Thursday, November 13, 2008

musings on Morse

Last night I was watching Inspector Morse on catchup. I had very vivid memories of this episode (Cherubim and Seraphim), from the opening image of a girl dancing in front of flashing lights to the final rave scene in a country house. As I watched, I tried to work out why I remembered it so well. It was originally aired in 1992, when I was 12, nearly 13. I think it represented to me a teenage culture I didn't like the look of and which scared me. Rave culture and acid house was frightening to me. Loud music, too many people, drugs. Not that I actually ever experienced it, but it was in the air. Or perhaps it's just in retrospect that I project what I know now onto my memories.

Rave is just as baffling to Morse. It's amusing how naive the ordinary policeman seems about dance parties in this story. Even the drug squad are under-resourced and short of information. But there's also an innocence to the ravers. They just want to dance. The drugs are about having a good time, feeling blissed out and loving the world. The tragedy of the story is that the ultimate high leaves people feeling empty and pointless, as if after they've experienced the most wonderful thing in life, there's nothing left to live for.

Perhaps the episode is a snapshot capturing a particular moment when rave was young and innocent, when the police were interested, but not concerned, before the crackdowns and mass arrests. Or perhaps Julian Mitchell and Danny Boyle who respectively wrote and directed the episode were painting an overly innocent picture. I don't know. Raves have never been my thing, though I can see the attraction of just losing yourself in music and dancing for hours.

I was happy to see this episode again and see different things in it: the fragments of baroque music sampled in the dance tracks stood out more, I could appreciate the subtleties of Morse's musings on parents and children. Marilyn, the girl who commits suicide, isn't his child (though I did spend quite a lot of the episode wondering whether it was being hinted that she was. Since her mother is Morse's step-sister or half-sister, that seems unlikely), but she is the nearest equivalent he has and his recollections of their conversations about literature suggest a close relationship and shared personality traits.

Some TV programmes I enjoyed when I was younger don't stand up to repeat viewing or only serve as nostalgia triggers. Morse is an exception. Even if I've seen it before and remember who did what to whom, there's usually something I didn't notice the first time around or a new subtlety to be appreciated.

(I have never, however, been able to spot any of Colin Dexter's Hitchcock-like cameos.)

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