Footage of a funeral, motorcycles, and the creation of a wedding dress opens "Exeunt," the series finale of Endeavour. It’s both an end and a beginning for Morse, in an episode steeped in memories, regrets, and discoveries. Given the progression of the series with its twists and turns over the decade, we are prepared to accept not every issue will be resolved — from the beginning, Endeavour has reminded us life is uncertain, compared to the truths of great music, literature, or architecture. Writer Russell Lewis and director Kate Saxon indulge in a certain amount of fantasy in this episode, but they and the superb cast and production team make it all work.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces ...
The Tempest, Shakespeare
Once again, Morse is at Blenheim Vale, where excavations continue, but not for much longer. Morse is convinced that the remains of Peter Williams, a victim who was never accounted for, are buried there, while Thursday and Bright are anxious for the case to be closed. Morse has also discovered Blenheim Vale is owned by an offshore company owned by one Lionel Godfrey Chambers, but the trail has run cold. Peter Jakes, a former officer at Oxford Station in the early seasons, who turned up at the end of Episode 2, and a survivor of abuse at Blenheim Vale accompanies Morse to the scene: “It’s like half of me has always been here.”
Morse is called out to the death of one Professor Bevin, who fell down the stairs. DeBryn says it's an accident, but Morse sees the last thing Bevin read before dying was his own death notice, printed in today's Oxford Mail, with "Omnia Mors Aequat" (Death makes all things equal.) A visit to the Mail explains they get a letter from a representative of the deceased, with the undertaker's phone, which they then call to confirm. Bevin’s notice was sent by one Dr. Rupert McMurdo, who Morse discovers died in a freak train accident, the same day his death notice (submitted by the non-existent Mrs. McMurdo) ran, with the phrase "Mortui vivis praecipiant" (Let the dead teach the living).
Morse recognizes the hand of someone who wants to impress others with his cleverness, targeting academics and using Latin phrases, and suspects the murderer will continue. The letters all cite the same funeral home but with different phone numbers each time, which traces to empty office buildings. One of them is registered to a flat in Neptune House, where Morse meets chatty painter John Bingley (Philip Wright) at work on renovations down the hall.
Morse and Thursday visit the friend of Professor Bevin, who reported his absence, Dr. Adam Fortescue (Jo Stone-Fewings). He’d tried to call Bevin, a frequent letter writer to both local and national news, to congratulate him on the publication of a letter in the Oxford Mail. He’s mystified that anyone would want to murder his friend. As they walk across the quad, Thursday staggers and collapses in an eerie premonition of Morse’s own death years later. (It’s the same location, too.) He brushes off Morse’s concern, claiming it’s the heat.
Thursday has taken Morse’s plea to protect Strange seriously and offers him a secondment at Kidlington for the rest of the year, which comes with married quarters. Strange is delighted and takes Joan to visit their future home. But it seems something isn’t quite right between them, though it’s a stressful time for the Thursday family, with their move, Joan’s wedding, and Sam’s addictions which Thursday discovers includes meth. Sam is out at a sleazy bar habituated by bikers Snakebite (Joseph Macnab) and Tomahawk (Jack Hamilton). Despite the bartender warning Sam to keep himself away from the gang, he keeps showing up, and when he leaves for the Gents’, he’s followed by Tomahawk.
Morse visits the Thursday house, but Fred is out. He apologizes to Joan for not showing up at the pub the other day, and Win is concerned that Morse may find the upheavals at work as tricky as her family. Thursday comes home, agitated and disheveled, and is annoyed to find Morse there so late in the evening. Hasn’t he got anything better to do? Morse tells him his essential news is that McMurdo also wrote a letter to the paper, and Thursday is furious. Morse quietly responds that he is concerned about Thursday’s health and is ushered out of the house with instructions not to pick him up for work the next day.
The following day, Tomahawk’s found, stabbed to death, and the barman mentions Sam, though not by name, just “an ex-army type.” Morse finds a regimental button in the yard, and Strange reports his real name was Raymond Kennet. That coincides nicely with Thursday’s old bagman, DI Arthur Lott (Danny Webb), who has Crooked Cop written all over him, turning up. Ostensibly in town for Strange’s wedding, he warns Thursday that biker drug gangs have an eye on easy money at universities. Morse and Lott loathe each other; Morse refuses to believe Lott has changed. Thursday claims to give him the benefit of the doubt but heads home to get his gun.
Over at the Mail, Frazil informs Morse Bevin sent a letter a week before his death on his favorite topic: PM Edward Heath’s European Communities Act. Thursday agrees there is a connection, “Insofar as they were both solitary men with a high opinion of themselves and too much time on their hands." At Bevin’s funeral, Morse meets Theo Conklin (Christopher Godwin) snooping around the graveyard. Theo likes gravestones, claiming they’re more about life than death, but he’s never seen anyone else exploring the graveyard, so that’s a dead end (excuse the pun). However, Morse finds a florist card on the ground with “ Mors cum terrore novo venit” (Death has come with a new terror). The florist is owned by Vi (Victoria Alcock), “just Vi.” Like Morse, she uses one name, and points out anyone could take a card from the rack.
Bright is behaving like a ghost haunting the office ahead of his departure: “Days of change are upon us,” he laments. He is concerned about Morse’s future, advising him to seek a promotion. He packs up his belongings as Thursday double-checks his gun in his desk drawer as the phone rings. It's his estranged brother Charlie, who lost Thursday’s life savings on a failed investment in Season 5, insisting they meet. Bright, off to his last meeting, expresses regret at things undone, thinking of Blenheim Vale. Thursday reassures him it’s the nature of the job, though Morse notes sometimes the continuity is broken. Bright gives an emotional and heartfelt farewell speech as he leaves. Work resumes.
Tonight's the wedding rehearsal, and Morse arrives right on time. Embarrassingly for him and Joan, the vicar thinks he’s the groom. Sam arrives to stand in for his father, who is unexpectedly working late, and Strange joins them. After the rehearsal is over, Strange gives Joan one last chance to back out, but she won’t take it. Morse chats to Sam and invites him to go for a drink, but Sam sees Snakebite roaring up the lane next to the church and makes an excuse. Morse wanders around the graveyard and discovers the grave of a child who died very young, named Lionel Godfrey Chambers — the name on the Blenheim Vale offshore account.
Meanwhile, Thursday meets Charlie in an abandoned warehouse for which the city of dreaming spires is so renowned. Charlie (Phil Daniels) says to drop the Vale case, revealing Lott is who he lost Thursday's life savings to. Thursday realizes Flood died trying to tell him Lott was the kingpin; Lott, like any good villain, monologues his confession: ACC Clive Deare had accent and class, Lott had smarts; they built a formidable criminal empire. Lott threatens Thursday's life and Morse's too. Once the investigation is closed, he’ll get his savings back. Thursday is furious; Lott fires his gun, a shootout ensues leaving a wounded Charlie to crawl away.
The next morning, the new Chief Superintendent, Dominic Prettyman (Rufus Wright), Introduces himself as Morse answers a ringing phone. It’s Frazil, with a death notice for the very alive Adam Fortescue, who gave a recent interview for the Daily Mail. Morse traces the phone back to the same abandoned shop, now unlocked, where he sees a cutting from Fortescue’s interview: Sex and the Single Don: On the March with the Gay Liberation Front. Bingley is there, with another clipping — Morse's death announcement, dated today. Bingley knew Morse was on to him and would arrest him, and he’s confident enough to think Morse has come alone.
Of course, Morse hasn’t, and Strange rushes in with officers to arrest Bingley. He’s not repentant, his only regret being that he didn’t find more victims. He lets rip a stream of invective against atheists, foreigners, women, LGBQT+ people, and the European Union, all of which will ruin the country, destroy the family, and take it from the “real” English people. It’s the basic pro-right Brexit playbook. Rather late in the game, Morse and Thursday realize Vi is married to Bingley, and she tearfully admits that there had always been something wrong with him. They conclude she had no part in his crimes.
The wedding festivities continue with the stag night, where everyone is drunk in a pub. DeBryn is relieved he’s missed the strippers; he gets quite enough flesh in his everyday life. Thursday confronts Sam, demanding to know if he’s using, selling, or both, and Sam hits him. Thursday doesn’t hit him back, and the party resumes. Afterward, Jack asks if he’d consider emigrating to the U.S. since nothing keeps him here, but Morse doesn’t reply. The next day, Morse invites Thursday to meet at the church graveyard and shows him the baby’s grave next door to the Lott family plot. Thursday admits everything to Morse; he’s terrified for his family and shutting Vale down.
Morse meets up with Jack, asking him to stand in as best man. Joan helps her daughter dress; Sam and Thursday almost smile at each other. At Blenheim Vale, Morse meets Lott, who is accompanied by bodyguards. Since Lott already confessed everything else earlier, Morse has only one question: What happened to Peter? Lott says he gave (sold) Peter to a couple named Kennet. In other words, Tomahawk/Raymond Kennet was Peter. Lott then pretends to hand over the bag of money, stabbing Morse. But Morse also brought guards; the bikers burst out of the undergrowth and attack Lott for doing in some of their own. He doesn’t have a chance; they brought axes.
Morse has missed the wedding but joins the party at the reception, where the narrative enters a slightly wacko phase. For starters, no one is mad at Morse for abandoning his responsibilities as best man. He tells Joan he’s never called her by her first name, that he loves her, and now it’s too late. No, it isn’t, she says, and they kiss passionately. Reality then takes hold, as Joan accuses Morse of never using her first name as he addresses her as Mrs. Strange. They hug until a drunk Strange tells Joan it’s time to leave. She throws her bouquet, caught by Dorothea, who promptly hands it to DeBryn. Joan insists on driving as Morse collapses alone. The next time we see him, it’s in a hospital.
Win and Thursday take an emotional farewell of their house as Morse, on his way to choir rehearsal at Blenheim Palace, stops by to take Thursday out for a farewell beer, and Sam, now sober, announces he is joining the force. At the pub, Morse gives Thursday a simplified version of Lott's demise. Thursday asks about Peter, and Morse says he's long dead before asking about Tomahawk. He knows Thursday killed him to protect Sam. Morse does not hide his contempt, however necessary Thursday thought it was. But he did a final service to his mentor anyway, telling the bikers Tomahawk was Lott's informant, diverting them from Thursday. But he’s disappointed in Fred, “He was someone’s son.”
“But not mine,” Thursday responds. Fred agrees to take his family far away, while Morse promises to keep an eye on Strange and Joan. Morse gives Thursday his saving, and they have an emotional farewell. Thursday gives Morse his gun and addresses him by his first name but is gently rebuffed: “Morse, sir. Just Morse.” Now alone, Morse returns to the churchyard and loads the gun. He walks off camera, and we hear the gun being fired. No one seems quite to know the significance of this, myself included. (It’s like the massive Morse/Joan smooch that never was.)
The camera pans over the empty police office and then to Blenheim Palace, where Morse and the rest of the choir sing Faure’s Requiem. Bright recites Prospero’s farewell speech from the Tempest at his wife's grave. (Again, this doesn’t make much sense, but it’s gorgeously done.) We see brief glimpses of people Morse has loved, ending with Thursday. The choir sings the last chord. “Is that it?” Morse asks as he hands in his music.
He drives out of Blenheim Palace’s grounds, passing a dark red Jaguar going in the opposite direction. The driver of each car looks into their mirrors, and we realize they are the young Endeavour and the older Morse, a device used in the TV movie pilot, bringing us full circle. Exeunt.