Master and Man in Masterpiece, Part II

Yesterday, I wrote about the ongoing PBS mysteries Inspector Morse, Lewis, and Endeavour, analyzing how the series seems to be playing with the medieval concepts of three orders:  the knights, the peasants, and the religious orders.  Mostly, it focused on the differences between Inspector Morse and Lewis in Inspector Morse.  Today, I look at the sequel, Lewis, and the prequel, Endeavour.

Although Lewis was a figurative peasant in Inspector Morse—a man to Morse’s master–once Lewis became the titular character in his own series he unified the concepts of master and man in one person.  As an inspector, of course, he gave the orders and saw them carried out. Yet his private life, when shown, was often centered around a figurative field that he plowed:  his kitchen; his family; his cooking.

But it’s his sidekick that connected the series with the three orders for me.  James Hathaway is from the third order:  those who prayed. He is a religious young man once drawn to the priesthood whose crises—of faith, sexuality, or both—caused him to seek a career as, in his own terms, a “copper.”  Hathaway is a Cambridge graduate, and thus continues, in a minor key, the Inspector Morse concept that Lewis is part of a duo in which he is intellectually subordinate.

The permeability of the inspectors is the point at which I think the show is having fun with the idea of masters, men, monks, and their permutations. Lewis in Lewis is a master; he’s the guy giving the orders. But he’s also a man; with his focus on suburban family life and his cookery, he is a tiller of fields, just domestic and contemporary versions rather than a lord’s parcel.

Hathaway is similarly dual rather than unitary: he’s a man, taking orders, but also a (figural) monk, with religious leanings and sensibility. Indeed, Hathaway, who was raised on an estate and (at some points) treated as an equal of the lord’s children, raises the possibility of unifying all the medieval estates in one person:  he is a member of those who worked, those who fought, and those who prayed.

The idea of dual or unitary figures is continued in Endeavour, which takes us to early 1960s England and a youthful Morse.  He is a man here, with some trappings of a master (the Oxford education, primarily).  His master is a lower-middle to middle-class Britisher who is one of those who have fought—in World War II, very specifically. Arguably both master and man. (Indeed, many of the characters of the older generation in Endeavour are knights–those who fought, indelibly marked by WWII.)

Contemporary retellings of master and man, once I start to think about it, abound.  In the 2003 film Love Actually, Billy Mack—the aging rock star played by Bill Nighy—is, because of his celebrity, a type of master to his loyal roadie and manager, Joe. Mack’s giving up a Christmas party hosted by Sir Elton John to spend the day with Joe recasts the custom of giving the servants presents around the holiday season to celebrate their loyal service (think Boxing Day).  Yet Joe, the manager, is also the putative master.

Indeed, one could argue that sans the middle-aged Morse, all these characters represent the contemporary world as embodied versions two or three of the medieval orders, at different times and in different contexts.


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