Call this episode “Morse Goes Gothic.” The opening credits make it clear we’re not dealing only with the here and now, which, in Endeavour time, is 1966. The dead bodies of Victorian youngsters and their nursemaid littering a croquet lawn should be a clue. (Blood dripping slowly down the side of a pram is an inspired touch.)
For football fans of the sort Morse would know, 1966 lives forever as the year England both hosted and won the World Cup. Presumably all eyes, with the exception of Morse’s baby blues, were on the telly watching the England squad do their thing. However, national pride can’t stand in the way of murder. Thus, we begin this episode with the murder of a man visiting the Museum of Natural History. His bloody body is found in an off-limits gallery, throat slashed, apparently killed with an Indian dagger called a katar.
Are we surprised that Morse knows nothing about the football but possesses more than average knowledge about Indian daggers? Of course not.
He thinks the weapon is an odd choice for slashing a man’s throat, being more of a stabbing weapon intended to pierce through armor.
Are we surprised that DS Jakes (Jack Laskey) doesn’t much care about the choice of weapon? “It seems to have done the job,” says he.
Jakes is far more interested in the football. So is Morse’s boss, the inestimable DI Fred Thursday (Roger Allam). So is everyone at the station. Even the museum attendant who was assigned to catalog the exhibits on the day of the murder has an earphone for a transistor radio in his ear while he works. Only Morse is immune to football fever. (Does this cliché bother anyone else? It is possible to be an intellectual and a sports fan, you know.)
The most likely witnesses to the crime are a group of students from the Blythe Mount School for Girls. They were on a field trip to the museum when the crime took place. So off goes Morse to interview them.
Now, it might be 1966 in Endeavour time, but at boarding schools near Oxford girls wander around wearing white and looking all wide-eyed, waiflike, and, it must be said, predatory. (Morse’s baby blues have them mesmerized.) Suddenly we’re in Village of the Damned territory, not least because the school of spooky girls is not far from Midwich—and The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham is the book on which the films were based.
But I digress...
It turns out that the school has a sordid history. A hundred years earlier, when it was a private home, five people were murdered there—three children including an infant, their nursemaid, and their governess. They are the same five victims we saw in the opening credits, beaten to death with a croquet mallet. Not surprisingly, the murders spawned the legend of a ghost called Bloody Charlotte—the only child to survive the murders—who wanders the halls of the school late at night.
Morse becomes convinced that the murder at the museum is connected to the 100-year-old murders. Thursday insists the murder of Adrian Weiss, a retired gent with a passion for heraldry, is connected only to the present day. No prizes for guessing who’s right.
“Nocturne” is multi-layered and complicated, and you’re sure to miss as many references as you’ll recognize. As always, Endeavour series writer/creator Russell Lewis packs the episode with allusions and hints that venture beyond the matter at hand. The subject of heraldry allows him to make us aware of the Morse family motto: In Deo Non Armis Fido (“I trust in God, not Arms”). To which Morse replies, “Hardly.” No longer the good Quaker lad he was raised to be.
At least one thread on the Internet examines connections to the 1971 Genesis album Nursery Cryme, which includes a song called “The Musical Box” and features a picture of a sinister girl wielding a croquet mallet on the cover. Characters named Stephanie Hackett and Philippa Collins-Davidson would seem to bear this out. (It helps to be a person of a certain age, sometimes.)
There are pranks and puzzles (because who doesn’t enjoy a good rebus?) and the ending brings a genuine surprise that we won’t spoil here.
Meanwhile, we haven’t even touched on the subject of Morse’s impending love life! Perhaps next week, when Endeavour continues.
Leslie Gilbert Elmanis 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.