Morse sees a crossword that ended with the victim’s body and feels a brief tug of kinship. Not for long, mind you. An estranged ex-wife and little boy, a new woman who is the latest in a long line of extramarital affairs and colleagues who remember his play streak: this guy really isn’t the cup of tea by Morse. It is the first in a succession of mysterious deaths that will lead to a darker side of Oxford life, far from the To continue the frolics of naturist paradise cheerfully led by Major Jones (Andrew Woodall). As always, Morse and his colleagues will have to get to the bottom of a rapidly thickening plot. A lot of people end up being asked in this episode about secrets they’d rather not share. My favorite was Lee Timothy (Shadrach Agozino), a window cleaner who won’t admit anything, thank you very much.
This eighth series is plagued by unwanted ghosts, but the vision that lands at Morse’s door is not brought there by a ghost bus but by a taxi from the dead man’s own company. It’s Gwen, Morse’s unloved mother-in-law. Caught between moves, she has nowhere to go, and she and her bitter stepson are going to have to make do with their odd couple arrangement for a few days. Endeavor retreats into teenage sulks and brooding silences, as Gwen berates him for what she sees as his class-related disloyalty to Morse. father: taxi driver himself, in case we forgot.
Everything comes out, of course – Morse’s lost mother, abandonment, blame. “I didn’t kill her,” Gwen blurted out in a climactic row. Morse looks at her in shock, as if this most insightful man had never quite understood why he hated her until now. They will never be reconciled, of course, locked in their own grievances. The alternately proud and terrified family of a son linked to Oxford whose desire to distance themselves stings them more than they would ever admit. The lonely child has become a withdrawn man who, somewhere, must aspire to be just one of the boys. You wonder, treacherously, if he could have been better with someone like Gwen: someone to break the bubble, the kind of woman who could break a wall of silence with the right word. But it is Morse, for whom love and suffering are synonymous.
Speaking of which, Joan and Strange are getting closer. (I saw it coming. No, I made.) It remains to be seen whether Joan will be able to put aside her sense of social justice to date a dedicated member of the Masonic Lodge. Right now, there’s a Carpenters concert in London, and an abusive ear from Joan’s roommate awaits Morse when he makes a late night call to his former sweetheart’s house. As someone else would sing it almost later, who’s going to drive him home tonight? It turns out the taxi driver who knocked him over as he was walking drunk on Oxford’s back roads.
Bring the Wagner, then. It’s that kind of opera that we watch, after all.