One of my not-so-guilty pleasures on Sunday evenings is watching PBS-TV’s Masterpiece Mystery. By far, my favorite show in the series has been Endeavor, the story of a brilliant, Latin-and-literature-quoting, crossword puzzle-loving young detective in Oxford, England named Morse. Morse, however, never uses his given name of Endeavor. “Morse, just Morse,” he says whenever asked his name.
I’ve been in a funk this week because last Sunday marked the series finale after nine wonderfully winding, twisty and entertaining seasons. Often the plots were so intricate that I had to watch an episode over more than once on my computer. As a result, I’d catch myself referring to friends as “Matey” in the manner of Detective Sergeant Jim Strange, or bidding farewell with “Mind how you go,” the favored salutation of another of the show’s main characters, Chief Detective Fred Thursday.
Crazy as it might sound, I also drew many spiritual insights from Endeavor. Many emerged from the mentoring relationship between the young Morse and his seasoned supervisor, Thursday — a hard-bitten, World War II veteran with a heart for crime victims and a passion for setting wrongs right. Thursday becomes not only a father figure stand-in for Morse’s emotionally distant and critical father, who appears only from time to time in the series, but he is also a kind of moral compass for the young detective. You might say Thursday is a kind of spiritual director.
Morse’s relationship with Thursday reminds me of all the people who stepped in to become parent figures for me, possessing qualities that my own wonderful, well-meaning parents lacked.
The Morse-Thursday relationship recalls mentors in my own life and career. People like James C.G. Conniff, who was my writing teacher at St. Peter’s University in New Jersey. Prof. Conniff was the model of a dogged and talented writer. I kept a piece of his advice taped to my desks at both The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, words that continue to guide me in my writing career:
“Be a pro. The differentiating note between that status and something less is mercilessly hard work and total dependability. Most people don’t have what it takes.”
I wanted to emulate James Conniff, someone who had what it takes.
Endeavor is also fascinating in how the individual detectives (largely all men, as the period of the show is 1965 to 1972) gradually bond over the years. They evolve from people with disparate personalities and interests — often in competition with one another — into a cohesive unit that cares for each other’s well-being. Their bonding increases particularly after they are forced to investigate the murder of one of their unit members during a crime syndicate ambush.
The characters’ interaction remind me of a line in The Rule of St. Benedict I often quote to myself when I’m feeling impatient or frustrated with others: Be the first to show respect to the other, bearing with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior.
It’s not that the detectives and their mentors always agree. They quarrel and get frustrated, but you always have the sense that it is because they care, they are passionate about what they do. That reflects the atmosphere in of some of the best newsrooms I’ve worked in. By contrast, the most toxic newsrooms I’ve worked in were those were my supervisors cared more safeguarding their own authority and advancing their own careers, than in helping those under their supervision to grow and contribute. Similar characters show up in Endeavor as corrupt cops and administrators.
Fortunately, as this is TV, good wins out in the end.
The show is chock full of great moments of life advice, like this exchange between Morse and Thursday as they look out on a bright morning following a blizzardy night in which Morse narrowly escapes being killed in a kidnap situation and afterward decides to confront a drinking problem that has developed over the course of several rough cases:
Morse: “Beginning to thaw.”
Thursday: “Sun always comes up. Just got to hold on for it a bit longer sometimes. That’s all.”
I often think of that line when things don’t seem to be going my way.
And this is from a scene in the season finale in which the colleague of an Oxford professor who has died suddenly remarks:
“I shall miss him dreadfully and always … We should tell people if they mean something to us, don’t you think, before it’s too late?”
The scene is poignant because Morse seems largely incapable of telling others how he feels. As a result, the woman he loves — Thursday’s daughter Joan — slowly slips away from him into the arms of another man.
Screenwriter Russell Lewis based the main character of Endeavor on an older, more crotchety — and in my view, far less loveable — Morse, who is the main character in author Colin Dester’s Inspector Morse series of detective stories. I never much enjoyed the Inspector Morse series that aired on PBS from 1987 to 1993. The older Morse’s mistreatment of colleagues and haughty attitude toward most other people remind me too much of the worst newsrooms I’ve worked in.
I have a mind to watch all nine seasons of Endeavor over again on PBS Passport, being careful to watch for the cleverly hidden clues that Russell Lewis drops throughout each episode. Watching Morse and Thursday, I will remember the mentors who have meant so much to me.
I will recall as well Thursday’s commentthat the sun always returns, even if it takes a bit longer sometimes. In the meantime, as Thursday would say, I’ll mind how I go.