Inspector Lewis: “Generation of Vipers”

Lewis and HathawayEthics are as ephemeral as bits of data floating in the ether. Lines between what’s right and wrong refuse to stay firmly in place. They bend and blur and break to suit the purposes of certain individuals at certain times. Such conduct of convenience does not sit well with Inspector Lewis, whose moral compass is always in full working order. 

“Generation of Vipers,” the latest episode of Inspector Lewis on Masterpiece Mystery, deals with purveyors of information on the Internet who are redefining the boundaries of privacy. They feel free to post your personal details wherever and whenever they choose, but just try to request access to their files in the course of a murder investigation. They’ll unleash the lawyers and threaten to sue you for invasion of privacy.

When a personal video is leaked to an Internet gossip site, an Oxford professor of English literature just might be humiliated enough to kill herself. The mere idea that someone’s malicious behavior led to the professor’s suicide infuriates Lewis, but it doesn’t take him long to find enough evidence to indicate she might have been murdered.

Once it’s laid out, the menu of potential suspects reads like an ethics violations most-wanted list: a real estate developer, the founder of an Internet gossip site, the head of a computer dating service, a journalist, an arrogant student. How will Lewis deal with an entire cast of characters motivated exclusively by self-interest?

Toby Stephens as David Connelly
Toby Stephens as David Connelly
Our core text for “Generation of Vipers” is William Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, which has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years. Although it’s set during the Trojan War, the play’s message about the futility of war resonates with contemporary audiences. It’s also considered a commentary on the decay of ethical behavior in which characters freely lie and deceive to achieve their own ends.

It gave us the character of Pandarus, from whose name we derived the word “pander”—to gratify and exploit another person’s weaknesses. And these lines spoken by Pandarus gave us the title of the episode:

Is this the generation of love? hot blood, hot
thoughts, and hot deeds? Why, they are vipers:
is love a generation of vipers?

Love, as usual, is another driving force in this episode. Miranda Thornton, the dead professor, was known as the author of a book about how single women can thrive without men in their lives. So why was she looking for a match on a computer dating site?

Real estate developer David Connelly, gossipmonger Kit Renton, and dating doyenne Susanna Leland, all are curiously loveless. There’s something suspicious about that.

Meanwhile, Lewis and no-nonsense pathologist Laura Hobson (Clare Holman) are engaged in a romantic détente. Forget the “will they or won’t they”; it seems resolved that they won’t. So why do his hackles rise when the “new boy” D.I. Alan Peterson (Jason Durr) gets a little flirty with Laura?

Lewis and Hobson: Only one of these people reads Patrick O’Brian

Writer Patrick Harbinson, whose credits include “The Mind Has Mountains” from last season, also touches on the question of traditional gender roles, citing everything from Shakespeare to Monty Python. Early in the episode, Professor Thornton lectures on the duality of Shakespeare’s women: “for every female character in Shakespeare who conforms to society there is one who flouts it,” she says. That goes right down to Cressida who, in the professor’s words, “wished she was a man.”

Even Laura Hobson can’t avoid scrutiny. “How many women keep a fridge full of beer and read Patrick O’Brian,” Hathaway remarks to Lewis when Hobson offers them her apartment as a place to hide out from rampaging journalists.

Then there’s the character of Sebastian Dromgoole, whose name is probably a reference to Will Allen Dromgoole, a 20th century female poet from Tennessee. (According to her biography at the University of Tennessee Knoxville Library website, “Her father named her William at the suggestion of a family friend, who believed that giving his most recent daughter a masculine name would alleviate his disappointment at her not having been born male.” To which Miranda Thornton and Laura Hobson would shout “Bah!”)

Petulant Sebastian fills the obligatory role of the privileged student in this episode. He’s directing an audio production of Troilus and Cressida in which he’s cast his own girlfriend as “faithless Cressida.” When it’s revealed that he had a grudge against Miranda Thornton he becomes a murder suspect as well. (Freddie Fox, who plays Sebastian, is the first cousin of Laurence Fox—better known to us as Sergeant Hathaway.)

With the Internet representing a force for evil in this episode, characters wield the names “Silicon Valley,” “Palo Alto,” and “Stanford University” like weapons. Lewis starts out assuming that pulling the thread marked “breach of ethics” in the proverbial Web will lead straight to the U.S. of A. That is until the Web settles securely over Oxford, where everyone is connected, and ethical conduct is the sort of thing most of them merely read about in books.

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. Tatiana deCarillion

    I really can’t get enough of this series. I hope it continues for a few more years, especially that they do so few episodes per season.

    In thinking about both the Lewis and the Morse series, I don’t think this is the first time we’ve encountered the notion of women who believe they don’t need men.

    But, everyone does need love, and even those women come to that realization, albeit too late…

    Love was a driving force in Morse’s stories, as well, I think; for Morse, it always seemed to be about love lost, and I was always a bit sad for him, about that. Having watched him burned once already, in Endeavour, and with the impending four episodes to come next summer, I expect we’ll see more of how he developed his reluctance to love, despite his longing for it.

  2. Leslie Gilbert Elman

    You’re right @decarillion. The “women who don’t need men” theme comes up a lot. It seems especially appropriate for the university environment somehow (but maybe that’s just MHO).

    And I agree about Morse/Endeavour. He always did leave me hoping that someone honest and true would reach inside his defenses. Do you think we’ll have a romantic storyline in Endeavour? That might be interesting.

  3. Laura K. Curtis

    I found this episode terribly, terribly sad. I was quite glad hubby wasn’t home to watch me crying into my beer as I watched, actually.

    • Ed Rose

      Hate the hubby 🤮

  4. Leslie Gilbert Elman

    I can understand that, but I’m sorry to hear it. Maybe next week’s murder will be more cheerful. 😉

  5. Tatiana deCarillion

    @Leslie, I think that Endeavour will have more than one storyline like that (depending on how long the series runs for), but we’ve already had his ‘crush’ in the pilot.

    Certainly, he has to have at least one more, if the coming four episodes of Endeavour are going to be all they give us, just to help us understand how Endeavour evolved into the Morse we know from Thaw’s series.

    I always felt like Morse had loved and lost many times, and that each time he resigned himself to the fact that he was destined to be alone, love found him again LOL

  6. Leslie Gilbert Elman

    Unfortunately, the women he loved often turned out to be murderers! How could such a good detective be such a bad judge of character? lol

  7. Terrie Farley Moran

    I agree with Laura, this episode was extremely sad but I still chuckled when Lewis bristled so obviously when the new guy flirted with Dr. H. and she didn’t seem to mind a bit. On that same subject there was Hathaway’s dig at Lewis at the end. Priceless.

  8. Anne Evans

    Anyone know what is meant by the statement of the officer in charge of the scene when Lewis and Hathaway stop the criminal trying to escape, the officer says, “HR in 4 minutes.” What does HR mean? Hathaway asks the same and Lewis says it’s kind of like happy hour without the drinks. Any ideas?

    • Adam Quinan

      H-Hour, not HR. Operational speak for the time of starting an operation like D-Day was the day for starting the invasion of Europe.

  9. arts_aussie

    Hi, watching lots of Lewis episodes on DVDs in Australia, during the COVID pandemic (fortunately local library had a stack of DVDs of Lewis, Endeavour to make the lockdown in Victoria Australia tolerable). I loved Inspector Morse but am loving the middle series of Lewis, after the producers and team settled into the vibe, with Lewis and Hathaway riffing off each other, Laura and Innocent loosening up. The writing is exceptional, with the literary, Latin and artistic cross-references.
    And, you asked about the phrase “HR” in the criminal escape scene. I thought it meant human resources/human relations but then doubted it. But then this wonderfully named website called the Cambridgeshire police Department jargon Buster said that that HR does in fact refer to human resources. I’m assuming they are the people who applied antiseptic to Lewis’s cuts and gave him psychological counselling (joke).

Comments are closed.