Last night’s TV “feature” was an episode of the British TV show Endeavour, an intriguing BBC production set in 1966 and dealing with the youth of the popular character Inspector Morse — and in case you were wondering why such a show would be called Endeavour, that’s Inspector Morse’s first name. I’ve only sporadically watched the later shows featuring the older Morse, a homicide detective in Oxford, England who’s depicted as a recovering alcoholic with a bug for opera in general and Wagner in particular (though his younger self as depicted here seems to listen only to Italian operas — I recognized Bellini’s I Puritani and Verdi’s La Traviata) and a rather dyspeptic approach to crime-solving: I wonder if Michael Connelly was inspired to create his character of Harry Bosch by Morse. Anyway, this episode was called “Trove” and featured the Oxford police being confronted by a variety of crimes: a paintball attack with a starter’s pistol in the middle of a parade in which the victim was its guest of honor, “Miss Great Britain” a.k.a. Diana Day (Jessica Ellerby); a body falling from a roof on top of an Anglia (a singularly ugly but serviceable compact car made for the British market by the U.K. branch of Ford); the mysterious disappearance of a young girl, Frida Yelland, and the understandable upset of her dad, Bernard Yelland (Philip Martin Brown), who thinks she was murdered; and the theft of priceless antiquities from the Oxford museum, three relics of King Harold — the last Saxon king of England who was dethroned and killed by William the Conqueror at Hastings in 1066 (and all that) — a loss that hits the university hard because they were about to exhibit the items as the centerpiece of a 900th anniversary celebration of the battle.
Morse — played to perfection by attractive young actor Shaun Evans even though he doesn’t really seem like he’s going to grow up to be John Thaw, who played the middle-aged dyspeptic Morse in the BBC’s earlier (and still running) series about him — insists that all these crimes are linked despite the insistence of his superiors that they’re all separate and distinct. As things turn out, the theft of the trove of antiquities from Hastings (which gives the episode its title) is distinct from the others — it was committed by a couple of Oxford students (both male, though the show is set at the time when the great universities of both Britain and the U.S. were finally starting to admit women) interested only in the financial gain from them — but the others are linked. The paintball attack on “Miss Great Britain” was committed by Kitty Batten (Jessie Buckley) as a feminist gesture to highlight that there’s more women can do than just win beauty pageants. Her mother Barbara (Beth Goddard) has been drafted to run for Parliament by the Labour Party in a by-election (what the Brits call a special election) to replace a member who died nine months after the regular election (and one reason Kitty was so upset at the “Miss Great Britain” pageant was that she felt if there weren’t a glass ceiling her mom would have been the candidate in the regular election in the first place). Her father Archie (Jonathan Coy) seems to be odd man out on the campaign trail even though Barbara’s chief concerns seem to be that neither her husband nor her daughter do anything else to embarrass her and jeopardize her chances of winning the election.
The man who fell out of the window onto the Anglia car — whom the older police at first thought had committed suicide — was Pettifer (Nathan John Carter), a petty blackmailer who was eliminated by [spoiler alert!] Archie Batten, who had had an affair with Frida Yelland before realizing that the Yellands were only her foster parents and she was in fact Archie’s daughter from a previous relationship. Horrified at what the accusation of incest will do both to his own career and his wife’s chances in the election, Archie teamed up with the promoter of the “Miss Great Britain” contest and its feeder contests to cover up the incident, even if that meant knocking off Frida and also Pettifer when he got wind of the truth and started blackmailing him about it. The episode was compelling and genuinely suspenseful — a lot of these ultra-polite British mystery stories aren’t — and though nowhere nearly as interesting a character as the older Morse, the young Morse is still a lot of fun to watch (and not only because Shaun Evans is nice to look at, even when he gets beaten up by thugs hired by the promoter because he’s getting too close to the truth and, like Jack Nicholson in Chinatown, has to go through most of the later stages of the show with bandages or fresh scars on his face) and the writer, Russell Lewis (who gets credit for having “devised” the show based on the character of the older Morse as created by Colin Dexter), deserves credit for throwing enough intriguing red herrings (including a professor of medieval history at Oxford whom Morse briefly suspects) at us before giving us the real solution (which I must say I didn’t see coming!). It also helps that the Black (should I call her “African-British”?) maid who lives in the same apartment building as Morse and helps nurse him back to health after he’s beaten is played by a fine actress of African descent who has mastered the Queen’s English well enough to pronounce the “t” in “often.”