Last Thursday, after 13 years and 64 episodes, Inspector Morse came to an end. The British import, inspired by a series of novels by Colin Dexter (who was also involved in the TV production) and regularly featured on PBS's Mystery, had gained a faithful following over the years, in large part due to John Thaw's portrayal of the title character. Rarely has an actor inhabited a role with such utter conviction.

The final two-hour episode, archly titled "The Remorseful Day," was preceded by a documentary, "The Last Morse" (which I didn't watch), and the episode itself was bracketed with commentary by Diana Rigg, who intoned with a straight face the pontifications prepared for her by the Mystery braintrust. By the time she wound up, eulogizing Morse with a comparison to Beethoven, more than a few in the audience, I'm sure, were wishing for a rude Monty Pythonesque intervention. This was a self-conscious Television Event.

And yet it truly was an event, if not quite in the sense intended. It offered in concentrated form a taste of some of the oddly jarring flavors of our cultural moment. Like much popular art, the finale of Inspector Morse functions like a dream—a dream of the collective unconscious.

The news from the dreamworld is not good. What we get is an overwhelming sense of belatedness, of structures that once had meaning and authority but now are mere forms. We see this all the way through—as when a lubricious surgeon who enjoys sadomasochism sings Faure's Requiem in an Oxford chapel—but it is most apparent at the level of the "mystery" itself. Morse is a detective, like Holmes and Poirot before him, and there is a crime to be "solved": a brutal murder that ramifies into a series of murders. Morse and his Watson-figure, Lewis ...

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