Of course, Morse had to die in 2000. When John Thaw was diagnosed with cancer, there was no option other than for Inspector Morse to die.
It would have been unthinkable that anyone else might have played the part. To have given the part to another actor would not have worked, Thaw captured Morse so perfectly that his face and character would fill the pages of Colin Dexter’s novels.
Remorseful Day was the final novel and television episode. Morse dies through a massive cardiac arrest.
“Inspector Morse is dead,” shouts Lewis at someone who demanded to see his superior. It was the line that marked the end.
Someone I knew wept at the death of Morse. It was not hard to understand why.
Irascible, frequently arrogant, intolerant, obscurantist, intellectual snob, Morse was a real person, perhaps more real than many people encountered in everyday life. He was rude, he got things wrong, he struggled to say sorry, he was someone recognizable.
There was another Morse though, the stoic philosopher, the contrarian thinker, the man prepared to stand alone.
Sometimes, often at the end of an episode, Morse would sit with a beer glass in hand and reflect on a case. There would be profound insights into human nature. One episode offered the best understanding of teen depression and suicidal ideation I have ever encountered.
Lewis could not continue that tradition. Lewis was never such a character.
Glimpses of the wisdom of which the late Colin Dexter would have approved is now to be found in Endeavour. But it is not the young Morse who gets the best lines, but the world-weary Inspector Thursday.
At the conclusion of the episode Scherzo, Thursday is in a mood to chide his junior officer. Sitting on a bench, in a pub garden, Morse is dismissive of the victims in the story and is given a kindly rebuke by Thursday
” . . .they mean nothing to anyone.
“Except to us. They mean something to us. To me, at least. I’d have said to you, too, once.”
“Well, I’m not the fool I was.”
“I quite liked that fool. He hoped for the best in people.”
“Surely, it’s better to see things as they are. People make bad choices, they have to pay the consequences.”
“What about pity, understanding? Where does that fit into the picture?”
“I’m not here to . . . kiss the wounded. I’m here to make sure justice gets done. The rest I can leave to the likes of Father Mahoney, for all the good it did him.”
“Well… I’m sure you know best. Another beer? Or are you bitter enough?
“No, I won’t. I’ve got something on tonight.”
“We’re who we are, Morse. Our nature…we can try to escape it. But it’ll find us out in the end. A man’s what he is. Whether he likes it or not.”