After series 4 in which I'd felt that the show was running out of steam with there being a couple of weak stories along with the feeling that budgets had been tightened leading to bottle shows, series 5 is excellent throughout. The four episodes this year feature murder at an all-female college, murder amongst religious friars (not monks), murder during a clinical trial, and for a change a murderous college don. Each episode features the usual convoluted plots in which it's tough to guess who did it until the final scene, although fans of the show should be able to work it out by applying Lewis's law. Morse's law was that the last person to see the victim alive did it, but Lewis's law appears to be, well, for the sake of not providing spoilers I won't say it, but it involves looking at the cast list. Having said that, all episodes require several viewings to work out exactly who did what to whom and why.
Of the four, I think The Mind has Mountains is perhaps the best as it provides a consistent and logical (that is, logical for a crime caper where villains must leave just enough clues to get caught) explanation for the escalating body count. Wild Justice works well for me, especially as a key plotting point came from an unnecessary apostrophe and although the final episode features a hard-to-swallow plot twist, there's plenty of tension. With that in mind the first episode is perhaps the weakest with its unrealistic solution and some poor continuity courtesy of last winter's snow, but it's still stronger than most of the stories in the last two years and it incorporates modern technology into the story in an interesting way.
The four main characters all return this year with Lewis becoming even more Morse-like with him doing all his best thinking over a beer, which is appropriate as I gather Kevin Whately is now around the same age as John Thaw was when he died. Thoughts of retirement, moving on, being out of touch and giving Hathaway a chance for promotion dominate his thoughts, perhaps hinting where the series might go. For his part, Hathaway develops strongly this year. In previous years he often rubbed up against his boss when they took differing views on cases, but this year Hathaway supports Lewis's gut reactions in a way that often takes Lewis by surprise. As a result their interaction is the best yet and the gentle humour between them is a delight.
Innocent and Hobson are given less to do this year, which is perhaps not a bad thing. In earlier series Innocent was developing into a cliched shouty boss figure who takes a contrary line to Lewis purely to create conflict, but this year she's helpful leading to more believable interaction. And finally there's Laura Hobson and the will they / won't they storyline that moved quickly last year with practically every plot shoehorning Hobson into the story in implausible ways such as her knowing the victims or her having a hobby of the week. This year thankfully she has no personal involvement in the cases and so she gets involved purely in her role as a pathologist. This means Lewis and Hobson's personal story develops only in short bursts while they're examining bodies, which works a lot better.
With the Oxford locations still being as appealing as ever and the show attracting cast lists where just about every minor character is recognizable, there's no doubt this show can continue to provide high-quality, popular drama for a while longer.