Thursday, July 12, 2012

Inspector Lewis: The Soul of Genius

Inspector Lewis at long-last returned to television screens with its fifth series of new cases to solve on Masterpiece Mystery, beginning with The Soul of Genius. This is an episode with a literary flair that reaches back in time to touch on the loss of Lewis's wife -- the tragedy that has in no small way informed the man he is today -- and in doing so examine just how far the series' titular sleuth has come. Here's the brief episode summary from the PBS website:
What is a snark? This is just one of the many unanswered questions Inspector Lewis must ask when botanist Liz Nash accidentally unearths the recently buried body of an English professor obsessed with the Lewis Carroll poem, The Hunting of the Snark. Locked in bitter rivalry with his brother, professor Murray Hawes was fixed on solving a legendary riddle hidden in Carroll's philosophical story of an impossible quest for the unknowable. The search for Murray's killer launches Lewis and Hathaway on an impossible quest of their own, taking them from Oxford's botanical gardens to the evidence wall of an interfering amateur sleuth. But when a prime suspect is killed and a secret society is exposed, Lewis and Hathaway intensify their hunt not for the unknowable, but for an all-too-real killer. Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox star alongside James Fleet (Little Dorrit) and Celia Imrie (Cranford) in The Soul of Genius. (90 minutes; TV-PG)
This series is one of the most satisfying productions Masterpiece has ever produced, with consistently high production values, smart scripts, and engaging characters. In other words, the powers that be behind this show know what works and what doesn't. :) And the biggest draw of this series for me is the manner in which the relationship between Lewis (Kevin Whately) and his sergeant Hathaway (Laurence Fox) has been developed. Over the course of this long-running production we've see Lewis and Hathaway move from barely tolerating each other (one has to wonder if Lewis ever perhaps felt that Hathaway was Morse come back to "haunt" him, as the two cerebral, classics-loving officers bear more than a  passing resemblance to each other -- though Hathaway is decidedly less grumpy) to genuine respect and appreciation for the ways in which their varied backgrounds and points-of-view complement their partnership. Last year's season saw Lewis and Hathaway reach a new level of ease in their partnership as the two men have become fast friends, freeing them to needle and annoy each other at will. The Soul of Genius makes it abundantly clear that this sense of camaraderie is still very much a vital part of what makes this show work oh so well -- Lewis and Hathaway, people, they never get old.

The Soul of Genius opens with a young botanist, Liv Nash (Nadine Lewington), leading a group of volunteers on  quest to eradicate some sort of pestilential plant. But Liv and her crew make a discovery of another, and wholly unpleasant kind, when they unearth the corpse of a murder victim -- one Oxford English professor named Murray Hawes. Hawes was a frequent visitor to the Botanical Gardens, something of an eccentric well-known for his obsession with Lewis Carroll's enigmatic poem, The Hunting of the Snark. In attempting to describe the allure of the Snark and its mysteries to Lewis, Hathaway describes the poem as an "impossible quest" with an unknown end in sight, the danger being in discovering what the unknown is -- the type of intellectual and philosophical puzzle that can drive a person mad.

Murray was survived by his brother Conor (Alex Jennings), a chaplain and tutor at Oxford's Carlyle College. The brothers apparently had a very testy relationship history, particularly since Murray was apparently the favored son, leaving Conor to fester in jealousy and insecurity. Two of Conor's pupils were seen near the Botanical Gardens when Murray's body was discovered -- self-style postmodernists Mia (Daisy May) and Vincent (Oliver Johnstone), a.k.a. the most obvious intellectual posers in the history of recent cinema (I mean hello, they took their names from friggin' Pulp Fiction). Mia and Vincent are obsessed with gaining admittance into the Wednesday Club, a legendary, secretive organization for geniuses at Oxford.

Lewis and Hathaway quickly discover a third line of inquiry when an amateur investigator, Michelle Marber (Celia Imrie), suggests that Murray's death is connected with the work of Dr. Alex Falconer (James Fleet). Falconer is a scientist with an aristocratic background who works at the Davy Institute of Clinical Medicine -- a research facility where Murray frequently participated in drug trials, earning money to support his Snark research. Jean Innocent (Rebecca Front), Lewis and Hathaway's no-nonsense boss, has a funnier-than-usual appearance when she tells the detectives to "deal" with Michelle, who she very obviously writes off as a nutter. Michelle blames Falconer for her son Stevie's death -- a brilliant student who worked as Falconer's research assistant. Falconer's possible connection to the case circles back to the Botanical Gardens, as Lewis and Hathaway discover that he's been having an affair -- never mind his sickly wife Thea (Annabel Mullion)! -- with Professor Helena Wright (Matilda Ziegler), head of the Garden and the boss of Liv the botanist who discovered Murray's body.

And with that set-up we're given what Lewis does best -- delivering twisty, multi-layered plots, laced with enough red herrings to make one's head spin. :) The modus operandi of this program might best be described by Sir Walter Scott's line "oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive," as nothing is ever as straightforward in these investigations as the down-to-earth Lewis would like. I love spotting familiar acting talent in each episode's cast. This installment features a pair of Cranford veterans -- Jennings played the Reverend Hutton throughout the series, while Imrie played Lady Glenmire in a single episode. James Fleet is another Masterpiece veteran, who memorably portrayed Frederick Dorrit in the Little Dorrit miniseries, and the delightfully flaky Hugo in The Vicar of Dibley.

This investigation is laced with some absolutely superb Hathaway/Lewis moments, a fantastic illustration of just how far this duo have come has regards their partnership and friendship. Lewis's concern for his younger partner takes on an almost fatherly tone when he sees, once again, the toll the investigation takes on Hathaway's well-being. The latter's intellect and quiet demeanor set him apart, but when Lewis encourages him to break the cycle of loneliness, I seriously cheered. For a man who has battled his own personal demons extensively over the course of the series, this episode gives Lewis a chance to mentor not only Hathaway but to also sow what he's learned through his experiences with grief and loss into the life of Michelle. Watching Lewis willingly revisit the painful loss of his wife in order to help another through their grief -- it was a fantastically well-acted, incredibly moving scene, underscoring Lewis's compassionate nature. He may not have the most patience when it comes to Oxford's intellectual elites, but having known the pain of sudden, inexplicable loss, he can understand the toll of grief.

Hathaway reminded me powerfully of Morse in this episode -- not only because the Endeavour prequel film recently aired, but because since last season of Lewis I've had the chance to immerse myself in the Morse series. Like his predecessor, Hathaway is extraordinarily smart, loves the classics -- a bit of an odd-man out when it comes to the typical pastimes of his peers, leaving him rather isolated. And -- most adorably! -- he's completely hopeless when it comes to women. This episode gives me hope that perhaps that aspect of Hathaway's life will change, as he is clearly smitten when he meets Liv the botanist but he has NO IDEA how to manage a casual conversation. I love that he is so struck by a woman who is, at first blush, his complete opposite -- suits vs. work clothes, gardening vs. classic texts. But Liv is every bit as whip-smart as Hathaway when it comes to common sense, observation skills, and a vast knowledge of the history and purpose of plants and their uses, which proves critical to the resolution of the murder investigation. I can only hope that someday she makes a return appearance for Hathaway's sake. Also, the moment when Hathaway BOWS to her? I nearly died that was so absolutely, wonderful, perfect! :)

Some spoilers ahead! For the most part I was quite pleased with how the resolution of this mystery unfolded, though I do wonder if we'll discover additional scenes on the DVD release, since I feel like the Conor/Wednesday Club storyline and their somewhat tenuous connection to Murray's death were explained in a bit of a haphazard fashion. I did, however, love how the story's love triangle was so unbelievably twisted. This show does twisty, complex personal motivations for murder oh-so-well. *wink* Not only does this script give us illegal secret drug tests, but the tests are run by a man whose mistress is helping him try to find the cure for his wife's cancer, and somehow the sick wife is OKAY WITH ALL OF THIS because she didn't want her husband to be alone after she died. NEVERMIND THAT HE WAS KILLING PEOPLE, apparently! Gotta love the crazy Lewis and Hathaway run into! :P

I'd love to hear your thoughts on Lewis and Hathaway's most welcome return to TV screens! I hope that the next few episodes will feature more of coroner Laura Hobson (Clare Holman), and perhaps a little forward momentum on her oh. so. S-L-O-W burning will-they-or-won't-they romance with Lewis. Unless I'm forgetting something (and given how this week has been going, that is HIGHLY possible), I really felt like she didn't have much screentime in this episode. That said the Hathaway moments were priceless. :)


Anne Mateer said...

Like you, I loved watching Endeavor and seeing how they've sandwiched Lewis between two men so very much alike. I felt like this episode in particular gave us so many more hints abou the inner workings of these two stoic men--and I loved that! The mystery had me all twisted around and somewhat surprised at the end, so that's always good, too. Can't wait for the next one!

Heidenkind said...

I loved that love triangle! Now THAT'S how you do a love triangle--so twisty. :)

I love that scene where Hathaway bowed. I can't believe he didn't ask the botanist out. If Endeavor has more game than you do, you need to consider internet dating or something.

Unknown said...

@Anne - Oh yay, so happy you enjoyed Endeavour too! I will blog about it (eventually, lol!). I love Lewis and Hathaway and their friendship SO MUCH. It has been a treasure to watch it develop. Looking forward to a new episode this weekend!

@Tasha - Seriously. When this show goes twisty they deliver. ;) And I laughed SO HARD at your Endeavour comment...that is so, so true! LOL! :)

Unknown said...

I would love to know the words spoken by Hathaway that caught the awful professor's attention just after he had quoted 'eat, drink, and be merry' . . . I have listened 4 or 5 times but can't make out Hathaway's words . . . The professor's follow-up was 'What is your name?' as if asking who are you and who gave you the right to be brilliant??

Unknown said...

@Tracy Lord - I know the moment you're talking about -- I'll have to give that scene a close listen once my pre-ordered DVD arrives!

FranciaF said...

Another familiar face I enjoyed
seeing was Matilda Ziegler as Alex
Falconer's love interest, Helena
Wright. She played Pearl Pratt, of
the priceless Pratt sisters, in
Larkrise to Candleford.

Unknown said...

@FranciaF - Thank you for calling out that role! And thanks for commenting!