Thursday, January 22, 2015

Endeavour - Series 2

This review is spoiler-free.

Click here for my review of Series 1.

Series two of this fantastic, rich series has come and gone a long time now, and I write this review after my second viewing -- Endeavour always requires a second viewing you know, and, as far as I'm aware, a third. So it's convenient that there are only four episodes per season/series.

Endeavour Morse is a Detective Constable in Oxford, England in the sixties. He loves opera music and crossword puzzles. He's young but serious, good looking but not good at being social, quiet but passionate, highly educated but scorns academics, and extremely smart -- but no one thinks he is. He sees patterns and connections where anyone else would see only coincidences and unimportant details.

DI Thursday and DC Morse. Hero and sidekick. Or sidekick and hero...?

Endeavour is a slowly paced, intricate mystery show that you have to pay attention to in order to understand -- but -- I have never found it at all boring, and your patience and attention is always awarded a huge payoff. I could spend lots of time talking about great plot lines and writing, fantastic performances, and great production overall (and it would all be true) but the one thing that defines this show, and makes it amazing and worth watching -- no matter how many times you've re-watched Sherlock, or how many Agatha Christie adaptations, Foyle's War, or countless "Inspector" shows you've seen -- and that is Shaun Evans' Morse.

There's always a smart, unique and thoughtful mystery for your enjoyment, but really it's about character -- and Morse's character is just extraordinary. Britain has no shortage of great mystery shows, and neither does it have a shortage of tortured souls to inhabit them as their heroes, but none are written or portrayed quite so well as Endeavour. He never falls into his kind's typical rut of being constantly depressed, but is determinedly hopeful. He takes the trials and abuse life deals to him with more grace than required and selflessly concentrates on other people's plights instead of his own. And Shaun Evans plays the part magnificently, with detailed subtlety and honesty.

DC Endeavour Morse is high on my list of favorite detectives.

Episode 1 of the series, Trove, finds Morse just recovered from the gunshot wound and death of his father from the end of the last series. He passes his physical exam, and returns to his usual duties as DI Thursday's (Roger Allam) bagman, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's back to normal. He is anxious and determined to prove himself, so when he sees the possibility of a connection between a robbery, an apparent suicide, and a disappearance of a young lady he jumps blindly at the chance to win back a good work reputation and make up for lost time on becoming a Sergeant. But the cases are more complicated than he realizes and no one -- not even Thursday -- is impressed with his wild speculations.

Episode 2, Nocturne, is hands down my favorite of the four -- it's got a haunting mystery! And the style of the show is an ideal match for the creepy suspense added for the ghost story. It hardly had to try to be scary at all; it just naturally is whenever the story dictates. Investigating a death at a museum leads Morse to an all-girls summer boarding school where many years before a gruesome multiple homicide was committed, the perpetrator of which is sometimes still seen roaming the hallways of the huge house. Morse sees himself reflected in one of the girls there, an observant and smart, but picked-on girl, and becomes personally invested in her well-being. A sure formula for a great episode.

The longer you look, the creepier it gets...

Sway, the third episode, is the serial killer episode -- always a winner. (As Sherlock says, "there's always something to look forward to!") In the first series the serial killer ep was my favorite, but this time it doesn't quite have the same effect since nothing that happens to make the killings personal to Morse. He is a little distracted from the case when his growing romance with his neighbor hits a bump. The show focuses it character developing powers instead on Thursday, but in a way that I would have preferred they not meddled with. The serial killer mystery was the main highlight of this episode, with plenty of looking forward.

The last episode, Neverland gets personal again, and not just for Morse, when he discovers faint connections between a reporter's death, a runaway boy, and a escaped convict, that lead to a conspiracy the seems to come from within the police department itself. This episode heaps on the character growth, for Morse and Thursday, and for Morse's regular antagonist DS Jakes, (Jack Laskey) and good friend PC Strange (Sean Rigby). The episode itself is very complicated, and winds up sharp, but for a while in the middle it slows more than usual. It was saving up for the climax I suppose, because it is unexpectedly big and dramatic for a jarring contrast.

Strange, Morse, Jakes, Thursday, and Chief Superintendent Bright (Anton Lesser).

Much like its protagonist, this show mostly keeps to itself, does its job, does it well, and does it with heart. It may not get much attention, but it can easily keep up with the best of its genre, defying the expectations of unsuspecting viewers and seasoned fans alike.