Everyone is wearing a poppy for remembrance, which should give you a clue that this episode will concern the past and the sins committed then. It also concerns a murderer who is very much present in the minds of Morse and his colleagues, and who plans to continue murdering in the future unless they can stop him.
Time is of the essence in “Sway.” The endlessness of time; mathematical infinity; ouroboros, the snake that devours its tail, symbolizing eternity…
Time; and possibly the Rolling Stones, although I’m not certain about the last part.
As the episode begins, a newspaper headline trumpets the case of the moment: “Woman Strangled – Oxford housewife willingly opened door to killer.” This refers to the murder of Anne Curran Matthews.
At the office, Morse is typing up a report for Chief Superintendent Bright concerning the “amalgamation” of police stations. This might pose a problem for Morse in the future, but it’s certainly not enough to occupy all of his intellect right now. He’s turning over the Curran Matthews case in his mind and associating it with another open case. They’re not identical, but there are similarities.
Moments later, another victim is found. Vivienne Haldane, the wife of an Oxford professor, has been strangled with a silk stocking. (“Not hers,” says Dr. DeBryn.) Physical relations had taken place within an hour or two of death. (“Nothing to say ‘unwillingly,’” says Dr. DeBryn.) And the pieces begin to fall into place for Morse.
There are now three cases involving women who were strangled with silk stockings. More specifically, married women who spend most of their time apart from their husbands and who weren’t wearing their wedding rings when their bodies were found.
It’s November 1966, and we are in the process of affixing the Swingin’ to the Sixties. People’s attitudes toward “physical relations” are changing. There’s all kinds of hanky-panky going on. For proof we have dodgy salesman Joey Lisk (Max Wrottesley), who brazenly channels Michael Caine in Alfie.
Even Morse is looser than we’ve seen him, thanks to his fascination with Monica Hicks (Shvorne Marks), the cute nurse from across the hall. They met in “Trove;” planned a date that ended in an awkward misunderstanding in “Nocturne,” and finally connect here in “Sway”—complete with fireworks. (It’s Guy Fawkes Night, after all.) Monica is a thoroughly modern woman, confident and bold. You might imagine she’d intimidate our reticent hero, but he’s too smitten to let shyness stand in his way.
Still waters run deep, as Morse reminds us regularly. But he’s not the only one. Even DI Fred Thursday (Roger Allam) has a passion long-simmering beneath his unflappable exterior. A passion separate from his love for Win (Caroline O’Neill) , with whom he’s about to celebrate 25 years of marriage.
The idea of a love that lasts forever comes into play quite a lot in “Sway.” The plot is driven less by academic riddles than by human foibles as Morse and Thursday reveal aspects of their personalities we haven’t seen before. Keep an eye on PC Jim Strange (Sean Rigby), who’s evolving from a cheerful copper into someone a bit darker. And I don’t know about you, but I hope there’s something behind those looks Joan Thursday (Sara Vickers) has been sending Morse’s way. Not to take anything away from Monica, mind you.
Character-driven this episode may be, but writer/creator Russell Lewis makes sure we don’t lack for allusions. I suspect the stockings used as a murder weapon owe something to Albert DeSalvo, the “Boston Strangler.” Scenes at Burridge’s department store where the stockings were purchased give a distinct nod to Are You Being Served?, the classic British comedy series. And even though I can’t place the blind piano tuner or the street chalk artist, their presence must be significant, right? (If you know, please tell!)
The episode title has me baffled, however. It might refer to “Sway,” a mambo from 1954 sung by Dean Martin. Yet I can’t help but think of the Rolling Stones’ “Sway” with its lyric about “circular time.” (Was it foreshadowing in “Nocturne” last week when the precocious school girl asked Morse if he liked the Stones? There is a lot of foreshadowing in Endeavour.)
Maybe I’m reading too much into this. If so, I have company. Morse has been doing a lot of overthinking recently, too, and this episode is no exception. When it comes to matters of the heart, overthinking won’t help you. (As DS Jakes says, sometimes “infinity” is just an 8 on its side.) When it comes to Endeavour, however, overthinking is part of the viewing experience.
Next week, Series 2 concludes with “Neverland.”
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.