Endeavour, last ever episode, review: a final case, a final pint, a fine farewell

Roger Allam and Shaun Evans sign off as Thursday and Morse - ITV
Roger Allam and Shaun Evans sign off as Thursday and Morse - ITV

So farewell then, Endeavour (ITV1). Or should that be in the Latin? If it’s handkerchiefs anyone needs, Dr Max DeBryn (James Bradshaw) came to the climactic nuptials with a plentiful supply. Who didn’t dab a tear as young Morse hugged his bride-not-to-be, and the script permitted him the dream fulfilment of a smooch on the never-never?

It’s ancient history now, but back in 2012 it felt heretical that John Thaw’s grumpy old sleuth should regenerate as a perky pipsqueak played by Shaun Evans. After young Morse and young Herriot, young Tennison and even young Del Boy, who’s next for the prequel treatment? Lad’s Army? Babes from the Blackstuff? Tinker Toddler Soldier Spy?

Nine series on, parting was such sweet sorrow – perhaps even a little over-sweet when Chief Superintendent Bright summoned Prospero. “These are actors as I foretold you,” he intoned at the grave of his daughter while faces from Morse’s yesteryear bloomed on the screen. “We are all spirits and are melted into air.” Anyone who ever suspected that Anton Lesser, associate artist of the RSC for more than 30 years, was a mite too fruity about the larynx for Oxford City CID here had their rich reward and delicious proof.

With close to perfect pitch, this very final denouement had you sitting ever more uncomfortably. If you were there in 1987, you may remember the running joke that soon affixed itself to Colin Dexter’s novels as they made their way onto television: since when did Oxford, genteel to the tip of its mortar board, become the crime capital of England?

The ninth series seemed to stick with the gag. Murder in the string section, the accidental death of an artist: this was crime from the culture pages. This episode’s murder spree involved Latin messages on funeral cards. Then wham: historic child abuse, drug turf wars, corruption at the Yard. After all that perfumed elitism, here finally was a stronger stench.

The pair sign off with a typical swathe of mysterious cases - ITV
The pair sign off with a typical swathe of mysterious cases - ITV

Take the final murderer – a vigilante spouting racist homophobic bile. When told of his antics, his wife thought she’d be sick. No one vomits in Endeavour, but this diatribe against English exceptionalism felt like something Russell Lewis, in the last ever script of an epic solo shift, itched to get off his chest. (Likewise, the toxic aristos in the second episode were an unencrypted attack on our quondam Bullingdonian rulers.)

“They want to destroy the family,” scowled the killer of the lefties in sub fusc that he’d bumped off. The only family under threat here was the Thursdays, whose protection required Morse to consort with a criminal gang, then cover up his mentor’s darkest deed. If you’d been paying attention in the previous episode, there was a clue presaging this considerable shock: the murderer turned out to be none other than an avuncular TV detective. DI Thursday even watched his show on the telly.

“I know thee not, old man,” said Morse, quoting the Bard, as bagman and boss nursed a final pint. Thursday, bless him, didn’t quite catch the reference to Henry V banishing Falstaff (a role for which Roger Allam, incidentally, won an Olivier Award the year before he first donned the trilby).

But there was to be no banishment and, though the script flirted with it, no repeat of the heart attack that will eventually fell Morse. Instead, by Oxford’s Radcliffe Camera, there was a solemn valediction. “You’ll keep an eye,” said the old man, truncating a sentence for the last time. Morse even kept his gun.

From the charnel house of Blenheim Vale we moved to Blenheim Palace where two Jags, black and burgundy, passed in a golden sunset. The drivers’ iridescent blue eyes caught each other in the rear-view mirror just as they had in Endeavour’s pilot episode. You’ll keep an eye indeed. In his own way Evans has proved Thaw’s equal. Or as it almost said on one of those funerary bouquets, omnia Morse aequat.

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