Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Ashes to Ashes - Season 2, Episode 3

This week the reset button was pressed so often and the plot movements were so minor it was comfortably the weakest of the run so far.

After the first episode in which the emphasis was on the greater mystery, and last week's concentration on Hunt's angst, it was probably inevitable that this week the show would provide a breather from the intensity by being a straight police procedural. Although this isn't necessarily a bad thing as the majority of episodes in the franchise are crime stories with a few weird bits added in, the series now appears to be following the format of Life on Mars series 2.

Alex saw the real world for the first time and started getting mysterious messages in episode 1, just like Sam Tyler did. In episode 2 bent cop MacKintosh acted just like bent cop Harry Woolf did in episode 2 of the earlier series. So it's no surprise that episode 3 also follows on from the earlier series in which Gene Hunt took on the IRA. This time round he takes on every crime show's favourite safe bunch of terrorists, animal rights activists.

The crime to solve was about as predictable as they get on crime shows, especially if you remembered who turned out to be the surprise guilty person last week. A mysterious doctor kidnaps Alex one week, then the smoothy doctor is the killer the next, and now the nervous psychoanalyst is guilty. Along with the medics in the real world I wonder if that's a theme?

Anyhow, as always the fun to be had is in how they solve the crime. So Hunt continues to remember he was based on Jack Regan from The Sweeney. After providing a variation last week on the 'get your pants on, you is nicked' line, this time he got to bark, 'shut it!'. Also he solves the crime Regan style by hurtling around some remarkably clean and deserted London streets and shouting at students. He also gives a pasting to a prisoner who is so obliging he even puts his hand in the door so Hunt can trap it there.

Meanwhile Alex questions a mysterious dying man in prison who appears to know not only about the crime, but also about her and the future. Not unexpectedly that knowledge of the future extends to him having read Silence of the Lambs. Before long he and Alex are adopting the required psychobabble chat, screen composition and general sinister moments required for scenes where murderers who know something meet female psychoanalytical cops in prison.

This comes to an expected end when in a leap of deductive brilliance Alex joins the dots that have been cunningly sprinkled through the episode and solves the crimes. And then in a burst of cop-show stupidity she rushes off to confront the mad murderer on her own, without telling anyone, without back-up, while being confident that someone will turn up and save her when things get tough. The only surprising thing about this story was that the dying man in prison managed to die before offering a cryptic last comment.

As regards the other elements of the show. The bigger mystery edged forward another few seconds in real time with Alex now being resuscitated by the medics. This appeared in her world as if it were being done by Tony Hart's Morph, a welcome nostalgic appearance only tempered by the fact I can already envisage the forty minute dvd extra gushing over those thirty seconds. I wonder if I'm the only one who's had enough of dvd extras. I loved the Camblewick Green sequence from Life on Mars right up until I sat through the extra that sapped the life out of it by explaining why everyone involved were creative geniuses for making some models and moving them around a bit.

Her resuscitation did at least explain why she couldn't remember Molly's face last week. She really was dying and now that she's not she can remember Molly again. So that's all right, then. The psycho-killer (I'm sticking with that term from my earlier review) didn't appear for a traditional cryptic message, but he does leave her a rose, which mirrors what he did in the first episode and again doesn’t move things on. I also didn't hear any Star Wars references or see any subtle asides about Lady Diana.

This lack of movement also extends to the police corruption story. Last week I thought it a mistake to have Hunt admit he joined the freemasons only so that he could bring down MacKintosh. To my mind this moved the story on too quickly and avoided some good potential character conflict between Hunt and Alex and between Hunt and Mackintosh. This week appeared to prove this point as the corruption story had nowhere interesting to go.

The man arrested in episode 1 commits suicide in a prison cell and MacKintosh wants Hunt to add a minor detail to his arrest statement to help prove that nothing dodgy went on in the prison. And Hunt refuses! This would be the Gene Hunt who has spent the episode kicking the living daylights out of a suspect for the crime of having green hands. This would be the Gene Hunt who last season let Chris and Ray half-kill a handcuffed cop-killer. This would be the Gene Hunt whose motto is that proof can always be found to back up his judgement. And now he won’t make a minor clerical amendment after a cop-killer has committed suicide. MacKintosh is as surprised as I was by this and the show ends on a cliff-hanger where Hunt is posted off to Plymouth... as if. Hunt is so surprised he forgets he drinks wine these days and has a pint.

The big problem with this confrontation is that I didn't understand Hunt's reasoning. He lurched out of control this week by eating fish and chips in a menacing manner, but that appeared to be due to the child getting blown up at the start and not his internalized conflict over whether to confront MacKintosh. With no clear explanation for his action, it ruins the confrontation from last week. After all the soul-searching over joining the freemasons, I thought Hunt was set to embark on his cunning plan to bring down MacKintosh. But that appears to involve doing a Heseltine by drawing a line in the sand over a minor clerical detail that nobody will understand or support.

It makes me wonder how this mason brotherhood thing works. Someone commits murder and all they have to do is give a funny handshake and the police break every rule in the book to get them off. But Hunt won’t sign a piece of paper and his brother mason sends him to Plymouth. Why didn't MacKintosh protect his brother? Why aren’t the funny handshake brigade sorting this out amongst themselves with some sort of ritual chicken-kissing ceremony? Where was closet-mason Ray in all this? 25 and 2/3 rds episodes in, Ray is suddenly revealed to be a mason and the next episode it's not mentioned again.

In fact continuing the lack of movement and reset theme, Ray has reverted back to being season 1 cuddly Ray, and Chris is back to Life on Mars Chris who throws up in buckets. Anyhow, because of all these reset buttons I'm looking forward to next week. If they continue to mimic the Life on Mars season 2 episodes it'll be time for Gene and Alex to infiltrate a wife-swapping party disguised as Gordon Brown and Jacqui Smith.



Agree - last night's episode was weak but I did like Gene kicking the shit out of the guy in the cells. And there doesn't seem to be any confklict between Ray and Gene over the masons which seem to have been forgotten, apart from a mention by the smarmy boos about brotherhood.Oh and I've just bought the box sets of Life on Mars seasons 1 and 2 - £30 for the pair in Tescos. And I must say I love DVD extras - some of them are pointless but some really add to the program or film.

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
I.J. Parnham said...

I removed the comment above as it included a potential spoiler. The spoiler came from a tabloid, so it's almost certainly inaccurate, but I thought it safest to do so.

Sorry about doing that, and I hope it doesn't discourage anyone from posting comments, but I like to report only on information we've all seen on screen along with some speculation about what might happen so that my reviews are safe to read by anyone who hates spoilers.


That's fine Ian - to be honest I wasn't sure to post it or not so there's no worries there.