The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Saturday, January 05, 2002
LIBERA ME, OXFORD

I watched the final episode of Morse again last night. Probably shouldn't have done. I have a lot of time for Colin Dexter - he is an acquaintance of Laura's dad of many years' standing (indeed L's dad makes a cameo appearance in "Death Is Now My Neighbour" pages 74-5, even though Dexter makes him say "awfully," which he has never said in his life, as opposed to "get off cunt," which he has said to virtually every act who has ever appeared on Top of the Pops or Later with Jools Holland not wearing a suit and/or tie). The Morse world should theoretically be antithetical to everything I recognise as "my world" but if you can accept the weirdness of thinking of murder as being "cosy" (cf Midsomer) then L and I always found it comforting. As usual, the last episode paraded a bunch of faux-hypertensive Telegraph-reading middle class wallahs (or MSWs as I shall henceforth refer to them) portrayed by overacting, underemployed B list acting stock (the rep reliables, as the old phrase went) with a mystery not terribly labyrinthine to unravel. But the "murder mystery" part of the story was always a kind of McGuffin for Dexter - the real interest was in Morse himself (i.e. Dexter - more or less interchangeable in character if not in circumstances, CD being a grandad in real life); the bleak non-life outside (and sometimes inside) work, the projection of failed emotions onto music rather than fellow humans, the red Jaguar which, like Milt Bernhardt's explosive trombone solo erupting in the middle of Sinatra's "I've Got You Under My Skin," hints at an inner, barely suppressed sexuality which is almost never allowed to come to the forefront.

So essentially all the 20 million or so people who watched this the first time around watched it to watch Morse die, which he did gradually. Some inspired directorial touches from Jack Gold, too, for a change using the ITV commercial break format as a useful artistic lever. I think particularly of the link into the final break, where Morse, in dressing gown, sat deep in his armchair, tired beyond passion, wearily attempts to listen to some Faure (?) but after a few seconds presses the remote control again and switches the music off with an equally weary gesture, finally realising that even this refuge can now provide no shelter for his soul. He sits in silence, expressionless yet full of expression; like Krapp, waiting to die; not looking directly at us but not blinking either. The camera steadily encroaches upon his space, his face, his existence; the aesthetic cancer methodically eating away.

He is 58 years old and has achieved nothing.

He knows he is about to die but, like Lanark, has no express ambition for continued life.

Comparable shots: Richard Bennett's speech about the earth and life and us before the fireplace in The Magnificent Ambersons; Paul Whitehouse as Rowley Birkin in his final monologue, staring directly at the camera in unspeakable grief.

Ad break.

Resumes with youth. Whirling around on his bike with what Dexter in the book calls "drums and bass" playing on his Discman. But this is no renewal. He is cycling in a circle, going nowhere. Regeneration or repetition? Morse appears on the scene. Asks the boy to hand him the cocaine. Empties it onto the ground. Advises the boy to read a book but casts an envious glance at the music, thinking "this is what I could have been" and then departs. The boy grins ruefully but not sardonically at his retreating figure, realising Morse's essential hollowness, and returns to the refuge of his d&b (Ray Keith?).

In the quad (Lincoln College by the look of it). Chewing the fat with TP McKenna who's just mimed Faure's "Libera Me." Teasing re. potential murder suspect but heart only half in it. The murdered Harrison nurse. Murdered sexuality. Murdered him. Not getting it. Never got it. Ah fuck off, fuck off, I'll just die here if that's OK with you.

Into Radcliffe Cardio. Croaks "Thank Lewis for me" (does he mean that literally?) and dies quickly. Murder plot in the way. As it should be. Goodbye sir. Is that a tear? No Randall and Hopkirk-type sequels with Inspector Lewis being advised and moaned at by the ghost of Morse?

But sad sad sad. The seamless dissolve midway from a bucolic evening at Port Meadow to a rubbish dump secreting a body. The final, meaning, glazed-out glance through "Oxford" as seen on the Channel 6 ID.

And it speaks to me and it says: look at that cracked old gargoyle of a skyline. Look at it. Then move on. Make this her memorial.


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