In the UK, the most popular TV genre must surely be the detective/police drama. How many have aired already this year? Luther, Death In Paradise, Vera, Shetland, Baptiste, Endeavour... and it's only early March!
We've also got Line of Duty returning soon, along with Midsummer Murders. There's quite a big difference between those two shows, but then there is a bit of a stigma attached to ITV's two-hour Sunday night drama marathon, compared to, say, the edginess of the 9pm BBC1 slot. However, Endeavour's series 6 finale was so expertly plotted and promoted that it made Line Of Duty look a bit tame in the nail-biting stakes.
So, what was the story? Well, the stakes were raised back in Endeavour series 5, when Morse's investigating partner (literally in crime) DI Fred Thursday (Roger Allam) lent his brother Charlie Thursday (Phil Daniels) a substantial amount of his and his wife Win's life savings without consulting her.
Fred never saw the money returned from his dodgy brother and believed it had found its way into the hands of Eddie Nero's gang of mobsters. The series ended on a further bleak note, with the unsolved fatal shooting of the team's spirited young colleague George Fancy.
In series 6 these events lead Fred down a slippery slope, as a corrupt team of officers moves in. ITV were incredibly clever with the marketing campaign - they've been running two 'great characters' drama trailers - no doubt you've seen them, especially the Vera one, in which she addresses the viewer directly: 'Ohhhhhh, she's only in charge!'
However, Fred's one for Endeavour was a much more sombre affair. 'Please don't let this happen, but this is going to happen anyway,' he tells us before loading a gun and presumably turning it on himself as the trailer ends. 'Find the characters you love and be with them' is his parting message to us before we hear the fatal gunshot.
Fans debated at length whether this spelled death for the beloved character. Some were insisting it was only part of ITV's drama marketing campaign, and was not connected with the main story.
However, in the penultimate episode, when we saw Fred taking bribes from the corrupt Detective Chief Inspector Ronnie Box in a desperate bid to recoup his money and work things out with his wife, and also when we saw the incorruptible Morse walking away into the night alone, leaving Thursday drinking with his new 'mates', no one was quite so convinced anymore.
That was what made this finale so great. Even though Fred is a huge part of Endeavour, no one was convinced he was safe. By the end, everyone was in danger, Max, Bright, Strange... the only one we knew for sure wasn't was Morse himself!
When Fred attempted to get out of his situation by returning the bribes, Box repeatedly told him it was all too late - 'It's you or Morse' he was told in the last act - the orchestral score swelled as Thursday told Morse to drop the case knowing he almost certainly wouldn't. As the audience knew Endeavour is a Morse prequel we feared Thursday's death seemed inevitable in the closing minutes. We were all on the edge of our seats...
The key to Endeavour's success lies in how much we all care about these characters. Shaun Evans's Morse is a wonderful, determined, straight and true character. Superintendent Bright (Anton Lesser), a character that really shone in the finale is a superb, kindly, authoritative almost Dumbledore-type figure.
Then there's Fred Thursday, a character people love so much, that the i even started its review of the finale by saying perhaps the show should be called Fred. What do we all love about Fred? Well, he's the kind of detective we all want to believe in. He's tough, principled yet sometimes he might just want to chat about what's in his sandwich bags but, over on Baptiste it's heads in bags.
Now, I really like Baptiste, but I think there's a growing trend for 'shock moments' over characterisation in dramas these days. 'Where's your head at?' the BBC continuity announcer jokingly announced, as he segued into Baptiste the other week. Funny? Yes, but does this prove that too much shock and gore desensitises us, and ultimately leaves the viewer disengaged? Well, I don't know, but I think it's possible.
When we see Fred in his living room listening to 'Mexicali Rose', a song essentially saying 'goodbye', we are left thinking, will he kill himself? Such was the seed of doubt that the trailer had planted in our minds. He tells Win that he loves her, she's not interested anymore. 'Should have told you more often. Better late than never,' he says after she leaves the room.
Is there a better character on TV than Fred Thursday? Or a better actor than Roger Allam, for that matter?
After the big showdown was over and I looked at the credits I saw Roger Allam's name alongside Shaun Evans's as the producer. To be honest, I felt a bit foolish! 'Of course Fred Thursday wasn't going to die!' I thought to myself. 'He's one of the main characters and I knew Endeavour had been recommissioned'. Nevertheless, I believed Fred might die, and that's the skill of great writing, great television, great actors and great characters, because it's just as Thursday says: 'All our stories are too short for bad characters.'
Bring on series seven, I say, and if last night's finale doesn't earn the show a BAFTA nomination it would be a travesty!
Written by Rhianna Evans