Friday, 9 April 2010
Ashes to Ashes: From Here to Eternity
Spoilers abound. Be warned.
I am happy to say that tonight’s episode of Ashes to Ashes was probably the finest hour of television I’ve seen this year. To be even more breathlessly hyperbolic, I’ll go further and say it’s my favourite episode of Ashes to Ashes so far. This episode deserves hyperbole.
The opening minutes are marvellously surreal, and it’s clear from the get-go that there’s something plastic about Gene Hunt’s Billy Joel impression. As he mimes ‘Uptown Girl’ and prances around a garage, you quickly get an impression of just how weird the episode is going to be.
And weird it is. The photography in this episode is startlingly beautiful, and of particular note are some subtle fades from pitch darkness to stars that surround the characters. I was struck by a exhilarating sense of scope, and both fascinated and frustrated by the sense that there are things going on that are, as of yet, are impossible for me to understand.
However, the strangeness of it all isn’t off-putting. The surreal moments occupied the fringes of the narrative, which dealt with a lonely-hearts killer with a gruesome calling card: branding his victims with a crescent moon.
In this episode, Ashes achieved what it has often failed to do in the past – it successfully meshed the over-arching story with the crime-of-the-week. When Alex digs up a file on a dead young girl in her search for a pattern to the crimes, Gene bluntly tells her he was the officer in charge of the case and that he failed to find the killer. Clearly remorseful, he attended the girl’s funeral. The whole moment was handled so deftly there wasn’t any expression that this display of sympathy was out of character. Gene Hunt, famous for being an alpha-male, does have a soft side.
(Coincidentally, the murdered girl reminded me of Laura Palmer. Probably the pasty skin. But I won’t go into that right now.)
This was, in a sense, Shaz’s episode. The focus was her anxieties about her position in the police force, and her growing conviction that it wasn’t the right place for her to be. However, the further along the episode went the more I got the sense that Shaz’s wavering convictions were being used to test Gene’s reaction to the threat of her departure. She was a sort of cipher, a means of displaying an aspect of Gene’s role in ‘his Kingdom’ that was previously unseen.
After escaping from a life-endangering situation at the climax of the episode, Shaz runs instantly to Gene. He puts his arm around her, holding her and seeming curiously paternal. In the end scene at the Ashes to Ashes staple-set - Luigi’s bar - Shaz is smiling and dancing. Only a few hours before, she was close to becoming the next victim of a serial killer. There is something sinister about the effect Gene had on Shaz, as if by persuading her to withdraw her resignation he is manipulating rather than encouraging her.
The focus on Gene’s relationship with Shaz was echoed in his interactions with Alex. Just as Shaz was dissenting by displaying wavering faith in the police force and her role in it, Alex is dissenting by probing into the case of Sam Tyler. This doubling was evoked in the episode’s oddly sinister imagery. Darkness closed around Shaz’s face immediately after Gene persuaded her not to resign. The same effect was used on Alex after Gene warned her to stop investigating Tyler’s death, the crucial difference being that – in Alex’s case - the darkness quickly vanished in a flare of light. I got the sense that Shaz is beyond saving, I only wish I knew what she needed to be saved from.
Although I talk obsessively about the mysteries and character-dynamics that appeared in this episode, there was a lighter side. The scenes involving the Crescent Moon dating agency provided plenty of laughs (especially when Alex spontaneously invented speed-dating), and Gene Hunt had plenty of the excellent one-liners he is famous for (“maid in the living room, cook in the kitchen, whore in the bedroom”).
However, the main interest here (for me at least) was the layers that are being added to the story. Gene Hunt did sometimes have the tendency to seem somewhat 2D, a caricature of chauvinism and prejudice with no depth to him beyond his witticisms. This episode questioned that assumption, namely by juxtaposing Alex’s dream-version of Gene (as a camp, wholly artificial Billy Joel stand-in) with the real-Gene, sitting in his office and sifting reluctantly through a mound of paperwork.
There was a strong sense here that the mysteries of both Ashes and Life on Mars are starting to come together, and I can’t wait to watch as the jigsaw is assembled.