Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Halloween and Ashes To Ashes 3.8

The nights are dark and mired in storms; leaves turn brown and die, falling to their doom. Autumn has been upon us for two glorious months, and now it's that time of the year when we set aside our differences and celebrate the scary, the horrifying and the tacky. It's Halloween, and as a treat this year I'll be looking at the final episode of the Gene Hunt Time Travel Bonanza, the first piece of TV I ever talked about on this blog (here). Contains spoilers for Ashes To Ashes, Life On Mars and, funnily enough, the ending of LOST.

Ashes To Ashes - Series Three, Episode Eight (Revisited)
Written 15/8/12
Keats forces the team to face reality. Or limbo, as it were.
It's a tad strange to be back here after two years. At the time, the finale of Ashes To Ashes seemed like a betrayal of everything I'd hoped and expected from the series; really, I didn't see a problem. As far as I was concerned, Alex was in a coma; that was that. All the anomalies, all the strangeness - that could be explained incredibly simply using that comaworld concept, and I felt that the rather more religiously motivated retcon was ridiculous and unnecessary. Now of course it still could be a coma, but I'll admit that the finale's concepts do stretch all the way back to the second series of Life On Mars, which gives them some credence.
     A case pops up surrounding some dead Dutch gangsters, but Gene is pissed off by Alex walking out on him in the previous episode. They have an argument, and Alex decides to follow the picture to Lancashire, and Gene follows. With their leaders gone, Keats gives Ray, Shaz and Chris individual videos, which they initially disregard to get on with the case. In Lancashire, Alex finds the shallow grave mentioned in her hospital room, and finds a body there - although not, as she'd expected, that of Sam Tyler. Instead, it's the body of young PC Gene Hunt, who in reality died in 1953 and has occupied this world ever since. Gene claims that the world around them is a form of copper's limbo, and Keats arrives to confirm that he is a Demon.
     Back at CID, and in turn the three officers watch the videos: Ray killed himself in the 70s after accidentally killing a fellow officer; Chris was shot in the 60s when a raid went wrong; and Shaz was stabbed with a screwdriver in the 90s by a car-thief. They go with Keats to his "new department" downstairs, with Gene trying to persuade them to come with him and do their blag operation on the Dutch gangsters. While Keats freaks out, the three eventually decide that Gene is their friend and they do the blag, culminating in a scene in which Ray, Chris, Shaz and then, sadly, Alex go into their heaven, the Railway Arms from Life On Mars.
Gene stays in Limbo to guide dead coppers into Heaven.
     I'm fine with quasi-religious themes in fiction; I don't like them, but there's nothing wrong with them in theory. However, I am averse to them being thrown into series that have never had those themes before just to make a dramatic point. It came just before the broadcast of the final episode of LOST, which did exactly the same thing. LOST, admittedly, was a lot more devastating because it betrayed everything that I'd ever liked the series for; it's admirable attempts to provide sci-fi explanations for supernatural phenomena were spat at by having a magical plug and a man-made afterlife. The Bonanza was even worse than that: there never had been any supernatural phenomena, everything that went haywire with reality was as a direct response to their comaworlds being stimulated from the outside. Introducing a copper's limbo that can be dipped in and out of by anyone in a coma may tidy up a few ends, but it simply opens up others. Under the coma-only theory, officer Frank Morgan was simply Sam's experience of his neuro-surgeon. In this explanation, if you're a copper then you've got to have been a copper and then either died or gone into a coma, which just doesn't make sense.
     At the same time, the finale highlihgts a lot of the problems inherant within Series Three. Mainly, it took our characters and simplified their characterisations by ridiculous amounts. Series Two felt like a more standard, higher-quality crime drama that just happened to have a present-day protagonist, while this story tries to pretend that Ashes To Ashes has been playing out like some kind of fairytale. The image of Gene Hunt and his escapades isn't the reality of the series, but rather the edited highlights of the series' embryonic moments that completely sheds any of the times in which the Bonanza had depth and power. I think that this, perhaps, is the greater betrayal; the betrayal of its own potential, of its own past. 
     I did like it much more than I did on first viewing, however, as this time I knew what was coming and could see the buildup and the pieces of the puzzle falling into place. Like that LOST finale, the episode hit the right emotional strings in all the right places, and exposed Gene's character to its very core before building him back up in a more confident way. While it was sad and quite disconcerting how quickly Alex got over never seeing her daughter ever again, it was a good end for the character and brought closure to this two-year marathon with great grace.

Thanks. Goodbye GHTTB. Happy Halloween.

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