Here at WGBH Drama Club, we love a good mystery. And while we've been super into Unforgotten and Prime Suspect as of late, there's just something about Endeavour that keeps us coming back for more. Whether it's watching the tightly-strung Endeavour Morse trying to navigate Oxford in the sixties; or the gruff-but-endearing Fred Thursday trying to understand a world that's moved just beyond his ken; or even unraveling the complexities of the new bureacracy that took over the Oxford police last season; the show is fascinating and exciting, a real thinking-person's drama.
If you haven't been able to stay abreast of the series thus far, never fear — each episode has a neatly encapsulated mystery that is solved by the time the credits role. And any questions you may have as to the character development, life and motivations of the denizens of Thames Valley? Well, we hope we've answered them here.
, Season 1
Meet Endeavour Morse: highly-educated and awkwardly charming, Morse has a penchant for Wagnerian operas and crossword puzzles, a hatred of his first name, and a handicapping fear of heights. Season One sees Morse joining the Oxford police force as a Detective Constable. As a detective Morse excels, but as a constable, he’s often found wanting: his brain seems more capable of recognizing cryptic clues than it is at remembering elements of the law.
But this factor of Morse’s personality makes him the perfect foil to Detective Inspector Thursday, a long-in-the-tooth veteran to the force. Thursday elegantly balances the light and dark sides of the job time and again throughout the series, standing up for what’s right… but also displaying a mean right hook. In this first season, we see him moving from Morse’s boss — who simply wants to help the bright young man succeed — to a caring friend, and eventually to an almost father-figure to the younger man. Once invited to Thursday’s home, Morse soon becomes part of the family, bantering with Joan and Sam, Thursday’s grown children, and being mothered by Thursday’s wife, Win.
But, alas, Thursday is one man among many. We also meet Detective Sergeant Peter Jakes, the diametric opposite of Morse, who serves as his main antagonist, alternating between bullying and resentment toward our lead. But the other denizens of Oxford’s Cowley Station aren’t quite as jealous of young Morse, merely puzzled by his ways — among them Dr. Max DeBryn, a flippant pathologist, and the honorable-yet-tough Chief Superintendent Bright, and Constable Strange, a well-meaning, if blustery street cop.
Other factors come up through the season that help us place this version of Endeavour Morse in the larger Inspector Morse galaxy. His heart still smarts from being dumped by Susan, his college sweetheart; his family life is strained, with a distant father and bitter step-mother and half-sister; and in returning to Oxford, we see his ultimate resentment toward the ‘gown’ set, despite perhaps fitting in with them better than his present peers.
The season ends with a lovely nod to the original Morse show: young Morse getting shot, an injury that will eventually lead to older Morse’s limp. We conclude with him sitting for his sergeants exam.
, Season 2
Season two opens four months after the close of the first season, with Endeavour Morse still severely rattled from his last case — as well as the death of his father. But when a new case rears its head, and Morse is sent “once more into the breach,” we see a return to form for our favorite sarcastic crime-solver.
This season continues the deft development of the Thames Valley team, but Thursday in particular gets some extra attention, with a deep dive into his personal life. Most notable is the appearance of an old flame from his past, rocking his internal equilibrium and giving us a glance at how vital his family is to him. This incident also allows us a better understanding of Thursday’s wife, Win, permitting us a look at her strength as the center of their home and also the level of trust they share. Finally, the pseudo-father-son relationship between Thursday and Morse continues to deepen this season, including a delightful scene in the first episode where Thursday confronts some goons who have jumped Morse.
The gangster’s attack on Morse has ripples beyond his relationship with Thursday, as well. When the Detective Inspector hauls the barely-conscious Morse to his apartment, Monica — a lovely neighbor who also happens to be a nurse — comes to the rescue, helping to care for Morse as he recovers. This kicks off an absolutely charming romance between the two, with Monica’s practicality and sweetness fitting nicely with Morse’s more prickly parts.
But, when it rains, it pours, it seems, because this season also introduces the “will they or won’t they” romance of Morse and Joan, Thursday's daughter, in what would probably be a catastrophic choice for Morse’s career and already-delicate heart. Morse seems to think so, too, thankfully, because though there’s definitely something there, he sticks with Monica through the season.
This season also dives deeper on both Constable Strange and DS Jakes. Strange starts out the season with the depressing reveal that he’s flunked the sergeant’s exam. But Strange is never one to dwell on things, and we soon see him joining the freemasons to help his career — despite Morse’s precautions. Meanwhile, Jakes’ relationship with Morse begins to grow in fits and starts, but it’s the final episode that truly pulls back the curtain on his personal history. An already-intense case reveals that as a child Jakes was a victim of physical abuse and sexual assault in a school for “wayward youth,” and at the hands of men who are now powerful members of the community, including the Assistant Chief Constable of their area, Clive Deare.
And it’s Deare who ultimately brings the house down around everyone’s ears in the final moments of this season. After luring Thursday and Morse to the abandoned school for wayward youth, he reveals that he’s murdered the Chief Constable, and framed Morse for the crime — but not before fatally shooting Thursday.
, Season 3
Like the second season, season three of Endeavour starts a scant few months after we last saw our beloved characters in mortal peril. Thursday appears to be back at work, despite the bullet still lodged in his chest causing a nasty cough that only gets worse as the season goes on. Meanwhile, Morse is… well, sulking, having abandoned Oxford proper for the countryside, roughing it in a small fishing cottage. While Thursday eventually coaxes Morse back to town, and things are more or less back to normal, this season certainly turns the volume of the ‘swinging sixties’ up to 11. Lavish parties, communes, protests, escaped tigers and bank heists abound, a departure from the middle-class and academic crimes of the previous two seasons.
In the midst of all this chaos, it seems that Morse has truly messed it up with Monica; their relationship is dead in the water. The rest of the usual cast of characters sees their own changes this season, with Jakes departing for the USA with his pregnant fiancée. Finally passing his Sergeant’s exam, Strange takes his place, with Oxford’s first female (!!) Constable taking Strange’s old position. While the majority of the station takes to Trewlove with a fairly short adjustment period, Strange’s promotion makes larger waves. There’s a distinct strain as it becomes clear that Strange buys into the bureaucracy of the police force hook, line and sinker.
Superintendent Bright really comes into his own this season, taking on a more significant role as mentor to Morse, and beginning to lose some of his historic precautions around the station's reputation with the Oxford upper class. What’s more, a man-eating tiger in episode three brings up Bright’s past as an officer in colonial India, which explains a lot of his social mores.
As always, the final episode of season three pushes the narrative forward more than almost any other episode. With Morse retaking the sergeants exam, it becomes clear that Thursday is going to have to choose between Strange and Morse at some point. And with Thursday’s son, Sam, leaving for the Army, it’s not long before Thursday’s bad habits surface once again. He takes out his frustration about Sam’s departure on Morse — and an unfortunate suspect. This behavior puts a rift between the two, as never seen before.
But while Morse might be drifting away from one Thursday, he’s drifting closer to another — Joan Thursday, his boss' daughter. When Joan and Morse are taken hostage by a local group of gangsters during a bank heist, they’re forced to work closely to survive. But the high-pressure situation is only solved when Detective Thursday, seemingly over-exerted, actually coughs up the bullet that’s been plaguing his breathing all season. Recovered, he swings into action, rescuing his daughter and wayward protégée.
As if that weren’t enough drama for one episode, we see Morse at home, trying to relax after what anyone would consider a stressful day, as he has the epiphany that he just may be in love with Joan. Overcome with emotion, he drives over to the Thursday’s early in the morning, ready to confront Joan with his feelings — only to discover that she’s leaving home.
, Season 4
This season starts just two weeks after Joan has left Oxford. With both his children out of the nest, Thursday is grumpier than ever — and since we hurt the ones we love the most, that means Morse takes the brunt of Thursday’s sadness. Meanwhile, Morse’s sergeant’s exam goes missing, which causes an automatic failure, and Morse to reciprocate Thursday’s cruel behavior, only furthering the slowly growing rift between the two. But all is not lost: when a reporter uses Morse to scoop a case, Thursday stands up for his partner. And over time, Morse works to pull Thursday out of his depression.
This season seems to revolve around Morse’s love life. When there aren’t red-herring mysteries, there are red-herring romances, like a careless flirtation with a young reporter, the daughter of a morality crusader, and the re-appearance of Susan, the girl who got away. But all of it is haunted by the ghost of Joan, and that last moment they had on the Oxford sidewalk. It not long into the season before Morse figures out just where she’s run to: a nice apartment paid for by a married man. When he confronts her it’s obvious that, while she’s still emotionally scarred from the bank heist, something much larger is going on.
As Joan’s situation might indicate, this season, like the last, plays with the tropes of the late 1960’s. Hemlines are getting shorter, computers are evolving, and nuclear power is on the rise. One episode even sees Morse dosed with LSD when he gets too close to cracking a case involving a rock band. These changing attitudes and situations are no better personified than in the Thursday household. With both of their children gone — one to the Army, one ‘missing’ — both parents are feeling the pressure. Detective Thursday is as irritable at home as he is at work, but at home, Win is the only one there to deal with it. When she begins taking anti-depressants to deal with her own sorrow, it only serves to confuse and upset her old-fashioned husband. Clouds are gathering.
Finally, each episode of this season concludes with a new tarot card being placed in a fortune-telling spread. While not quite as foreboding as they seem initially, these cards lead into the mystery of the final episode, with both the case and the personal events for Morse. While the case can be easily solved with little emotional turmoil on Morse and Thursday’s part, personal events never can. When Morse’s apartment is burglarized, it results in one of his notebooks turning up at the station — a notebook that happens to have Joan’s new address in it. It’s only natural that Thursday follow the clues to find his daughter.
Thursday’s investigation goes further than Morse’s. He’s quick to find out that not only is Joan having an affair with a married man, but that she’s not inclined to come home anytime soon. Thursday takes the next best action: roughing up her boyfriend, which only results in worse repercussions for his daughter. Not only does Joan’s dastardly beau kick her out of the apartment, but he also blacks her eye. She turns to Morse, who — shockingly — proposes marriage. Joan declines, but it’s an emotionally charged moment, only to end when work comes calling for Morse.
The episode ends with Thursday and Morse being awarded a medal from the queen. But Morse’s day at the palace is prevented when he’s called to the hospital. Joan’s boyfriend has graduated to true evil, having thrown her down the stairs, causing her to lose the baby that she was carrying. Startled by the revelation of Joan’s pregnancy, Morse flees the hospital, sparing only a kiss for Joan’s forehead.
, Season 5
Season five heralds what looks to be the beginning of the end for the good ol' team at the Oxford station: the dissolution of their branch to make way for a restructured force across the Thames Valley. The news also suggests that there may not be room for everyone at the new station, and with Morse recently promoted to Detective Sergeant, a lot of eyes are on him and DS Strange, wondering who will end up leaving the team.
Despite the threat to his future in Oxford, Morse doesn’t exactly prove his worth when offered the chance to mentor a new member of the team: DC George Fancy. Despite the new recruit’s earnest attitude, Morse is curt and disrespectful, treating Fancy like a burden. But don’t worry too much for the new Constable. Where Morse is rude, the rest of the team is rather welcoming — especially WPC Trewlove, with whom Fancy has a fair bit of chemistry.
Speaking of chemistry, where do things stand with Joan and Morse after last season’s epic ending? While there’s clearly still something there when they see each other, Morse is doing his level best to forget Joan: first in the arms of her cousin, Carol, and then with Claudine, a young French photographer whom Joan actually sets him up with. Neither affair lasts long.
But the on-again-off-again Joan and Morse romance isn’t the only confusion impacting the Thursday family. When Fred’s brother Charlie rolls into town, he comes bearing news: he has a great business opportunity that he just needs some seed money for. Fred, seeing the chance to double his retirement savings, buys in — with all of the money he and Win have accrued. We can only cross our fingers that it will all pan out (while assuming that, because this is a drama, after all, it will not).
While most seasons of Endeavour leave the majority of personal revelations for the final episode, season five does a good job of incorporating plot points throughout the season. One such thread is the relationship between Morse and Strange, which grows more strained as the season goes on. Morse crashes on Strange’s couch, seemingly unwilling to return to his basement apartment post-burglary, and it’s not long before things go awry: while Strange is jealous of Morse’s sixth sense with cases and luck with the ladies, Morse grows increasingly frustrated with Strange’s willingness to bend the rules for his friends.
But that’s not the only strain seen by the Oxford PD. The third episode introduces two new Detectives — Ronnie Box and Patrick Dawson — who lead an investigation that involves an alcohol and drug smuggling ring. What seems like a fairly simple case becomes complicated when these new guys won’t listen to the Oxford team, clearly trying to assert their superiority in advance of the Thames Valley reorganization. Things get pretty ugly, pretty fast, with them actually threatening Trewlove with violence in the middle of the station. Bright comes to the rescue of his favorite constable, thereby threatening his own future in the force.
All of these storylines make their way into the final episode in one way or another. Thursday announces his plan to retire, only to discover that his brother, Charlie, has lost his and Win’s retirement in a credit scam (called it!) and while Fred is upset with Charlie, Win is livid with Fred. Fancy buys an engagement ring for Trewlove, but is fatally shot in the final confrontation with the drug smugglers before he can propose. But even in his death, another mystery emerges; it seems that the bullet that took Fancy down doesn’t match any of the guns found on the site.
The final moments of the episode show the team disbanding: a heartbroken Trewlove to Scotland Yard; Bright, upset at the events around Fancy’s death, resigning from the department; and Thursday at ends after rescinding his retirement request. And Morse? Morse finds Joan and finally asks her on a date.
, Season 6
Season six of Endeavour may introduce us to Morse’s unfortunate choice in facial hair, but it also gives us some complex new characters and an intriguing new story arc that stretches across the season.
We open in the summer of ‘69 with the team farther apart than ever. Strange has been sent to Division HQ, working in a managerial admin role — and sadly, it seems like he was the luckiest of the lot. Bright’s resignation hasn’t seemed to take, as now he’s the public face of the Traffic department, even starring in an embarrassing PSA. Thursday has been demoted to Detective Sergeant, and is working at Castle Gate station with DI Box, the arrogant arse from last season, and his nefarious assistant Jago. And Morse… well, Morse has been sent back to do uniform work on the street.
But that’s not the only thing that’s changed for Morse. He might still be listening to opera, but it’s as the one man police force in a tiny Oxfordshire outpost that doubles as his home. His demeanor, when Strange comes to call, is cold, bitter, and angry — at his position, at the fate of his friends, and at the date with Joan that seems to never have come to fruition. Concerned about his friend, Strange uses Morse’s work on a case to get him appointed to DI Box at Castle Gate. But despite his shift in fortunes, Morse’s attitude doesn’t improve — though that might have something to do with his desk in the basement, or the cold reception he receives from Thursday upon their reunion.
It’s not long into the season when a case turns up a car that gets sent to Bright in Traffic. In processing the vehicle, he discovers that it used to belong to the drug smuggler from last season — the same one who was involved in the shoot-out that killed George Fancy. He quickly loops Strange in on the info, who brings in Morse, and the Medical Examiner, Max De Bryn. While Thursday is part of this first covert meeting, it soon becomes clear that something isn’t quite right with the usually-solid Detective. It’s not long before Strange is cautioning Morse to "trust no one."
...And he’d be right. Remember how Fred Thursday’s brother, Charlie, lost all of the Thursday’s retirement fund last season? Well, it seems that the situation has gone from bad to worse, with a fed-up Win growing distant from her husband, and eventually spending more and more time away from the home. In an effort to make things right, Fred’s gone on the take, splitting the bribery money that comes into Castle Gate with Box and Jago, among others. When Win discovers his corruption, it’s a fateful moment for the couple, with Win’s request for a divorce making Thursday finally see the error of his ways. But it might just be too late.
The season finale starts violently, with an apartment tower collapsing, and while we’re drawn into the trauma of its denizens, it also turns up another clue in Fancy’s case. The body of the man responsible for surveying the tower is discovered in the collapse, although he, curiously, does not seem to be mortally wounded by the rubble. De Bryn discovers the cause of death was, instead, a gunshot wound, which matches the wound that killed Fancy. De Bryn gets word to Strange, who doubles down on his investigation — only to turn up a film that says the weapon was first used in a case investigated by DI Box.
This break in the case seems to finally have an effect on the long-apathetic Morse. Our boy swings into his usual dogged action, questioning people who don’t want to be involved and generally stirring up trouble. So much trouble, in fact, that local politicians offer Bright a promotion out of Traffic and a treatment for his wife’s cancer if he’ll stop the investigation. And he’s not the only one getting leaned on: Strange begins to feel the pressure at his masonic lodge, and Thursday is told “it’s Morse or you” when the situation is revealed to him by Box.
Finally, De Bryn is kidnapped. Morse heads to the offices of the construction company responsible for the apartment tower, where De Bryn is being held hostage — not by Box, the obvious culprit, but by Jago, his assistant. As the story is laid out, we discover that Jago shot Fancy during the raid the previous year — and with the head of the drug smuggling operation out of the way, he seized control of the Oxford crime ring. He’s also the one who murdered the surveyor when the man discovered the poor quality of the apartment tower.
Just as all appears to be lost for our reluctant hero, Thursday, Strange and Bright arrive to save the day. A chase ensues, ending only when DI Box finally appears, shooting Jago down and taking a bullet in the process. When everything comes out in the open, the head of Castle Gate station resigns in disgrace, leaving the position open for Bright. Walking into the role, Bright puts things to right, with Thursday back at DCI and Morse at his side.
With these many ends neatly tied up, what can we expect from Endeavour, Season 7? Check out the preview here:
And don’t forget to watch the season premiere online on August 9!