Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Ashes to Ashes - Season 2, Episode 5

This week's episode was a low-key one that marked time therefore providing a welcome slowdown in pace after last week's frantic developments.

After MacKintosh's demise the force find themselves in a quandary. The Sun newspaper is asking probing questions and producing thoughtful editorials suggesting that someone should vet the Met. I'm sure Sun readers don't care who vets the Met as long as they're curvy, but it's worried Hunt's new boss and he wants results to restore faith.

Hunt therefore seeks out a high profile bad guy to bang to rights and a chance to do that comes along when fingerprints are found at the scene of a robbery and they match those of a notorious criminal. The trouble is, the criminal died two years ago. The attempt to solve this mystery is a routine one and it wasn't helped when our house set our new record for solving cop show mysteries by working out the twist 0.25 seconds after the criminal's girlfriend Gaynor appeared.

You have to feel sorry for cop shows these days when their viewers have seen enough cop shows to know every twist in the book. Nothing can surprise and that's why Ashes to Ashes works. The mystery is never the interesting part of the show. The fun is in the way they solve it.

This week the routine investigation provided the most Hunt-lite episode so far. I'm probably stretching things to continue my theme that every episode this season has mirrored a season 2 Life on Mars episode as the corresponding show was the Sam-lite one. But either way this was a good move as Hunt has had a lot to do recently and it let the others take centre stage.

Alex therefore got to enjoy herself when she discovers that the robbery was at the home of Peter Drake, her estranged husband. The franchise has gathered a lot of mileage in Sam and then Alex meeting people they know when they were younger. Sam met his mother, father, girlfriend's mother, and himself. Alex has met her mother, father, godfather, and herself. So with the show already having dragged every last ounce of poignancy that this kind of 'time-travel' can provide, this time round they wisely decided to play it for laughs.

Rather than seeking any solutions as to why her marriage broke down and Peter abandoned Molly, instead Alex takes every opportunity to have a go at him while never once worrying that Peter is a 14-year-old who can't retort. With Peter's cat being called Molly, Alex gets more funny lines than she's had in the entire series so far. She relishes every moment of her subtle revenge and as she says goodbye to Peter for the last time, her muttered 'creep' sounds particularly satisfying.

But this is a side-show to the main focus this week which thankfully is closet-mason Ray, who had his best episode for a long time. I've been critical of his character in earlier reviews, but that was because I like Ray. I don’t like the character he portrays of course, but I like what the actor did with the limited material provided in Life on Mars. But in Ashes to Ashes his character has been inconsistent. In season 1 he was a comedy character. This season he was a nasty snit in episode 1, named as a mason and got angry about the Falklands War in episode 2, was pleasant in episode 3, and grumpy in episode 4.

I had no idea why or where this was leading, but the answer finally came. Ray was disgusted with MacKintosh's betrayal and it's forced him to question whether he wants to be an officer in a force filled with so much corruption the public don't trust him any more. This was a good development as the show has largely ignored the promising social and political angle. This was the time when the public lost faith in the police. It was a time of social unrest and yet you wouldn't know this was going on as it's never depicted. Letting Ray be the face of that dissatisfaction is a good idea and when I re-watch the earlier episodes hopefully Ray's disillusionment will become clearer.

So Ray follows Gene and MacKintosh in having an episode in which he has one of those long dark tea-time of the soul moments. This gives him some of his best ever moments, including a classic interrogation where he gets a confession out of a suspect by the simple act of passing wind in a threatening manner. Best of all is a scene where he's so disillusioned he can only bring himself to thump a suspect the once. Gene has to force him to give the suspect a hiding, which he does in a bored manner while everyone sits around discussing how bad the new television station Channel 4 is. This is a welcome return for this good in-joke and it's nice to see the writers still haven’t forgiven C4 for turning down Life on Mars.

Pleasingly the episode doesn't provide Ray with any simple answers. It appears by the end that he won't leave the force, but there's still no feeling that he's resolved his problems. Alex problems are also growing as the show does its usual brilliant trick of seemingly advancing the bigger mystery story by vast amounts while at the same time not moving at all.

In the real world Orville the duck tells her that she's at the hospital and that the doctors are ready to operate to remove that bullet from her head. This isn't much of an advancement, but within her fantasy world we finally get to meet the man who has been sending her roses.

Martin Summers becomes the first character to openly claim in an unambiguous way that he is from the real world. He's a police officer. He claims to be dying in reality, and so therefore might be the man in the hospital from episode 1 scene 1, and so that unlike Alex he has no desire to return to 'the other world'. He and Alex are the only ones in this world who know what it is, but they can die here. He also offers to help Alex return, but only if she'll join in the corruption. She refuses and so Martin promises her that Operation Rose will now change her mind. His scenes are filmed like his previous ones in an off-kilter way in which it's unclear whether other people can see him, aside from Luigi who maintains the tradition of barkeeps who know more than they let on.

So is this the most significant development in the franchise yet or a red herring? I vote for the latter. If the makers get their way, then we are at the halfway point in the three season series and that's too early to be providing the answer that Alex is an alternate reality. It may be that this reality is one that people who are close to death construct to help them pass on, or recover while their body is repaired, but it's too early to take the giant leap and say this is a shared reality. So far Martin has said nothing that Alex couldn't have fantasised him saying. Everyone else in this dream world act as if they have freewill and so Martin's freedom to view this world as unreal could represent nothing more than Alex's life signs stabilising and her slowly clawing her way back to life. Frank Morgan helped Sam Tyler back to reality and his comments were ambiguous, but Alex already knows that as she's read Sam's notes and so she would create someone who acts differently.

Martin has yet to exhibit clear evidence that he is acting independently. It's hard to define exactly what would provide evidence that he has freewill, but I'd suggest that his actions aren't ones that an independent man would carry out. He has acted like a spooky character who is there to spook Alex with spooky messages and spooky roses. We have no idea what he wants. We have no idea why he wants to help her. We have no idea why being corrupt will help her. We have no idea why he is helping her in a manner that is so creepy it's guaranteed to make her refuse him.

So despite Martin's fascinating comments he is still acting so mysteriously he could just be a voice in Alex's mind. This view can’t begin to change until we see that he is the man in the hospital and we see scenes from his viewpoint in Alex's world. Only when we can understand his motivation as being one that isn't connected to Alex's situation can it be possible for him to be from the real world. Even then I'll probably not be convinced!

I again missed next week's clip as I switched over for the 80s sing-along with Gene Hunt, but I presume with Alex's real life operation about to begin and Operation Rose looming, a connection could be imminent.


Anonymous said...

To be fair, Ray did have quite a serious side in Life on Mars. Take, for example, where he was demoted for that accidental death. And how he was always showing contempt towards Sam - who'd taken what he believed to be his position.

Anonymous said...

Woops...sorry. I read it wrong. You said "season 1", not "LoM" for him being a comedy character. Haha...it's strange. In a way, I find this series to be occurring as though season 1 never took place. There are very few links between the two it seems.


I'm baffled by last night's episode and I found it far less entertaining than the previous three - though I suppose they are building up towards some sort of climax - that guy who appears to be dying of cancer in the future is a twist that's causing my head to hurt.

I.J. Parnham said...

Agreed that the links between the seasons are very limited. No Evan, no Layton, no young Alex, and no repercussions from her parents' deaths. After being told continually that every detail is important, you'd expect a few things to carry over!

And agreed that this episode was drier than previous ones. I suppose it proves that depicting characters who are sitting around feeling a bit cheesed off is hard to do entertainingly.

Joanne Walpole said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joanne Walpole said...

Sorry about that. My fingers were moving slower than my brain! I'll try again. I think Chris is turning out to be one of the most entertaining characters, even if it is only because he and Shaz are so realistically dippy.