'Endeavour' Season 4 Episode 1 Recap: "Game"

Credit: Courtesy of (C) Mammoth Screen/MASTERPIECE/ITV Studios

Endeavour's fourth season drops us right back where we were at the end of Season 3, with Joan gone, and Morse and Thursday both broken up about it. And now a serial killer's shown up... Don't you hate it when that happens?

Dr. DeBryn: It's as ripe and runny as a rancid rocqufort. 

Unlike our last three seasons, each of which have started with a new year in Morse's life, this season starts only a week or two after the last one, in order to maximize the dramatic fall out from Season 3. Joan's departure has left its mark both on Morse, who is silently heartbroken and simultaneously unable to admit to it, while both his boss Thursday and his wife are empty nesters who weren't ready to be. 

Then there's Morse's exam results, which we get to learn about with him: failed. Turns out the exam somehow never made it in, and he was given an auto-fail. Bright, being the straightforward sort, brushes it off with a "better luck next time." But Morse, who is not used to failing at anything, is floored. And considering how things have gone for him in exposing corruption the last couple of years, it's hard not to wonder if his exam being "lost" is less than an accident. He certainly thinks so. And it turns out he's right. His is the only one to go wayward. 

Credit: Courtesy of (C) Mammoth Screen/MASTERPIECE/ITV Studios
Credit: Courtesy of (C) Mammoth Screen/MASTERPIECE/ITV Studios

Bright's advice is not exactly helpful. He thinks this is proof that Morse needs a fresh start. Somewhere else, other than Oxford, where he hasn't made enemies. As Bright points out, technically there's nothing here tying Morse down anyway. No family, no life. Just a love of the area and all it represents, you know? So easy to leave and start over, right?

Bright just doesn't count on how stubborn we know Morse to be. Even Thursday, once he gets out of his emotional slump and stopped beating up Morse at every turn, is ready to accept it's time for the boy to move on. But no. That would represent giving up. And Morse isn't moving on that easily.

Morse: "Tell her you ran into Morse and he was very unhelpful. She'll understand."

Meanwhile, this week's murder mystery starts out as a series of random drownings, each getting closer and closer together. Finally, by the third one, even Thursday (who really does not want to be bothered by a serial killer right now, he's grieving) cannot deny that Morse's hunch that these are connected was right. Especially when the mother of the third drownee can't figure out why he'd be at a pool at all, since he can't swim. 

There is one other thing that ties all three victims together. Our victims, one Dr. Richard Neilson, one elderly Miss Palfrey and the aforementioned man-who-can't-swim, Edison Smalls are all into the same thing: Chess. It takes everyone an absurdly long time to put it together. Neilson is working on the computer that famously beat a Russian at the game that year, Miss Palfrey has a set sitting out prominently in her home and Small's hobby was playing, since he couldn't swim or anything. Chess isn't Morse's bag though, and it doesn't seem to be the production's either, as the game between the computer and the Russians is unfortunately a little dull. Thankfully once Constable Trewlove pegs the murders to the game by knowing more about it that anyone else in the station, things get more interesting.

Credit: Courtesy of (C) Mammoth Screen/MASTERPIECE/ITV Studios
Credit: Courtesy of (C) Mammoth Screen/MASTERPIECE/ITV Studios

First, reporter Tessa Knight convinces Morse to tell her something he assumes to be off the record but isn't -- and then steals his notebook for the rest. (Funny, I feel like after the last month or so everyone is going to know, whatever you do, before you talk to a reporter, say "This Is Off The Record.") But Knight, for all that she splashes the existence of the serial killer all over page one, and her hemlines are hard for Morse to stop looking at, is a bit of a red herring. (Not unlike communism.) Despite her competition with editor Dorothea Frazil** at the Oxford Mail, and in the bedroom (where she's sleeping with Frazil's incredibly sleezey mystery writer friend,) she's victim number four. So much for making it to page one on Fleet Street. She's found before the murder can put her body in a river or a bath, too, allowing for many of the smaller peculiarities of these murders to be explained away. (The murderer is making life casts of their faces.)

With little to go on other than a half remembered name that Miss Palfrey used to work for, Morse and Thursday do something very rare for a period piece: they turn to technology. (Well, there's a damn computer that won a chess tourney sitting right there, after all.) Hilariously, the name search that would in our time, take only a few second takes damn near all night in 1967, by which time they come up with three names. Two are useless, but the third leads them the house with Knight's body in it. Turns out there's been a terrible tragedy there before too. The daughter of the family drowned herself, and, after finding some diary pages (and Frazil's memory of the inquest), it turns out it was to escape her brother who wanted to incestuously rape her.

**We should note this is the most the show has used Abagail Thaw (daughter of original Morse actor John Thaw) in an episode. It feels like it might be a season long plan as well, probably due to this year being the thirtieth anniversary of Morse's original debut.

Frazil: "You alright? You don't look as if you're been sleeping. You've lost weight. Not in love are you?"
Morse:"On my wages?"

Obviously then, someone we've met in the last ninety minutes is said brother, who was sent away. Thursday and Morse hop skip and jump around several candidates (no it's not the writer, maybe it's one of the computer programmers) before landing on the completely wrong one (as usual.) Turns out it's the one who renamed himself Castle, which Morse figures out after they find Tessa's purse and the message "Rook takes Knight." Nice touch.

Castle has apparently also taken Frazil, so it's a chase to the lakehouse to both rescue her from drowning and take the suspect in, though considering his story that his sister has been hanging out appearing next to him and using the comptuer to tell him to kill his victims, in modern times this would be not guilty by reason of schizophrenia. Guess we should all be thankful it's 1967, even if running a last name query takes 8-10 hours.

Next week's Morse finds the poor sod acting as bodyguard to a "self appointed guardian" of the nations morals. Her slogan is "Keep Britain Decent." I'm sure that will go over smashingly.


Ani Bundel has been blogging professionally since 2010. A DC native, Hufflepuff, and Keyboard Khaleesi, she spends all her non-writing time taking pictures of her cats. Regular bylines also found on MSNBC, Paste, Primetimer, and others. 

A Woman's Place Is In Your Face. Cat Approved. Find her on BlueSky and other social media of your choice: @anibundel.bsky.social

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