Warning: contains spoilers for Endeavour season 7.
In the closing moments of Endeavour’s seventh season, Morse lost the woman he loved. Violetta (Stephanie Leonidas) died in his arms after sacrificing her life by jumping in front of the bullet her husband Ludo meant for Morse. If it weren’t for Fred Thursday, Morse might well have followed her. Fearing his bagman was in danger, Fred had left his and Win’s Christmas celebrations and rushed to Venice, where he saved Morse’s life by shooting the villainous Ludo, who fell – apparently dead – into a canal.
Before Morse lost Violetta, he came very close to losing Fred too. Over the year that season seven’s episodes ‘Oracle’, ‘Raga’ and ‘Zenana’ unfurled, a chilly distance developed between the pair. It culminated in a stand-up fight over a dead body, a telling off from both Max de Bryn and Jim Strange, Morse requesting a transfer to Kidlington, and Fred making Cyril his new bagman. Were it not for Morse’s letter of apology and Fred’s last-minute rescue, 1970 and season 8 would have kicked off with the duo separated – as fans know one day they must be. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Morse in Venice
Still suffering from the aftermath of George Fancy’s murder in the season 5 finale, and the unveiling of corrupt police officers Jago and Box in season 6, Season 7 found Morse attempting to escape it all while on leave in Venice over New Year 1969. At the opera, he met and began an affair with Violetta, who turned out to be the wife and coerced criminal partner of Ludo Talenti (Ryan Gage). Back in Oxford some months later, Ludo pulled strings to ‘accidentally’ run into and befriend Morse, planning to use him as his “pet policeman” to aid his criminal schemes. Morse initially resisted Violetta back in England but, convinced of her love for him and unhappiness with Ludo, eventually they continued their affair and met up in what she said was the house of a dancer friend who was away travelling. Morse kept his affair with Violetta secret from mentor Fred for obvious reasons, and his evasiveness about where he was going and who he was seeing widened the growing gulf between them.
Ludo’s criminal scheme involved the purchase of life insurance policies from individuals whose deaths he and Violetta would then engineer to look like accidents to claim the pay-out. They posed as visitors to people’s homes and sabotaged equipment to bring about their deaths. Countless victims died in this way, undetected until journalist Dorothea Frazil (Abigail Thaw) theorised that these accidents were no such thing. She brought her findings to Morse, who passed them on to Fred, who dismissed the theory out of hand… quite wrongly, as it turned out.
Fred and Endeavour Lock Horns
Fred did have his reasons. He was keen not to over-indulge Morse’s belief in his superior detective skills after he and Morse disagreed over the identity of ‘The Towpath Killer’. Morse undermined Fred’s rank by publicly suggesting that he was wrong about Carl Sturgis being responsible for a series of murders next to a local canal. Fred felt instinctively that Sturgis was the culprit, but Superintendent Bright allowed Morse to re-examine the evidence, driving a wedge between Fred and Morse. Endeavour’s arrogance made matters worse, and when another body was killed while Sturgis was in custody, Fred felt the sting of being ‘proven’ wrong when Sturgis was released. “I am a bagman, not a yes man, I’m here to keep you on the straight and narrow,” Morse told Thursday.
(After Fred’s stymied attempt to retire in the past, Joan’s relationship troubles and Win’s depression, his bust-up with Morse and this latest series of murders took their toll on Fred. He attempted to bring a little light into his life by buying a pair of canaries as a distraction from it all, hoping that Win would join him in looking after them.)
Of course, both Fred and Endeavour were right after a fashion. Carl Sturgis had murdered the first two victims and the fourth, but he hadn’t killed the third – that was an act of manslaughter dressed up to look like part of the serial killings to escape detection.
Jim Strange Stabbed and Ludo Unveiled
In a major coincidence, Sturgis was squatting in the home vacated by of one of Ludo’s insurance scheme victims. Endeavour had shared his ‘accidents’ theory with Jim Strange, who investigated the property and discovered Sturgis there, holding his estranged sister hostage. In the struggle, the girl was freed, Strange was non-fatally stabbed and Morse killed Sturgis by pushing him down the stairs.
Morse linked Ludo to the insurance murders when he traced the company that had bought the policies and realised that an early victim was the owner of the house where he and Violetta had conducted their affair. Heartbreakingly, he also realised that Carrie Bright, the Superintendent’s wife, had been another of Ludo’s victims. Carrie had been in remission from lung cancer when Ludo bought up her insurance policy and then visited her home in the guise of a faith healer. While there, he sabotaged her Christmas lights to fatally electrocute her, leaving poor Reg Bright (Anton Lesser) a widower.
Morse gathered up all the evidence linking Ludo to the ‘accidental’ deaths and sent it to Miss Joan Thursday to pass on to Fred along with a heartfelt apology before going to Venice to seek out Violetta and Ludo. In his letter, Morse took the full blame for falling out with Fred and called Thursday “ever the best and wisest of men”. Win opened the letter (Joan didn’t appear at all in season 7), Fred read it and immediately pursued Morse to Venice. There, Fred saved Morse’s life but nobody could save Violetta’s. Just before she died, she told Morse that despite the subterfuge, their love for each other was real: “It was true, us, always. Ti amo.”
Dark Times for Endeavour Morse
And so to Season 8. It’s 1970, the beginning of a new decade. The transfer to Kidlington is forgotten, and Morse and Fred are newly reunited. Morse, however, is left heart-broken over his tragic love affair and falling for the betrayal of his ‘friend’ Ludo. As he slowly renovates the house that will become familiar to fans of Inspector Morse, can he also refurbish himself, or will the despair and his increasing reliance on alcohol take him down an even darker path?
Endeavour Season 8 starts on PBS Masterpiece in the US on Sunday the 19th of June.