ASHES TO ASHES - Series 3: Episode Five / Review


SPOILERS AHEAD 

Gene to Litton and Bevan: 'Well, bugger me. It's the gay tache twins.'

Gene to Alex: 'Gonna shoot him Bols? No? Let's go and run him over.'

Gene to Litton: 'You couldn't snatch yer left knacker if it was tattooed with the words 'Litton's left knacker''
Alex: 'A whiff of homoerotic tension? How exciting'.

Litton to Alex: 'Where did you get this one from Genie? We'd fit up three tossers before breakfast back in our day, darlin'"

Alex to Gene:'And I thought you were a throwback. Compared to those two you're practically Homo Erectus.'
Gene: 'Homo what? You're obsessed, woman'

Bevan: 'DI? Sorry love, thought you were secretarial'
Alex: 'No, amazingly, they let us solve crimes. Whatever next, eh? The vote?'

Alex to Rick Travers: 'Wanna know what's really funny, d'you? In 20 years time you'll be bald, fat and writing soft rock musicals.'

Gene into tape recorder: '15:41. DCI Hunt takin' a sip o' tea.' (Gene pours tea into the tape recorder.)

Bevan: 'Thing about Gene Hunt. It's not what he did. It's what he got other people to do.'

Gene: 'I can almost feel the gunman's conkers nestling in the palm of me hand'

Alex to Gene: 'Look me in the eye and tell me. Tell me you had nothing to do with Sam Tyler's death.'
Gene: 'I 'aven't got time for this Bolly.'
Alex: 'Please. Just tell me.'

BBC HD - 30th April 2010 - 9.00pm


The wonderful Kojak inspired, Isaac Hayes scored Sam Tyler montage at the start of the show, suggesting a dream that Alex is having about his jacket (blimey, she has weird dreams - complete with Gene Hunt voice over of 'he's stylish, he's modern, he knows what he wants. And he gets it. Sam Tyler jacket. Seductive.') really sets much of the tone for this episode. On the surface it's an irreverent and fun episode that begins with a competition between Gene and Manchester DCI Derek Litton ('a lying little bastard weasel boy' to whom we were first introduced in Life On Mars) to catch Northern comedian Frank Hardwick (Roy Hudd providing a spectacular mix of Bernard Manning and Frankie Howerd) but it's also, deep down, a troubling journey into the past and the mysterious death of Sam Tyler.

The writers have fun piling on the macho stereotypes making Litton and Bevan a hyperbole of the kind of characters that would be found crowding the likes of The A-Team, The Professionals and The Sweeney and they nicely underscore it with, as Alex indicates, more than a flavour of homo social bonding and display that gender theorists would have a field day with in the 1980s. There is also a great contrast between the man-o-man policing that Litton holds up as an exemplar, rapidly being overturned by the Newman reforms of the 1980s and symbolised by Bevan's fall from grace, and the progressive attitudes and methods used by Alex. Caught up in this clash between the redundant codification of masculinity, and Alex's own radical psychological approach (again underlined by the interrogation methods employed by Gene and her own psychological forensics in interviewing Frank), is that other remarkable double act of Ray and Chris.


From the start Ashes has proposed them as binary opposites - Ray as a remnant of 1970s male self-glorification, pride and attitudes and Chris as the sensitive, emotional male who tries tentatively to understand and respect the feelings of those around him, especially women. Here we see the arrival of Litton and Bevan disrupting this relationship where Ray is embarrassed about his friendship with Chris because it's seen as unmanly by his fellow officers. Ray's dilemma is whether being a 'real man' is acceptable when Bevan clearly shows that without compassion and decency the ideal of the real man can lead to murder and corruption. It is whether he is also 'man enough' to recognise this and reject Bevan as an example of what Ray, on the surface, mimics as the regressive performative codes of manliness (look at the way Litton stands astride in the office and the new binary connection between Ray and Bevan) and deep down acknowledge that his own attitudes have changed. It's very interesting that it is a woman (Shaz) who helps Ray to remember the very vital verses to 'Danny Boy' when he no longer has Bevan to prompt him.


The whole scene in the kitchen where Ray and Bevan reminisce about the 'happy days' and Bevan observes that 'puffs' drink Peppermint tea, that 'London will make you soft as a plimsoll full of shite' sketches out these themes. This is especially underscored by the arrival of Chris with his suggestions of 'dance rehearsals' and 'body-popping' that clearly create anxieties for Ray. It's also very, very funny ('leave the Duracell bunny, we've got work to do') and a fine example of how the series uses humour to throw these themes into sharp relief. Male attitudes towards women, one of the key themes of both Ashes and Life On Mars, are central here and make Alex seem, perhaps in a highly intentional way, even more like Sam Tyler as 'the fish out of water' cop he was in the original series.

Lee Ross and Nicholas Greaves provide the episode with a fantastically ironic and often hilarious double act as Litton and Bevan and, once the episode gets past the abrasive clash between coppers both North and South of the Watford Gap, it becomes a bitter rites of passage for both Litton and Hunt in trusting those they work in partnership with. For Litton it's the realisation that his sidekick has 'crossed the line' and has been corrupted and for Gene it's the frustration and realisation that Alex has lost her faith in him and her trust is wavering.


Bevan is also there to sprinkle some tantalising clues about Gene's involvement with Sam's death (it's revealed that Bevan took that crime scene photograph of the upturned car at the scene) and our own faith in Gene takes a bit of a bashing here because Bevan implies that Gene isn't quite what he seems. Their confrontation in Gene's office fuels the debate with that exchange of lines 'Weren't so cocky three years ago, day Sam Tyler disappeared' 'There's a line, don't cross it.' 'And where was that line with Sam Tyler?' (something that's echoed later by Litton when he realises that Bevan has himself 'crossed the line').

When Alex presses the matter with Bevan we're given even more: 'Why does Gene Hunt get you so excited?' 'Did you see anything else that day?' 'He'll never tell ya what happened' with the further temptation of 'Give up Frank Hardwick and I'll give you the story on Sam and Gene'. He later makes this more explicit when, holding Hardwick at gun point, he says, 'Shall we tell her Gene? Tell her why you got me to falsify evidence of the crime scene. What were you covering up about your mate Sam Tyler? Go on, tell her what you did to him!' For fans of the series this is highly revelatory about Gene's involvement.


There is also the return of our old favourite - the symbolic doorway - with Litton opening the door for Keats being mirrored at the conclusion of the episode with Alex's walking through the door held open by Keats. In the first, it symbolises the 'by the book' order of Keats, his rules and regulations, made void as Litton closes the door on him, dropping all pretense ('now the pencil neck's gone') and ensuring Gene that they'll use their tried and trusted methodologies to catch Hardwick. Later, it's a chilling admission that Alex has lost faith in Gene and Keats knowing look to her and the fact that she's willing to accompany him through the door is rather heart wrenching, especially after Gene has gleefully compared his and Alex's partnership to Sapphire And Steel ('I'm him...and...you...are her') and is delighted by the teamwork and 'cop solidarity' he sees around him.

That last departure of Alex through the doorway is also bookended by a really odd shot of Gene through the glass of his office door where presumably Vic's reflection has been caught to suggest the ghostly apparition of the disfigured copper. This trust also goes both ways and Gene's desire to prevent Alex from finding the truth about Sam, burning the iconic symbol of his jacket and the report into his death, was always going to sway her faith.


Continuing with the visual playfulness and themes of the series we have Keats use of Chris, suggesting he's charmed the impressionable officer into more fetching and carrying for him, using his weakness as a way of investigating Gene's record at Fenchurch and Manchester. There is also an explicit reference back to that on-going motif of Gene with a halo of sunlight when Bevan, confronted in the final scenes, remarks 'And when did you grow wings and a halo?', more of the continual theme of faith and trust (trust between Alex and Gene, between Litton and Bevan, Bevan and Ray, Shaz, Ray and Chris) occurring here. Gene's line to Alex as he burns the evidence from Manchester, 'Whatever you think it is you're looking for, forget it. It doesn't exist. Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith' surely references Sam's own leap off the police building at the end of Life On Mars.


Ray also sees the stars that both Alex and Shaz have seen and he describes it as 'the edge of the world'. And just what the hell was meant by the very odd pan to the laughing policeman puppet in the booth outside the gala? Finally, there's that strange scene where we observe Alex almost from Keats' point of view, slightly from above, when he suddenly stands at her desk to discuss (and practically suggest) the pathology of interrogation book and sows the seeds of mistrust between her and Gene ('I won't stand by and have him drag this place down').

The key scene is, of course, Shaz and Ray dueting on 'Danny Boy' ('a good coppers song' that Bevan signifies to Ray as both a reminder of where he's from (C Division, Greater Manchester) and his status as 'good copper') at the Opportunity Cops bash. The lyrics and theme of the song are of course highly charged in relation to what I refer to as the 'epiphany' scenes that the two characters were involved in earlier in the series. The lyrics of the second verse suggest a chilling scenario to me, that Ray and Shaz are actually dead, now in the afterlife and are singing a liturgy to their own existence.


The meaning of the lyrics has always been open to some debate with some interpretations settling on it being about economic exile, other suggesting it's an IRA recruitment song and it's often sung at funerals. It's sung more often by men and possibly seen as a father's farewell to a son. But is it also an explicit reference to where the bodies are buried in Alex's vision of the dead copper and the news report that tells us of their discovery from back in episode one? Or is it also referring to Gene and Sam at the crime scene?

"If I am dead, as dead I well may be
ye'll come and find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an "Ave" there for me.
And I shall hear, tho' soft you tread above me
And all my grave will warmer, sweeter be
For ye shall bend and tell me that you love me
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so."


And if we're talking about the resurrection of the dead, there is also the strange case of Ben Elton. It's clear from Alex's lines that it is indeed the man who co-wrote 'We Will Rock You', even though they've renamed him Travers, but we all know he didn't die in 1983 (well, he might at least have 'died' at a few gigs but last time I checked he did survive the 1980s). Here, the team also pretend he isn't dead in order to trap Litton and Bevan. A strange and deliberate anachronism, surely?

The other scene of note is where Gene says something to the injured Bevan, clearly frightening the man with an undisclosed word. The whole sequence of the shoot out with Bevan is disturbing. Figures are rain lashed, coloured luridly in neon reflections, full of shadow and light and the needle dropping of Genesis' 'Mama' with its weird synths and manic Phil Collins laughter on the soundtrack, just as Gene shoots Bevan and then sits by his side, suggests something rather demonic. The laughter here is as demented as the similar antics of the laughing policeman we saw earlier.


The bittersweet ending, where Shaz and Ray talk honestly to one another for a change about how much Chris needs Ray as his best mate, where Ray figuratively rejoins the team at Fenchurch by 'body popping' with Chris and Viv and where Litton and Gene raise a glass to the good old days, is all brought crashing down as Keats exercises his powers and arrests Litton for tribunal. 'That's the procedure. Did we all forget that.' And with that Gene returns to his glass walled office.

There's just so much to enjoy in this episode. The gender politics, the nod to the alternative comedy circuit replacing the old brigade of light entertainment/music hall/night club comedians that could easily symbolise Keats' methodologies replacing the old school of Gene Hunt, further tales of police corruption and brutality, lots of intriguing clues of what happened the day Sam 'disappeared' and Alex's relationship with Gene seriously starting to fall apart as the central themes of trust and faith are brought to the surface. A episode of light and shade brilliantly played by the ensemble cast and supplemented by superb guest stars Lee Ross, Nicholas Greaves and Roy Hudd with a quick cameo from Camille Coduri, and directed with great pace and visual flair by Jaime Payne. Deserves repeated viewing.

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Comments
8 Responses to “ASHES TO ASHES - Series 3: Episode Five / Review”
  1. Aaron says:

    "The lyrics of the second verse suggest a chilling scenario to me, that Ray and Shaz are actually dead, now in the afterlife and are singing a liturgy to their own existence."

    Oh good, I'm glad I wasn't the only one thinking that.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Frank,

    Upon seeing the puppet I immediately thought of the novel The Laughing Policeman. Not sure how it ties in, but it involves the on-duty death of a cop which is disguised as something else.

  3. Jason says:

    I really hope the stars that characters are seeing aren't suggesting that the series is going to end the same way the US version of Life On Mars did.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Been a while since I've visited your site, I live in the States, and I have not been up on Ashes to Ashes, but I must ask: is that picture of the couple on stage surrounded by red curtains a nod to the Roadhouse in Twin Peaks? I remember Julee Cruise singing on that stage and the giant gesturing "no" or reporting "it is happening again."

    *Tadzio

  5. FRANK says:

    Jason: I think Matthew Graham hated the ending of the US series and said somewhere they wouldn't inflict that on the Ashes fans.

    Tadzio: Welcome back! Yes, that scene with Ray and Shaz at the Opportunity Cops gala was very 'Twin Peaks', especially with the lush red of the curtains and the lighting.

  6. Jason says:

    I thought the US ending of Life on Mars was done "with the blessing" of Graham and co.

    Also, he did inflict "Fear Her" on us.

    Just sayin ... ;)

  7. FRANK says:

    You gotta make a leap of faith, Jason.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Does anyone identify the movie or show that Hunt and Bevan shot seems to refer to? Hunt seen from the back bending over wounded Bevan with his arm extended, chequered asphalt, rain, manic laughter in the background - distinctive film noir atmosphere unless is a comics noir maybe?

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