Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Endeavour Season 2 - Neverland - Episode Review

My review of last week's episode: Sway

The season finale begins with Nunc Dimittis, the Canticle of Simeon (here's a good recording):

Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant
depart in peace
according to Thy Word,
for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation
which Thou hast prepared
before the face of all people.
To be a Light to light on the Gentiles
And to be the glory of Thy people Israel.
Glory be to the Father
And to the Son
And to the Holy Ghost,
As it was the beginning,
Is now and ever shall be,
World without end. Amen.

The music is intercut with scenes of D.I. Thursday who, like Morse at the very beginning of the season, is taking a medical exam. Resembling Simeon, Thursday feels the encroachment of age, and the advent of a younger generation. We’ve always known that, however enjoyable, the Thursday-Morse partnership couldn’t go on forever. From the first moments of Neverland, we feel that gentle shift begin.

Given a verdict of poor blood-pressure, Thursday heaves a hearty harrumph but, slowly, begins to consider early retirement. Morse is simultaneously drawing closer to Monica and a domestic life, and is thinking of leaving the police force himself. If he doesn’t, Thursday advises him to work with “Macnutt, maybe. Macnutt’s good.”

While all this is going on, two runaways, a boy and a convict, are keeping the Oxford City Police (soon to be Thames Valley Police which Morse made famous) busy. Murder draws the two investigations together, and D.C. Morse begins to track down old sins which c.l.s. All of this is going on while the Oxford City and Thames Valley are merging. Inevitably, there is corruption in the force, and things quickly point towards our favorite jerk, D.S. Peter Jakes, who finally gets a chance to do some real acting. These developments only give Fred Thursday, the decentest cop on TV since Christopher Foyle, even more reason to think of retirement.

I think the writer was going for a tighter, conspiracy-paranoia feel, but instead the pace was leisurely and deliberate—I felt most of the plot points coming, and picked the killer from the usual smattering of half-developed characters based on the detection rule of thumb: Least Likely Person Dunnit.

But the slow pace has me torn. I think Endeavour sometimes reels into drama in a way that its predecessor refused to do, but for a season finale, especially a Corruption-In-The-Ranks thriller, some thrills would not be amiss. A dramatic scene with Strange is followed by an exposition-heavy conversation that saps the sense of urgency which should be building. On the other hand, given the theme of growing old, and Thursday’s steady personality, the pace quite matches the story, being quiet and restrained, almost to the very end.

The story itself might have utilized its incipient themes to greater effect. A decision made near the conclusion makes sense in light of revelations about the case, but could have been given more build-up to connect the twin story-lines further. Themes of childhood, lost innocence, and the inability to face reality dovetail with choices regarding duty, honesty, and broken trusts. I’d have liked to see Morse ponder these things in greater detail—the bittersweet loss of innocence, and what it could mean, on a spiritual level. (After all, he’s just the type—Thaw’s Morse was often looking for the fawn, and disappointed by the difference between his ideals and reality, between art and artists. But maybe I’m asking too much.)

Overall, I think this episode is the best this year, capturing the pace, wit, characterizations, and humor that makes the show unique. Going for a darker feel, the second season has ended up being a little bit dull. Neverland changes that, allowing itself some humor amid a dark case, thanks mostly to Roger Allam, Anton Lesser, and the lovely cantankerous James Bradshaw as Max Debryn. Phlegm fatale, indeed.

There are several scenes that count as my favorites in the series, especially when Shaun Evans quotes Housman (and BOOM flashback to The Remorseful Day). It’s hard to pick between the two performances, Evans does a great job (as always), of straddling the line between mimicry and innovation. But Morse has always been a sorrowful character, and Evans’s younger incarnation can’t quite capture the deep sadness of Thaw’s aging detective. However, in this context the poetry isn’t really about Morse.

The climax (which I didn't see coming at all) definitely has a Sherlock-esque feel (as in They Cannot POSSIBLY End It There), and I’ll be the first to murder the ITV executives if they don’t commission a third season (UPDATE: It has been renewed.)

5/5 stars (this on the condition that next year’s first episode compensates with some tense pacing—as I suspect it will.)

Hannah Long

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