A Downbeat Tone Doesn't Make 'Endeavour Season Three' Any Less Enjoyable

Erin Giannini
Shaun Evans and Roger Allam in Endeavor

ITV's mystery genre and Colin Dexter's legacy is in safe hands.


Distributor: PBS
Cast: Shaun Evans, Roger Allam, Anton Lesser, Sean Rigby, Sarah Vickers, Dakota Blue Richards
Network: ITV/PBS
UK Release Date: 2016-02-01
US Release Date: 2016-08-23

The first two seasons of Endeavour, the prequel to the Inspector Morse series that ran from 1987-1993 (with five specials that aired between 1995 and 2000), were traumatic for the central characters of Detective Constable Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans) and Detective Inspector Fred Thursday (Roger Allam). The first season explored corruption in the Oxford police force, and ended with Endeavour being shot in the line of duty. The second focused on more rampant corruption of powerful businessmen and high-ranking police officers, connected to the physical and sexual abuse of children at a now-abandoned children home.

The second season ended on a cliffhanger: Thursday's been shot, and Endeavour's been framed for the murder of Chief Constable Rupert Standish (Derek Hutchinson). He’s arrested. The final shot of the season is of Endeavour in a cell.

It's to the series' credit that these events have long-ranging consequences for the central characters; there's no sense of "keep calm and carry on" for either Morse or Thursday. At the start of season three, Morse has left the force after spending months in jail, disgusted by the fact that even those he's cleared of involvement, the entire case is sealed for 50 years. Thursday, on the other hand, shows both physical and mental consequences from his near-death; a piece of the bullet is lodged in his lung, which could literally kill him at any time. Normally a reasonable and thoughtful police officer, season three finds Thursday both ill and ill-tempered, taking risks he normally wouldn't (chasing after suspects without back-up) and more prone to fly off the handle during interrogations.

The opening episode, "Ride" builds slowly to the conclusion that Morse and Thursday are better as a team: Morse's intelligence and empathy are assets Thursday appreciates; Thursday, in turn, is mentor and father figure, both of which Morse is in desperate need of. The issues / traumas both have suffered don't disappear, but it's suggested that the work itself offers a palliative for the injustices they've both seen and suffered. Further, the crowd Morse associates with in the opening episode -- wealthy friends from his Oxford days -- aren't the relief Morse is clearly seeking: the glittering parties and bright colors mask the emptiness that slowly reveals itself throughout the episode, a conclusion in keeping with the series' continued emphasis on the moral corruption of the wealthy and powerful.

On both a visual and a narrative level, the series does an excellent job of conveying the period (1967), through the brighter colors of the costumes, the authenticity of the props, and the performances of even minor or one-off characters. Not unlike the BBC's Life on Mars (which often used deliberate anachronisms to emphasize the possible fantasy element of Sam Tyler's [John Simm] presence in 1973), it's clear that sets, costumes, and attitudes created with an eye to authenticity. The welcome addition of a female officer, Shirley Trewlove (Dakota Blue Richards) offers a change in the dynamics of the male-dominated CID, in line with the shifting gender dynamics of the era. The fact that Morse himself is the one who is most appreciative of what Trewlove has to offer is in line with his characterization thus far; Trewlove is intelligent, observant, and a bit of an outsider, not unlike Morse himself.

The lack of a greater arc that characterized the first two seasons allows for more character work to be accomplished, even as the plots of the episodes seem to wander a bit. Thursday's illness and Morse's initial absence gives the four-episode season more of a downbeat, elegiac feel. It affected the mood to the point that in episode two, when DS Peter Jakes (Jack Laskey) announces he's getting married and moving to the States, I was primed for the twist that he'd not live to see the end of the episode. (Spoiler: He lived and moved to Wyoming.)

The appearance of a familiar location from Inspector Lewis (the Mortmaigne Estate) and an important connection to Lewis’s future partner offers a strong narrative bridge between the two series; on the metatextual level, the continued presence Abigail Thaw, daughter of the original Morse John Thaw, as journalist Dorothea Frazil, is more than a tribute or plot device; she was one of the few non-police characters in season three who's integrated into the world of the series and often necessary to the story itself.

The Blu-ray transfer is crisp and clean, making even the night scenes pop, and doing justice to the series' focus on period authenticity. The special features, however, are fairly thin. A ten-minute documentary "The Making of Endeavour" allowed the set and costume designers to (justifiably) brag on how they recreated the last '60s, and two interviews -- one with Roger Allam and one with Shaun Evans –- offered some interesting insights into the series, their characters, and the dynamic between. I would have appreciated at least one episode commentary; when done well, they can offer additional insights from the perspectives of actors, directors, and other crew.

With sister series Inspector Lewis having aired its last episode this summer, Endeavour remains the last series inspired by Colin Dexter's novels on the air. While the BBC might get more attention for its prestige dramas and fantasy series, ITV has consistently produced its own quality series, with perhaps its greatest successes in the mystery genre, such as Poirot, Morse, and Miss Marple. The tradition seems to be in safe (and familiar) hands with Endeavour.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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