ASHES TO ASHES - Series 2: Episode One

BBC1 - 20th April 2009 - 9.00pm

'Sixth in line to the throne. Gene Hunt does not wait for the sixth in line to the bloody throne.'

'That's what I call well hung'.

'I didn't know you had a phD in masturbation, DI Drake'

Was it me or was that whole sequence in the sewers a not so subtle dig at Demons? Anyway, I digress. Ashes To Ashes roars back to our telly boxes and it's undergone a bit of a transformation. From the pre-titles sequence set in the hospital in 2009 it's clear that the game is afoot. As the camera pulls back from the news broadcast about Arthur Layton's holding Alex hostage, an iPod comes into view and just for a minute you're tempted to think this might be Sam Tyler lying there, post suicide attempt. The theory is that this unidentified man is more likely to be the sinister Doctor Death character whom later kidnaps Alex and reveals some alarming truths about 1982.

With an emphasis on nightmare.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. To the strains of Duran Duran, our intrepid team - yes, definitely a team now with a much surer, confident Alex and equally confident playing from Keeley Hawes - race to the scene of a sex crime in seedy old Soho. An interesting story about police corruption, that isn't at all what it seems and throws us a few surprises, spins out and neatly intertwines with some very surreal moments. Everything from Alex's daughter Molly being interviewed by Grange Hill's Mrs McClusky, the frankly barmy and disturbing encounters with the granny gabbling in a gruff Scottish accent, the talking Alsatian and to Alex caught in the downdraught and searchlights of helicopters in 2009 that may have found her. Hawes and the writers have jettisoned much of the rather knowing, 'you're all a load of constructs' stuff and substituted it with a much more rounded portrayal of a woman caught up in a nightmare. With an emphasis on nightmare.
...a mention of garibaldis
And Glenister is in fine form as Hunt. The episode is chock full of his acerbic bon mots, from his haranguing of Princess Margaret in a Soho traffic jam to emulating the guvnor himself, DI Regan with, 'Get your knickers on. You're nicked'. He seems to have undergone a revitalisation too with this episode's tasteless but hilarious one liners achieving Life On Mars proportions. But there's also room for some genuinely moving moments too. When one of their only leads, a young prostitute from Hyde (cue Life On Mars music and a mention of garibaldis!) is shot before she can tell Hunt and Drake all that she knows, the poor girl Sally dies in Gene's arms. 'No, I won't tell your mum' he says softly. Hunt and Drake quietly reflect on this back at the office in a beautifully played scene between Glenister and Hawes. Hunt's sense of duty and loyalty to the chain of command also gets severely tested when Superintendent Mackintosh, appointed to affect the change in policing, is potentially at the centre of a sordid affair and corruption. The ever reliable Roger Allam instantly offers us a fully formed character, brittle and brusque and most definitely hiding something. SuperMac's speech about the demise of the old days of policing and the need to step into a new world echoes throughout the episode.

...lots of strange role reversals
It turns out that he's involved with the wife of the dead officer and knows the man's killer and he doesn't appear to be following his own advice. This also ties in with the thematic undercurrent about male and female sexuality in the episode. There are lots of strange role reversals - the granny with the man's voice, dead policemen in drag, Chris stripping for Shaz - that show the series is fast becoming a vast playground where sexual subjects and objects are the complex sites of diverse and contradictory readings. Soho is depicted as a place of innocence lost and moral corruption as well as a lurid pleasure garden. As Gene questions Mrs. Irvine he runs through a series of fantasies: schoolgirl, traffic warden, Princess Leia but with the dead Irvine it ultimately isn't about sexual corruption, it's about being victimised for threatening to reveal Kevin Hales' misdemeanours.
'A big puff and a diesel dyke'
And last but not least, those two icons of male sexuality Raymondo and Chris are given a number of fantastic scenes that had me roaring with laughter. 'Maybe we can accept a contribution to the Metropolitan Police home for the bewildered', says Ray. 'I don't want any money, Ray', retorts Chris as they enquire with the owner of a Soho strip club, featuring a lovely cameo from Diane Langton, where a dead police officer has been found. The sexual debate also continues between Ray, Chris and Shaz and there's that amusing scene in the kitchen where Ray provokes Shaz with Chris' apparent desire to see her take on the role of objectified female. This is then followed up by that wonderful coda in the restaurant. There's also that amusing moment when Ray and Chris discuss Russell Harty and Grace Jones - 'A big puff and a diesel dyke', 'Grace Jones is a lesbian?' - suggesting Chris and Ray will continue to explore their world of naivety and experience. The objectification of woman is also bound, literally, within the kidnap of Alex. The whole scene where she believes she has woken into 2009 but is in reality the victim of yet another father figure, the masked Martin Summers (note that his initials are a reverse of SM) reworks the symbol of the clown from Series One but with the added frisson that this man is also from the future and adrift in 1982. Accompanying this are the symbols of the rose, Diana and the Pont de l'Alma bridge.

Ashes To Ashes is obsessed with the idea of looking, gazing, seeing
In the armed siege the potency of feminine intuition allows Alex to prove to Gene (her other father figure) that she can talk Kevin Hales, now revealed as the killer, into giving himself up. This is an interesting scene in that it places Alex within the context of the idea of The Final Girl - the one woman who survives the narrative to meet the killer face to face and use the power of the female gaze (now as powerful as the male gaze) to disarm him. And there's that brief moment where Hales winks at Alex, suggesting that not everything is as it seems. Ashes To Ashes is obsessed with the idea of looking, gazing, seeing, from Alex's desire to deduct messages from the future via the television set to the frequent point of view shots as we see what she sees. It's a spiky script that plunges the series away from the overt knowingness of Series One and into a darker, wilder, more threatening world, propped up by the Falklands, Thatcher, new money, new crime. It also makes an effort to draw the strands of Life On Mars and Ashes together. And the terrific use of music continues to add value. A splendid start.

Series One Reviews:

Episode Eight review
Episode Seven review
Episode Six review
Episode Five review
Episode Four review
Episode Three review
Episode Two review
Episode One review

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4 Responses to “ASHES TO ASHES - Series 2: Episode One”
  1. I really like the new, dark tone of Ashes to Ashes. The corruption plot is very murky and threatening, and it looks like Alex's team will be put under a lot of pressure by it.

    Thankfully, for a show that plumbs some very shadowy depths indeed, it still has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments.

  2.   says:

    An excellent review, Frank. The idea of the rose—‘England’s rose’, most likely, from Elton John’s song for Diana, Princess of Wales’s funeral—is a strange one. There are now references to Princess Diana in both series now (the Lady Di in the première last year, plus the Royal Wedding episode that followed), but I’ll be darned if I can figure out what the connection is.

  3. Just watched this episode and I'm pleased to say a massive improvement on the whole of series one. Love the SuperMac corruption subplot, the little rumblings from the future, loads of little mysteries being set up. At last this show is a worthy successor to 'Life On Mars' and I'm looking forward to the rest of the run.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Excellent analysis as always, Frank. Ashes has hit the reset button this time, and based on this first episode, we're all in for a splendid ride. I look forward to your weekly thoughts on the episodes.

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