Is your knowledge of opera as limited as mine? Well, lucky for us, Endeavour Morse’s knowledge of opera is vast and comprehensive. And that turns out to be lucky for him, too, because his “specialist knowledge” makes him invaluable to this week’s investigation.
As the episode begins, Endeavour has been reassigned to “general duties,” essentially back to being low man in the unit. DS Peter Jakes (Jack Laskey) has taken over as DI Thursday’s assistant, driver, and right-hand man. We pretty much knew that change was coming based on last week’s episode. Jakes outranks Morse, and the official hierarchy was bound to be restored once Chief Superintendent Bright—a stickler for such things—had his feet securely under the table.
Then a call comes in. Someone’s killed a woman and left her brutalized body inside an empty boxcar in a rail yard. And DC Morse, thanks to the unprecedented event of his arriving early at the office, just happens to be the first man on the scene to investigate.
Along with the body is a clue: three words chalked on the wall inside the boxcar—un bacio ancora. DI Thursday translates them from Italian: “one kiss more.” DC Morse goes him one better and identifies them as a line from Verdi’s opera Otello. They’re the words Othello speaks after strangling Desdemona, the wife he believes has been unfaithful.
We already suspect that the murdered woman, Evelyn Balfour, has been cheating on her husband. Her husband seems to suspect it, too. Yet we’re still only a few minutes into the episode so we know the killer won’t be identified this soon; and besides, Mr. Balfour is hardly the type to leave clues from an Italian opera at the scene of a crime.
No, this killing is more complex than a mere crime of passion, and the killer more calculating. He knows that such a clue will prove irresistible to a young man like Morse, who conveniently has shelves full of opera LPs and librettos at home. And so we begin a “cat-and-Morse” game in which Endeavour’s passion for music could prove to be a weakness.
In this episode, viewers who can recognize various operatic and classical compositions could well be a step ahead of those who can’t. My instinct tells me the soundtrack is full of clues. (This is Morse after all; there are clues everywhere!)
A working knowledge of Oxford would be helpful, too. It will explain why, for example, seeing the Martyrs’ Memorial triggers Morse to drive to the church of St. Michael at the North Gate. (The word he’s saying is “Bocardo” if you care to look it up.) It would also allow you to recognize that, after deciphering one of the killer’s cryptic messages, Morse visits the Bodleian Library. (Puzzle people: You still have that pencil and paper handy from last week, right?)
Once again, creator/writer Russell Lewis chooses not to explain every little detail or provide the solution to every puzzle, but instead allows us to figure out these things for ourselves. How nice to find a writer who trusts that his audience is blessed with intelligence and curiosity! Of course, he knows we wouldn’t be fans of Morse if we didn’t possess both. He also knows that we’re willing to sacrifice a realistic story in exchange for a clever puzzle. And we sort of have to in “Fugue.” Ask yourself if a real killer would go to all this trouble with his crimes and his clues.
Abigail Thaw (John Thaw’s daughter) is back as Dorothea Frazil, the editor of the Oxford Mail and a potential thorn in Morse’s side; and Sean Rigby continues his winning portrayal of Constable Jim Strange, possibly the only man on the force besides DI Thursday who admires and encourages Morse’s unique intellect.
Shaun Evans as Endeavour Morse remains a revelation. He doesn’t exactly mimic John Thaw as Morse, and yet… the censorious squint at the psychiatrist, the grimace when a woman (pregnant and smoking!) complains about the “caterwauling” classical music coming from her neighbor’s apartment, the slight hitch in his walk… it’s all Morse. By the time you reach the final scene, you’ll be missing him more than ever yet feeling so happy he’s back.
Leslie Gilbert Elman is the author of Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous, and Totally Off the Wall Facts. Follow her on Twitter @leslieelman.
Read all of Leslie Gilbert Elman’s posts for Criminal Element.