Ashes to Ashes: Season 1, Episode 6

Oh… my.. God! After last week’s disappointment, I was afraid that Ashes to Ashes was going downhill… that I’d one day say that “Ashes was just OK, but it couldn’t hold a candle to Life On Mars“. But then there was this week’s episode, which was simply outstanding in every possible way. Almost every complaint I lodged in last week’s recap was addressed in this episode… and in the most awesome way! Episode 6 is, so far, the best episode of the series. So strap yourself in and let’s get to it:

The episode begins with Alex having a dream. To the strains of Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love”, we see her toss and turn in the sheets. She abruptly wakes up and finds her bedroom transformed into a cinema for one. On the wall opposite, a home movie is playing that shows a young Alex playing with a Rubik’s Cube. In the film, she’s sitting on the sofa in her childhood home; she becomes frustrated with the toy and throws it to the floor. This causes her mother (who has been sitting next to her on the sofa) to get up, pick up the cube, and encourage young Alex not to give up so easily. Caroline asks young Alex about the “seven steps to solving the puzzle”, to which Alex replies that the first step is to align the corners of the cube. In the film, Caroline then asks young Alex where she got the Rubik’s Cube. Adult Alex, who has remembered everything about the film from her childhood suddenly panics: she can’t remember where she got the Rubik’s Cube. As she desperately tries to remember where it came from, her bed is slowly covered with a thick layer of frost. She flashes back to the bullet heading towards her head in 2008, then has the sensation of falling… into a bed with red satin sheets. And someone else is in bed with her. Just as that person starts to roll over and reveal themselves, Adult Alex is woken up by Gene’s fist hitting her desk. She has, apparently, been asleep at her desk the entire time.

Gene is rounding up the crew to because he’s received a tip about the impending robbery of a post office on Northington Road. While en route, Viv radios them to tell them that the robbery has, in fact, already happened, and that two suspects were seen taking off on a motorcycle. As luck would have it, almost as soon as Viv is finished describing the men, they appear on the street in front of Hunt and Co. A high-speed chase ensues, with Hunt pushing his lovely red Quattro to the limit. They eventually lose the suspects when the the bandits take their bike down a narrow pedestrian walkway.

Having lost the robbers, Hunt and crew go to the post office to interview witnesses. The clerk, who is Indian (Asian, for you Brits out there) describes the robbery in detail, including such details as how he (the clerk) makes a tiny rip in each pound note and how the crooks even took his statute of Krishna. As he’s describing the Krishna statue, Gene interrupts to ask how, if the robbers were wearing masks, he knew that one of them was old and one of them was young. The clerk replies that he could tell their ages by their body movements and the timbre of their voices (OT: kudos to the actor for pronouncing it correctly: “tamber”). When Alex asks if any of them had an accent, the clerk says that they “weren’t Welsh”, because “Welsh people sound like they’re from Calcutta”. The clerk knows that one of the robbers was American, and he knows it for a fact because his wife is addicted to Hill Street Blues. He further states that the younger one, the American, kept “asking if I was talking to him”. The clerk is oblivious that the robber was quoting Travis Bickle, Robert De Niro’s character in Taxi Driver. Chris begins doing the routine, and the clerk is astonished that Chris could mimic the robber so.

Having gotten all the useful information they could from the clerk, the crew go outside to discuss the case. Hunt asks Alex what she would do. While Hunt and Drake are talking, Ray and Chris start making fun of the clerk’s accent. They mimic the clerk talking about how the older robber fired his shotguns, specifically, how the robber fired the guns, then crossed them against his chest. Hunt glares at them, causing them to stop. He asks them to do it again with the hand gestures, which makes him think of Chas Cale, a criminal from Hunt’s days in Manchester. Cale’s signature move was crossing his guns across his chest like a Mexican revolutionary. The gang go back to the car, where Hunt radios the station and asks Shaz to have Viv look in to Cale’s current whereabouts. When he’s done, everyone decides to light up – Chris and Ray light up cigarettes, while Gene fires up one of his trademark cigarillos. Drake tells them that second-hand smoke kills, and as soon as she says the work “kill”, she feels a deathly chill.

Offscreen, Hunt and Co. are apparently told that Cale is now a chef in a London restaurant, because the Quattro then pulls up in front of one. Hunt tells Alex, Ray and Chris how he busted Cale for an armed robbery back in Manchester, but somehow Cale got off on a technicality. The boys get out of the car to enter the restaurant, but Alex stays behind. She feels her body temperature dropping, and her (1981) mind is losing the ability to make connections. She stares at her hands, wondering how to increase the temperature of her (2008) body. Things go into soft focus. She looks up and sees The Clown peering at her through the windshield. The Clown stares at her, then slowly breathes on the glass, causing frost to instantly form:

Ashes to Ashes (Ep 6, 1)

Her daydream\hallucination is interrupted by Hunt, who asks Alex if she’s planning to join the rest of them.

Inside the restaurant, the team sit at a table and ask for Cale. While Cale’s being fetched, Chris has a looks at the menu, then calls the place “high class” because they have a T-bone steak on the menu “for £3.20… without the chips!” I don’t know if this is supposed to be a wry comment about the condition of British cuisine of the 70s and 80s, or if it’s a wink and a nod towards today’s “celebrity chef culture”, but it was amusing nonetheless. Anyway, Chas denies any involvement with the robbery. He’s the chef of a restaurant, you see, and how could he be robbing a post office if he was there doing the lunch service? Hunt nevertheless brings Cale and his wife Jane into the station for questioning. There, Jane says that Chas has developed epilepsy with an extreme case of arrhythmia. Chas pulls off his “Medic Alert” type necklace, and shows Hunt the “I am an epileptic” card he carries in his wallet. Jane gives Gene the hard sell, talking about how Chas can’t handle any stress, how such stress could kill him, and how she took him away from “that life” eight years ago. Hunt, angry because he has no evidence that Cale is involved (and possibly angry that he won’t be able to “hang one” on the criminal he pursued so long ago), lets the man go. Hunt and Drake then get into another shouting match: Gene is convinced that Chas is too old and sick to pull off the robbery; Alex is convinced that Chas is lying. Gene storms off to the pub, but not before insulting Alex by telling her “at least Chas knew when to hang it up”. Chris asks Shaz to go out to a nice restaurant with him, which leads Ray to call him a “poof”. Shaz, initially wanting to go but sensing the tension between the two, says that she might be busy that evening. Ray then says “yeah, that’s what I thought” while Shaz looks at her desk and Ray looks away. Tension, anyone?

Back at home, Alex continues to feel her temperature drop. She has more flashes – of the Rubik’s Cube, of her parents… of the death of her parents – and she decides that she won’t die without saying goodbye to her mother. She goes to Caroline’s house, where she comes “this close” to telling Caroline that she (Caroline) is Alex’s mother. She comes soooo close, but ends up in tears:

Ashes to Ashes (Ep 6, 2)

She goes back to the station. Gene is in an awful mood, because he has no ideas about the case now that Chas has been eliminated. After another shouting match between Alex and Gene, Alex sends Chris and Ray on a pub crawl near the pedestrian walkway (she’s convinced the robbers were local to the area, since they knew about the walkway). Gene storms out of his office to find out where Alex is sending Ray and Chris and, finding out that it’s a pub crawl, goes to get his car keys. Shaz helpfully holds up Hunt’s keys, but Alex snatches them away from her. Shaz tells Gene that they must be on his desk. Alex sneaks out and takes the Quattro!

She takes Gene’s car to the restaurant, where she takes all the trash bags. She pulls up to the station just as Gene is outside telling Viv where his car was parked. He becomes enraged when he sees Alex pull up in his pride and joy, and becomes even more angry when she opens the trunk, revealing piles of garbage in Gene’s prized car. He’s so angry, in fact, that he throws Alex off his team:

Ashes to Ashes (Ep 6, 3)

Alex stashes the trash bags in the evidence room… where The Clown visits her yet again. He’s interrupted by Shaz, who walks in to ask if Alex is OK. Alex says that she’s OK, but asks Shaz to keep an eye on the trash bags, as they’re evidence.

At the pub, Ray and Chris are busying checking out the “amazing graphics” on a brand new video game the pub has just installed: Space Invaders. At the same time, Gene is busy having a drink at Luigi’s. Luigi asks Gene where the rest of the crew and the “lovely senorina” is. Gene says that they crew are busy and he doesn’t care what happens to the “lovely senorina”. Luigi is convinced that Gene has a “thing” for Alex, although Gene vehemently denies it.

Meanwhile, Alex is in her room above Luigi’s. She continues to feel worse and worse. Since she’s seen (and talked to) her daughter on occasion in 1981, she calls out for Molly. She wants to tell her goodbye and apologize for not getting back to her in 2008. She soon falls asleep, where she’s visited by The Clown once again. Although she was ready to let go just a few minutes earlier, she now decides that it’s too soon to die. She shakes uncontrollably as she says this. She’s weak. She lies down again, where The Clown visits her again, and she has the same dream of falling into a bed.

She’s pulled back into reality by Gene. He’s been downstairs in the bar, and Luigi has finally talked him in to coming upstairs to talk to Alex. Gene sees that Alex looks awful, so he takes her downstairs for a drink. Alex is still cold, but she’s much more.. alive now that she has Gene to argue with. Her color is better and she’s stopped shaking. She tells Gene how awful he is, and how he’s going to lose Chris and Ray because he doesn’t give them any responsibility. Just at that moment, the phone rings. It’s Chris calling for Gene: while playing Space Invaders, they’ve overheard an American voice doing the “you talkin’ to me?” routine that the post office clerk mentioned. They’ve nailed one of the guys from the motorcycle, and they have him back at the station.

They hope. As Gene and Alex enter the station (followed by Chris, who won’t stop talking about his “collar”), they turn the corner to see a young boy. Chris asks Ray where the suspect is, and Ray replies that he “left him with you” while he went to get some things for the young boy. It appears that the guys have lost the suspect. So much for “giving them more responsibility”! As it turns out, the suspect has only gone to the bathroom. The young man says that he doesn’t know anything about any robbery, and Hunt takes him away to the interrogation room for further questioning. Alex initially stays behind with the boy – the suspect’s nephew – who starts talking, but is interrupted by Evan White, who has just come to check on Alex. Alex says that she’s much better, but their meeting is cut short by Gene, who calls her into the interrogation room.

The young man, Billy, says that he was at the hospital all day. His sister was giving birth, you see, and she had requested that Billy be there. Gene and Alex can’t understand why the sister would want her brother at the birth – especially since she’s on good terms with the husband, who was there at the hospital – and Billy says that that’s because the baby was interracial. His sister was having an affair with a black man because her husband occasionally beat her up. In fact, the police were called for a domestic disturbance at the sister’s house. Everything with Billy has a paper trail, it seems. They let him go, too.

Alex decides that it’s time to go through the trash bags she’d gathered from the Cales. The team has apparently never heard of going through trash as an investigative tool, because it seems all new to them – and Alex has to tell them to keep every scrap of paper they find. Aside from piles and piles of meat, the crew find all kinds of paper to help them. Alex explains how trash sorting works and how it’s used as a tool. Chris, as usual, is all excited to learn new things, while Ray quickly has his fill of going through the garbage. They all stop, however, when Gene hangs up the phone and kicks a file cabinet.

Billy is apparently dead. Shot in the face. Murdered. Donny (Billy’s nephew, the young boy mentioned earlier) witnessed the murder. Alex goes to talk with him, and Donny tells her that after the police dropped them off at Billy’s house, Billy got a phone call. He put Donny in the car and the two of them drove to the murder site. Billy then took some money out of a backpack and handed it to the man, who shot him in the back of the head. He hands Alex the backpack, which contains the clerk’s Krishna and lots of bills – each one ripped as the clerk described. Billy, it seems was involved in the robbery. Donny says Billy met a “tall man” at the scene, and Billy gave the man money. As Billy turned to walk back to the car, the man shot Billy in the back of the head. Gene tries pressing Donny for more information, while Alex shoos him off.

Since today was Donny’s birthday, Alex and Gene take him back to Luigi’s for an impromptu birthday party. Gene again presses Billy for more information, and Alex again tells him to lay off. While they’re discussing it, Donny plays with a cassette player in the background. He admits that he and Billy weren’t at the hospital, and that Billy had dropped him off in a park. He says that Billy met a man on a motorcycle – with the same helmet Viv described earlier. He also says that the man Billy met in the park was not the same man that killed him. Hunt, having all he needs for the moment, leaves Donny in Alex’s care. Alex protests, saying she’s not in good health. Hunt doesn’t care. As soon as Gene leaves, Donny tells Alex to have a drink of Coke with him. He wants to “raise and glass and say ‘chas’ with her. When Alex corrects him that it’s “cheers”, Donny says that he’s just saying it the say Billy did when he “high-fived” the man on the motorcycle. Alex knows that Chas is the other suspect.

She goes to her mother’s house to beg her to look after Donny while she goes to bust Chas. While standing there begging her mom to take Donny, Alex realizes that she doesn’t remember a boy coming to stay with them when she was a little girl. She takes this as another sign that she’s dying, since she can’t remember it. Caroline says that Alex isn’t there at the moment. Alex, relieved that this is the reason she doesn’t remember it, smiles and takes off to take down to Chas.

She rings the bell, and eventually Jane Cale comes to unlock the door. Chas reiterates that he couldn’t have pulled off the robbery. Alex begins getting a bit too close to home with her facts, and Chas looks uneasy. She then mentions that Billy has been murdered, which genuinely shocks him. As Alex is continuing, Jane comes up from behind and knocks her unconscious with some object. The two drag her to the kitchen, where Jane gets some rags to tie up Alex. It seems that Jane is the brains of the operation, and she furious at Chas for pulling off a robbery and getting police attention “after everything I’ve put together here”. They tie up Alex, who is now awake but really out of it, and drag her to walk-in freezer. Alex screams at the top of her lungs and the adrenaline starts pumping as she realizes her situation.

Meanwhile, Gene is back at the station. He’s looking at the Cale’s garbage and wondering why someone would throw away all that meat, especially since a lot of it was still before its “sell-by date”. Shaz says “it’s like they were never gonna use it”. Just then, Ray and Chris walk up. They’ve been going through the trash at Billy’s house, and have found an old pay slip from Chas Cale’s restaurant. Billy, it seems, used to work there. Gene immediately turns around and walks out of the station.

Back in the freezer, The Clown again visits Alex. I guess it’s a bit obvious to everyone now, but it’s never explicitly been stated on the show: “The Clown” is actually the Angel of Death. And he’s coming for Alex. She’s all alone, wounded, trapped and hog-tied in a walk-in freezer. Gene arrives at the restaurant and rings the bell. When no one answers, he rings it again for a long time. Chas begins having a seizure, and Jane stays with him. Gene begins walking around the restaurant, looking for a way in. The Angel of Death gets closer and closer to Alex. She looks at him in complete fear:

Ashes to Ashes (Ep 6, 4)

The music gets faster and faster as Hunt keeps looking for a way in, the Cales continue with their medical emergency, and the Angel of Death gets ever closer to Alex. Scenes from Alex’s childhood fly through her mind. The music gets faster. Hunt screams to open the bloody door. Gene then sees Alex’s police ID on the floor. The frantic music stops. Gene takes a few steps back, pulls out his revolver, and fires at the door, just as Ultravox’s “Vienna” begins playing:

Ashes to Ashes (Ep 6, 5)

It’s a bit cliché I suppose, but honestly, it was one of the most memorable moments in my personal history of television. The glass falls to the ground in slow motion as the song continues:

Walked in the cold air
Freezing breath on the window plane
Lying and waiting
A man in the dark in a picture frame
So mystic and soulful
A voice reaching out in a piercing cry
It stays with you…

The Angel of Death still approaches Alex. But as he fades in and out of focus, his face is swapped for Gene’s. Alex is dying. She gives up and closes her eyes.

The next thing you know, Gene is carrying her out of the freezer, just as the music kicks in:

The feeling has gone only you and I
It means nothing to me
This means nothing to me
Oh, Vienna

He throws Alex on a sofa and rips her shirt open to begin CPR. He keeps trying, but Alex doesn’t respond. “Don’t you dare!” Gene orders her. He goes to begin CPR… when Alex suddenly wakes up. Gene has saved her.

Back at the station, Ray and Chris are all smiles since they were able to give the clerk his Krishna back. Shaz tends to Alex’s head, and Ray and Gene being to explain the whole scam to the rest of the crew. Jane and Chas bought the restaurant with dirty money and operated it as a loss in order to sell it (and make “clean money”). Gene tells Alex that he’s taking her home. In the hallway, Gene asks Alex is she wants to go have a drink. She spies Donny (the little boy), who begs her to go to the hospital to see his little brother. And who should be supervising the boy but Evan White, who points to the Rubik’s Cube that Gene and Alex gave him at his “birthday party” and mentions that he’d recently gotten one for Caroline’s daughter. Alex now remembers where the Rubik’s Cube came from. Alex goes with Evan and the boy, thus standing Gene up. As she walks through the doors of the station, however, she has the daydream of falling into the bed again. And the person in bed with her? Gene Hunt. And the very best thing about the scene? Japan’s “Ghosts” is playing in the background!

Honestly, if you are at all a fan of British New Wave bands, you must watch this show.

My thoughts on this episode: “oh yeah, that’s why I bought a goddamn TV!

And next week’s episode looks even darker.

Thank you, Kudos Productions. I’m sorry to have doubted you.


Soft Cell – “Tainted Love”
The Skids – “Into The Valley”
Roxy Music – “Same Old Scene”
The Beat – “Mirror In The Bathroom”
Spandau Ballet – “Chant No. 1”
Kim Wilde – “Kids In America”
Ultravox – “Vienna”
The Stranglers – “Golden Brown”
Japan – “Ghosts”

Ashes to Ashes: Season 1, Episode 5

The up and down season continues on Ashes to Ashes. After last week’s kickass episode, we’re back to another snoozer. In fact, I’m so disappointed with last night’s episode that I’m not going to write up one of my infamous 15,000 word summaries. Instead, I want to talk about the series in general: its strong points, its weak points, and where I think the whole thing is going. But I can’t just jump in to that. I have to give you some sort of write up of last night’s episode. So let me quickly get that out of the way first:

DCI Hunt and the gang are out to bust a drug dealer and pimp called Simon Neary. They’ve followed him to a hotel, and Hunt is certain that the briefcase that Neary carries is full of either drugs or cash to buy drugs. Technical problems with the team’s surveillance equipment cause an overconfident Hunt to hastily break down the door of Neary’s room. But instead of finding heroin, cocaine, or a giant pile of £50 notes, they find a young man… and a bunch of assorted sex toys. Neary, it seems, is gay.

Hunt goes back to the informant that gave him the tip about the “drug deal”, and this leads to yet another classic Gene Hunt exchange:

Hunt: Reeks, you maggot! I gave you a fiver for solid information and you, you give me a suitcase full of dildoes!

Reeks: Dope!

Hunt: Dildoes! The biggest of which I will shove so far up your ass it will give your tonsils a treat if you don’t give me something better!

Reeks tells Hunt that he (Reeks) is honestly out of the loop with Neary and his gang, but he’s heard rumors about a Neary-brokered gun deal going down soon. This leads Alex onto yet another tangent: if she can stop guns from getting into London, maybe she stop the gun that shot her from getting into the city, too. And so she can then go home.

Most of the remainder of the episode involves Hunt and Drake working on Marcus, Neary’s boyfriend, the same guy that the crew busted in on at the hotel. As you might guess, Alex is the only decent, “progressive” member of the crew. Gene and Ray simply can’t understand why someone would want to be gay; Drake, being from 2008, simply accepts Marcus’s homosexuality and tries playing the “good cop” angle with him.

As you can probably guess, Hunt and company eventually catch Neary (although perhaps not in the way you’d expect). While the episode was decent television (far better than just about anything on American TV these days), there wasn’t much to like about this episode… except a scene where Ray (of all people) is tasked to go undercover and hit on Neary (so that Marcus will see it and realize that Neary isn’t the great boyfriend he thinks he is). Ray, although completely uncomfortable with the entire concept, nevertheless does a pretty good job of flirting with Neary… until Simon whispers something into Ray’s ear which causes him to freak out:

Ashes to Ashes (Ep 5, 1)

Oh, and since no episode of Ashes to Ashes is ever complete without Keeley Hawes dressing up like a tart, let’s go ahead and get that out of the way:

Ashes to Ashes (Ep 5, 2)

* * *

Don’t get me wrong… I’m a red-blooded American male that enjoys watching girls dressed up like tarts on TV. I think that Keeley Hawes is kind of hot, too, in that “she’s not a supermodel, but there’s just something about her” kind of way. You’d think that seeing Keeley Hawes in skimpy outfits every week would be be win-win…

But it’s not. It’s just so… blatant that it’s getting old. Consider the “bra scene” I posted a picture of in last week’s recap. The exact same shot I posted at the last graphic in that recap was featured prominently in the “On the next episode” teaser at the end of episode 3. It was also featured prominently in the “Last Time…” recap at the beginning of this episode.

To the people at Kudos Productions and the BBC, I say this: we get it. Keeley Hawes is hot. She looks good in skimpy outfits. We all know that sex sells, and I’m sure you’re picking up additional viewers because of it (note: they are). But it’s getting a bit… contrived, don’t you think? What’s up next week – is a mobster going to celebrate a birthday, which causes DI Drake to work undercover by jumping out of the cake? Are the Triads going to try and corner London’s silk market, which will somehow lead to Drake wearing a skimpy kimono as she chases one of them into a walk-in freezer? A sudden rash of armed robberies at a nudist colony, perhaps? Maybe the IRA will bomb a latex factory, which causes Alex – just arrived back from the nudist colony – to be covered from head to toe in liquid latex… OK, I’m being silly, but you get my point.

In Life On Mars, Sam Tyler has no idea why he was sent back to 1973. During the course of series 1, he gets closer and closer to what he thinks is the reason, but this develops over the course of 4 or 5 episodes, and is ultimately rejected. In Ashes to Ashes, Alex thinks everything is the reason she was sent back in time. If 1981 Drake were to hear that Roundtree were developing a new flavor of Kit Kat candy bar, she’d immediately have a trippy flashback to her dad buying a Kit Kat on the way home from work the day he was murdered. If only she could stop Roundtree from introducing that new flavor if Kit Kat, maybe, just maybe, he dad wouldn’t stop for one on the way home – thus, changing history’s timeline and helping Alex find her way home! It’s tiring. But I guess that Alex has a different personality than Sam, so I guess that I can deal with it. But still, she’s supposed to be a psychologist and everything – you think she’d know better, right?

Thankfully, Caroline Price (Alex’s mother) made only a brief appearance in this episode. Many of the fan sites I’ve visited seem to actively dislike the whole “Alex has Mommy Issues” storyline. It didn’t bother me at first – in fact, I didn’t even really think about it until I read about it on a fan’s blog – but I can see where it would annoy some. It’s obvious to the viewers that Alex has gone back in time for some reason related to her parents, so I suppose that it only makes sense that she would run in to her mother there… and yes, I can see where Alex would have “Mommy Issues”. Of course, it’s highly convenient that Alex would be placed on Gene’s team, which, for whatever reason, is always running in to Caroline Price. You see this conceit in a lot of TV shows and movies – someone keeps running into someone else in a city of 10 million people. It boggles the mind that it could happen with a police force numbering in the thousands. Aren’t there corrupt cops in other London police districts that Caroline could be busting ? I guess that Kudos isn’t above using that tired old cliché.

But the writers need to tread carefully with this storyline. I can see this getting very old, very quickly. When I was a teen, I had a friend that hated her life, and talked about suicide all the freaking time. One night, she called me and said that she had swallowed a bunch of pills. I asked what type of pills they were (Valium), how many she’d taken (11 or 12), and how long ago she’d taken them (around 10 minutes before she’d called me). I just told her to take a spoon, stick it in the back of her mouth, throw the pills up and go to sleep. I became a pariah for a while when everyone at school found out what I’d said. I was the “uncaring friend”, the “jerk that told her to throw up just to get her off the phone”. No one ever stopped to listen to my side of the story: that when someone calls you and talks about suicide, you take it seriously. After the 300th time they’ve called you and talked about suicide, it just gets old. It’s not that you don’t care, it’s that getting a phone call like that drains the life (and adrenaline) out of you. And once someone has pulled that stunt 300 times, well… you just start to ignore it. And I hope that doesn’t happen to Alex – that she whines and whines about her mother so much that everyone just presses the fast-forward button on their DVR remotes.

Another thing that bothers me is the lack of (for a better word) the “supernatural” in Ashes to Ashes. In Life On Mars, 1973 Sam started hearing the voices in 2006 Sam’s hospital room almost immediately. He was routinely “visited” by the Test Card F girl and a lecturer from Open University (a British “distance learning” institution that used television-based courses from 1971 to 2006). He seemed to be in almost constant contact with either the 2006 world or the “supernatural” world. Yet, while Alex has seen The Clown on several occasions, and seems to have regular conversations with her 2006 daughter, Molly, when she’s alone, she hasn’t been contacted once by anyone from the present day. Of course, in 2008 she was dying alone in an abandoned barge on the Thames, so it’s possible that she hasn’t heard any voices in 1981 because no one’s found her in 2008 yet. But still, it seemed like there was always contact going on between 1973 Sam and “what was not 1973″. Ashes to Ashes seems to be missing this… a lot!

And speaking of “lots”… this episode in particular was heavy on the ham-fisted moralizing. Yes, Kudos, we get it: homosexuals used to have a bad time of it. Although life in 2008 is far from perfect for most gay people, we get that heterosexual people in 1981 weren’t much more evolved than medieval peasants. I’m surprised that Ray and Chris didn’t want to have Marcus burned at the stake for “gaycraft”, or waterboarded in Holy Water… or something. Drake’s “you can’t ‘catch’ gay” speech at the station might have been innovative TV in 1981, or even 1991. But the same speech today just made me roll my eyes. It came off like something cribbed from an after school special. Imagine watching a prime-time drama in the USA in 2008 and hearing a character say “black people are people, just like whites! They have families! They have dreams!”. Yes, we all agree on that. Even the most racist among us know that black people are indeed people. We finally gave up the fiction that they might not be in the 1960s; hearing a speech saying just that 40 years later would be a bit… childish, I think. And the scene at the end of this episode – where Alex spots Kaposi’s sarcoma on Marcus, thus foreshadowing the arrival of the AIDS epidemic in Britain – was just the little bit that pushed me over the edge. There was a film about the AIDS epidemic called And The Band Played On (based on a book of the same name). The film was nothing more than two hours of self-righteous speechifying by Matthew Modine’s character. This episode of Ashes to Ashes wasn’t nearly as blatant as And The Band Played On, but it was close, even though in 2008 it didn’t even have to be.

All this moralizing is in direct opposition to what made us fall in love with DCI Gene Hunt in the first place. Hunt is unabashedly of his time. He’ll slap a suspect around, then slap a female police officer on the ass on his way out of the interrogation room. He drinks whiskey and smokes cigarellos at his desk, then goes to a smoky pub for a lunch of sausages and mashed potatoes drenched in gravy. He thinks that John Wayne was the perfect male role model and his car really is an extension of his penis. He lives in an age before low-fat diets, carb counting menus, sexual harassment lawsuits, political correctness seminars, smoking bans, drug tests and talking about your feelings. Hunt doesn’t even know what “saturated fats” are, much less give a damn about them. Hunt has a dark streak in him, a prejudice that automatically assumes that “darkies” are criminals, that “poofters” are depraved perverts and women police officers are only there to get him coffee and jiggle on demand. But yet, there’s an inherent goodness in him, an ability to see past his own prejudices and eventually do the right thing. Hunt’s the kind of cop that would beat a black suspect senseless, but once he found out that the black guy was framed, he’d dedicate himself to finding the actual perpetrators with a vengeance like something out of the Old Testament. As mentioned in previous recaps, Hunt also has a spidey sense and intelligence that Ray and Chris lack. Sure – Hunt would immediately suspect an illegal immigrant of a crime, but he’d also be the first to get a gut feeling that something wasn’t right about his suspicion. Where Chris and Ray would keep working immigrant until they found something they could hang on him, Hunt would realize that something didn’t add up. All this over-the-top moralizing in Ashes to Ashes creates a tension that wasn’t quite there in Life On Mars. We loved Hunt because of who he was: a simple-minded badass. But now we’ve got the writers making us feel bad for liking him.

OK, so that’s about it for today. However, I did one to point out one last thing about Ashes, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. The writers have a true gem in Montserrat Lombard, who plays Shaz Granger in the show. She’s a young WPC (Woman Police Constable) that apparently has a little “thing” going on with Chris. She’s cute, she’s bright and she knows far more about the world than you’d expect her to. And she’s woefully underutilized in Ashes to Ashes. She’s mainly used for comic relief – like last week when she ruined Ray and Chris’s big reveal by knowing the name of an obscure left-wing group. She’s also used as a foil with Chris; where Chris represents the “old school” way of thinking, Shaz gently explains the “modern” view of things, like women’s rights, to him. The only problem is that that’s all her character is used for. In last week’s “reveal ruiner”, she was sitting at her desk when Chris and Ray came in with big smiles on their faces. They’re proud to have figured out that “RWF” stood for “Revolutionary Worker’s Front”. But before they can tell anyone that, Shaz says “RWF? You mean the Revolutionary Worker’s Front? My dad was big into the trade unions, so that’s how I know”. Shaz then walks off, only to more or less disappear for the rest of the episode. It’s a shame, because I think Shaz would make a great addition to the show. Well, more than she’s used now, that is.


Madness – “One Step Beyond”
Simple Minds -“I Travel”
XTC – “Sgt. Rock”
Killing Joke – “Turn To Red”
Donna Summer – “I Feel Love”
John Davis & The Monster Orchestra – “Love Magic”
The Human League – “Don’t You Want Me”
Sarah Brightman & Hot Gossip – “I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper”
Soft Cell – “Where Did Our Love Go?”

Ashes to Ashes: Season 1, Episode 4

Another Thursday, another episode of Ashes to Ashes! This week’s episode, while far from perfect, was a vast improvement over last week’s snoozer. This episode almost had it all: murder, adultery, spies, nuclear weapons… and angry female communists! Let’s get right to the recap, shall we?

A body is found in an abandoned warehouse in the Docklands area of London. At first, DCI Hunt and crew think that they’ve discovered a suicide, as the man appeared to fall from the top of the warehouse’s giant staircase. This notion is quickly dismissed by Ray, who finds blood and scuff marks on the floor upstairs, and also by a forensic examiner, who notes blunt force trauma to the man’s head and green wool under his nails, as if he’d grabbed someone’s clothes to try and stop his fall.

The man had no ID on him, so Hunt and crew take the man’s diary back to the station, where Ray notes several references to something called “RWF”. Drake takes the diary and finds a hidden compartment, where she finds a small piece of paper with some type of code on it… as well as her mother’s phone number, which she stealthily puts into her back pocket. Drake then goes to have another look at the body, only to find that it’s already been picked up by the coroner. The lab technician said that the men from the coroner’s office have only just left, so Alex rushes to the loading dock to find several shady men loading the body into a white van. The men seem to be led by a creepy-looking guy in a black Mercedes. None of them reply to Alex when she tries talking to them – they simply finish loading the van and drive away. Come to find out, the quick removal of the body was ordered by the Home Office. Alex thinks that this is strange, but Gene Hunt isn’t worried. In fact, he doesn’t really think much at all about it. While Alex and Gene are arguing about what Home Office involvement means in the case, Chris enters. They’ve identified the body as one Martin Kennedy.

Alex then has lunch with Evan White at Luigi’s. Amusingly, Luigi doesn’t know that White is Alex’s godfather, and thinks the two are on a date. He lavishes them with attention, and gives Alex knowing winks and free drinks. Alex asks White if he knows Martin Kennedy, or if Kennedy was a client of his firm. White denies any knowledge of him. Alex asks if he thinks Tim and Caroline Price (her parents, and the two main partners at the firm) know Kennedy. White tells Alex to ask Caroline herself.

Back at the station, Hunt sits in his (strangely quiet) office, carefully examining a key that was found on Kennedy, as well as the piece of paper with the code on it:

Ashes to Ashes (Ep 4, 1)

Hunt knows that Desk Sergeant Viv James (Geff Francis) is constantly doing crosswords and other puzzles, so he hands him the code and asks him to have a whack at it (by the way: thanks to Francis and the writers for not making Viv another magic negro character). As Drake walks with Alex back to his office, he tells her that Kennedy worked part time as a security guard at a secret nuclear weapons research site at Edgehampton. This sets Alex off: Home Office involvement, secret weapons research sites, codes… just then, Chris and Ray walk up to Gene and Alex. They’re really happy with themselves, as they’ve figured out what “RWF” stands for. Just as they’re about to reveal what it is, Shaz says “RWF? The Revolutionary Workers Front?” – thus spoiling Chris and Ray’s big reveal. Chris and Ray say that RWF are having a meeting today at the Red Lion pub, so the boys take off to see what they can find out.

Alex decides to instead visit her mother to see what she knows about Kennedy. It’s a touching scene, as it’s the first time she’s been “home” since she traveled back in time. There are a lot of soft-focus shots of a young Alex playing in the front yard (including lifting a rock to get a key – will this be important later?). Caroline leads Alex to the family room, where Caroline and Evanare enjoying glasses of wine and (how’s this for early 80s) Danish blue cheese. Caroline reveals that she hired Kennedy to do some odd jobs – and nothing more. Alex asks Caroline if she knew that Kennedy worked at the Edgehampton weapons facility. Caroline says that “he might have mentioned it”, but doesn’t seem to know much more than that. Caroline’s spidey sense is tingling though – as one of Britain’s most prominent left-wing lawyers, Caroline is quick to assign anything awful to the government. She tells Alex to “tread carefully”.

Alex thanks her and excuses herself to go to the toilet. However, she instead goes up to her room, where she has a loving reunion with some of her old possessions – a book, her roller skates, a Shakin’ Stevens cassette… and her diary. Here’s another possible plot twist: young Alex hid her diary in the fireplace of her bedroom. Older Alex knows this, and she pulls it down and starts reading it. Caroline then walks in on older Alex, who stammers and apologizes for being nosy. Caroline seems surprised to see the diary, as if she had no idea that it even existed. Although she swears to Alex that she hasn’t read it, we’re left wondering if Caroline’s “discovery” of the diary will have implications in the future. Or past. You know what I mean.

Meanwhile, the boys have reached the Red Lion. At first, they stand in the back of the room quietly as a female speaker rails against neutron bombs, Ronald Reagan’s research into them, Margaret Thatcher’s approval of them, and their inevitable appearance on British soil. The crowd, consisting only of women, cheers with delight as the speaker asks them to “join our European sisters” against the weapons. A woman at the front of the crowd tells the speaker not to bring gender into it, and she doesn’t see the need to “make it some petty bourgeois ‘Mothers Against The Bomb’ crap”. The speaker continues on with her left-wing gender politics, at one point saying “woman have a voice that needs to be heard!!!” In one of the funniest moments of Ashes to Ashes so far, Hunt then yells “Don’t we get enough of that?” over the crowd, flashes his badge, and starts rounding up the women… as Duran Duran’s “Girls On Film” starts playing in the background.

The leftists are taken back to the station. Ray, clueless that a woman can be smarter than himself, becomes furious as he goes ’round and ’round in questioning an uncooperative leftist. Chris, on the other hand, is having an earnest conversation with another of the leftists, and quickly becomes convinced that he’s a part of the “capitalist patriarchy stained with the blood of oppressed women”. Or some such. Those two are so funny! Hunt isn’t having much luck either. As he questions one of the women, she calls him a fascist for threatening her. Hunt, in one of his classic lines, says “I’m trying to find out who murdered this man. If that makes he a fascist then Heil bloody Hitler!” The women then begin an anti-Thatcher rally inside the police station. Not much has come from all this, aside from a frazzled Gene and Ray… and some photographs of an RWF meeting held the same night as Kennedy’s murder.

Later that night, Alex gets a phone call at home. The caller doesn’t say anything, and only a crackling can be heard on the phone line. Alex immediately suspects that he phone is tapped – which is interesting because: a) you’d think that spy agencies would be more subtle than to call someone who’s phone line they’ve tapped, and b) Alex immediately thinks “wire tap” and not “contact from 2008”, as Sam Tyler might have in Life On Mars. In any case, she returns to work the next day, more certain than ever that some huge conspiracy is afoot. Alex and Gene then have this classic exchange:

Gene: There is no conspiracy. Contrary to what commie nutters believe and what you’ve seem to have forgotten is that this is the home of bloody democracy, Land of Hope and Glory, Rule Britannia, roast beef and Yorkshire pud and a square deal for all. If the government are keeping secrets, it’s probably for our own bloody good.

Alex: You are so naive.

Gene: And you are really pissing me off. The British government does not go around throwing people off the tops of buildings…

Alex: Kennedy worked part time at a top secret weapons research center, joined a left-wing group… suddenly he’s murdered and his body goes missing…

Gene: Spies do not wear camo and keep girlie mags under their beds. They’re too busy sipping claret and touching each other’s posh todges. You probably know some of them. This is a murder inquiry.

Alex: One that could already be compromised. They could be watching us right now!

Gene: And when they come, they’ll be wearing white coats and carrying a straightjacket and it won’t be my bloody size!

Chris then enters Hunt’s office and announces that Kennedy was indeed a spy… because he was broke. I’m not sure I quite follow that. Anyway, Sergeant James finds Drake and tells her that the “code” is a cipher, and that he’s figured out a word from it: Artemis. Alex mentions that Artemis was the “goddess of the hunt”, which makes Ray ask if “that’s who you are – the goddess of the hunt?” Chris, still under the influence of the leftist feminists mentions that it’s a “potent symbol of female power”. She asks Ray and Chris whether they’ve noticed anyone following them. The two seem confused, so she gives them a crash course in surveillance.

A few minutes later, Alex finds Hunt, who has found out about Kennedy’s odd jobs work. The two decide to check out Kennedy’s workshop… but are “tailed” by Chris and Ray, who do such an awful job tracking Hunt and Drake that Gene knows from the start that they’re being tailed:

Ashes to Ashes (Ep 4, 2)

At the workshop, Gene uses the mysterious key to open a locked chest. Inside he finds some garden variety porn… and pictures of Caroline and Evan having sex! They’re blackmail pictures, apparently. The gang decide to pay Caroline a visit. Alex, as you might imagine, is furious with her mother for cheating on her dad. But of course, she can’t tell her mom why. Caroline denies paying Kennedy any hush money and also reveals that her husband still does not know of the affair, since he is away in America. How convenient, Gene thinks, that Kennedy ended up dead before he had a chance to contact Caroline’s husband. Alex then screams herself red at Caroline, then storms out into the hallway to try an to calm herself down. There she suddenly remembers, as a child, seeing Caroline and Evan embracing. Alex returns to the parlor, where Caroline mentions that Kennedy might have tried selling the pictures to “another buyer”. As left-wing, anti-government lawyers they have many enemies… especially at MI-5. Foreshadowing, perhaps?

Back at the station, Evan shows up for questioning. Hunt begins with his standard “bad cop” schtick, when Alex suddenly jumps in on a more personal level. Alex keeps “chatting” with Evan as she escorts him out of the building. Evan assures Alex that he and Caroline’s “relationship” is over. He begins to walk away, and, as Alex turns to walk back into the building, she sees the “Mercedes man” leaving. Alex rushes back inside and asks Viv what the man wanted. He says that the man identified himself as “DC Baker from Kennington”, and that he picked up some evidence related to the Kennedy case.

Alex rushes to the evidence room, only to find Kennedy’s diary gone. She hightails it to Hunt’s office, and asks if he has the diary. When Gene says that he does not, Alex closes the blinds and cranks up the radio (as an anti-surveillance measure). She says that she now has proof that something’s going on: DC Baker from Kennington is a 25 year-old female, while the person that picked up the evidence is a man in his 40s. Gene is finally convinced that a conspiracy is afoot. The two move to the kitchenette, where they talk over a running tap (running water camouflages conversations). Shaz interrupts them to tell them that the RWF had several charges against them, and all were handled by… Tim Price.

As an amusing sidenote… does anyone else remember the poster behind Gene in this scene:

Ashes to Ashes (Ep 4, 3)

Gene and Alex decide to question Sara Templeton, the leader of the RWF. With Kennedy now connected to them by Tim Price, Alex notes that Kennedy – a worker and a secret weapons lab – could be quite valuable to a left-wing group. As the two are leaving, Viv stops them to tell them that he’s cracked the code. The paper is apparently a list of old Tube station names. Sara then meets Gene and Alex at a pub, where she readily admits that she used Kennedy to get information about the weapons lab. She says that they found a document called “Artemis” that would prove that the British government was working on a neutron bomb, but that Kennedy was killed before they could actually get their hands on the document.

Hunt and Drake go back to Caroline’s house, where she admits that she knows about Kennedy and Templeton’s shenanigans, and that Kennedy’s connection to the RWF might have made him a target for British intelligence services. Alex shows Caroline the list of Tube station names. Caroline says that Edgehampton has many underground levels, and each named after a former Tube station name. Later on, at home, Alex wonders if she’s been sent back in time to save her parents, who were killed in 1981 when a bomb was planted under their car. Poor Alex – she really doesn’t have any idea what’s going on, does she?

And so – Gene and Alex do the only logical thing… infiltrate the weapons lab! Gene takes Kennedy’s ID and pastes his picture over it. Which is kind of amusing, if you think about it. Nowadays, “modern” identification cards use watermarks, holograms, RFID chips and such… and yet, all Gene needs is a photo booth picture of himself and some glue to get into a top secret military base! Anyway, Gene and Alex are successful in infiltrating the base – mostly due to Gene’s purposeful gait, I’m convinced – the two find the “Artemis” document. However, they’re almost caught when a soldier passes by. Alex, in a panic, closes the airtight vault, thus locking herself in with Gene. The two are trapped for some time, and it begins to get hot in the vault. Gene starts sweating like a pig, so he starts unbuttoning his shirt. Alex is initially repulsed, but as it gets hotter, she does the same.


Ashes to Ashes (Ep 4, 4)

While Gene and Alex are locked in the vault, Ray comes back from a date with “one of the commie girls”… and he’s carrying a green jumper (sweater). On his date, Ray found out that Sara had borrowed the sweater from his date, and that she (Sara) was late to the meeting the night of Kennedy’s murder. In the photographs taken of that night (which we’d seen earlier), Sara is the only one not wearing a heavy sweater or coat, as she’d given the sweater back to its owner.

Chris and Ray bring Sara in for questioning, and she breaks under their “good cop, bad cop” routine. Ray then notices the time. Knowing that Gene should have been back by now, he and Chris go to the weapons lab. Somehow (it’s never shown how) they infiltrate the lab and free Alex and Gene. They all then go back to the station, where Sara admits that she killed Kennedy, but says she did it in self defense. She slept with him to get the information about “Artemis”. He then demanded money, and when she refused he raped her. Caroline comes to the station, ostensively to defend Sara. During a talk with Alex, however, Caroline admits that the whole thing was a set-up, and that she was one that wanted the information. Which makes sense, really. Who’s the average person going to believe? A bunch of hippy-like left-wing radicals, or a well respected, but anti-establishment, lawyer? Alex, disgusted with Caroline, gives the incriminating pictures (with negatives) back to Caroline for some reason. As Alex is leaving the building, Evan comes to her and says that it’s “completely over” with Caroline. He seems to be telling her this so he can get a date with Alex, but she quickly cuts him off.

Alex and Gene meet up at Luigi’s… where they’re joined by the mysterious “Mercedes Man”, who, in fact, does work for the Security Services. The man said that he’d had his eye on Kennedy for a while, and that “something is missing” from the vault. Gene doesn’t admit to taking anything, only that they’d better fix up security at the site. The man asks Gene to return the “thing” if he comes across it. Gene locked the “Artemis” file in his desk as he was leaving for Luigi’s. Will it still be there in the morning?


Spandau Ballet – “To Cut A Long Story Short”
Shakin’ Stevens – “Green Door”
Duran Duran – “Girls On Film”
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – “Enola Gay”
The Clash – “London Calling”
Human League – “Love Action”
The Teardrop Explodes – “Reward”
The Clash – “Police and Thieves”

Ashes to Ashes: Season 1, Episode 3

Last night’s episode of Ashes to Ashes was a bit of a disappointment. After two episodes of “balls to the wall” action and intrigue, the writers took their foot off the gas with this touching (yet slow) episode.

The episode begins with an amusing drug bust: Gene fires up the Quattro and chases a white van through the streets of London, only to find it stuffed full of… garden gnomes… which are in turn stuffed full of drugs. While tidying up the crime scene, DI Drake stumbles across a girl that’s not only mute, but appears to be quite troubled about something as well.

Back at the station, Hunt and Drake try questioning the girl without success. Shortly thereafter, a prostitute named Trixie walks into the station, claiming to have been raped and nearly murdered on a party boat. She also mentions that the would-be killer called her “impure” and said “something about ‘being beautiful on the outside but full of old bones on the inside'”. The male officers are completely dismissive at first, and most are unsure that a “prozzie” can even be raped. DI Drake’s protestations that rape isn’t about sex but about power and control fall on deaf ears. That is, until Trixie shows Drake her wounds, which include a 4-inch gash on her left breast. This stirs Hunt into action, as a murder victim was recently found with similar wounds, the details of which were not made public.

Ashes to Ashes (Ep 3, 1)

So the team begins searching for a serial attacker. Drake begins by looking through the case file of the murder victim – a young black girl that, unlike Trixie, was a “completely normal”, church-going girl that was actively involved in the choir there. There’s an interesting scene where Hunt and Drake gather the team to explain what they should be looking for. Drake uses all of her psychology technobabble, the type of modern-day criminal profiling stuff we’ve grown accustomed to. DCI Hunt interrupts her a few times, giving the team his own “old school” wisdom about the matter. It’s an interesting contrast between two contrasting, yet completely valid, policing styles.

Hunt and Drake go to the murder victim’s church. A surreal scene unfolds where Drake daydreams about her past, Molly and The Clown while the choir is practicing. This somehow leads Alex to a flash of inspiration: she grabs a Bible from the pew and rapidly flips through the pages until she finds Matthew, chapter 23, verses 27 & 28:

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”

This leads Drake to profile the would-be killer further. Hunt doesn’t entirely believe her (“Don’t you ever get brainache?”), especially after they get back to the station and read Trixie’s police record. She’s apparently stolen money from “clients” in the past. This makes Gene believe her even less. Drake wants to go undercover on the party boat to find out more, but Gene is wary of that too. It seems the owner of the party boat is a Mason, as are most of the higher-ups in the police department, so it would be detrimental to the careers of all the officers if Drake is wrong (there were several real-life scandals in the 1980s involving the Metropolitan Police and Freemasonry; although this site is anti-Freemasonry, it does have a good summary of what happened).

Drake wants to visit her mother (the lawyer) for reassurance, but as she approaches the office door, who should walk out the door but Evan (her uncle and her daughter Molly’s godfather). I don’t know if it’s intentional or not, but Evan looks almost exactly the same in 1981 as he does in 2008; you’d think he’d age more in 27 years. Anyway, the two have a conversation where Alex vaguely describes what’s going on with the killer. Evan advises Alex to “go with her instinct”… which is to warn the prostitutes in the area where Trixie works about the killer.

Hunt eventually tracks her down. He asks Drake why she’s so protective of the prostitutes; Drake reveals that she was a prostitute in her younger years. Hunt doesn’t appear to really believe her, but Chris and Ray buy her story entirely. When Hunt appears to be on the verge of believing her, Drake tears into him. She asks him why he’d believe that she’d been raped, but not Trixie. The two get closer and closer and the discussion gets colder and colder… eventually Drake hauls off and punches Gene in the face… twice! The two eventually make up by getting drunk together at Luigi’s. A slick businessman starts hitting on Drake at the bar, and she takes him home for a one-night stand. We see the couple have sex, and the man apparently leaves later, as Drake is shown sleeping alone in her bed. The TV is on in the background, and during the BBC’s nightly sign-off, Molly and The Clown appear on the screen. Drake, fast asleep, is oblivious.

The next day, WPC Granger tells Alex that there’s a “fancy dress” (costume) party on the party boat that night. The team make plans to go undercover at the party.

Ashes to Ashes (Ep 3, 2)

At the party, the team closely observe the waitstaff. They’re looking for a man that meets Trixie’s description. Some comic relief is provided by Ray, who for some reason decided to go to the party as James Bond. Since he’s wearing a tuxedo, everyone at the party assumes that he’s a waiter, and guests hand him dirty glasses and try taking his drink. The crew eventually spot a suspect. Drake “dirty dances” with Ray while Hunt goes over to the waiter and talks about what a “slut” Drake is. The waiter agrees, and he eventually mentions the same line about being full of “dead men’s bones” that Trixie mentioned.

This leads to the waiter’s immediate arrest. At the station, he claims to have never seen Trixie before, much less attack her. When asked point blank by Hunt whether he raped Trixie, he swears on the Bible that he did not. Hunt leaves the interrogation room in a rage, but not before ordering Chris and Ray to “keep an eye on” the mute black girl that’s been hanging around the station the entire time. Chris is eventually called away, leaving Ray alone with the girl.

Now Ray is arguably the most racist, sexist and homophobic of the bunch. He’s as bad as Gene about suspecting “darkies” and “poofters”, yet he completely lacks any of the “spidey sense” that makes Gene so successful in spite of his prejudices. Nevertheless, Ray sits down with the girl and takes his right shoe and sock off to make a sock puppet to entertain her. Ray is actually sweet and slightly vulnerable with the girl. This leads her to confess that she’s the prostitute. Ray doesn’t believe her, until she opens her shirt to reveal bruises and a deep cut on her left breast. Apparently Trixie is the one that “recruited” the girl into prostitution, and her guilt about this (along with the girl’s reluctance to go to the police) led Trixie to commandeer Nina’s story as her own. Ray tells Drake this, who runs to Hunt to tell him; Hunt already knows, as he’s finally gotten the truth out of Trixie.

The crew track down the attacker, who holds a knife to a prostitute’s throat as the police surround him. Ray, who Hunt told to go around the back way, sneaks up on the attacker and knocks the knife away. The hooker takes off, which means that only Nina is left to testify against the attacker. She is reluctant at first, but Ray promises to protect her. She’s still unconvinced, and when Hunt (sadly) says that no jury will believe her, the charges are dropped and the murderer is set free.

That doesn’t mean that he won’t get what’s coming to him, though. The next day, the crew go to Luigi’s for an after-work drink. Hunt is talking with Drake when he nods towards the TV set, which is showing the news. Apparently the attacker was arrested that morning for possession of 10kg of cocaine… concealed in garden gnomes. Drake looks at Hunt and says “You didn’t?” to which Hunt replies that he had nothing to do with it. Drake looks at Ray, who gives her a wry smile and shrugs his shoulders. Drake tells Ray that “perhaps there’s more to you than I thought”, at which point Chris says “Hey Ray, I bet you can’t light one of your farts!”… thus bringing everything back to normal.


The Ruts – “Staring at the Rude Boys”
Joe Jackson – “It’s Different for Girls”
Bryan Ferry – “Let’s Stick Together”
Roxy Music – “Over You”
Bucks Fizz – “Making Your Mind Up”
Modern Romance – “Ay Ay Ay Ay Moosey”
Duran Duran – “Planet Earth”
Altered Images – “Happy Birthday”
The Beat – “Doors of Your Heart”

Ashes to Ashes: Season 1, Episode 2

I had a hard time believing that Ashes to Ashes could be as good as Life On Mars. In one sense, it can’t be; Mars was the first version of the show, so all of the “uniqueness” and “innovation” went with the original show. Once Mars was completed, the idea was no longer “new”, so anything that followed it would lack that originality. But this Thursday’s episode of Ashes to Ashes was simply incredible.

In a nutshell, the episode revolved around a property developer. The developer has big plans, you see. He wants to knock down much of the crumbling remains of East London and replace it with gleaming new skyscrapers. As you might imagine, the people that live in East London aren’t too keen on being kicked out of their homes to make way for new offices and condos for London’s financial elite. And one of those residents begins threatening the developer… with dynamite! The developer initially scoffs at the idea of police protection, but DCI Gene Hunt is insistent: this is the week of the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Di, and the last thing the Metropolitan Police want is any bombs going in London:

“I’ll not have the aristocracy of this country blown to smithereens on my watch.”

Once the developer finds a fake bomb planted “as a warning” in his DeLorean, however, he changes his tune about police protection. Our time traveler, DI Alex Drake, goes out on a date with the him… partly because he requires police protection, but also because she has a bit of a crush on him.

And thus, my favorite scene of the episode: the couple go out to dinner, then make their way to a nightclub. At first, the camera pans around to show people dancing. The couple could, in fact, be in any nightclub anywhere in the world (well, any nightclub anywhere in the world… in 1981). But then the camera pans around to show our happy couple walking into the club and pausing at the coat check. Alex takes off her coat, looks at the coat check attendant, is taken aback for a second, then gets a goofy smile on her face. “Thanks, George!” she says:

Ashes to Ashes (Blitz 1)

Ashes to Ashes (Blitz 2)

If you’re not a fan of the British music scene in the early 1980s, you can be forgiven for not understanding why this scene is so priceless. The “George” manning the coat check is none other than a pre-Culture Club Boy George, and the nightclub is Blitz. Blitz was ground zero for the New Romantic movement in the early 80s. Many of my early favorite bands were New Romantics, acts like Duran Duran, Visage, Ultravox, ABC, Japan and Adam & The Ants. All of the guys from Spandau Ballet were regulars at Blitz, as was Pete Burns of Dead or Alive. The door at Blitz was rigidly controlled by Steve Strange, who also was rising to fame at the same time as the lead singer of Visage (in fact, Visage is onstage during this scene playing their “their newest single”, a little song called “Fade to Grey”! And yes, that’s the real Steve Strange on the stage (but an actress playing Princess Julia).

The scene highlights something I haven’t really mentioned about Mars and Ashes to this point: at times, the shows can be damn funny! I’ve probably made the shows seem deadly serious to this point, and much of the time they are. They’re about people ripped from their loved ones and out of their element, traveling through time. So yes, there’s a lot of pain involved. But there’s humor aplenty in both shows, especially when someone mentions something about the future we already know. The gruff but lovable Gene Hunt declares in Mars, for instance, that “there will never be a woman prime minister as long as I have a hole in my arse!”

Ashes differs from Mars on three levels, though.

Although I “miss” the 1973 of Mars – or at least the carefree, “smoke anywhere you want, drink at your desk” times – the 1981 setting of Ashes really hits close to home with me. If I could go back in time, I’d probably go back to London sometime between 1975 and 1980. You can bet your ass I’d go to Blitz, too! So when I watch Ashes, it’s almost with a longing, as if I too want to go back to 1981 and see all the things I missed back in 1981 because I was 9 years old and couldn’t get into nightclubs… or go to the record store by myself… or do much of anything, really. ‘Cos I was 9.

Ashes also has a reality streak running through it that Mars didn’t. I don’t know if the “property developer” from this episode actually existed, but I do know that many old neighborhoods in East London were knocked to the ground to make way for new construction in the Docklands area. This was all spurred on by the highly controversial London Docklands Development Corporation (which was formed in… 1981!). The LDDC was frequently seen as being in favor of elite property developers over local residents, so much of this episode, especially the bitterness from the locals – rings true. Of course, Mars had some of this, but it wasn’t nearly as front and center as it is in Ashes.

Another difference is that Drake meets her mother in this episode. In Mars, Sam Tyler met his mother too, but she only appeared in a few episodes. Very little was done storywise with this, as Sam kept her at arm’s length. In Ashes, Alex and her Mom (one of those hardass, “cops are always evil and never right about anything” attorneys) go ’round and ’round with each other over the questioning of a suspect. At one point later on, the two run into each other at Luigi’s. Her Mom begins the conversation by talking about women’s rights, and how it’s a shame that some women get power then act like men when once they do. Alex, knowing she is talking to her mother, defends herself to the best of her ability, but it’s clear that her mother doesn’t approve. Eventually, her Mom says that it’s a strange coincidence that she (Alex) has the same name as her daughter. The two go on talking, and Alex’s mother ends up asking her to spy on her colleagues. At this point, Alex finally stiffens and says “No way, Never”. Alex’s mother storms off, but not before says “[t]hank God the only thing my daughter shares with you is her name. I’d be ashamed if she grew up to be like you.” Ouch.

I can’t wait until next week’s episode! If you’re not watching this show, you’re missing out on some great TV, people! If you don’t live in the UK and want to watch (but have no idea about how to go about doing so), please don’t hesitate to let me know – I’ll be glad to help!


Tenpole Tudor – “Swords of a Thousand Men”
Madness – “The Prince”
Imagination – “Body Talk”
The Flying Lizards – “Money (That’s What I Want)”
Visage – “Fade To Grey”
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – “Souvenir”
The Pop Group – “We Are All Prostitutes”
Dexy’s Midnight Runners – “Geno”
Heaven 17 – “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang”
Kraftwerk – “Neon Lights”
Jon & Vangelis – “I Hear You Now”
Dexy’s Midnight Runners – “There There My Dear”
Chas and Dave – “Gertcha”

Ashes to Ashes: Season 1, Episode 1

It’s finally here:

Ashes to Ashes

After what seems like forever, the BCC aired the first episode of Ashes to Ashes this past Thursday. The show is the sequel (of sorts) to my all-time favorite TV show, Life On Mars.

As you might know, Life On Mars is about Detective Inspector Sam Tyler, a police officer in modern day Manchester, England. One day while on duty, Tyler gets hit by a car. When he wakes up, he’s still in Manchester, he’s still a cop… but the year is 1973. He’s found by some Manchester cops who think Sam’s just passed out. While trying to figure out who he is, they find his badge and some papers indicating that he was transferring from one Manchester precinct to another. When Sam wakes up, they helpfully take him to his new precinct. Sam, totally confused but feeling he has no other choice, begins working with the cops.

There’s his boss DCI Gene Hunt (pictured above, left), DS Ray Carling, DC Chris Skelton and WPC Annie Cartwright. And what a motley group they all are. Hunt, Carling and Skelton are racist, sexist, homophobic, and slightly corrupt. They solve crimes the old-fashioned way: by smacking people around until someone talks. Sam, needless to say, feels like a fish out of water. He’s used to a world with advanced forensics, mobile phones and laptop computers… to say nothing of more politically-correct attitudes. In a very real sense, much of Life On Mars is an ordinary cop show. It’s as if someone from one of the CSI shows somehow traveled back in time to wind up on Kojak.

But there’s more than that. Sam can hear voices. Sometimes they come from the radio. Sometimes they come from late night TV. Sometimes he can just hear them anywhere. The voices are those of people in his hospital room back in 2006. He can hear the voices of the nurses working on him. He can hear his Mom’s voice when she comes and visits him. Her can hear the doctor giving his mother Sam’s prognosis. But all is not, exactly, what it seems. Is Sam really a time traveler from 2006? Or is he just crazy and it really is 1973? If so, why does he have visions of a life in 2006? And why go back to 1973? Why that specific year? You’ll just have to watch the show to find out!

In any case, Ashes to Ashes picks up the story. Alex Drake (Keeley Hawes, from Spooks) is a hostage negotiator. She supposedly has the day off to celebrate her daughter’s birthday. But she gets an urgent call while driving her daughter to her birthday party: a street crazy with a gun has taken someone hostage, and has asked the police for Drake specifically. She has no other option but to attend to the matter.

While Alex is talking with the hostage taker, he suddenly starts singing “I’m happy, hope you’re happy too” (from David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes”). Alex’s daughter, who has ignored Alex’s order to stay in the car, becomes scared and rushes towards her mother. The hostage taker, seeing an advantage, releases his hostage and takes Alex’s daughter instead. In the confusion that ensues, the two disappear, and Alex almost loses it when a gunshot is heard. Tracking down the noise, she finds her daughter unhurt and the hostage taker gone. Alex calls her daughter’s godfather to take the child on to the party while she “cleans up this mess”.

After talking with the cops and “cleaning up the mess”, Alex gets back in her car to drive to the party, only to find the hostage taker in the back seat waiting for her. He takes her to a barge on the Thames where he shoots her. Alex later wakes up on the barge… only to find herself in the middle of a party fueled by cocaine and hookers. And oh yeah, it’s now 1981. The sounds of police sirens can be heard as Alex walks around the party trying to make sense of it all. The party is being raided by the cops, and the host apparently thinks that Alex is the one that’s called them. He tries to take Alex hostage, only to run smack dab into… Gene Hunt, Ray Carling and Chris Skelton. Hunt initially thinks that Alex is “just another prozzie” from the party… until he searches her and finds her badge.

Alex is even more freaked out by her time travel than Sam Tyler was. She’s a trained psychologist, you see, being a hostage negotiator and all. She tries to rationalize everything, to make sense out of her situation… until she mentions Tyler to Hunt, who reveals that Tyler only died the previous year, and that’s a big part of the reason why he and his crew moved to London. Unlike Life On Mars, where it wasn’t immediately clear why Sam was transported back to 1973, Drake thinks she knows exactly why she was sent to 1981. She’s convinced that the hostage taker (from 2006) is a drug lord (in 1981), and that by busting him, she can put him in prison and stop herself from getting shot in 2006. Just like on Life On Mars, though, it just isn’t that simple.

What, exactly, the future holds for Alex isn’t clear (hey, it’s only been one episode!). I’m glad that the show’s writers didn’t take the “easy way out” by simply making this Life On Mars 2. Sam Tyler’s character is firmly a part of this show, everything that happened in Mars affects Ashes. Alex uses her knowledge of Sam to make the transition from 2006 to 1981 somewhat easier. She knows, for instance, that Sam heard his voices mostly in radios and televisions, so she seeks out both to see if she can hear her doctors. No dice, apparently (at least so far). And just as Mars had its surreal moments, so too does Ashes. Instead of being haunted by Test Card F like Sam, Alex is haunted by a Pierrot clown (perhaps not coincidentally, David Bowie dresses up as a Pierrot clown in the “Ashes to Ashes” music video). And unlike Mars, where Test Card F could only originate from the TV, the clown can apparently show up anywhere, much to the distress of Alex.

All in all, it’s a great show so far. But then, it also has some massive shoes to fill. It would be hard to be “as good as” or “better than” Mars, especially since this is a follow-up. But everything’s good so far. Especially the soundtrack. While I liked Mars’ soundtrack, I’m really digging Ashes’ soundtrack. Episode 1 alone featured “I Fought The Law” by The Clash, “Vienna” by Ultravox, “Are Friends Electric” by Gary Numan, “No More Heroes” by The Stranglers, “I’m in Love with a German Film Star” by The Passions, “Careless Memories” by Duran Duran and “Same Old Scene” by Roxy Music.

That last song, in fact, is used at the very end of episode 1. Drake is alone in her apartment. She grabs a police radio and, hoping that anyone from 2006 will hear her, begins a short speech where she promises her daughter that she’ll come home. By the time the speech is over, Alex is in tears. Exhausted and resigned to her fate in to be in 1981 for now, she seeks out Gene and the rest of “the gang”. Alex heads back to an Italian restaurant that appeared earlier in the episode. She sits at the bar. Gene walks up, pours her as glass of wine, then walks away. She looks back at him, then stares off into space… as the song goes on:

Nothing lasts forever
Of that I’m sure
Now you’ve made an offer
I’ll take some more

Young loving may be
Oh so mean
Will I still survive
The same old scene?

Fucking perfect.