Oxford is a beautiful place, but it’s never more enchanting than when it’s littered with corpses and Inspector Lewis is on the case. This week’s episode of Inspector Lewis on Masterpiece Mystery, “The Gift of Promise,” does not disappoint in either regard—Oxford never looked better, and with bodies dropping all around, Inspector Lewis and Sergeant Hathaway (Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox) are plenty busy.
First to fall is Andrea De Ritter, founder of a program for gifted children. Yet, while she’s hardly a likeable woman, the who and why behind her murder are not clear, especially as all the likely suspects commence leaping, trotting, or otherwise proceeding toward their untimely ends.
The characters do their usual obfuscating, although this time they’re being not haughty as much as temperamental, like difficult children, gifted or not. They’re all a bit “off,” from the 15-year-old prodigy Zoe Suskin to Elmo Woodeson, the squirrelly student and practitioner of parkour she fancies, to her tutor Donald Voss (played by Belfast-born Mark Aiken with a harsh American accent).
Anna Chancellor, whom you’ve seen as the formidable Juliet Shaw on MI-5 and as long, lean Lix Storm on The Hour, plays Zoe’s mother. (She’s one of the select few who’ve appeared in both Inspector Morse and Inspector Lewis.)
And Cherie Lunghi, whom you’ve seen in…well…lots of things, plays “ex-security chief” Dame Grace Orde. This should give you a very big hint that all is not as it seems: If MI-5 is involved, things are bound to be complicated.
Everyone has a secret that will be revealed bit by bit over the course of 90 minutes—give or take. The first one that I set out to uncover is the name of the gorgeous café with the vaulted ceilings, where Dr. Voss conducts his tutorials. That would be the Vaults and Garden, and I would like to go there now, please.
Tackling the Irish question—for there is one involving Irish history in this episode—was a little harder. Hathaway found it vexing. So did I, but for a different reason.
Indeed, Hathaway seems vexed throughout “The Gift of Promise.” I’m guessing that’s to do with his own secrets being revealed bit by bit. We’ve learned more about him this season, yet we’ve still only scratched the surface.
(Would he ever write his memoirs, Hathaway asks Lewis. “Only if I could write the shocking truth about you,” Lewis tells him. So that’s a “no” then.)
In his day, Hathaway was the so-called “gifted child.” His colleagues still see him that way on occasion. He chose to join the police, and being a detective in Oxford seems to suit him, yet he continues to wrestle with his own “gift of promise” and his roads not taken. Like a job prospect with MI-5, we discover.
Clever Hathaway is our repository for all things scholarly, literary and linguistic. Tease him with a snippet of text from the Middle Ages and he’ll provide you with title, author, publication date, and context.
Yet give him two words of Irish—a pivotal clue in this week’s episode—and he’s flummoxed.
If it had been Latin or Aramaic, Hathaway would have nailed it. Instead, he and Lewis need another five scenes or so to translate and interpret the words that a simple Google search would have done for them in seconds.
Maybe Hathaway considers Internet searches to be cheating? I don’t know. What I do know is such a search also would reveal that in Irish—or Irish Gaelic, if you prefer—the noun precedes the adjective. Thus the English translation of the term in question, scian bosca, might not actually be what Lewis and Hathaway (and the screenwriter) believe it to be.
And so I’m vexed because I expect better from Hathaway.
Then again, maybe that’s the point. For if we learn anything in this episode it’s that Hathaway the wunderkind has limitations, and we must come to terms with them just as he has had to do. “Don’t grow up angry,” he tells the promising Zoe. “It takes so much effort to find your place in the world when you’re angry.” Another valuable lesson learned.
“The Gift of Promise” is the last episode of Season IV. The next season of Inspector Lewis is now being filmed in Oxford. Here’s looking forward to more beautiful scenery, to more intellectually stimulating mysteries, and to Sergeant Hathaway’s finding his place in the world bit by bit.
Watch “The Gift of Promise” on the PBS website.
Leslie Gilbert Elman blogs intermittently at My Life in Laundry. She’s written two trivia books and has a few unpublished fiction manuscripts in the closet to keep the skeletons company.