The penultimate episode of Ashes to Ashes begins with stars. There’s something touchingly home-made about this effect, a shot that would have been executed with cold, fine-edged precision on an American prime-time drama here looks like it was made using black sugar paper and a tube of glitter. It doesn’t take away anything from the impact, and somehow remains of the strange, heightened visuals in Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain.
An air of intimacy was attached to the latest episode of Ashes to Ashes – episode seven – like a fog. The episode was written by series co-creator Ashley Pharoah, a boon in that he has an excellent grasp of his characters’ needs, fears and desires.
This skill is best embodied in the scenes between Gene and Alex that are scattered throughout the story. This season has been criticized by some for the supposed lack of interaction between Gene and Alex, something that has never really struck me but has clearly frustrated others. In several senses, this episode both resolved and reinforced these complaints. Gene and Alex – who have one of the most memorable will-they-won’t-they relationships on television – danced together. There were small, tentative kisses from the oh-he’s-a-sweetheart-really Gene. There was musical accompaniment from Spandau Ballet. There was a knock on the door.
Simultaneously, several hundred fan-girls threw fits. Personally, I was too busy telling my housemates to shut up as they were badly impersonating my excitement (imagine a burly German man putting his hands to the sides of face, raising the pitch of his voice and intoning ‘oh my gawd they were gonna kees!’)
But that’s enough about me.
The episode began with the death of P.C. Viv James, killed at the end of the last episode in a police riot. There was something endearingly awkward about watching Chris and Ray snigger like schoolboys in the pews as Gene aggressively tried to close the curtains around his colleague’s coffin. The final countdown has been the theme-tune of this series according to the beeb, so the imagery of the final curtain is remarkably appropriate.
The main story of this week concerned an ANC drinking den, and the body of an undercover police officer that is unearthed there. One of the main figures in this story-the-week was Tobias, a political protestor struggling to bring down Apartheid in South Africa. Chris helps him escape from custody, and meets with him on the same bench by the Thames Alex and Shaz shared in episode two. Just as those two characters shared a profound, meaningful conversation, Chris and Tobias talk about issues that matter. Earlier in the story, Alex mentioned about Nelson Mandela’s eventual release. Tobias asks Chris how Alex knew this, and when dear, clumsy Chris responds “she knows all sorts of things does Alex Drake” the man who had been sitting beside him vanishes.
There is a sense here that all of the characters have the potential to help one another resolve their grievances, and find peace. While Shaz and Ray had ‘Life on Mars moments’ (where the screen turns black, and bars of Life on Mars play quietly in the background) after receiving praise from Gene, Chris has his after Shaz tells him she’s proud of him. These characters are only able to progress through their interactions with others. Gene’s world is steadily becoming stranger, more unstable and unreliable: change is needed if these characters are to ever find what it is they lack, or need to move on from.
Keats a malignant, underlying presence throughout, who effectively established himself as the Ashes to Ashes equivalent of the anti-Christ by interrupting Gene and Alex’s ‘moment’ with a knock on Alex’s door. Although he is unpleasantly oily, he seems convinced that he is, in his own way, helping through his attempts to undermine Gene. It’s as if he’s convinced only he is the solution to these characters’ problems, when there are other routes open.
Next week is the end, and the final countdown starts now.