Monday, July 14, 2014

Endeavour: “Sway” (BBC-TV, 2014)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2014 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Charles and I watched the latest episode of Endeavour, the quirky program on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery series dealing with the young career of then-Detective, later-Inspector Morse of the Oxford police. This episode was called “Sway” and was set, like the others in this series, in the year 1966 — specifically in November, as is evidenced by the paper cut-out poppies most of the characters are wearing in their lapels (a commemoration of Armistice Day, Charles told me) and the Guy Fawkes festivities are also a part of the plot. It’s not clear just why the episode is called “Sway” but overall it’s quite good, the best of the three I’ve seen so far, mainly because at least within the conventions of mystery writing the plot makes sense. It was interesting to be watching this shortly after reading J. A. Jance’s Second Watch — also about a police detective character’s younger days, though Jance mashed up her protagonist’s past and present in ways Endeavour writer Russell Lewis didn’t — and the plot features Morse showing up his superiors at the Oxford P.D. by identifying three recently deceased women — all middle-aged, all married but with husbands either temporarily or indefinitely absent, and all with their wedding rings missing from their fingers — as the victims of a serial killer. The investigation leads to Burridge’s department store, recently inherited by a rather twit-like young man, Alan Burridge (Joe Bannister) — “Call me Alan,” he tells everyone, from his staff to the cops — because the killer offed his victims by strangling them with a high-end French stocking and Burridge’s is the only store in the area (according to Alan, the only store in the entire U.K.!) that sells them.

While all that’s going on there’s a fascinating subplot, surprisingly emotionally intense for a mystery (especially a British one!), between Burridge’s salesgirl Luisa Armstrong (Cécile Paoli) and Morse’s superior, Fred “Fredo” Thursday (Roger Allam), who it turns out knew each other and had a brief affair in Italy during World War II, where Fred was stationed, until Luisa was captured and nearly executed. When she sees Fred again she faints dead away, and later we learn that Luisa married another British serviceman after her escape (which was how she got the decidedly non-Italian last name “Armstrong”), only he is now dead and she would very much like to resume her relationship with Fred — only he is married to Win (Caroline O’Neill), one of those wives in movies who remains her husband’s faithful helpmate even though the sexual fires between them (which, they being a typical fictional British couple, probably lasted only long enough to produce their two kids) have long since died out. There are several intriguing red herrings, including a blind piano tuner who was acquainted with one of the victims (she was an amateur musician and had to leave her piano behind when she separated from her husband) and a sexy blonde salesgirl at Burridge’s, Gloria Deeks (Gina Bramhill), whom we see being angrily coaxed into a car by a mystery man — we immediately assume she’s going to be victim number four but in fact victim number four is someone else, though the climax has her coming very close to becoming victim number five. There’s also a man, a “slow” stockroom clerk named Norman Parkis (Matthew Wilson), who’s stabbed when he catches the real killer boosting a pair of the ultra-expensive stocking — only the killer catches him and dispatches him with a pair of scissors ordinarily used for opening packages. Police arrest Burridge’s employee Joey Lisk (Max Wrottlesley), who seduced and had edgy sex with all of the victims — he’s the mysterious “Mr. X” referred to in the diary of one of the victims that the police recovered at her home — but it turns out he’s been framed by another staff member, Roy Huggins (Rob Jarvis) — interesting that the character name should also be that of the real-life writer who created The Fugitive — who, after Joey seduced his wife and got her to leave him, was determined to have his revenge by tracking down all the other women Joey was having affairs with, killing them and planting evidence to make it look like Joey was the killer.