Enjoying the mystery of “Endeavour” as the detective prequel draws to a close

Sometimes I contemplate an alternate timeline where “Sherlock” never existed and wonder if “Endeavour” and its star Shaun Evans may have claimed any secret chambers in our hearts that Benedict Cumberbatch’s detective conquered.

The two detectives have a few things in common, after all. Sherlock Holmes and Endeavor Morse are two of many crime solvers adapted from the literature featured in “Masterpiece Mystery!” tent recently played as younger men in their prime.

Each has a long relationship with television, although Holmes’ overcoat has been worn by a variety of actors. Morse is associated with two: Evans and the late John Thaw, who originated the character in “Inspector Morse”, which aired from 1987 to 1993, and was revived in five special episodes that ran between 1995 and 2000.

Combined, they’ve ensured that Endeavor Morse has been with UK and US TV audiences in some form for over 30 years, and longer for readers who forged a loyalty to the character in Colin Dexter’s books. Evans, however, achieves something we don’t often see in many modern detectives, as he creates and solves the mystery of how Thaw’s tough, alcoholic, arrogant, and lovable detective came to be.

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“Endeavour” is at its best when it draws our focus to solving its main character’s puzzle, a quest in which Evans’ performance draws us deeper with each new season. His 1960s Morse is tough, but not a hard case; refined, but put off by popular diversions that excite the average person. One of the funniest plot twists of season eight sees the detective sergeant visibly suffering through a recording of a live game show he would never have chosen to endure if it weren’t for a mission.

Morse’s willful ignorance of commonly loved pastimes exasperates his mentor DCI Fred Thursday (Roger Allam). Thursday is also one of the few people who respects Morse’s insight and empathy. But in these 1971 chapters, he’s worried that his partner’s loneliness, sharpened by despair, poses a danger to him and others.

Roger Allam as Thursday and Shaun Evans as Morse in “Endeavour” (Courtesy of Mammoth Screen and Masterpiece)

And this is where the theoretical emotional terrain shared by Holmes and Morse ends. In season seven, Morse fell in love with a mysterious woman he met in Venice, Violetta (Stephanie Leonidas), only to discover that she was deceiving him before sacrificing herself by stepping in front of a bullet meant for him.

Sherlock of legend, as Cumberbatch plays him, probably wouldn’t have been so careless, even if he allowed himself to be as vulnerable as Morse, who began to drown his grief in drink.

This might be simpler to understand than why I’m invoking a “Mystery” series that hasn’t been around for years, alongside a very different one that has been a trusted presence in our lives for the past decade.

The explanation is in this word: reliable. “Sherlock” hasn’t had a new episode since 2017, but it flies like a ghost since it hasn’t been officially canceled and could theoretically keep people hoping for its return forever. It is the best example of emotional retention.

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In contrast, “Endeavour” has returned with new mysteries regularly since 2013, each carving new edges and curves into your detective’s soul. But it also means that the wider audience may not have enjoyed the show as intensely as Evans and Allam’s performances warrant. He’s never been given a Comic-Con panel or an Entertainment Weekly cover, for example, which says nothing about his merit or quality, but very much about the couch potato’s passion for classic British mysteries.

There are other reasons why “Endeavour” might not have caught fire so easily, namely series creator Russell Lewis’ adherence to the relatively straightforward structure, drawing more focus to the puzzles woven through dialogue and implicit in behavior. of your characters.

The cases themselves are not very complicated, tending to err on the side of theatricality as opposed to plausibility. Continuing their emphasis on style and character progression, these three new episodes take Morse and Thursday into the world of professional football, a nudist colony and an Agatha Christie-flavored mousetrap.

Each one vibrates with a light energy that masks the silent illness that slowly overtakes the hero until the situation in the final episode, prohibitively titled “Terminus”, makes it impossible to hide it.

Season 8 of “Endeavour” is the show’s penultimate season, with production on the ninth and final round of episodes already underway. By the time the series ends, Evans will have played Morse in more TV episodes than Thaw. With the end in sight, the connection between Evans’s Endeavor Morse and Thaw’s seems closer than ever, visualized in a few surreptitiously placed lines of dialogue and the detective’s amplified pain.

Watching Evans mature Morse from an incorruptible young man fading in the 1960s to the disillusioned, heartbroken shadow we know in 1971 was a delight. There aren’t many examples of TV shows that feature younger versions of established detectives that have enough staying power to last more than a season or two.

“Endeavour” will be nine years old when it ends, and it owes its longevity to the crumpled, poetic humanity that Evans brings to a detective millions have known but only begun to fully appreciate.

“Endeavour” premieres Sunday, June 19 at 9 pm on PBS. Watch a trailer, via YouTube.

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