This past Sunday a group of fans began a watch-along for the Inspector Lewis program. Because I’m ideally going to be watching all 33 episodes this year, this gives me a great opportunity to talk about a series that has my whole heart. When I’m not watching horror movies, I’m watching mysteries, and Lewis is up there among my all time comfort shows. Because the watch-alongs include a chat, this will be the only episode I post about after the watch-along takes place, because I want all fan theories I post here to be my own and man, that chat gets deep into the theory. I love it! Some chats can be super annoying, like when the Joe Bob Briggs fandom runs a joke into the ground about how much they hate the doomed five year old child in Lucio Fulci’s blood soaked Shining homage House By The Cemetery. The Morse fandom ain’t that. This past Sunday we ended up talking about Shakespeare and E.M. Forster, all while making jokes that were still funny about one of the main red herrings in the pilot.
Being an American, I’m going to have to say “season” for a group of shows that took place in one year, and “series” for the whole kit and caboodle. The Lewis pilot takes place between the final season of Inspector Morse and the eventual first season of Inspector Lewis, and as pilots often do, it feels different from the eventual series. This might be an assessment with the benefit of hindsight, however, because here in the streaming era this pilot is always presented separately on a different service from the other episodes, which makes me think they had different production companies. And we all know what different companies can do to a show, as evidenced by changes in other popular long running programs such as Doc Martin and Poirot over the years.
I was aware of Inspector Morse in the 80s and 90s, and might have watched an episode or two, so this pilot wasn’t made specifically for me. But if you had been watching Morse the whole time, this pilot would have been “old home week” as we say in the south. People must have been watching their old VHS copies of Morse, or waiting for reruns, from 2000 when the Morse character died until 2006 when his journeyman sidekick Sergeant Lewis appeared again, now an inspector, with his own eponymous show and a sidekick of his own.
The twist is that while Lewis is a little older and more bitter, he’s still an affable working class copper, and so they brought in a Morse-like intellectual in Hathaway; Hathaway’s main backstory at this point is that, like Morse, he didn’t finish college but is brilliant at solving crimes when they’re framed as puzzles. He was unfortunately chucked out of Cambridge, seminary in fact, instead of Oxford, which is called back to throughout the many years of the series because the Morse Universe turns on the fact that Oxford dons think the sun shines out of their Bodleians, and that the Thames Valley Cop Shop is there to make sure they don’t literally get away with murder.
Basically, the Lewis pilot is here to do three things: update us on Lewis, whose wife was killed by a hit and run driver which means he’s rightly pissed off at God, leading to conflict with his “God botherer” of a new sergeant. Also to bring in the two most important new characters: Hathaway and an obstructionist female boss. Hathaway didn’t get to be a priest and he’s kind of an ass, the boss is posh and a bit naive about real policing which might be why her name is literally Innocent. Innocent does get to be one of my favorite characters on the show and has some of the best hilariously caustic lines, but she’s a pencil-pushing Oxford-educated cop which in this world only serves to give her high class friends at Oxford that we must charge with murder without hurting their feelings and also while not spending too much money. See also, Mr. Mullet in A Touch of Frost. And most importantly, the pilot is here to show us that Lewis can crack cases as an inspector now because he learned from the boozy, opera loving, crossword solving, sonofagun himself, Morse. There’s a lot of help from many references to Morse himself, including the very useful fact that the case is tangentially related to a case Morse worked on, but which we’re only told about by one of the suspects. By which I mean it was never a case featured in the old series. Also, we have from the case file a scrap of a crossword Morse was working on which contains a clue to who didn’t do it in the old case or the current case.
What is the case about anyway, since I’ve put the mystery of the week third or fourth down on the list of reasons this pilot exists? An American math genius/student (with the worst American accent this side of Mitchell and Webb saying “Boss Hogg”) is shot in the head while asleep in a sleep study at Oxford. This is a sleep study run by a woman called Dr. Jekyll of all things. The deceased student is played by Big Suze from Peep Show, here named Regan because John Thaw/Morse played Jack Regan in The Sweeney. I learned that Sweeney trivia in the Sunday chat.
Anyway, Regan was acquainted with a family who owns a sports car company that’s about to be merged with a Japanese company, and whose controlling (as in stock, not personality) owner was killed in a mysterious crash some time before and investigated by Morse off screen. That driver’s widow is played by Jemma Redgrave as a sweet and hapless but secretive mom; this widow/mom thought very highly of Morse to the point that she gets mad at Lewis for doing his investigation and compares Morse’s people skills positively relative to Lewis’s own people skills, and that’s not the way of the Morse universe at all because if anything Lewis was there to use his “famous Northern charm” to ease info out of suspects and always chit chatted too much for Morse’s liking.
If Morse had any soft skills at all, it was wasted on trying to romance suspects or witnesses, unfortunately, and that tradition will continue with Lewis and Hathaway as we shall soon see. (And when Morse wasn’t trying it on with a woman, he was hilariously apologizing to a man he had wrongfully accused as in the Morse episode Driven to Distraction. No one played lovably awkward like John Thaw.) The shoehorned Dr. Jekyll soon falls by the wayside but I’m told (also by chat) that she was meant to be a regular character and a friend and maybe more to Lewis. Here we see her running into him at the grocery store where she also helps him pick out a shirt for some reason, giving him a sleeping pill that she definitely has no business just handing out to someone she runs into at the store, and buying him an ice cream later towards the end of the show.
And by the way, will people on murder shows never learn not to take food and drink and pills from suspected murderers? This is a trope that was famously pointed out by Hermione Norris’s character in the pilot of Agatha Raisin: if you suspect someone of murder, don’t eat or drink things they bring you.
Also, it’s not only men on TV who get involved with suspects, as seen in the show D.C.I. Banks when the woman sergeant heats things up with an arsonist in season one. And a woman cop did something similar with disastrous results in season one of London Kills. It’s a trope in most cop shows. Monsieur Poirot even did it once. But it does happen an awful lot in the Morse universe, and seems to be shorthand for their difficulties with human relations beyond nicking people. In fact, the ladies in question end up purposely confusing the detectives and are rarely the killers anyway. But they’re often accessories! I’m going to stop talking about this, other than to say that just now as I edit I realize Jekyll giving Lewis a pill probably foreshadows someone making a deadly concoction of a drink at the conclusion of the show.
Back to the car company dynasty, Jemma Redgrave also has a son who thinks his mom is banging his uncle. The son is supposed to soon take over the company, but it is not to be. Similar to the American nighttime soap Dallas, everyone associated with the company lives in a big ol’ house so it’s not clear who is banging whom, but it is for sure that some more of the characters are going out with a bang because now someone has been shot while in the shower and it’s not a dream. Then someone else seems to have shot themselves. I say seems to have because the big mystery is nothing to do with the family drama but the college instead. And even though we’ve seen shades of the sad conclusion before (specifically in the pilot episode of arguably the greatest Morse homage A Touch of Frost of all places), dare I say that the final solution to the whole equation is not by the numbers. Except that it literally is. Math. Maths if you’re British. Ms. Jackson if you’re nasty.
As I said, I’d like to write about the other episodes of Lewis as the watch-along goes along, but ahead of them, so I think I will just do them on either Friday or Saturday going forward. That means you will see another post from me this week, this time on the first regular-season episode.
P.S. Because I wasn’t sure where to work it in, mostly because I constantly confused the uncle character with the “living in the house for business purposes” character, Danny Webb is one of the players here, also known as the guy who starred in the Yes video where there are people turning into birds and holding snakes and he jumps off a tall building. Those Yes videos scared the crap out of me in the MTV days. I like to make horror connections. Which also reminds me that I first encountered Jemma Redgrave in an interesting but flawed horror movie called Dream Demon which I recommend to those who have seen all the other horror movies from the 80s.
P.P.S. I’m going to address the problem with the Hathaway character only once. The actor who plays him has gone Bodmin in a political sense. The whole point of democracy is that everyone gets to have their own stupid opinions, and we all vote, but this is probably a permanent heel turn for the actor. It’s saddest for selfish reasons because most of us in the fandom thought the show would continue with Hathaway having his own series. Although come to think of it, the Star Trek fandom makes shows all the time that aren’t canon, using their own money to do it, just for the love of the universe. There’s a fabulous Star Trek fan studio about five miles from my house, as a matter of fact. So I don’t see why Morse fans couldn’t write and produce a Hathaway series with a different actor anyway. Who would you cast in the role of a bookish but dishy mid 40s former smoker not-priest scholar turned inspector?