re bound to produce something that I personally love. A few years ago, ITV (a British television channel) decided to start a prequel series to the beloved Inspector Morse stories. These short seasons (3-4 episodes per series) were then resold to PBS, and aired in the US over the past few years, and I have been gobbling them up. The most terrible part though, is that the British feel no sense of urgency in making a “next season”. So much so that Season 2 of Endeavour was shown in 2014, and we didn’t get Season 3 until 2016. It was EXCRUCIATING.
Why do I love this show so much? Well, each episode is like a well crafted little movie. It’s a period piece (taking place in the 60s), and everything feels so very authentic. I’m sure there are slip-ups here and there, but when you’re filming in a historical city like Oxford, it’s easy to avoid the new sections of town, because there are large sections that are likely quite unchanged from the 60s, and can be made to really appear that way with the help of a little set dressing. Too rarely do you get programs that let you sink into the time and place of a historical (or even modern!) setting. The nice thing about it being shown on PBS is that there are no commercials, so you don’t feel like you’re pulled out of the moment to be advertised to about cars or prescription drugs or whatever else.
These are also not the easiest mysteries to figure out. Often you can look at the characters and suspects and say, “I think that this particular person is shady, and likely has something to do with the murder.” But unless you are wildly intelligent, chances are that you haven’t picked up on ever little hint that has been laid down by the writers. Maybe we’re not even meant to be able to pick up those hints, because that would make the reveal less fun in watching. Too often when you’re reading mystery books, if the writing isn’t good enough, you can see who committed the crime telegraphed from a mile away. So with Endeavour (and other British mystery programs), it’s possible to make you feel both super intelligent for figuring out a large clue, but also feel surprised at the end.
Add to that terrific characters. Morse is handsome in a disheveled 60s sort of way that I like, too smart for his job (but not necessarily smart enough to know how to get ahead using his smarts), and cares deeply about the people he works with in the line of his policeman’s duty. His senior partner, DI Thursday, is a deeply devoted family man who is stubborn and rash. He is old-school in a way that is going out of style even in the 60s. The supporting characters below these two stars are also terrific – there’s Strange, the Constable-turned-Detective-Sergeant, who was Morse’s pal on the beat side, but now his superior on the investigative side. New this season is WPC Trewlove, played by a young woman who I could not place at first, but who it turns out was the little girl who starred in The Golden Compass less than 10 years ago. Trewlove is Morse’s new ally and partner, and it’s fascinating to see a female constable in the 1960s and especially to see how she’s treated. Most of the treatment that creeped me out was from Chief Superintendent Bright, but then his role is to always be slightly out of touch, and not knowing what’s appropriate or best for his policemen. But it is interesting to see in this season’s episodes that he’s not always just talking a big game, but that he deserves to be in a position of authority, even if he is condescending and patronizing to those who rank below him.
So what about the mysteries this go-round? The first episode (“Ride”) had a conclusion to its mystery that both The Boy and I found a little far-fetched. The second episode (“Arcadia”) was a much more fully-integrated mystery, and had different parts that we enjoyed trying to connect. We weren’t quite able to do it, but it’s fun to make the guesses, even if you’re wrong. The third episode (“Prey”) was probably our favorite of the bunch. It had all the elements of a good episode, allowed us to pick out characters and plot devices we thought were suspicious and would be part of the solution, but was still surprising in its conclusion. The final episode (“Coda”) was more heartbreaking and felt transitory – like the writers were setting things up for the show moving forward, and there was less mystery and more crime-fighting, which is not something we necessarily expected.
Because these high quality mystery shows are something that don’t come around regularly, it’s the kind of programming that we need to dole out to ourselves as special treats, and not binge on. As soon as we finished this batch of episodes, I began to crave more, and even asked the Boy if we could start on the final season of Inspector Lewis soon. He wisely advised that perhaps we should be slower in our consumption of these programs, as the sooner we finish them, the longer we have to wait. Hopefully the wait for the next season isn’t too long.