ABC - 18th February 2009 - 10.00pm

A vast improvement this week with writer Meredith Averill getting a grip on characterisation and giving us a number of moments to treasure. A notorious councillor Bobby Prince reveals to Sam that he is also a fellow traveller from 2009 after he's arrested during a raid on a hotel. But before Sam can get a chance to ask him any further questions, he's gunned down inside the precinct. Gene locks the station down in a bid to flush the killer out.

Michael Imperioli makes the character of Ray shine
In the midst of this plot, made quite intriguing by Prince's revelations and then by several bizarre dreamlike conversations with his regular hooker Misty, who advises Sam that his time to return has not yet come, are some very good character developments for Ray, Annie and Gene. With Annie and Ray out on duty and effectively locked out of the station, both cops are ordered to investigate and follow up a lead that takes them to a mysterious rendezvous in the park. The delightful aspect of this pairing up of the two characters is that it opens up Ray's domestic background. We meet his wife, Denise, strikingly played by Laura Benanti, who is clearly held back by Ray's misogyny. He deplores the idea that women can vote and have a career and naturally sees Denise's place as being in the home. She can't even get her hair cut because he disapproves.

Michael Imperioli makes the character of Ray shine, much as we might cringe at his anti-feminist views, and the interplay between him and Gretchen Moll really makes their scenes together fizz with barely held in check resentment. Moll finally gets something active to do, with Annie having to act as the contact with the stranger in the park, and it's great that she gets to challenge Ray. This is further compounded later when they return to the station only to find Sam, Gene and Gene's daughter in the middle of a struggle with Prince's killer. Ray bungles an attempt to disarm him and Annie comes to the rescue and clubs the felon, saving Ray from a stabbing. It's great character development and Annie and Ray spark off each other with a mutual dislike which I hope they keep going.
A shame we have to say goodbye to Maggie Siff
In other developments, we get some further background into Gene's relationship with Maria. We learn that, in a similar way to Ray, Gene has a very narrow idea of what it takes to emotionally relate to women. He struggles to vocalise his love for his own offspring which is, of course, of enormous frustration to Maria and the main reason why she's so distant from him. All she's seeking is some approval from Gene and he seems incapable of offering it. This takes the Gene Hunt character into very different territory and is far removed from the Glenister incarnation of Hunt. It finally demonstrates that this is not the Gene from the UK version, it is an entirely redefined character. And I wholeheartedly approve if it drags Keitel out from behind the shadow of Glenister. Harvey's pretty good in this episode, opening up the very heart of Gene only for us to find that it's barely warm. Writer Averill also decides to call it quits on the relationship between Maria and Sam. Maria concedes defeat in the struggle for Sam's attentions and suggests to Sam that Annie is where his true affections lie. A shame we have to say goodbye to Maggie Siff as Maria as I thought she brought in some much needed conflict.
...perhaps that this is in fact all a coma induced dream

Whilst all this delightful character expansion is going on we also have the further exploration of the reason why Sam is back in 1973. Or is that plural: reasons? This continues to frustrate and excite in equal measure. There is a suggestion here that there is a way back to the future so are we still talking time travel here? So far we've had mind control, Soviet conspiracies, religion and just what the heck are the producers going to decide on? And did Prince really come from 2009 - it seems he did what with him coming up with all the right answers to questions that Sam threw at him, including acknowledging that Obama was President now. I loved the weird moments when Sam was talking to Misty - first we got speeded up time as a backdrop as 'Over The Rainbow' plays hallucinogenically on the soundtrack and then televisions flicking on and offering glimpses of Obama's inauguration. And then all the Wizard Of Oz symbolism, somewhat over done with the Garland song and various quotes from the movie, that heavily suggests perhaps that this is in fact all a coma induced dream. Interesting stuff that peppered a very enjoyable episode. All the cast were working well as an ensemble, the direction from David Barrett was taut and exciting, full of frenetic editing during the opening raid and cut brilliantly to The Sweet's Ballroom Blitz. Dare I say it, but is the series getting back into its stride? I hope so and that viewers continue to stick with it as it would be a shame if this got cancelled just as glimmers of life can be seen in the series.

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