In the Fosdick ward at Cowley General Hospital, the beds are numbered 1 through 10. They look alike, but Bed 10 is different from the others. People die in Bed 10.
In fact, the hospital staff is tying on a toe tag and carting an unfortunate patient away as this episode opens. “Bed 10’s unlucky,” says the patient safely ensconced in Bed 4. “Five weeks I been here, and I’ve seen three go in that bed.”
Chief Surgeon Sir Merlyn Chubb (David Yelland, aka Hercule Poirot’s butler, George) doesn’t understand why the patients in Bed 10 come in for straightforward surgeries and go out in body bags. Something’s not right here, and if the significant glances traded between nurses and doctors mean anything, the problem just might be Sir Merlyn and his increasingly shaky hands.
Then again, Mrs. Ethel Zacharides was not in Sir Merlyn’s care, yet she, too, is dead. Found in her living room amidst the tea things some three days after her demise.
At the scene, pathologist Max DeBryn (James Bradshaw) reports nothing suspicious. DC Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans), picking up the pieces of her broken china tea set, does not concur. Mrs. Zacharides had company for tea. Whoever that was could have been the last to see her alive. Well, last person anyway. Her parrot, Jeremiah, would have witnessed the whole thing, but all he can say is “Evil Old Cow.”
“Zacharides,” Max pauses to recollect, “rings a distant tocsin.”
Tocsin. That would be “alarm bell” to you and me. (Or the last movement of Symphony No. 11 by Shostakovich, or a Cold War military code for a nuclear attack, or a homophone for toxin … Endeavour writer/creator Russell Lewis loves the wordplay.)
Max recalls doing the postmortem on a Mr. Zacharides who’d gone into Cowley General for gall bladder surgery and died a few days later in Fosdick ward. No prizes for guessing which was his bed. A connection begins to emerge.
Enter—via wheelchair—Terry Bakewell (Alex McSweeney), currently serving time in prison but removed to the hospital for surgery. He’s not just any common criminal. He’s a member of the Matthews Gang, who’s going to turn Queen’s evidence against his cronies. That’s the same Matthews Gang who robbed the bank in “Coda” at the end of Season 3; the robbery that placed Joan Thursday (Sara Vickers) in mortal peril and led to her departure from Oxford.
Needless to say, Fred Thursday (Roger Allam) has a personal stake in Bakewell’s well-being. Alas, Bakewell’s not merely assigned to Bed 10, he’s handcuffed to the bedpost. To no one’s surprise, sometime in the night, Terry Bakewell breathes his last.
Next morning, a new patient will be moved into Bed 10. This time, it’s Chief Superintendent Bright (Anton Lesser), who’s in the hospital for a perforated peptic ulcer.
Cue the alarm bells.
Indeed, this episode rings all sorts of bells, starting with Radio Carillon, the hospital’s in-house radio station hosted by Lester “The Nightfly” Fagen (as in The Nightfly, a solo album from Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen).
Then, there’s the disconcerting tintinnabulation of the “belles” from Morse’s past. The cute nurse from across the hall, Monica Hicks (Shvorne Marks), pops up on the ward. She and Morse had a thing in Season 2. He treated her shabbily in Season 3. Their meeting now is awkward, but Monica’s too mature to lose her composure. She confirms some of Morse’s suspicions and raises some others about Dean Powell, the cocky, young surgeon who’s angling for Sir Merlyn’s job (John Hopkins, aka Dan Scott, the cocky, young sergeant from Midsomer Murders a decade ago).
From Morse’s more distant past, there’s an echo of Susan from college. “We were engaged to be married. And then we weren’t,” Morse explains to WPC Trewlove (Dakota Blue Richards). It’s not Susan we see, however. It’s her mother, Caroline (Phoebe Nicholls, who’s made a recent habit of playing sour, treacherous women). Caroline has a peculiarly strong dislike for Morse, her daughter’s unworthy suitor.
“A policeman,” she sneers.
“A detective,” he corrects.
As if she’d acknowledge a difference.
Caroline’s unreasonable, unwarranted disdain gives Morse the chance to take the high road here. (Presumably, she’s the same Caroline character, played by Phoebe Nicholls, who appears in the Inspector Lewis episode called “Expiation.”)
But the bell that reverberates longest is the one that rang on Morse’s phone last week—the collect call he received from Leamington Spa. He wouldn’t be much of a detective if he couldn’t trace that number, and trace it he does—to Joan Thursday, whose life is following a potentially ruinous path. Much as we might hope otherwise, it seems the time is past for Morse and Joan to be together. (Pause for a wistful sigh.)
Joan resonates for everyone, from Morse, who pines for her, to Fred Thursday, who’s been sullen for weeks, to Win Thursday (Caroline O’Neill), who’s taking prescription pills to help with her growing anxiety. (“Mother’s Little Helpers” being one of the less charming aspects of 1960s nostalgia.)
“You think she’ll come back?” Fred Thursday wonders aloud, unaware that Morse has seen her.
Endeavour can’t think of a reply.
Meanwhile, the tarot cards continue to fall. This time it’s Death crossing The Tower, possibly signifying the destruction of the past and wholesale change on the horizon. Can we predict which of the Major Arcana cards will fall in the season finale next week? I’m leaning toward Justice or The Hermit. And you?
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.