Ashes to Ashes just finished airing and, while not worthy of an episode by episode review, it’s worth a few comments.
Ashes to Ashes is the sequel to the successful Life on Mars. Life on Mars told of modern Manchester Detective Chief inspector Sam Tyler who, through a car accident, is transported by to 1973 where he has to cope with life as a cop in a world far removed from his.
During Life on Mars’ two series, the initial ambiguity of how Sam got to 1973 is slowly eroded. By the second series, it’s clear to all that Sam is in a coma, not “back in time” or “mad” as mentioned in the opening credits. I really enjoyed Life on Mars, except for the final episode, which was, to my mind, a betrayal of Sam Tyler’s character.
Ashes to Ashes picks up in London, where Detective Inspector Alex Drake, the police psychologist who was assigned Sam Tyler’s case, is mysteriously confronted by a man she doesn’t know, but seems to know her, who then puts a bullet in her brain.
Drawing on her knowledge of Sam Tyler’s coma-fantasy world, Drake creates a fantasy world of her own, 1981 London. In this world, DCI Gene Hunt, figment of Sam Tyler’s imagination, and Chris and Ray, his equally unreal subordinates have moved from Manchester to London to flesh out Drakes fantasy-world.
Drake, knowing full well this is a construct of her own dying mind, tries to escape by solving the murder of her parents, which, from her current perspective hasn’t happened yet. Her reasoning is if she can work it out, she’ll survive. Pity she studied Tyler’s case so well that she can recreate his fantasy people – and they even look the same (How’d that happen?) – but didn’t remember that Tyler thought the same thing about the mystery of his father’s disappearance. That didn’t get save him either.
Ratings for Ashes to Ashes were very good, and so Alex Drake is destined to spend another year in 1981.
It seemed to me that much of the magic of Life on Mars is missing in Ashes to Ashes. For starters, this is more a vehicle for Gene Hunt than Alex Drake – hardly surprising since the show was created to continue Hunt’s adventures as a fantasy construct, Drake being needed as a plot device to get us into Hunt’s world. Witness many scenes in which the fantasy characters are present but Drake isn’t! My memory might be wrong, but I think Sam Tyler was, by necessity, present in every scene in Life on Mars (except any dreams he may have had) since it was a first-person fantasy.
Second, the mystery is well and truly gone. In Life on Mars, even when it was fully established he was in a coma, they managed to sling a few “how could that be possible in a coma?” moments that might make you think something bigger was afoot. Not so in Ashes to Ashes, where Drake is fully informed on Tyler’s experience.
Third, 1981 London, while an important time in the revitalization of London, is not nearly so far removed from today as 1973 Manchester was. The culture shock isn’t nearly as profound, which was the core premise of Life on Mars.
Finally, and I’m sure I’ll get a,”I don’t see you writing any better”, comment along the way, the first series finale triggered my that-doesn’t-add-up warning bells too much to be avoided.
Absolutely, spoilers if you continue.
The basic idea is that, this homeless guy captures Drake. He talks to someone on the phone, mentioning that he’s got your past here. He shoots Drake. In the first episode, she tracks down the guy who shot her, back in 1981 he was a crime lord. That doesn’t get her back to 2008, so she fixates on saving her parents. She meets and continues to interact with them, particularly her mother and her godfather, Evan, who we saw in 2008 taking Alex’s daughter away to her birthday party.
It’s obvious at this point, that Evan must have been the link between past and present, but how? During the course of the series, Alex learns Evan and his mom had an affair. Did she really know this and had suppressed the memory or is it all a fantasy construct?
Finally, she learns that her father knew of the affair and, rather than let his wife and child go, he decided to commit murder/suicide by having them all blown up in a car. (The bomb provided by the man who shoots Alex in the present, a client of her father’s) As a child, Alex had escaped by accident, and the crime remained completely unsolved.
Evan asks for the suicide video to be destroyed so Alex will never find out, explaining why the case was never solved. Alex also explains that the bomb-maker will try to blackmail Evan in the future, and that’s why he shoots Alex.
For a few moments, that sounds like a nice packaging. Then the doubts start to niggle at the back of the mind. Could Alex have known this somehow, like the affair, and suppressed the memory?
Ignoring the obvious point that her father was nuts, even a nut doesn’t arrange a complex plan with a convicted felon, a borrowed car and exploding your whole family to commit a murder/suicide. They kill the wife and kid, then off themselves. If he really did try to use the bomb, why wasn’t he trying to stop Alex from getting out of the car?
The bomb-maker knows the father commissioned the bomb. He saw the explosion. He knows Evan didn’t tell Alex. He blackmails Evan. Evan doesn’t pay. So, he commits murder? Blackmailers usually threaten to reveal something embarrassing or criminal, not shoot the person they’d be revealing the secret to.
If it weren’t for one fact, I’d think they rigged the pieces together at the end. The reason I think it was planned this way: The Death Clown. Sam had the Creepy Little Girl, who was death. Alex has the Death Clown, played for by the same actor who played her father. Again the question: Did she know that her father was the killer all along?
The morning the final episode aired, the BBC announced that it would be coming back. Did they shoot two endings and only decide at the last minute which one to air? Is that why it was a bit muddled?
It may not be as good as Life on Mars, but any show where the police brutally beat up suspects to get information can’t be all bad, right? Right?