Monday, January 19, 2015

Foyle's War - Elise - Episode Review

My review of last week's episode: Trespass

Sam: "Do you remember Hastings, Mr. Foyle? It'll be spring soon. And the orchards will be in blossom. And the birds will be nesting in the hazel thicket. And they'll be sowing the summer barley in the lower fields...and eating the first of the strawberries with cream. Do you remember the taste of strawberries?"

Foyle: "No, Sam. I can't recall the taste of food... nor the sound of water... nor the touch of grass."

I can't believe I haven't used this joke before. Then again, after two hours of the grayness of post-war Britain, Mordor's starting to look pretty good. Like The Return of the King, this episode deals with corruption, dramatic death scenes, and a few too many endings.

But happily, Elise has several extended, very colorful flashbacks to leaven the darkness of the present day. Visually, it has tons of style, and Für Elise provides a lovely mournful mood.

Of the three episodes this season, Elise shows the most spirit, taking on not only treason but ruthless black market operatives - sending both Sam and Foyle into direct physical peril. Ultimately, while the episode is supposed to be Foyle's swansong, it ends up focusing on Hilda Pierce. I'm not complaining too much (after all, I'm a huge Hilda fan), but one must admit priorities are a bit mixed here. It's been a problem for the last few episodes, as Foyle's investigation is shuffled to the side while we're subjected to the object lesson, usually thanks to Adam. Michael Kitchen's natural laconicism (he regularly tossed out paragraphs of script, saying "I can just do it with a look") doesn't help matters.

The story centers around the execution of a young woman, Elise. Her real name was Sophie Corrigan, and she was recruited to the SOE by Hilda Pierce (Ellie Haddington is particularly good in this episode). Immediately on arriving in France, she was arrested by the Gestapo. A tragic miscalculation? Perhaps not, for Elise was the ninth casualty - all of which indicates that someone in SOE is behind it.

While Foyle is busy with this, he and Valentine are also under pressure to collar a gang of thieves. The black market has become so influential that one of the godfathers owns a golf club and hobnobs with Soviet agents.

The thieves also find the time to try and destroy the career of a London MP - who is it? Adam Wainwright, naturally. Which means Sam is ready to do anything to protect him, including putting herself and Baby Wainwright in danger again. 

I'm surprised that Foyle didn't explode when he found out about all that - but he was surprisingly zen about the whole thing. Also quite zen about Elizabeth Addis, as it turns out. It had never become quite a relationship anyway, but still. We should at least see the raised eyebrow of death.

Not only is it paced a bit more tightly than the others, but Elise manages to build quite a sense of danger. Foyle meets a killer on a dark night alone (a bit out of character, no matter how compassionate he wants to be to the young murderer), and because you know it's the last episode in the show things get worrying. The path to justice is about as convoluted as possible, and while there is some darkly poetic justice to the final resolution (I did not see that coming), the final shot points to more ambiguity than closure. I'm content with that - there's always a part of me that wants more nostalgia, but it wouldn't really have worked. The Cold War has created a world where solutions do not bind up nicely at the end, where problems are much bigger than whatever justice one man can work. It's not really Foyle's war, anymore. Some wounds never truly heal.

But I'm not certain we should bid farewell to our favorite detective yet. This episode was more about saying goodbye to another character, and the show has a history of bouncing back due to public demand. Horowitz has said he hasn't got any more ideas, but let another writer take over - the formula needs some spicing up, anyway. Where do we go from here? Well, obviously, a 1950s buddy cop mystery.

I suppose I should say, a Foyle-length series...hardy-har-har.

If this is, indeed, the end (“I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam”...sorry), a eulogy would be in order. Well, I may have said it before, but Michael Kitchen is a master. He had the patience to make eight (or nine, depending on where you're from) seasons of a show in which he does almost nothing and yet it's magic. This restraint is nearly unparalleled.

One nice thing about this mysterious ending is, however, that I can continue to imagine Foyle, in the 50s, teaming up with Valentine and perhaps a younger George Gently, traveling to France to meet Maigret, stopping by St. Mary Mead, vacationing in Oxford in the 60s, passing through Manchester in 1973, and from there - who knows?

Where to, sir? A good question.

4 stars

Hannah Long


  1. Great review! I would love to see a 'Foyle & Valentine" series. Valentine really came into his own this series. I'm rather ambivalent about the ending - it seemed to leave things wide open when it was meant to be the end of things. Here's hoping, at least!

    1. Yeah, Foyle was, once again, sort of shuffled off to the side while things were going on. He had his moments, but the big show-down was given to Hilda. What? When this is the finale? Maybe Horowitz thought there would be more at the time.

  2. I did not see that coming

    I knew that Hilda was going to take action, but I didn't expect the holy hand grenade. Woodhead's refusal to admit his French network was being run by the Germans meant that SOE's French branch didn't contribute anything to the war effort--except the dead bodies of the best and brightest English young men and women. It also meant the intelligence being gathered for the D-Day invasion was supplied by the Germans themselves--as the radio expert guessed when he didn't recognize the telegraph keystrokes of his pupils. All for nothing. Woodhead deserved worse than a quick death.

    1. My dad was not impressed. He made the rather good point that she'd living among corruption for years - she suddenly develops a conscience? I could see her do justice, yes - but perhaps not so...explosively.

    2. This was a wonderful review. I agree with your father, I felt the end was out of character for Hilda and I was disappointed because it struck such a false note. One could definitely understand her anguish at such waste. But Hilda had always been portrayed as ruthless and pragmatic about the work they did. I thought she was just trying to scare him to teach him a lesson. Clearly I got that wrong, didn't I? And why not just use a gun? The series has been a delight, but this final episode did show that they really were running out of ideas. I am so grateful to all involved, however, for providing 13 years of top notch entertainment.

  3. I would like to see Foyle get to know Joyce Corrigan a little better. She's a much better match than Elizabeth Addis.

    1. YES. I remembered her from Cranford (where she was very good.)

  4. Who in the SOE was responsible for the death of the nine British agents and why did it happen? It was not clear to me - so many other plotlines going on!

    1. As I recall (it has been some months since I saw it), the white-haired guy that Hilda blew up was behind it. It wasn't that he organized it, but he made a callous bureaucratic decision to keep sending girls when he knew their cover had been blown. I think he rationalized the choice by saying if he let the Germans know they'd cracked their code (which was how they knew the girls were in danger), they'd put even more lives at risk.


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