This episode begins with Alex sitting on the sofa, battling insomnia by drinking wine and watching TV. She’s watching Take Hart, a show about painting (a British version of Bob Ross, if you will), when she gives up and turns off the TV with the remote. She gets up to walk to the bedroom… and the TV comes back on by itself. At the same time, she doubles over in pain. The TV shows Morph, a claymation character from Take Hart, preparing a defibrillator. A voice asks if Morph will help Alex. When he shocks Alex with the paddles (on TV), the real Alex flies across the room and crashes into the wall. Morph then appears to give up on her, and the voice asks why he’s given up. Morph replies (in gibberish), and the voice asks “what do you mean, ‘she’s given up?'”. Morph then gets a sad look, changes into a ball, then rolls offscreen. We then see Morph stretched into a straight line representing a heartbeat monitor, which beats for a few seconds then flatlines.
The next morning, we see Alex and Gene arrive at Felhurst Prison to interview Kevin Hales. The guard asks why they’re there, and Gene says it’s to interview Kevin. The guard says that “you won’t be doing that today”, then nods towards a body bag being rolled towards a van. Kevin Hales, it seems, has committed suicide by hanging himself. Gene asks if no one tried to stop him. The guard says that “health and safety rules” prevented them from running to his aid; he says this with a knowing look on his face. He might as well have winked and said “say no more, say no more!”
Back at the station, Gene goes through Kevin’s possessions. He looks at a letter that appears to be of interest, but we see nothing more at this point. In fact, Gene disappears completely by the time the next thing happens: a father and daughter walk through the doors of the station carrying a box.
The man, who identifies himself as animal researcher Nigel Pattison, demands to see Gene. Ray complains about the smell coming from the box, and lifts the lid to reveal a mutilated rabbit, covered in maggots. This makes Chris vomit. Gene leaves his office to see what the commotion is about, and Pattison says that his daughter, Charlotte, opened the box on the doorstep. Today is her birthday, you see, and she thought it was a present. Pattison then demands protection, as a new vivisection bill is going through the House of Commons and is likely to pass this Friday. Gene reminds Pattison, who has apparently complained before, that he asked Nigel to send him any suspicious packages. Pattison said that he, in fact, did just that with a package he’d received the day before.
Alex asks Gene for a word, and he suggests that they go to Luigi’s. As they’re walking out of the police station, Alex talks about how Kevin Hales wasn’t a suicide, and how his death had to have been a part of a cover-up. Gene, as always, isn’t convinced. As the two start to walk across the street, they’re cut off by a man on a motorcycle, who lobs a bomb at the Pattisons. The explosive misses Nigel and severely injures Charlotte.
Gene, seeing an injured Charlotte on the pavement, becomes fired with a vengeance directly out of the Old Testament. He goes back into the station and has everyone looking for the package that Mr Pattison had sent yesterday. Shaz walks in from running an errand, and Gene asks if she’s gotten that day’s mail. She had, and she hands it to Gene, who finds a small package addressed to Pattison in it. He opens it against Alex’s wishes, and finds a typed letter saying that there will be six attacks in the next three days:
Gene, in a rage, says that no one will leave, or even use the toilet, until the case is solved. Chris, looking through some historical data, finds a similar case from 1975 with the same MO. The man behind that crime was Robin Elliot, who is (coincidentally) being held at Felhurst. Ray wonders for how long, as he pulls out a newspaper which says that Elliot is currently on a hunger strike.
At the prison, Elliot is coy and refuses to cooperate with Gene and Alex. He is nevertheless drawn to Alex, and the two attempt to have a metaphysical conversation, until Gene interrupts them. Elliot says that there are three ways to change things, but Alex notices that he actually counts off six on his fingers. Gene, not getting a straight answer, leaves the cell.
Alex stays, and asks Elliot about counting six. Robin asks Alex if she has any children. She answers in the affirmative. Elliot seems to sense that something’s “off” about Alex, and so he starts “probing” her with questions. He says that he is picturing himself playing the piano over and over again until the music is perfect. Just as the conversation starts to take a turn for the weird, Gene walks in with an order of fish and chips. Knowing that Elliot is on a hunger strike, Gene slowly and deliberately eats a few of the chips, then smashes Elliot’s face into the food, demanding answers:
Gene and Alex go back to the station, where they argue over whether it’s even worth their time to investigate the Robin Elliot angle any more. Ray hands them Elliot’s prison activities, which indicate that he has had few visitors, fewer phone calls, and rarely writes letters. Elliot, is seems, has had hardly any contact with the outside world at all. Alex, however, is convinced that his “six fingers” action means that he knows about the upcoming attacks, which has been not made known to the press.
Alex later walks in to the break room, where two female janitors are cleaning and talking. One of their voices morphs into that of a male, saying that “saving her” is a waste of time, as she is “clinically dead”. Alex, of course, thinks they’re talking about her, so she rushes over and begs them not to stop working on her.
Supermac appears a little while later. He wants Gene to change Kevin Hale’s records to show that he was a suicide risk… which would end any investigation into Hales’ death. He thanks Gene for doing this, since they are “more than coworkers, they’re brothers now”. He tells Gene that he would be happy to “return the favor” any way he can. He walks out, and then Alex walks in. She asks what Supermac wanted, and Gene tells her what Supermac had asked him to do.
“Robin Elliot is in jail. He has no contact with the outside world. Would you like me to tattoo that on my testicles and wiggle them about in front of you just in case you’re inclined to forget?”
– Gene Hunt
Chris comes to Gene’s door and says that he’s found out about a lodger, Jeremy, that Elliot had before he went to prison. The whole gang go to interview him. We find out that Jeremy is a psychoanalyst, and is uncomfortable talking about Robin. Jeremy says that he feels that Robin has “narcissistic personality disorder”, an inflated sense of his own importance. Alex asks if he’ll accompany her to Felhurst when she interviews Robin again. She doesn’t want Jeremy in the room, but she wants him to listen in, in hopes that he can glean some information from it. On the way out of Jeremy’s house, Chris swipes Jeremy’s copy of The Joy of Sex that he and Ray had been snickering over. Alex sees this and opens the book, where she spies Jeremy’s name and address inside the cover. “Join a library”, she says.
Back at Felhurst, Alex again interviews Elliot. At first, Robin is (somewhat) helpful, asking her if she thinks the public ought to be warned about the attacks. Alex, playing up Robin’s narcissistic side, suggests that they put notice about it in the paper which mentions Elliot by name. Instead of taking the bait, Robin instead asks Alex about Molly: where she is, what color her eyes are, what time she goes to bed. As the conversation continues, Alex talks about the future of animal rights, and how “free range” and “cruelty-free” type products will become more and more popular and mainstream. Robin mentions that people will one day clone animals. Alex wonders how he could possibly know that. She wonders if Robin is connected with Creepy Doctor. Alex, who gets very emotional, leaves the room. After talking with Gene and Jeremy for a few moments, she goes back into the room, where Elliot says that the next attack will be on the Allied City Bank on Essex Road at 2pm… which is around 10 minutes away.
While Alex and Gene are hurrying to the bank, Viv contacts them over the radio and says that the attack actually happened at “the University Science Lab”, and that one person has been shot. At the lab, Alex notices that the lab is (for some reason) next door to the music department, and that a large piano sits in the room. Gene, meanwhile, has noticed that the perpetrator(s) have painted “Enslavers of Creation” on the wall, and that the paint has apparently leaked out of the can. Chris and Ray find the paint can (a bottle, actually), and Chris figures that the bad guy will have green paint on his hands. Just at that moment, someone dashes out of hiding and runs into the student union (or “student center”, as we’d say here in the US).
Gene, giving one of his great speeches, compels the students gathered in a bar there to submit to a search. None of them have anything that would link them to the lab attack, so a frustrated Gene orders a Scotch from the bartender, Adrian Mansfield. Adrian is openly hostile to Gene as he drinks his drink, and as Gene turns to leave, he notices that the 50p coin that Adrian handed him as change has green paint on it. He is then hauled in for questioning. Oh, and at the student union, a cute girl named Mandi gives Chris her number.
At the station, Adrian is revealed to have a fancy copy of the A-Z, a book on animal rights, and a motorcycle license. It’s pretty obvious that Adrian is the man who carried out the bombing of the Pattisons. Back in Gene’s office, Supermac is throwing darts to pass the time until Gene gets back. He takes Gene to task for refusing to sign off on the Kevin Hales papers and tries to intimidate him into signing them.
Back in the interview room, Adrian claims to have no idea of Robin Elliot is. He then asks to go to the toilet. Gene escorts him there, but not before first blocking the door from the inside. Gene begins beating the hell out of Adrian:
Adrian, in the face of the ass kicking, remains steadfast in his defense of animal rights. Gene continues beating him up until Ray breaks down the bathroom door at Alex’s request. Alex and Gene then argue over Robin, and Gene claims that Robin is controlling Alex, not the other way around. Gene, angered at being stopped by Alex when he felt so close to getting Adrian to telling him who else in involved, orders Alex to go home.
We next see Alex at home, flipping through the dial with the remote, looking for Morph or anyone that will talk to her. Her apartment then goes dark, and in the reflection of the darkened TV set we can see Molly brushing her teeth. Alex looks into the kitchen, where she sees Molly at the kitchen sink. Strangely, Molly is brushing her teeth very hard, so hard that it’s causing her teeth to bleed. Alex tells her not to brush so hard. Molly leans down to spit, and when she comes back up, she’s morphed into Robin Elliot. Alex thinks that this is a sign that Robin is near death, so she goes to see Robin, who has been moved to the prison hospital.
Robin is, in fact, near death. Alex manages to get Robin to talk: he says that there is only one person involved in the string of crimes, and that they’re using an A-Z with dogeared pages as a guide to where the bombings will take place. Alex calls Gene from the prison, telling him what Elliot has said. Alex convinces Gene to look at Adrian’s copy of the A-Z; as Alex reads off a list of targets that Elliot provided her, Viv flips through the book. Each time, the page is dogeared, leading Alex and Gene to think that Robin was telling the truth and that the investigation is over.
Not quite. Ray bursts in as Gene is washing his hands in the toilets. Apparently there’s been an arson attack at a chemists on Southwell Street. Because Elliot is in prison and near death, and Adrian is locked up at the station, there must be more than one person involved. Gene thinks that Elliot has lied to Alex again, and gets on the radio to tell Alex about the arson attack. Alex believes that Elliot was telling her the truth, so she runs back into the prison to confront Robin about his “lies”. Unfortunately, he dies before he can say anything else. As Alex is standing there, looking at Elliot’s now lifeless body, an attendant comes in, collects Elliot’s possessions, and puts them in a box. Alex, curious, goes through them. She finds a recent greeting card with handwriting that matches the writing in Jeremy’s copy of The Joy of Sex that Chris stole earlier in the episode.
She goes back to Jeremy’s house and confronts him about the card. He said that he hadn’t been in contact with Elliot for years, but Alex has a greeting card in Jeremy’s own hand that simply says “7 years”. Alex wonders aloud if Jeremy had been involved with the 1975 attacks, but somehow didn’t get caught. Perhaps, she wonders, Robin let him get off scot-free in exchange for him carrying out the attacks to stop the vivisection bill. Jeremy starts crying, admitting that he was invloved in the 1975 attacks, and that he communicated with Robin via cards delivered to prison by Robin’s mother. Alex asks him to calm down, but instead Jeremy bolts the door shut and goes to his desk to get a gun. Going from sadness to rage, he admits that he recruited Adrian, but that Adrian was “soft” like Robin and didn’t want people to get hurt. He hurls everything off his desk and walks around towards Alex with his gun drawn.
Just at that moment, there’s a knock on the door. Jeremy makes the “shhh!” sign and says “I’ll be there in a minute, darling”, thinking it’s his wife. Instead the door comes flying off its hinges as Gene and the rest of the gang walk in. Jeremy threatens to shoot Alex, then himself, then aims it at all the cops. Jeremy almost starts crying again, saying that Robin could just “get in your head” and that all he wants to do now is be free of him. Alex says that he is free, that Robin died this morning. Jeremy doesn’t believe her. He goes to shoot Alex, but Ray manages to land on his arm just as the gun fires, making the shot sail wide of the mark. Gene, trying to protect Alex, lands on top of her, and Alex has a brief vision of 2008 medical staff working on her. Alex even has a couple of convulsions, as if the paramedics were, in fact, shocking her with the paddles. Alex, happy to be alive in both 1982 and 2008, smiles. Chris hands her another “fancy copy” of the A-Z.
Back at the station, cheers are given to Shaz, who noticed that Adrian’s copy of the A-Z was numbered and monogrammed. A shop in Bond Street still had the order information on file, thus allowing Gene to quickly find Alex. Gene tells everyone that they can take the rest of the day off now that the case has been solved. Chris, who apparently took Gene’s rant about “not even going to the toilet” seriously, rushes off to relieve himself. Shaz goes through some of the things on Chris’ desk while he’s gone and finds Mandi’s number. She asks Ray about it, and Ray acts as if he’d been looking for it, and that Chris wouldn’t know how hot Mandi was because he’s so in love with Shaz. Alex finds another rose on her desk, but Shaz says she has no idea where it came from. Shaz asks Chris if he wants Ray to be his best man. Ray, initially hurt because Chris didn’t ask him straight away, says no, because he “didn’t want to be asked like that”. Chris goes down on one knee; Shaz pulls him back up. Chris figures out that Ray wants him to ask personally, so Chris does. Ray accepts.
Alex goes to see Gene in his office. She thanks him for saving her, then asks if he left the rose on her desk. He says no. She asks “Luigi’s?” and he says that he’ll be on shortly. As Alex turns to leave, Supermac walks up. After Alex leaves, Mac points to the reward poster created for Charlotte Pattison’s assailant and congratulates Gene. He then wonders aloud if that could be rolled into a bon voyage party. Gene asks what me means by that, and Supermac makes it clear: because he refused to alter the Kevin Hales paperwork, Mac has now transferred him to Plymouth. It should come through in the next two weeks. Gene later joins the gang at Luigi’s, but they’re so happy celebrating the happy ending to the case that he can’t be bothered to tell them about the transfer.
– Like last week, I didn’t take to this episode on the first viewing. It was better the second time around, but not as good as last week’s episode. No, I don’t know why I feel this way.
– The artist shown at the beginning of this episode was Tony Hart, a real British artist that appeared on various BBC programs from 1952 to 2000, a remarkable 48 year run on British TV. As mentioned earlier in the recap, the particular show Alex was watching was Take Hart, a program that ran from 1977 to 1983. Sadly, Hart died very recently: January 18th, 2009.
– Morph was Hart’s sidekick on Take Hart. He was created by Aardman Animations, a company that later became (very) famous for creating Wallace and Gromit.
– In last week’s episode, Ray uses a real British law (the “Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act of 1960″) to get a pack of gypsies to leave their campground. In this episode, the action takes place because of a “vivisection bill” pending in the House of Commons. I googled for around 10 minutes, but could find no evidence of any vivisection bill being passed or debated by Parliament in May of 1982. That doesn’t mean, of course, that such a bill didn’t exist. Maybe it did and my googling just sucks. Or maybe a bill was attempted but failed, and 1982 is too far back to find it via Google search.
– Having said that, a mail bomb was sent to then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher by animal rights activists on November 30, 1982. Office manager Peter Taylor opened a padded envelope that contained an amount of gunpowder. The bomb was designed to burn, not explode, and Taylor was slightly burned in the attack. He was taken to Westminster Hospital, but was released after a couple of hours and went straight back to work. Thatcher was in Downing Street at the time, but was not near the blast when it happened. Bombs were also sent to other political leaders, including Michael Foot (Labour), Roy Jenkins (SDP), and David Steel (Liberals), as well as Timothy Raison (the Home Office minster in charge of animal welfare). All of the remaining packages were intercepted and destroyed by police before being opened by the intended recipients. A group calling themselves the Animal Rights Militia claimed responsibility for the attack.
– Just before the bomb is thrown towards Nigel and Charlotte, Gene calls Alex “Miss Marple”, a reference to the elderly detective in several murder mysteries by British author Agatha Christie. Most everyone over 30 probably knew that already, but maybe the kids don’t.
– After the bomb goes off, the Fenchurch East police station is cordoned off by the police. Everyone entering the building is thoroughly searched, and Shaz complains about how long it took her to get back in from running a small errand. She said that she “only went out for a Curly Whirly”, which sounds kind of… dirty to American viewers. Fortunately, a Curly Whirly is a popular candy bar in the UK.
– According to the forwarded package, Nigel Pattison’s address is “54 Fenshaw Mews, London”.
– When Gene goes to open Pattison’s package, Alex begs him not to, saying that it could have anthrax or some kind of explosive inside. She wants to call Special Branch, an arm of the Metropolitan Police that deals with “terrorism, separatism, subversion and other extremist activity”. It was originally formed in 1883 as the “Special Irish Branch” to deal with threats from the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Although most every police service in the UK has a “Special Branch” division, the London division is, by far, the largest.
– Special Branch is often mentioned on another BBC show – Spooks. Because MI-5 agents do not have arrest powers, they have to call in Special Branch whenever they need to arrest a suspected spy.
– When Chris reads aloud from a book that contains background data about the 1975 incident, Gene asks “What is this… Jackanory?”, a reference to a BBC childrens’ series of the same name that promoted reading. It was a sort of British Reading Rainbow, if you will.
– When Alex and Gene first meet Robin Elliot, he describes for them the reasons why he’s on his hunger strike, which causes Gene to quip: “You’re not exactly Bobby Sands, are you?” Bobby Sands was a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), a splinter group of the IRA. Convicted of “terrorist” activity (or “freedom fighting”, depending on your point of view), Sands led a famous hunger strike in 1981 in Maze Prison. Sands demanded that the British government give them back “Special Category Status” (essentially POW status) that would except them from wearing prison uniforms, doing prison work, and several other things agreed to for prisoners of war in the Geneva Conventions. Sands kept his word, and died after 66 days of the hunger strike. 100,000 people attended his funeral, and Sands’ death played a big part in the rise of Sinn Fein as a political party.
– When Gene returns to Elliot’s cell with the fish and chips, we see that it comes wrapped in newspaper, a traditional practice banned in the UK in the late 1980s for health and safety reasons. Contrary to American imagination, a clean piece of “inner paper” was often used to keep ink from rubbing off onto the fish.
– Back at the station after Gene and Alex’s initial visit with Elliot, Ray is seen sitting at his desk and combing his mustache. Gene picks up the mirror Ray is using and throws it to the floor, asking if this this a police station “or the makeup counter at Kendals?” Kendals is a famous department store in Manchester. Over the years, It was known as “Kendals”, “Kendal, Milne & Co”, and “Kendal, Milne & Falkner”. It was bought by British icon Harrod’s in 1919 and briefly renamed to “Harrod’s”, but quickly went back to “Kendals” after customers and employees complained. Harrod’s itself was bought out by House of Fraser in 1959, and Kendals was finally renamed “House of Fraser Manchester” in 2005.
– At Gene and Alex’s first visit with Jeremy, he says that Robin Elliot suffers from “Narcissistic Personality Disorder”. This is a real disease, which you can read more about here.
– Although it was first published in 1972, The Joy of Sex was still a controversial book in 1982.
– At the lab, Chris gets green paint on himself and jokes to Ray that “you won’t like me when I’m angry”, a reference to The Incredible Hulk comic book character. I’m fairly certain that this is a reference specifically to the live action TV show (and not any cartoons or comic books), but I don’t know this for sure.
– At the student union, Mandi says that there is a “Tarts and Vicars party” later that night. A “Tarts and Vicars” party is just a themed costume party where the men dress like Church of England clergy and the girls dress like.. well, tarts. You might remember the “Tarts and Vicars party” scene in Bridget Jones’ Diary.
– Just after Chris meets Mandi, two students ask him his position on animal cruelty, which Chris says he’s against… “like the PG Tips” ads. PG Tips is one of the most popular brands of tea in the UK. They’re also famous for having one of the longest-running ad campaigns in history (1956-2002), which featured chimpanzees dressed as humans drinking PG Tips tea. They were known as the “Tipps family”. The company released several “Tipps family” figurines over the years, some of which are very collectible.
– Gene pays for his 50p Scotch at the student union with a £1 note. £1 notes were discontinued in 1984 and withdrawn from circulation in 1988. Here’s what the note would have looked like:
– During Adrian’s interview, he calls Ray a “philistine”, and Ray (not knowing what it means) thanks him for the compliment.
– During Adrian’s interview, Chris gives Ray permission to rough Adrian up by nodding his head and saying “Raymondo” in an impression of Gene’s nickname for Ray.
– Adrian has a copy of the A-Z, the most popular London map ever created. First published by Phyllis Pearsall in 1936, the London A-Z is ubiquitous in bookshops and travel centers in London. The A-Z is so popular that it now comes in several formats and sizes, and the company has expanded to other cities in the UK. Amusingly, the company behind the A-Z is one of the few map companies that freely admits to putting a few fake streets on their maps as “copyright traps“.
– That thing at the end with Shaz, Ray and Mandi’s phone number was pretty sweet, no?
– At Luigi’s (at the end of the episode), Alex calls Gene “The Lion of Fenchurch East”… an obvious riff on his old nickname: “The Manc Lion”.
– People from Manchester are called “Mancunians”, after the old Roman name of the city.
– POSSIBLE GOOFS: There were at least two goofs in this episode: the first is the inclusion of Duran Duran’s “Is There Something I Should Know?” on the soundtrack, which wasn’t released until March 19, 1983. Of course, you could argue that the characters aren’t hearing the soundtrack, so there’s no reason why the producers can’t use any song they want, right? This is the same logic that Mad Men uses to occasionally play “modern” music in a show set in 1962. There was one “for sure” goof, and that was Gene referring to Elliot as “Skeletor”, after the character from the Masters of the Universe cartoons. Although the Masters were originally toys that debuted in 1981, they didn’t become a sensation until the cartoon series debuted in 1983 – a full year after the present time in Ashes. It’s certainly possible that Gene knew about Skeletor from the action figures or comic books, but I consider this highly unlikely, especially since Gene appears to work 26 hours a day and doesn’t have kids.
MUSIC HEARD IN THIS EPISODE:
Francis Monkman – “The Great Advance”
Darryl Hall & John Oates – “I Can’t Go For That”
UB40 – “Food For Thought”
Trio – “Da Da Da”
Survivor – “Eye of the Tiger”
Duran Duran – “Planet Earth”
Duran Duran – “Is There Something I Should Know?”
Thompson Twins – “Lies”
Arthur Wood – “The Archers” Theme
The Beat – “Can’t Get Used To Losing You”
Midge Ure & Phil Lynott – “Top of The Pops” Theme
Tight Fit – “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”
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