After a frantically paced first episode, episode 2 probably sets up the formula for how the rest of the series will play out. With this being the final series all the main characters will get a moment in the spotlight, the arc storyline will not so much inch forward as remain static, and the central story will be weak. The last point is not meant as a criticism. This is a character based series and not a plot based one, and in this episode the character in centre stage is Shaz.
Until now Sharon has been used sparingly and often for comic relief with her doomed relationship with idiot Chris. Now though the pressure of making all those teas for the blokes has eroded her confidence and she's ready to quit. Not surprisingly the answer to her professional crisis turns out to be a murder mystery with a tailored-made Shaz-shaped role that'll let her show what she can do. Accordingly Gene gives her a massive confidence boost. Then he and the lads hide in a van while he sends her off on her own, without back-up, in the dark, unarmed on to a vast piece of waste land to apprehend a rabid nutter who has a thing for murdering 5 foot nothing young women. I enjoyed seeing Shaz do something for once, but this is Gene Hunt, a bloke whose search warrant is a crowbar and whose catchphrase was once 'you are surrounded by armed bastards'. Not any more it'd seem, but with the blokes running around in the dark helplessly, Shaz fights back with a convenient screwdriver and saves the day, and her career.
Luckily despite this contrived story Shaz shines playing the role of a cheesed-off person to perfection. Although I felt that her decision to stay was the wrong one as everything she did only appeared to prove that she's in the wrong job and that Gene press-ganged her into staying. Perhaps that was the point.
The rest all get good moments too as they investigate a dating agency, run by the real-life Mrs Hunt, and Alex invents speed dating. We get to see everyone's attitude to romance and there's plenty of fun to be had. Alex dreams up a video of Uptown Girl with Gene Hunt lip-synching, to the actor's obvious annoyance, Billy Joel. Gene gives us insight into his romance technique involving steak, chips, beer and a love of westerns. Not surprisingly there are no takers, but I loved that while speed dating Gene sports the name Will Kane, Cooper's character in High Noon. Most shows would feel obliged to tell us who Kane was, but I had to squint at his name tag to read it. It's the small touches like that that make the show work for me. Chris gets to lose at strip poker and Ray gets more ambiguity about his womanising ways. Ray's personal life has provided an entertaining undercurrent through the series and I don't know whether we will ever find out if his non-stop sexist banter is over-compensating for something, but I've already decided for myself.
As regards the arc story, I could say nothing happened because it didn't, as such. After last week in which Keats vowed to destroy Gene, this week he sets about doing it by lurking ominously in the basement moving pens around his desk. I must say he lurks ominously very well, but if he's going to destroy Hunt he'd better hurry up and do something. The ghost copper continues to follow Summers' slow methodology of very slow spookiness, except he's being even slower. This week his role consisted of the final half-second of the episode in which he looked at the camera spookily. And the Sam Tyler investigation failed to move too with several dozen mentions of Sam's unexplained mysterious fantasy world death, but there were no actual developments other than some unconvincing hints that Gene killed him. As if!
Again though this isn't a plot-based series and so with the plot being static the main movements towards an explanation of what the show is about came in clever and subtle ways. At one stage the shadow of the weather vane, where in the future the body of someone will be dug up, flittered on the floor and we get a new and effective scary development in which while trying to find where Shaz lives Alex comes across a part of town that doesn't exist. It's just stars, and later the stars start to invade her mind. With the episode playing out against a backdrop of the office being torn down by noisy workers, there was a real sense of the world ending. Perhaps this happened to Sam. Perhaps there may be a sci-fi solution to it all. Perhaps we were seeing for the first time what happens to the world when the dreamer stops dreaming. Perhaps the makers have bought the rights to another Bowie classic.
The episode also makes excellent use of its own mythology and rules. The Sam Tyler investigation may look as if it'll drag on interminably, but a simple scene where Alex opens a package and finds Sam's leather jacket showed why this matters. The static on Alex's tv screen is also starting to be worrying. There's only one thing more disconcerting than having the tv talk to you, and that's having the tv stop talking to you. There were also hints that Keats might be from the future when a chat about modern day composers and serial killers doesn't faze him. The best moment though was when the music dies out while the camera is on Shaz and a few lines of Life on Mars are played, this being the first time we've heard that song since Sam took his leap of faith. The evocative lines about 'the girl with the mousy hair' may imply something about Shaz, but I think it means that the shows are now merging. And if the merging is to be this subtle, it'll be effective.
Next week, macho Ray has his moment in the spotlight when his macho bravery leads to him being trapped in a confined space with lots of sweaty macho men. Presumably they'll talk about girls.