FAMOUS LAST WORDS
Inspector Morse (2000)
Morse’s tragic TV sign-off.
Killing off major characters has almost become part of the formula, but it used to be a rarity. When Chief Inspector Morse died of cardiac failure in November 2000, it was like the loss of a favourite uncle. The death of Morse was an occasion for national mourning, although there had been a dry run with Colin Dexter’s 1999 novel The Remorseful Day. Around 13.5 million viewers watched John Thaw’s moving portrayal of the solitary, poetry-quoting copper coming to terms with mortality.
Despite the elegiac edge to The Remorseful Day, it still has the pleasure of familiarity for Morse fans. As well as crosswords and opera, Morse famously has a fondness for real ale. Drinking helps Morse to think, as he reminds DS Lewis, who – not for the first time – questions the senior officer’s tally of alcohol units. But with his health failing Morse knows his days are already numbered, and so do we when he starts quoting poetry by A.E. Housman and tries to foist Wagner onto Lewis one more time. “It’s about important things – life and death, regret,” says the older man as he contemplates a purposeless and lonely retirement.
“Cheer up, sir, it’s a lovely evening,” says Lewis as they sit together watching the sunset. Their father-son dynamic is at the heart of the series, and the poignancy of Morse’s final days essentially comes down to the shared belief that each man owes the other a debt of gratitude.
When Morse suffers his collapse on the lawn of Exeter College, he looks terrible; the agony etched on his face is in contrast to the serene setting of the front quad. He lingers on a little longer in hospital – and even manages to solve the case in the midst of a heart attack. The detective is touchingly grumpy with Lewis, who’s instructed not to fuss with his pillow. Morse seems to be letting go and when his heart finally gives out, he utters a final message for Chief Superintendent Strange to pass on: “Thank Lewis for me”.
If you don’t shed a tear at the death of Morse, Kevin Whately’s performance as Lewis in mourning should do the trick. Having left Morse to arrest their suspect at a London airport, a shattered Lewis receives the call and confirms the news over the roar of an aeroplane: “Inspector Morse is dead.”
For the final scene, he attends the body of his boss in the morgue, draws back the sheet and touches his lips to Morse’s forehead. “Goodbye, sir,” says Lewis, managing to express the depth of their chalk-and-cheese relationship in a kiss and a couple of words.
“If you don’t shed a tear at the death of Morse, Lewis in mourning should do the trick.”