ABC - 20th November 2008 - 10.00pm

The series just about survived by the skin of its teeth when ABC announced last week that they were effectively canceling Pushing Daisies, Eli Stone and Dirty Sexy Money. However, Life On Mars got a second chance, with an order for four more new episodes and a new time slot where it'll be behind Lost on Wednesdays at 10.00pm. It'll be back on screen on 28th January with the already completed episodes and the four additional ones. So this is my last review for the time being...

It's a bit worrying that they've already got round to adapting the final episode of the first UK series. This means they are going to have to get serious about telling new stories. Anyway, this is the one where Sam's father, Vic, gets embroiled in a crime syndicate. In the UK he's caught up in the murder of a bookie but here it hinges on a child kidnapping. That's the only change made here. The story is exactly the same: Sam thinks he knows his father but discovers that he is the one responsible for the actual crimes; he believes if he prevents Vic from leaving he'll somehow get back to 2008; and finally those fleeting images of someone in a red dress being chased through some woods turns out to be Annie trying to arrest Vic and trying to escape from his clutches. inspired and creepy cliffhanger

But, strangely, it works really well and is a thoroughly enjoyable episode. I think what makes it worth watching is the very strong performance from Jason O'Mara as Sam, this is perhaps the very best he's been in the series and I think he's nailed this version of Sam. He's supported by an equally good (and sexy) Dean Winters as Vic Tyler who succeeds in making the character an unsympathetic, yet attractive, foil to Sam. The final confrontation, a superb scene in the woods, also seems to indicate that Vic believes that the man holding a gun on him is the adult version of his four year old son - which is rather surreal and strange. The ending to the UK story simply has Vic disappearing and Sam nursing his sorrows in the pub. Here, Vic coldbloodedly shoots Sam and escapes to perhaps appear again me thinks, prompting a brief flash-forward for Sam and then a peculiar, almost psychically inspired bit of detection based on Vic's comment about crossword puzzles that leads him to a deserted building and a telephone message asking him to look in the basement. It's an inspired and creepy cliffhanger and suggests that we're going to get some more clues as to the mythology of the show. But not until January.

...they need to make her less of an ice maiden and more sympathetic to Sam's plight

The other characters don't get a huge amount to do, Ray, Chris and Gene are very much in the background whilst the bonding between Sam and Vic is gradually escalated, in quite a homoerotic way that even registers with Vic at one point, and then twisted when Sam realises how deep Vic is embroiled in the kidnapping. The homoerotic flavour to the relationship is certainly there in the way that in one scene Sam clutches his father's leather jacket and positively has an orgasm as he sniffs the other man's aroma left on the clothing. This also plays on childhood memories, hinted at in the infantile connection to toys as symbolic objects (there's a soft toy rocket that looks like a dildo that figures prominently as a symbol of male potency and as an oedipal connection between Vic and Sam) as well as reuniting Sam with his mother Rose who seems to be in denial about Vic's real profession. In fact, Rose is symbolically paired, through the wearing of a red dress, with Annie and they are both victims of Vic's misogynistic attitudes. I'm still in two minds about Gretchen Mol as Annie. There continues to be a real lack of warmth in the character and they need to make her less of an ice maiden and more sympathetic to Sam's plight. The ending does indicate this is starting to happen as she comforts him in hospital but as we're now seven episodes in it does seem to be a very slow thaw that's taking place.

To be honest with you, and this might be provocative of me, this show could get by without the Gene Hunt character. Harvey is getting less and less to work with in order to make Gene the real foil for Sam and has been in the background in the last few episodes. If there is one thing they haven't succeeded in doing yet then it's making Gene much more abrasive, much more a representation of the policing methods that Sam would abhor. It's an essential ingredient that shapes Gene as the last sheriff in a lawless town. We're not seeing that very much in this version. However, as a mid-season finale this was a pretty good distillation of what makes this version such an enjoyable experience and left me wanting more, having enjoyed seeing Jason O'Mara quietly turn the episode to his advantage. Roll on January!

ABC Life On Mars site

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