Five years before this episode takes place, a car headed toward the country village of Bramford was forced off the road by a military vehicle barreling toward it. The truck didn’t slow down. The car wound up in a ditch, and there was no sign of life from its occupants—a professorial-looking fellow and the scruffy hitchhiker he’d picked up moments before.
Fast-forward to 1967, where a scruffy guy who looks awfully like that hitcher from ’62 is preaching the impending apocalypse—the seventh seal and all that—on an Oxford street corner. In the misty cabin in the woods that we’ve glimpsed throughout this season, tarot cards are being laid: Queen of Pentacles; The Empress; King of Swords; Ace of Wands; Knight of Cups; The Hermit; and finally, The Devil.
Archaeology students digging in the marshland of Bramford Mere unearth a body: male, age undetermined. DCI Fred Thursday (Roger Allam) suspects it might be the remains of Matthew Laxman, a botanist who’d gone missing five years earlier and who was last seen by Nigel Warren, a scruffy hitchhiker he’d picked up on the road to Bramford (Simon Meacock, who turned up recently and scruffily in Agatha Raisin).
Pathologist Max DeBryn (James Bradshaw) begs to differ with Thursday’s hypothesis. While the skeleton might match Laxman’s description, Max says it predates Laxman by some 2,000 years. It’s ancient—not a five-year-old corpse. Still, something about this discovery doesn’t sit well with Thursday. The body had suffered a blow to the head and been garroted and had its throat cut. Seems awfully thorough.
Then, Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans) spots a pair of eyeglasses in the excavated grave—definitely not ancient. Looks like it’s time to dig a little deeper.
Morse is dispatched to Bramford where he arrives outside a pub called The Hanged Man (remember the tarot card from “Game”?). That’s when the woo-woo begins.
Morris dancers stomp and jangle in the background, but our attention is repeatedly drawn to all the peculiar things dangling from rope here and there: herbs hung to dry, tin cans and bottles clattering from the arms of a scarecrow, even a clothesline appears sinister if you see it a certain way. Then, of course, there are the myriad chimes and charms hanging from the porch of that cabin in the woods.
The village postmistress bids Morse adieu, saying, “Goddess bless thee.” A crude hobby horse with a burlap head leans against a fence. Everyone’s preparing for “Second Harvest,” the celebration of the autumnal equinox. Woo woo.
Bramford has all the requisite creepiness of a fictional English village circa 1967, when—if you believe The Wicker Man (inspired by David Pinner’s 1967 novel Ritual)—everyone was engaged in pagan doings of some sort. (Rosemary’s apartment building in Ira Levin’s 1967 novel Rosemary’s Baby is called The Bramford. Well played, Endeavour.)
If Morse is investigating the disappearance of that botanist, the villagers say he ought to talk to the local wise woman, Dowsable Chattox.
We know this is going to lead him (finally!) to that spooky cabin in the woods. Where else could someone called Dowsable Chattox live? (Chattox was the name of one the “Pendle witches,” convicted and hanged after a highly publicized 1612 trial in Lancashire, 80 years before the Salem Witch Trials.)
What might come as a surprise is that Dowsable Chattox is played by Sheila Hancock, wife of the late John Thaw, the original Inspector Morse. (She also had a memorable recurring role as Sandra’s mother in New Tricks.) What certainly comes as a surprise to Morse is Dowsable greeting him with a loaded gun then sitting down to read his tarot cards.
Morse, of course, is having none of this. His college nickname might have been Pagan, but he’s a practical (if not practicing) Quaker. “The equinox is science, Miss Chattox. It’s not superstition,” he states. Well, then, how about the lamb born with two heads that Dowsable reads as a mystical sign? Is that science too? Could be—as there’s a nuclear power station just down the road and its radiation control measures are not all that they should be.
Like woo-woo movies circa 1967, the mystery component in “Harvest” is both spooky and silly. The plot isn’t the tightest of this season (“Lazaretto” being the standout), but it has its moments. More importantly, it moves the character storylines forward significantly.
DS Jim Strange (Sean Rigby) helpfully suggests Morse interview for a job opening in London. Chief Superintendent Bright (Anton Lesser), back at work after his near-death experience in “Lazaretto,” couldn’t be more encouraging. If Morse won’t leave Oxford on his own, these two are determined to push him out the door. Objectively, though, the London job seems like a logical career move for Morse, especially after that unpleasantness over his sergeant’s exam going missing.
Then, there’s Joan Thursday (Sara Vickers). She and Morse aren’t quite finished with each other yet. Without spoilers, I’ll say that their encounter in this episode is beautifully played and wholly believable given who they are. After a few more revelations, including some welcome and well-deserved good news for the Thursdays, we end the season knowing much more about how Endeavour became Morse.
Happily, Endeavour writer/deviser Russell Lewis and the group he calls “Team Endeavour” are at work on Season 5. For our part, like lavender drying in the English country breeze, we will hang around waiting until Endeavour returns next year.
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.