It’s Oxford, 1968, and things are changing – the city police have been combined with the country force to create the new Thames Valley Constabulary, and DS Morse (Shaun Evans) has been asked to work with a young new detective, DC George Fancy (Lewis Peek). The force is nice and busy, too – Morse is asked to look into the attempted theft of Faberge’s last great masterpiece, Nastya’s Egg, at a college. Morse is happy to consider the break-in as a student prank, but the grisly deaths of a gangster and the academic looking after the sale of the egg cause him to believe something else is going on. The investigation leads to a mysterious woman in a white coat, and a sordid undercurrent of Oxford society.
‘Muse’ is a typical Endeavour mystery – strongly-plotted and (unlike a good deal of crime shows) not easily guessable. Writer Russell Lewis has crafted a tale with some grisly murders, and rooted them in a motivation that is both incredibly timely (at the risk of being a bit too spoilerific, airing this episode after the events at the Presidents Club must be a stroke of fate) and all-too believable. It’s rare that a crime show can create a sympathetic killer and actually have you feel sympathy for them – ‘Muse’ is an example of this done extremely well.
‘Muse’ is a strong return for Endeavour
Aside from the central mystery, there is also a decent quantity of character development. Evans and Roger Allam (as Morse’s mentor, DCI Fred Thursday) continue to impress, and the strong relationship between the two has really been a lynchpin of this show since its inception. The two must deal with the reappearance of Joan, Thursday’s daughter – the spectre of Morse’s refused marriage proposal still hangs over him and their reunion, whereas Thursday masks a great deal of fatherly concern behind his stolid demeanour.
I can’t claim I massively liked Fancy throughout this episode – he is played well, but the character is cocky, and immediately rubs Morse the wrong way (fans of the original series of Inspector Morse will appreciate Morse’s refusal to suffer fools gladly – John Thaw’s character is shining through here). Morse has always struggled to fit in with his colleagues (leading to an interesting Odd Couple-style set-up with Strange), but his relationship with Jakes in the first two series started the same way, so there’s still hope for the character yet.
I’d also like to highlight the performance of Charlotte Hope in this episode – she plays an artist’s model and a part-time prostitute who has some key relevance to the case, and her interrogation scene with Morse before the detectives figure out what is going on is supremely well-acted (and the best part of a strong episode).
If the rest of the episodes are as strong as ‘Muse,’ we’re in for a top run
Much though I loved it, there was a big issue for me in this episode – we have prostitutes going by the names of Biblical temptresses, and deaths which were clearly Biblically-inspired, but it took Morse most of the episode to realise this. I know that it would be asking a lot for a chunk of modern audiences to pick up on this, but I find it hard to believe that Morse of all people wouldn’t clock on to the obvious theme to the murders.
‘Muse’ is a strong return for Endeavour – it offers a compelling mystery, and sets up enough plot and character threads to hint at where the season will head. Morse will have to figure out how to incorporate Fancy into the team, and he and Thursday must deal with the return of Joan. There are suggestions that criminal Eddie Nero will crop up throughout the series, and that the police merger will shake up Morse’s world of work. It remains to be seen how this will develop throughout the series but if the rest of the episodes are as strong as ‘Muse,’ we’re in for a top run.
Next week: The unexplained poisoning of a former detective sergeant leads Morse and Thursday to a local cinema.