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Endeavour – ‘Apollo’

The thing about Endeavour is, even in its comparatively weaker episodes, you’re always guaranteed an extremely well-acted and well-written piece of television. But I don’t know if it has ever been as good as ‘Apollo’ – this is a fantastic episode in which everything just works perfectly.

On the eve of the Apollo 11 Moon landings, up-and-coming astrophysicist Adam Drake (Benjamin Wainwright) and a young girlfriend, Christine Chase (Katie Faye) are found dead in an apparent car accident. The newly-transferred Morse suspects there may be more to it, however, especially as it transpires that Christine was dead before the crash. Thursday, on ‘light duties’ after a run-in with some crooks, works with Morse on the investigation, which leads them to uncover tensions at both a new-age colony and a TV studio.

Normally, when writing reviews of Endeavour, I sing the praises of Roger Allam as Thursday – ‘Apollo’, however, was truly a standout for Shaun Evans on multiple levels (as well as leading, he also directs this episode and does an incredible job). His wonderfully subtle characterisation and Morse’s evolution throughout the six series is a fantastic acting job. He has developed from a wide-eyed young policeman to his current version – intelligent and quietly bubbling with rage, yet a hint of kindness beneath the surface.

It’s the best kind of resolution in a detective show – that feeling of something that ought to have been obvious all along if only you could put the pieces together

I wrote of ‘Pylon’ that the solution worked, but it wasn’t entirely satisfying – that couldn’t be further from the case in ‘Apollo’. Series creator Russell Lewis’ writing here is fantastic – there are clues scattered throughout the episode that are not-at-all obvious, but the mysteries resolve with a very satisfactory feeling. It’s the best kind of resolution in a detective show – that feeling of something that ought to have been obvious all along if only you could put the pieces together, yet the resolution makes narrative sense. 

The investigation also served to highlight one of the key tensions in the series – as Thursday tells Morse, “things have changed”. Thursday and Bright have never felt more out of time, as highlighted in a really strong scene in which Bright talks with Thursday about how his awareness that the younger generation considers him a fool (Lesser didn’t get too much to do in the last episode, but he gets really good scenes with Evans and Allam this time around).

‘Apollo’ is an episode that really works in every way. The cast is typically strong and, throughout the episode, I found myself marvelling at the cinematography and Matthew Slater’s beautiful score (the show, if we’re honest, has never really struggled on either count, but this episode is really something else). The scenes set in the TV studio, with a marionette show evoking the work of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, is lovingly recreated.

If I’m going to pick a fault at all, it would be in relation to the DCI Box storyline – he and DS Alan Jago (Richard Riddell) are almost comically obstructive characters, clashing with Morse over anything and everything. There was a hint of a more developed Box at the end of ‘Pylon’, so it seems a shame not to see it in this episode. Could it be linked to Strange’s investigation of the Oxford heroin deaths – it seems he may know something, but exactly what he knows will be for future episodes to reveal.

The happy marriage we saw in earlier series is most definitely gone, and Allam and O’Neill are both superb, understatedly showcasing a lot of hidden pain.

The other recurring storylines moved along, and it’s the deterioration of the Thursday household that continues to really hit home. It’s obvious there is something going on with Win – she’s slipping out of the house with barebone excuses, she’s incredibly distracted when at home – and it’s likely to hit some painful emotional beats in the remaining two episodes. The happy marriage we saw in earlier series is most definitely gone, and Allam and O’Neill are both superb, understatedly showcasing a lot of hidden pain.

In a show full of episodes that could be considered standouts, ‘Apollo’ is an absolute standout – everything works so very well, delivering a strong and well-constructed mystery and lots of powerful character work. If you aren’t watching Endeavour, you’re really missing out.

Next week: The murder of a chocolate factory owner leads Morse to a sleepy village, troubled by a vicious campaign of gossip and rumour.

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