Sunday, January 29, 2017

Endeavour Series 4 - Harvest - Episode Review

My review of the previous episode: Lazaretto.

In 1962, botanist Matthew Laxman went missing. In the first minutes of Harvest an atmospheric black-and-white flashback shows us his final moments, as he picked up a man on the side of the road, swerved to avoid a lorry screen.

Back to the present. Relatively speaking.

It's 1967, and Courtney College archaeologists have just discovered a 2000-year-old body in Bramford Mere, close to where Laxman disappeared. Morse has a theory about the old body's cause of death, but the more pressing matter is that a pair of glasses were discovered close by that could have been Laxman's. Thursday was dissatisfied with the investigation last time around ("County," he grumbles, but he also suspects his previous bagman D.S. Lott wasn't "as thorough as he could have been") so he drags Morse along and they start to interview relatives.

First of all, there's Mrs. Alison Laxman, who doesn't have much help to offer. She directs them to Laxman's close colleague, Professor Donald Bagley. Bagley used to be a staunch supporter of nuclear power, but when his wife died from leukemia he revoked his support.

That's an interesting coincidence, because there's a huge nuclear power station near Bramford. When Morse and Thursday arrive in the village, they discover that the previous investigation didn't even attempt to interview power station employees. Morse tries to chase down the appropriate bureaucratic permission to get inside, but he's stonewalled. Enter the ever-entertaining Dorothea, who enlists Morse as her photographer "Snappy Jenkins" ("Snappy?" "Well, you can be.") He does a bit of investigating while she interviews the power station chief, Elliot Blake. Blake's American colleague, Dr. Jon Levin, is living in the village.

Morse ran into Mrs. Levin while he was interviewing a handful of villagers who feel like they've been pulled directly from the cornier portions of Hot Fuzz. I don't know much about Britain in the 60's, but a whole village of people whose belief system dates to around 1600 seems like a bit of a stretch. There's a shopkeeper who tells Morse "goddess bless thee." A surly man - Zebulon Sadler - tells Morse and Thursday a grim story about a witch burning. Morris men dance in the center of town. People slam doors and sharpen knives...creepily (it's a small town, you see - small towns are creepy - haven't you seen Midsomer Murders?)

The chief pagan is our very own tarot reader, Dowsable Chattox. "Morse. I've been expecting you," she says, waving her gun at him. She lives in a ramshackle mystical hut in the woods and isn't quite as important as the menacing tarot predictions scattered through the season seemed to imply. While she's an interesting, quirky character, the most important thing about Dowsable is that she's played by Sheila Hancock, John Thaw's wife and Abigail Thaw's step-mother. Hancock seems to have fun playing the absent-minded old biddy, whispering dire predictions and offering to read Morse's fortune, but as tribute characters go, she's no Dorothea.

Of course, there is one sane person in the village, Dr. Tristan Berger, who lives with his sister, Selina. Who would guess that Dr. Berger is, in fact, the head of the village...coven? Cult? Society for the Preservation of Historical Religious Customs? Selina tells Morse that she saw Laxman's car five years ago, right after seeing The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (a young John Thaw's first film).

Morse, meanwhile, has discovered Laxman's clothes on a scarecrow and his car in the barn of Morag Morrison. While Morrison owns up to stealing the car, he denies any involvement with the clothes. Other characters have confessions to make as well. Dowsable Chattox lied about never seeing Laxman, and he was having an affair with Selina Burgess.

Back in the city, D.C.S. Bright has returned to duty. The Cowley station gang go down the pub to have trivia night (Morse looks like he's suffering), and Strange gives Morse a tip about a possible job opportunity in London. It sounds like a good idea - even more so when Morse's flat is burgled by persons unknown. Some of his possessions end up back at the nick, and Thursday finds Morse's picture of Joan. Her address is written on the back, so he tracks her down. While she's surprised at first, she's as defiant as ever, refusing to return to her "9-to-5" life. She says that the married man who furnishes her flat  - Ray Morton - will leave his wife. She seems to believe it. Fred certainly doesn't. While he leaves Joan in peace, he catches up with Ray in the parking garage and puts the fear of God into him, Fred Thursday style.

When Thursday finally confronts Morse about Joan, the older man is surprisingly understanding. But then, I think he's come to realize Joan doesn't want to be saved. Or does she? She turns up at Morse's flat with a black eye and an empty purse. Morse finally makes his move, going from zero to 60 and proposing on the spot. She interprets the proposal as pity, and Morse doesn't correct her - partly, perhaps, because she's right. He has grand, largely abstract romantic feelings for her, but not ones he necessarily wants to make concrete. Her implication that her father wouldn't approve reminds him of his work failures and changes the subject permanently. Joan heads back into the night with a handful of Morse's money. By the end of the episode, Ray's abuse has resulted in the fulfillment of Dowsable's prophecy: Joan miscarries the baby she was carrying. Thus ends the saga of Joan Thursday.

Meanwhile, Morse and Thursday perform a bit of derring do to stop the nuclear power station from being blown up. The plot twist comes from left field, with a few suspects picked seemingly at random to break into what must be Britain's least secure power station and make vague incomprehensible demands. Nuclear power is bad...we will end it by...blowing up a nuclear power station and killing a ton of people....

Nah, me neither.

There are a ton of loose ends in this episode, and while the dramatic material regarding Joan is compelling, everything else is a mess. All the creepy superstitious villagers were red herrings. So were the Americans. The wacky Revelation quotes. Thursday's goofy grin at Buckingham palace is the only positive to come out of this trippy, Midsomer-like ending. (It also reminded me of the Doctor Who episode Hand of Fear, which began with the discovery of an ancient hand and continued to a stand-off at a nuclear power station.)

We're left on what's not-really-a-cliffhanger, since we know Morse never leaves Oxford. Which brings us to our series recap...

Season 4

The season produced two really strong episodes with Game and Lazaretto. Canticle improved on second viewing, but it's still definitely the low point of the series. As for Harvest, it's not the best finale Endeavour has produced, but its character-driven plot makes up for the rather silly mystery.

The choice to use Joan's disappearance as the engine for a season-long arc is one I'm still torn about. We know Morse ends up lonely and unmarried, so the painful scenes between the Morse and Joan, while exquisitely acted, don't quite hold the dramatic weight that earlier "Will they kill Thursday?" or "Will Thursday go bad?" arcs did. Plus, how many chances has Morse had to resolve that situation? The scene in Coda when she ran away felt like an ending, then in Leamington, then in his's starting to feel like Return of the King. On the other hand, that final scene with Joan was utterly heartbreaking, a tragedy worthy of Inspector Morse.

As for Morse's career, we don't need a Regina ex machina to resolve his promotion problems - we need Morse to actually do some investigating. I'm hankering for a return to the conspiracy story lines. Masonic Mysteries here we come.

Despite these criticisms, I did enjoy this season. Shaun Evans continues to grow as an actor, and can now more than hold his own against the towering Roger Allam. Evans and Vickers's scenes together were great. Anton Lesser, Sean Rigby, and Dakota Blue Richards haven't been utilized very much this season - let's hope that changes, because I like all of them.

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  1. “Marry you? Morse, you must be joking. I don’t even know your first name and you still insist on calling me Miss Thursday. It would never work.”

    All kidding aside, a rewarding finale to an enjoyable series; ‘Harvest’ and indeed the entire 'Mirror, Mirror on the Wall' series 4 went a long way to tying up many loose ends, answering some of those burning questions and still leaving us with a cliff-hanger (of sorts) in the bargain.

    My favourite parts?

    The very touching conversation between ‘Snappy Jenkins’ Morse and Miss Frazil:
    “What’s this, girl trouble?”
    “I haven’t got a girl.”
    “Maybe that’s the trouble.”

    “You’ve made your bed,” Fred Thursday hisses at his daughter as he leaves her flat. Truer words have never been spoken; no need for Dowsable Chattox’s tarot cards to alert us to imminent danger.

    Thanks Hannah for your informative and perceptive reviews; I’ve enjoyed them and your comments section as much as I have all of ‘Endeavour’ Series 4. And you were right about Sheila Hancock; well spotted!

    Right then; bring on Series 5 – all six episodes!

    1. I like it more the more I think about it. That last scene in the hospital has been on my mind all day.

  2. Thank you Hannah. I think, once more, that I enjoyed the episode slightly more than you did, though Russell Lewis could have used those extra episodes this season in order to resolve some of the many threads. The ambition and scope of season 4 were admirable, but maybe a little more focus on fewer story lines would have benefited the whole.

    I wasn't thrilled with the relatively shallow characterizations of the guest cast, but I was thankful for the increased amount of Endeavour-Fred scenes.

    I revisited all of the prior seasons before this season started, and I completely agree with your observation on Shaun Evans' growth as an actor. He's just been riveting - such a defined trajectory through each season.

    Roger Allam really shined in this episode. No wasted words as usual, and I always enjoy seeing Fred Thursday, Man of Action. I'm closer to Fred's age than Endeavour's, and I must admit to feeling immensely gratified as a parent when Fred confronted Ray in the parking garage. My wish fulfilled, thank you very kindly. Also it was great to see Win come alive when she'd finally heard from Joan.

    Thank you so much, Hannah, for taking the time to write these reviews. I appreciate your perspective greatly, and I'll look forward to keeping up with your blog.

    1. I'm no parent, but Ray had that coming for a long time. Good to see Heroic Fred back again. And all's well with Win - hopefully this means the sandwich schedule will return to normal too. You can automatically tell if there's trouble in Paradise by the state of Fred Thursday's lunch.

  3. Of course, there is one sane person in the village, Dr. Tristan Berger...

    There are two more, at least. And they are the Americans *shudder*

  4. Thank you so much for the prompt reviews. I do enjoy "discussing" each episode right after viewing--it detracts from the experience if I don't. I thought it was a perfect Morse episode, despite the weaknesses you've pointed out. With Morse's promotion, there is no longer a need for him to leave town. Did Joan lose Morse's baby? That could be the only thing that could explain Joan's behavior this Series--in my mind. When she realized she was pregnant after the bank robbery, she left home Because she knew what her parents--and Morse-- would say (marriage). She met the married man later, after she left. Does that make sense? I took it that Morse worked that out when he saw Joan in the hospital, prompting him to leave so quickly.

  5. I don’t know, Darrell. I saw things differently.

    In ‘Game’ the news on the radio informed us that Billie Jean King won Wimbledon in straight sets. I assume they were referring to the Women’s final, which was held on 6 July 1967. The autumn equinox occurred on 23 August, so 11 weeks and 3 days elapsed in Series 4.

    That’s sufficient time for Joan Thursday to become pregnant by Ray Morton. Or, before she left Oxford, by Morse, or any of the bad boys she ran with. It’s also sufficient time to have an abortion. Given Miss Thursday’s defiance of her father, I think she intended to keep the baby.

    Earlier Bright had said to Morse that he put others before himself. It seems completely uncharacteristic that Morse would walk out on Joan if it had been his child she had just lost. Indeed, I interpreted the opposite. Morse knew that the child could not possibly be his and concluded that Joan did not have feelings for him, and that’s why he left.

    Either way, my hat’s off to Russell Lewis for a wonderfully ambiguous ending.

    1. But let's examine the whole situation. Joan started acting in an uncharacteristic manner before she left. That was compounded by leaving in the first place--then not phoning when she arrived at her destination--or a day or two later in any case. That would be normal "Joan" behavior. Why the break from everyone right at the start? Sure, the bank robbery and facing death made her re-evaluate her life--but that usually does not result in a break from your loved ones unless you have been in some sort of abusive situation. I'm thinking that Joan was using the cad/bounder while she pondered her choices--that why he was selected. Joan is not the type to hurt a completely innocent third party. Finally, we had Dowsable Chattox tell him he was on a journey that would end in death--not his, though. I don't think the death of the cad/bounder's child would fulfill that prophesy. Morse can't deal with personal issues, and there is the betrayal of Joan not telling him. He would have stayed with Joan if the child wasn't his. Of course they cheat by not revealing what went on off camera.

    2. I thought the implication was that the baby daddy was Roy in Leamington, though I can see it having been Paul the murderer / bingo caller.

      As for Morse's journey ending in death, I thought Chattox knew what her grandson (was it grandson or son?) had done and knew that he was doomed if Morse were to continue his investigation.

    3. Morse's flashback in Coda seemed more like a sudden revelation of new feelings than a memory of existing ones. Surely if he'd slept with Joan we would have gotten more of a hint. Instead, he was always (Joan thought: infuriatingly) professional and aloof.

      But Darrell's right that Joan leaving was sudden and out of character. It implies that she was already pregnant, or had some other reason to flee. If I had just been rescued from a bank robbery, I'd at least want to get a good night's sleep and think over my options before hitting the road. And that's another thing: it seemed that the events of the raid affected her in a way the audience doesn't quite understand. What if Ronnie Gidderton was the father? Joan dated him for a while, didn't she? If she'd been pregnant by him she would really have been in a pickle: couldn't stand marrying him, couldn't continue unmarried. When he died, that could have pushed her over the emotional brink. Same would work for Paul Morlock as the father. He was arrested for murder.

    4. Morse never slept with Joan. Never made a move ever on all of those walks home together (as Joan remarked when he showed up in Leamington. The more I think about it, it I do see Darrell's point about Joan's behavior before she left, and Paul (or someone else in Oxford) as the father makes more sense.

  6. Interesting that the press release for the new series doesn't mention a return for Sean Rigby as Strange. Perhaps that's how they'll get round the "no room for two sergeants" issue highlighted in the first episode - Strange takes up the job in London? Wider experience might well explain how he gets to be in charge in the original Morse series.

    Can't say I was entirely convinced by the "Wicker-Man-meets-Edge-Of-Darkness" plotline, personally.

  7. In contrast I saw the village life depicted as it was with insular attitudes and pagan superstition as quite believable Having lived in very rural Dorset plus it's equally rural borders pretty much most of my life, even now there are people in my tiny hamlet who have lived here very specifically all their lives and are pretty non communicative with 'outsiders' (as I am, despite my fathers family having lived only twenty minutes away for over 80 years!, regarded). Growing up in places like the nearby village my father grew up (born 1940) would have been isolated and quiet, virtually no one having cars and little public transport.
    The rituals depicted are not much of a hop, skip and a jump (pun intended) from Morris dancing and maypole dancing which were commonplace all through my childhood in my rural homes and I was born in the 60s. These were simply people who had either lived here all their lives and had no intention of going elsewhere (or people who wanted to preserve/ participate in ancient ritual show.) No sacrifices were given to justify the whicker man criticism or to suggest these people were in any way weird - unless you do, after all,count being insular and superstious weird.......Anyone else here salute magpies....;) No one else ever had their palms read or tarot done? Just out of curiosity? Scratch the surface and an awful lot of us, despite university educations and professional jobs, want to make sense of the past, connect to the past.
    Can't see the problem with the nuclear issue of the plot - it wasn't shown as all bad.... Quite the opposite. Hands were shaken, no one was arrested. The argument that drove Bagley and the CND badge man to try to blow up the plant was completely undermined there and then by Thursday's common sense and compassion for Bagleys grief over his dead wife. Guilt - justified or not- can make people lose their mind. . Extreme views are allowed in 'Endeavour' - but at the end, the leak, while acknowledged, was not dealt with by policing as it wouldn't be. The 60s was a time of questioning everything happening now the immediate post war years were done. The old messages that the state and govnt knew best, that the future was glorious and shiny and clean.... And science (that had won the war) knew best was being challenged. Why wouldn't the series, set when it is, consider the dramatic questions being posed about the future of the rural places where the ways that still resonated through the centuries were embedded, contamination, cancer set against the 'modern' take on science, the future of power and the smaller personal costs as well as the environmental ones. Hell, we are still wrangling about those questions now 50 years later....

    1. I thought the later rituals, which were viewed as positive, rather quaint cultural relics, felt more authentic than the primitive beat following Morse around the village earlier in the episode. I'm from a small town as well, and my grandmother still doesn't like black cats, so it's not odd to me.

      As for Bagley's anti-nuclear manifesto, I just wished it made a bit more sense. Simple rewrite would've been domestic terrorists who wanted to have revenge on England for [insert political reason.] A mixture of grief and weird religious fervor don't quite cut it for me.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. But I guess that's what all drama is -mixing up what for most of us in our ordinary lives wouldn't consider possible...and presenting it to us in a heightened extreme form? The programme on BBC1 same time: affair, rape, secrets - all one woman, all suddenly happening - not authentic, Sherlock I personally can't watch - authenticity is a subjective topic based as it is on life experience and personal interests.
      As a rural person from largely farming and small holding ancestors I can find the rituals and insularity authentic. I'm not talking about small towns - small isolated villages and tiny hamlets in parts of the U.K. are isolated now let alone in the 60s and while increased mobility and affluence has changed rural dynamic (as the episode hinted at - the Bergers and the American couple will speak to outsiders - they are outsiders too though the doctor has immersed himself in local interests) those old values of the land and seasons and culture are still if we look for them. It's impossible not to feel those things walking as I do with my dogs everyday in landscapes steeped in these aspects of human history - as Morse is shown doing and experiencing in that episode. He might want his cerebral brain to turn away from it - does his brain ever switch off? - he has a crime to solve - but he experiences it nevertheless.
      The beating sounds were not only recognising the build up to the celebration of those things - people smiled and looked happy not murderous! - but also simply a dramatic device to get inside Morse' troubled and intense feelings that have been building through the series.
      In terms of drama also there is the issue of murders. While I really liked the fact the ' murder' storywas essentially unpremeditated and borne out of a gentle romantic chivalric code rather than sexual predation or a damaged mind and that there was only ONE death (unlike earlier episodes and which definitely refuted the 'Midsommer Murders' accusation (the two series are solar systems apart!), I recognise that there ARE grisly murders going on as we discuss this now. Body parts washed up on beaches (even here in Dorset!), children who kill parents, planned in minute detail and sometimes for the strangest of reasons. Many are solved away from the newspaper front pages. Many lie waiting for random chance circumstances....
      So yes, drama is drama. The weight of it is determined by the class of the acting and the class of the production. For me 'Endeavour' has both in spades. I'm happy to be transported to these people's lives as they are played out in impeccably turned out 60s sets. It isn't real but it reflects life - even if it's not our lives.

    4. Second time of posting the above and still I see more of my typos 😩

    5. Internet typos don't count.

  8. Oh, no. I hate this ending for Joan. Say it ain't so. We won't get it over here until June...maybe I'll get over it.

  9. Dear Hannah, thank you so much for your reviews (I have read only 2 for the most recent episodes). They are thorough and insightful as well as witty. While I may not always agree with everything you say immediately, it is certainly food for thought. I will go on to read your other blogs. I also enjoyed other people's reflections a lot - at the end of the day, we are talking about fiction and entertainment but it is of an exceedingly high quality. All thanks to Mr Colin Dexter basically. May the writers come up with plenty more series about such fascinating and (dis)likable characters. Cheers!

    1. Thank you. Those first few Endeavour reviews date from my senior year in high school, so beware the clunky writing!

  10. Great review. I agree with the Nah! Not explained to me at least was how come he got his Sergeant rank anyway? What about the missing paper? Anyone help here?

    Our comment was more Midsomer than Morse but still enjoyable. Mainly because we love Shaun Evans!

    1. Presumably, the queen intervened.

    2. The promotion is intended to be an inducement to make sure Morse doesn't mention the incident at the power plant as the government has covered it up.

    3. Will Morse have to prevent a national disaster every time he gets a promotion? Getting to inspector ought to be interesting.

  11. Hi all,

    Does anyone know the cards that were shown at the beginning to represent each character?

    1. Here's a screenshot I took:

      I'm not sure they're necessarily meant to represent the characters.


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