Endeavour 4.01: “Game” Episode Review

Shaun Evans as Inspector Endeavour Morse

A swimming pool, Joan Thursday leaving home, a welder in a pumping station, Holy Communion, a mainframe computer, a concert, preparations for a chess match, a crime writer reading his latest novel at a bookstore—a flood of disparate images that will coalesce given time…

Endeavour is back. 

And “flood” is the right word for the opening montage because this first episode of the fourth season revolves around water. A refreshing swim, a therapeutic bath, a sacramental font of holy water, the River Cherwell flowing through Oxford, droplets running down a steamy mirror—all have perilous implications.

It’s July 1967. Twenty-three-year-old Billie Jean King is about to defeat Britain’s Ann Hayden-Jones to win the women’s singles title at Wimbledon. The guys at the Oxford constabulary, like everyone else in the U.K., are watching the match on TV for the first time in color (or, colour, if you prefer).

At the appropriately named—but, sadly, fictional—Lovelace College at Oxford, the computer science department has built a computer that can play chess, and they’ve invited a Soviet grand master to participate in a demonstration match against it.

One from their group is missing: Professor Richard Nielsen, “keen angler” and “fond of water lilies,” last seen four weeks earlier heading off with his fishing gear. Now, he’s resurfaced (literally) in the River Cherwell, his pockets stuffed with rocks. 

Was his death by drowning a suicide? Of course not. A second drowning, followed by a third, confirms something more nefarious. Now, all we have to do—and by we, I mean Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans)—is figure out who’s killing these people and why.


Characteristically, Morse is preoccupied. Even as he’s immersed in the sound of Erik Satie’s music played in concert on a cristal Baschet—glass rods dripping with water from moistened fingers—his mind wanders. 

He’s nervously awaiting the results of his sergeant’s exam. (As if we have any doubt that he’s passed with flying colors.) More importantly, he’s thinking about Joan Thursday (Sara Vickers), the boss’s daughter, who just might be “the one.” But Joan’s left home, and Endeavour’s left behind in Oxford to deal with soggy dead bodies.

“And one was fond of me: and all are slain,” says Dr. Max DeBryn (James Bradshaw) quoting A. E. Housman to summarize Morse’s predicament. Then he adds, “Love and fishing. Sooner or later it all comes down to the same thing: the one that got away,” because the pathologist is both philosophical and practical.

Dakota Blue Richards as WPC Shirley Trewlove

Working with Morse: WPC Shirley Trewlove (Dakota Blue Richards)—true love by name if not by reputation. She’s certainly an intellectual match for Morse, and she can run rings around most of the rest of the guys in the office. In a fair and equitable world, a plod like DS Jim Strange (Sean Rigby) wouldn’t stand a chance against her. Alas, this is not a fair and equitable world. Everyone underestimates Trewlove.

Working against Morse: an unnamed person, or persons, seeking to undermine his career. He has always endured the scorn of those who don’t appreciate the way he conducts himself. Morse just can’t help rubbing people the wrong way, especially those doggone Freemasons.

Undecided about whether he’s for or against Morse: Fred Thursday (Roger Allam), Morse’s boss, who’s aching over daughter Joan’s departure and holding Morse somewhat responsible for her leaving. It’s been two weeks, and she hasn’t been in touch with anyone from home. Thursday’s nearly paralyzed with worry.

Endeavour writer/creator Russell Lewis has crammed his script full of puns, allusions, and visual clues and references. Thus, it’s no coincidence that in an episode involving a historic chess match, we have a computer scientist named Dr. Castle (Chris Fulton) and a journalist called Tessa Knight (Ruby Thomas). There are references to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Steve Coogan’s comedy routines. The episode’s fictional Joint Computing Nexus or JCN is alphabetically one step beyond IBM. Oxford’s St. Catherine’s College, designed by Danish modernist architect Arne Jacobsen and opened in 1962, is the appropriate “computer age” setting for Lovelace College. And, as he’s done in most episodes of Inspector Morse, Lewis, and Endeavour, author Colin Dexter (who died earlier this year) makes an appearance, smiling down from a photo on the wall of Dorothea Frazil’s office. 

What we don’t know yet—but are destined to find out—is whose hand appears in the final scene laying out the tarot cards. Like the Hanged Man, we’ll have to remain in “suspense” until next week.

See also: Endeavour 3.04: “Coda” Episode Review


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.


  1. Eric Ratner

    Great show, but isn’t there an anachronism? Officer Trewlove recognizes the letters and numbers written by Endeavour on a piece of paper (E4 E5 F4) as chess notation for the King’s Gambit. But those are written in algebraic notion, which (according to Wikipedia and my memory) didn’t come into fashion until sometime after the 60’s, when the show is supposed to be taking place. Back in those days, I think people used descriptive word notation (P-K4, P-K4, P-KB4).

  2. Leslie Gilbert Elman

    Interesting! Sounds like this requires further investigation.

  3. William H Leblanc

    Hey there, it is great content. Looking forward to reading more articles of your blog.

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