Lazaretto opens into a hospital with a shot of what looks like an operating table in the limelight. Cut to earphones – a patient is listening to music. The scene shifts to show us an in-house radio station for the hospital, run by a bespectacled young man, a volunteer librarian at the hospital, we later learn. The opening sequence shifts to a nurse tying a tag on a patient’s toe – a sure sign he’s dead. And the corpse is wheeled to the mortuary in a set of shots that scream creepy.
A ‘lazaretto’ was where sailors were quarantined to control cholera or plague outbreaks on ships. Infected as well as healthy but suspected cases were lodged together in cramped quarters. A death sentence from which there was no escape, sometimes.
This episode of the British crime series, Endeavour, is set in a hospital. Bed 10, at Cowley General Hospital, is a death sentence. On this bed, in Fosdick Ward, three patients have died in the past five weeks. Even the chief surgeon finds it fishy as most of those patients were recovering well.
As luck will have it, a certain Terence Bakewell is brought to the hospital. This man was part of a bank robber gang. He decided to turn informant against the gang and was safely in prison. However, in the hospital, the gang might find a way to kill him for his betrayal. Detective Inspector Thursday is anxious and Detective Constable Morse and other detectives play bodyguard.
Now, we know that Bed 10 is fatal to its occupants and we groan when Bakewell is put there. And in handcuffs … As it happens, a gossipy patient, Mr. Talbot, has things to tell Morse about Bed 10.
The bank robbery in question was the shattering climax of Series Two. Joan, DI Thursday’s daughter, was in the bank when it happened and ran away from home, soon after, blaming herself for endangering her policeman father who had bravely but recklessly confronted the gangsters.
So, Thursday is quite justifiably tense about the prisoner in the hospital. To make things merrier, Chief Superintendent Bright is also hospitalised for an ulcer. Thursday, with enough on his plate, now has to play boss, a role he’s not happy with as it prevents him from focusing on protecting the informant.
Meanwhile, Morse is called to look into what seems like an accidental death. An old lady, a Mrs Zacharides, is found lying dead in her house, surrounded by strewn papers and belongings. A seizure or foul play?
Nothing links her to the hospital until her daughter mentions that her husband died in Bed 10, months back. Mrs Zacharides suspected hospital staff of stealing his things. And she made such a fuss that she was not allowed into the hospital. The daughter mentions that her mother had got a letter from someone at the hospital and was expecting that person on the day she died but there is no sign of the letter.
At the hospital, the list of suspects mounts as does the body count. Sister Clodagh McMahon exchanges conspiratorial glances with Dean Powell, the surgeon who is locking horns with the chief surgeon, Sir Merlyn Chubb. Powell and staff feel that Chubb is messing up as his hands shake a lot – a bad thing in a surgeon. Morse decides to investigate. Nestling, in the bouquet of clues, are the white sweet pea flowers placed on Bed 10 after each death.
Typically, in an Endeavour episode, the closing credits carry a hidden message – in this case, the name of Henry Eckford, the Scottish horticulturalist who bred the flower.
Endeavour is based on another British crime show, Morse.
Who is Morse? He’s Endeavour in the later years. After the success of the series and of an offshoot, Lewis, Endeavour was made to delight us with the adventures of a younger Morse. We can see most of the signs characteristic of the older man in Endeavour: a fondness for drink and Wagner’s music.
Morse and offshoots are created from the novels of Colin Dexter.
Until recently, Colin would put in an appearance in all the shows. In this episode he’s there as a caricature, in a picture on the hospital wall. The delight of fans is to spot him in the shows.
Endeavour Morse shares some of the author’s tastes. Besides Wagner’s music, he is fond of crosswords. Indeed, solving a murder mystery involves chasing clues. And Morse minds all kinds of disparate clues to tackle the complexity of crime. The show itself regularly sports a clue in the credits. Here, it was the name of the famous flower breeder.
However, life is not a bed of roses for Morse. Unlike the author, who seems to have had a happy married life, Endeavour has a weakness where it comes to women, and a part of the enjoyment of the show is his love life. Lazaretto is studded with Morse’s women. The one he once loved and lost. His nurse neighbour with whom he’s had a fling. And Joan with whom he’s secretly smitten, and who appears merely fond of him. It’s been weeks since she left home.
In this episode, Morse tracks her down but cannot persuade her to return. She, on the other hand, extracts a promise from him not to tell her parents anything. What is worse is that, as he leaves, he sees a man about to visit her. A man who’s taking off his wedding ring … The sequence has a memorable moment where Morse and Joan’s passion for each other simmers big time.
Joan has come between DI Thursday and DC Morse. Thursday is like a father figure for the reclusive Morse but, of late, sparks are flying between them. Morse can’t stomach Thursday’s penchant for violence.
Thursday’s plate is full with playing boss till Bright is better, trying to protect the informant, agonising over his daughter’s disappearance. He is also distraught about Win, his wife – she’s sinking into a depression. She hasn’t even made him his lunch sandwiches which marked the days of the week in earlier episodes. Fred Thursday appears no longer capable of living up to her words in Coda:
Fred will sort it. He always does.
Both Thursday and Endeavour are learning to get along without love.
One of the many charms of Endeavour, Morse and Lewis is that they are all interrelated. In Lazaretto, the mother of Susan, whom Morse once loved, bumps into him at the hospital. The mother’s character – played by another actress – also appears in an episode of Morse. It is these little things which create fertile feeding grounds for fans.
Another such interpolation is a thriller in the hospital library, authored by Kent Finn. The fictional novelist had appeared in an earlier episode, Game.
Endeavour, like actor Shaun Evans, who plays him, is from a humble background – a fact of significance in the Britain of those days where aristocrats still commanded some respect. To add fuel to that fire, he is agnostic with a sharp brain, rich with classical education. And yet it’s a struggle for him in the career. He has stood up to authority and pays the price. Though he’s bitter, his stance and brilliance are beginning to win him the respect of colleagues and even that of the bigot, Police Chief Superintendent Bright.
Director Börkur Sigþórsson of Trapped brings legendary Icelandic skills to the task, lending stylish doom and gloom to this British drama.
Russel Lewis writes almost all the Morse and Morse offshoots and tends to enjoy referencing, especially from the world of cinema. Lazaretto’s lugubriousness is nicely balanced by with a gentle throwback to the hilarious Carry On‘s Doctor series which are ripe with nurse-doctor romances.
The episode wraps up with a shot with which we have become familiar: a pair of gnarled old hands dealing out tarot cards. A clue to the episode that follows?
Or just one of the many red herrings that garnish the show, like the talking parrot who can only squawk
Evil Old Cow
With each episode, and even on a second watching, my respect for everyone involved in the making of Endeavour grows. Nasir Hamid has a fine photo piece on the shooting of the episode.
My endeavour is to get the show aired in India for it will surely be better inspiration than the stuff we routinely get from the US.