The very final three-episode season of “Inspector Lewis,” premiering Sunday, August 7, 2016 on PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery, is a sad hail and farewell to the appealing characters and ingenious plot puzzles that began with Oxfordshire’s Detective Chief Inspector Endeavour Morse (John Thaw, 1942-2002) and his then Sergeant Robbie Lewis (Kevin Whately). Inspector Morse, the reclusive, erudite loner was amusingly counterbalanced by family-man Lewis whose working-class, northern English background was diametrically opposite to Morse’s solitary intellectual life.
“Inspector Morse” first aired on Masterpiece Mystery in 1988 and ended with the death of the Morse character in 2001. The original 33 “Morse” episodes were based on novels and short stories by Colin Dexter, the award-winning writer and crossword champion, and can still be found on various PBS channels and other media outlets. Just don’t expect 21st century picture and sound clarity. And do expect most of the characters to be white intellectuals.
An uneven third series, “Endeavour” starring Shaun Evans, the prequel to the “Inspector Morse” series, re-visits young Detective Constable Endeavour Morse of the Oxford City Police CID as he hones his deductive powers in the 1960s. Three seasons have been aired and a fourth one is being filmed. Although “Endeavor” has had its high moments, particularly this season, the late 1960s era does seem stilted at times.
Kevin Whately returned to television in 2006 as Inspector Lewis in an eponymous series set five years after Morse’s death. We learned that Lewis’ wife was killed in a hit-and-run accident in the interim years between the two shows. No longer the optimistic faithful subordinate, in this series Lewis is portrayed as a mature, world-weary, old-school but often intuitive professional.
The eight U.S. seasons of “Lewis” have been engaging and absorbing, boosted by skillful writing, acting and direction, and most importantly, by Lewis’ sidekick cum partner, the younger, cooler, cerebral Cambridge graduate, James Hathaway (Laurence Fox). The growing respect and fondness these very different inspectors share has added much depth and interest to the programs. After a break in the “Lewis” series, Hathaway was promoted to Inspector and a temporarily retired Lewis was called back as a consultant to work with Hathaway.
The supporting cast brightens up the programs considerably, particularly, Lewis’ love interest, forensic pathologist Dr. Laura Hobson (Claire Holman) and the even-tempered and competent Detective Sergeant Lizzie Maddox (Angela Griffin) who is Hathaway’s new partner. Former Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent has been replaced by the intrusive and overbearing Chief Superintendent Joe Moody (Steve Toussaint). The picturesque location shots of Oxford are always a pleasure.
The three new and engrossing episodes of “Inspector Lewis” live up to the high level of entertainment we have come to expect from the series. In the first 90-minute episode, entitled “One for Sorrow,” we meet Hathaway’s father, who is suffering from dementia, and Hathaway’s over-bearing, over-burdened sister. We empathize with Hathaway’s guilt and sadness over his father’s condition and their lost time together. Lewis, meanwhile, is insecure about his position as consultant and wants to demonstrate his value to new supervisor Joe Moody. The clever mystery involves a body is a well and the death of a young artist/taxidermist.
In “Magnum Opus,” an Oxford college dean is found beaten to death in the woods after an argument about arcane religious practices. Alchemic images and unfamiliar tattoos lead the detectives to a cryptic group who may be responsible for several murders. On a personal level, Hathaway learns more about his father and tries to accept his father’s condition. Lewis and Laura Hobson talk about taking a long vacation in New Zealand together. It was nice to see Honeysuckle Weeks in a supporting role (she played Samantha Stewart in “Foyle’s War”).
“What Lies Tangled,” the final episode, concerns the bombing death of an eminent mathematician. The unpopular victim provides no shortage of suspects. An additional bomb is discovered at the home of the victim’s brother, followed by another murder. Meanwhile, Lewis is uncertain about the advisability of his lengthy trip with Laura, as he fears that his position as a consultant may be in jeopardy.
If you add it all up, Kevin Whately has spent almost 30 years playing Lewis. Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox finally decided to retire from their roles after 33 episodes, as an homage to John Thaw, who played Chief Inspector Morse for 33 episodes.
Readers may be wondering about the series’ conclusion. No, they don’t do a tearful group hug a la “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” I like to think that the typically British low-key finale leaves open the possibility of a new series about Hathaway and Lizzie Maddox. They would make a fascinating team. Otherwise “Endeavour” would be the sole heir to the Morse legacy.
Part of the appeal of the “Inspector Lewis” series, and in particular, in the three first-class final episodes, is the way in which the writers manage to weave so deftly the personal with the professional. Usually, I’m disappointed by time wasted on TV detectives’ private lives, since I’m normally involved only in the mystery. But not so with “Lewis,” where the universality of the characters’ lives, bolstered by fine acting, rises above the trite problems of most television detectives.
Kevin Whately said in an interview, “I like to be bemused by things that have more to them than meets the eye. We’ve always, on Morse and now Lewis, thought of our storylines less as whodunits and more as ways of looking at the human condition.”
Emily S. Mendel
©Emily S. Mendel 2016. All Rights Reserved.