ABC - 1st April 2009 - 10.00pm
Hmm. That was certainly interesting. I'm not quite sure that was the ending I would have wanted to the series but apparently writer/producer Scott Rosenberg claims this was the ending that was planned right from the outset. It's a very literal ending, I'll give them that. Before I get into rights and wrongs of the conclusion let's rewind to the first half of the episode. It was obvious to me that they'd use this opportunity to sweep up all the loose ends and plot strands and they didn't disappoint us. Sam must deal with his errant father again after the kidnapping of his younger self. Giving the series a way for Sam to deal with his daddy issues and finally deal with the spectre of his father was a very good direction to go in. Closure was provided on Sam's relationship with both his father and his mother. Once Sam tracks his father to a coastal town, the Hyde of all the clues seeded through the series, they engage in a violent showdown and when it seems Vic Tyler is about to kill Sam he's shot by Gene Hunt. And it's only because the guys from the 125 took a leap of faith in Annie's suggestion that Hyde would be where Sam had disappeared to. Good so far. Consistent with the growing and confident ensemble playing. And a number of great payoffs with Annie being made up to detective and Sam accepting his life in 1973 and not wanting to leave. And then...
...they could have stayed true to the emotional heart of the series instead of going for cheap sci-fi
There's that conversation with neighbour Windy and they both see Sam in 2008 reading to an aged Annie in hospital on his television set. Next thing Sam's finally snogged Annie and is giving Gene a hug when there's a breakup of picture and Sam wakes up on a space mission to Mars in 2035, discovers that the entire series we've just watched, the characters and situations that we've emotionally tied ourselves to, are a glitch in a computer programme controlling his hyper sleep. Now, I know that the clues are there. Sam's referred to as 'spaceman' throughout the series, there are the little robots, Aries etc etc but this seems so mercenary a way to complete the show. Unlike it's British counterpart, where the ending is an incredibly powerful emotional whallop, this negates the potential of rewatching the episodes. It consigns a very promising series to oblivion for me.
Clues or no clues, the struggle for Sam to accept his 1973 existence, the relationship with Annie, the 'family' bonding with Gene, Ray and Chris, it is all made irrelevant because we now know that he's sitting in a tin can. Yes, and thanks for all the Bowie and Wizard Of Oz allusions too. It's too literal for its own good and is a disappointing way to close the series. Gene Hunt turns out to be the objective of the space mission, Harvey Keitel becomes Major Tom and Sam's father (which means Sam actually shagged his sister in 1973 if you follow this bonkers logic). It makes you wince. I know they couldn't and shouldn't have copied the ending from the UK series but they could have stayed true to the emotional heart of the series instead of going for cheap sci-fi.
Compare that ending to perhaps one of Ray's finest existential rants in the series and you'll find an excellent summary of the series:
"We live on a rock. There ain't no rhyme. There ain't no reason. We live on a rock, just one of many, hurtling around in some big cosmic jambalaya. Now you wanna get questiony, that's your prerogative. My ma took me to a big loud church every Sunday. She squeezed her eyes shut, she pressed her rosary beads to her lips, and she prayed for good things for those she loved. But cancer took two of her sisters. Her husband couldn't make a move without a belly full of gin. Her youngest son turned to a life of crime. And her oldest--me--is a nasty sonofabitch who can’t get out of third gear without a snarl.
So who was she talking to every Sunday? And why wasn’t he answering? I will tell you why. Because we live on a rock, just one of many. There ain't no answers. There's just this. And all you can really hope to do is find a couple of people who will make the seventy or eighty odd years we get to live on this sweet swinging sphere remotely tolerable."
...putting their (or Gene's) foot in it againIt's not about a mission to Mars, hyper sleep fuck ups or a computer called Windy. It's about being a stranger in a strange land, becoming part of a family, dealing with questions about identity, love, male sexuality and father figures. The most irritating thing about that ending, where even if it was planned from the beginning it couldn't have sustained more than two seasons at most if they'd had the scope to spread the story out, was that the producers then thought they'd have their cake and eat it by using that last shot of Gene Hunt's leg stepping onto the surface of Mars, white shoes and all. Trying to be ambiguous to the last and putting their (or Gene's) foot in it again. So, first half hour great, last ten minutes a bit of a mess. I shall miss the series because the majority of the episodes have been highly entertaining and I will certainly miss Michael Imperioli as Ray Carling who for me quietly stole away the series from an excellent Jason O'Mara. But as this door closes we can at least take comfort that in about two weeks time our Gene Hunt and our Alex Drake will be providing some compensation with Series 2 of Ashes To Ashes.
ABC Life On Mars site
Cathode Ray Tube Life On Mars US Episode 17 ABC