Morse finds himself the subject of a murder investigation when his friend, Beryl Newsome, is murdered at a rehearsal of the Magic Flute and he foolishly touches the murder weapon. Morse is suspended and DCI Bottomley, with DS Lewis assisting him, is put in charge of the case. Morse feels that he was set-up and looks to his past to see who, among the many criminals he arrested, might now be setting about seeking revenge. When someone scratches masonic symbols all over his car and he is reported for erratic driving, Morse wonders if Masons may somehow be involved. When a large number of his personal items are found in Beryl's apartment, Morse is placed under arrest. Written by
MM stands for Masonic Mysteries -- and Morse Museum!
"Don't get carried away."
This episode's writer, Julian Mitchell, wrote the screenplay for one of the best Inspector Morse (IM) films I've seen so far, Ghost in the Machine. Though played serious, that episode is something of a comic masterpiece because of its main guest character, an aristocrat who's sophisticated, composed, yet oblivious at the same time.
One wonders if Mitchell was going for comedy with Masonic Mysteries (MM), too, albeit camp comedy. That might halfway explain such a ridiculous episode. IM is no stranger to melodrama, but MM goes further than any opera ever did. When an established, relatively straight series suddenly does an episode in which its detective hero is charged with murder, well, this is the kind of thing I'd expect from a series' last season, when the filmmakers have all run out of ideas. Bizarre to see this in Season 4 of IM, preceding more than fifteen episodes, at least some of which are excellent.
Clichés are at every turn. The story is one of those melodramas in which a diabolical, omnipotent villain orchestrates just about every nightmare scenario possible to drive the hero crazy. And wouldn't ya know, no one will believe Hero's claims of innocence! Thus do Bottomley -- twittiest detective ever and way dumber than Lestrade and Japp -- and Morse's own boss of many years turn against him. Mayhem ensues, dear friends die, and no corner of Morse's home and private life are safe from invasion by the ever-lurking mastermind. The film even flirts with dragging Lewis into the same web of suspicion and suffering as Morse, but noticeably it drops this quite suddenly, as if finally sensing how silly things are.
We even get the old "If I'm not back in five minutes..." line. However, the self-dramatization may be worst when Morse actually does an interior monologue voice-over, an amazing first for IM!
Morse looks stupid overall. MM always makes a fool out of him, and in fact doesn't let him participate in events to take control and redeem himself.
This features some of the worst, most affected guest acting ever. There are many culprits, led by Bottomley; he really belongs in something like Fawlty Towers rather than IM.
The actors probably got no help from director Danny Boyle, who keeps doing his own bad work. He ruins plot twists by telegraphing them to death. He frequently chooses inexplicable camera distance. He likes shooting disjointed conversation scenes, with the characters sometimes never sharing a camera shot, or not appearing at all, as if they're not even on the same set. (Maybe editor Bob Dearberg just bore a grudge.) My favorite bit of bad staging is the part where someone uses a gun to order a sitting person around, but is clearly pointing the pistol well over the person's head.
The villain keeps a room decked out in photos of Morse, many of them blown-up and artistically cut -- the villain's own Morse Museum, perhaps the wackiest set the IM crew ever made, complete with wackiest prop, the Morse-mobile dangling from the ceiling.
Unintentional giggles come from the plot's dated use of early 90s computers. Uncomfortable to think that so many officers could've been so wide-eyed and ignorant about technology, apparently unable to comprehend the department's own computer system and what "hackers" are.
More ill-advised comedy comes when a man faints to the floor upon learning he's been robbed of thousands, a shot done for laughs. (What, no spit-take?) Morse simply watches this with Lewis, straight-faced, then makes a banal comment. The filmmakers couldn't possibly be serious.
Morse speaks for MM when he says, "I've lost my sense of reality."
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