06 April 2014

ENDEAVOUR: Nocturne


This is just a fantastic episode. There's an ever-present danger with a second series that either it won't be as good as the first, or that the ideas will run out. Russell Lewis shows no signs of either of these. Through the first six episodes of Endeavour, he's explored a variety of walks of life in Oxford. Although they do have a tendency to come back to the University at some stage, that's both hardly surprising and unnoticeable unless you really begin to scrutinise it. We've had the church, a factory, the military, the University (mainly in Home) and so now it feels natural that we get a murder based in a school. Also challenging for Lewis must be devising motives, but it never shows as most are convincing in the context of the characters.

Nocturne is centred around a girls' boarding school in the nearby village of Slepe, and we begin with a grim scene of murdered children and maids. It's later revealed this was a century earlier, in 1866. Since then, the building has been plagued by a ghost, a girl murdered that day, Bloody Charlotte. After a visit to a local History Museum, a retired genealogist is found dead. Missing from a cabinet is an Indian dagger, which is initially believed to be the murder weapon, but is later replaced by some other kind of knife thanks to further investigation from the wonderfully dry Dr DeBryn. 

We then focus on three main parties in attendance that day: an elderly American couple (the Gardiners); the undergraduate working for the museum over the summer whilst his supervisor is on holiday (Terence Black); and the school girls and their teachers Miss Danby, who were on a visit to the museum on the same day. I think it's quickly established that the Gardiners aren't directly involved in the main plot, through lack of appearance as much as anything else. They're here following a lead. Their son came over to fight in the war, fell in love and wrote in a letter that he was getting married and had other exciting news. He was then killed in battle, and so his parents never discovered what this was. It's a really touching moment when they meet their granddaughter for the first time, and it's pitched just right. It's nice to see that amongst all the big, interconnected web of murders, Morse can still appreciate the smaller victories as well. 

The Gardiners are mixed up in all this because they were intending to meet with the genealogy expert to try and trace their grandchild, before his death. The other two parties are very much connected though, and it is them that consume the majority of the story. We find out a long way into Nocturne that Black and Danby are seeing each other, despite the decade plus age gap. Although Morse is very open minded, he's curious as to the association. I can't put my finger on the reason why, but I was convinced throughout this episode that Ms Danby was the culprit, but it does turn out to be Black, for a lengthy but plausible explanation involving his family going back to the 1866 incident.

This is a very stylish episode. The locations are excellent once again, and Giuseppe Capotondi is clearly very much suited to this line of film despite normally frequenting the music video industry. He casts his guest characters well, and it's great to see Daniel Ings again. It's turning out to be quite the year for him. I had a nagging sensation that I'd seen him somewhere before, so after a quick browse of IMDb, I found out it was from both the brilliant W1A (seriously, you won't want to miss it) and the BBC Three sitcom that was overall average with occasional high points Uncle. He seems like a very capable young actor, and I wish him success in his career. He convincingly pulls off each lie he tells, but with the hint of mistruth that Morse (and the trained audience) can pick up on. It's quite a subtle performance, but it works for the character.

This is one of my favourite episodes of Endeavour. I don't know if I just enjoy watching the drama unfolding from ghost-hunting (I usually can't stand all those awful programs on the digital channels) but Neil Cross' Hide was my favourite story from last year's series of Doctor Who. It featured a similar sequence as we are delivered towards the end of this episode, but only when viewed objectively. As part of the whole narrative, they are extremely disparate. I found all the misdirection and subplotting clever, and I found it quite ironic that the fall that Morse takes partway through ends up being the demise of the would-be heir. The explanation of the ghosts, and linking it to the County Police's missing girl investigation is inspired.

Shaun Evans and Roger Allam seem to have natural chemistry with anyone. They are so watchable, and so when Morse's old boss DI Church shows up, you can pick up on their relationship instantly. This is what's great about Lewis' writing. He tells you so much without telling you anything. What I mean is he shows you their relationship, and instantly you can get a sense of what's happened in the past. Great scripting, showing not telling. It's much harder than it sounds too. He is lucky to get such a consistently great cast to play out his stories, and that's a particular strength of this series. To this effect, it was nice to see Morse's storyline with Monica progressed. Of course, he's never the type who would normally lie to a girl about being busy (when in fact he had promised Strange he would make up numbers on a double date), but then he's not the type that would normally be associated with women in that way. It's clear that he's uncomfortable from the outset, and Shaun Evans proves he's worth a salt throughout this whole story. His emotional range is superb. In just a look or action, he can convey a spectrum of feeling. I'm not overly familiar with John Thaw's Morse, but it certainly reminds me of him from time to time.

A great episode, and the young actresses are all very talented too. The inheritance / suppression plot is credible and has depth. The guest parts are given equal importance by Lewis and Capotondi, so you're never wholly certain that it's not the groundsman, the genealogist's niece or the historian. A superb instalment, and I hope the second series can maintain this standard for the concluding two episodes.

In a Nutshell: An intriguing tale of history repeating itself, with one of the most neatly-woven explanations so far.



You can watch Trove on the ITV Player here.

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