ASHES TO ASHES - Series 2: Episode Four

BBC1 - 11th May 2009 - 9.00pm

'Ebony and Ivory!'

'Fire up the flip chart'

'I can't have been that drunk'. 'You were very drunk. I had to tie a pencil to it'.

'Get back to Liverpool and have a lovely life stealing hubcaps and being over sentimental. OK?'

"Excuse me, me police officer, you pregnant journalist'

'This time tomorrow, she'll be wrapped up under a Bananarama duvet cover'

'Oi, you and your Fallopian tubes get back in the car and do nothing.'

Oh, Rose, thou art sick...a black comedy stick of rock with 'Jacobean tragedy' in big letters running all the way through it, this fourth episode, from Ashley Pharoah, steps the series up a gear in preparation for the last half of a particularly dirty match. Talk about mixed metaphors! I don't think you could get more in a tizzy after that rather nudge, nudge, wink, wink opening scene of Alex and Gene sneaking off from Luigi's, whipping the Galex followers up with some fruity dialogue. Gene and Alex have gone on the offensive and have decided to bug Super Mac's office in a attempt to gather incriminating evidence. Make mine a double entendre, please.

We're also treated to the reappearance of Jackie Queen, the Glaswegian journalist last seen in Life On Mars, who hilariously winds Gene up with her impending motherhood and ruffles Alex's feathers. However, even though much hilarity does ensue, Jackie is the key to this tale of the corruption of innocence. To continue with the Shakespearean angle, there is something rotten in the state of Fenchurch East CID and it leads from Jackie attempting to track down her missing niece and to the murky world of Ralph Jarvis and Super Mac's money laundering. As they track girls arriving from the North at Victoria Coach Station (much praise should be given to the set designers and dressers for the superb recreation here) Alex gets a message from her mysterious admirer and we see the reappearance of the symbol of the rose. As well as its significance to the repeated mentions of 'England's Rose', Princess Diana, the flower could be seen as a deeper representation of the series religious undercurrents. Sacred to the Knights Templar and the Rosicrucians (certainly a link to the Masonic rituals there) I see this rose as a symbol of Alex's journey, the thorns in her (its) side as representative of the adversities she must overcome, the opening flower and petals the gaining and shedding of wisdom. There's something of the divine feminine about the relationship between Alex and the rose.

'How's your Victoria..blooming I hear'
After threatening a pervy photographer with a cocktail charmingly referred to as 'Pornographer's Guts Against The Wall' the team discover that particular girls are being exploited at Ralph Jarvis' parties. Alex and Gene decide it's worthwhile digging a little deeper as it may be the way they can get at Super Mac. There's also an interesting theme here about parents and children; firstly with the pregnant Jackie suggesting Gene is the father of the baby, then Jackie's desire to protect her niece Rachel, Mac and Victoria and the ongoing plight of Alex's connection with Molly. The episode shifts at this point, from a wise-cracking, banter filled tale of young girls seeking adventure in London to something far darker and the initial interrogation of Jarvis is the turning point. It certainly raises the ire of Super Mac. And when Alex and Gene overhear the conversation between Jarvis and Super Mac in the bugged office, there's not only an indication that there's a deal between them but that Jarvis has or intends to have his wicked way with Mac's daughter Victoria. Quite telling that Jarvis says, 'How's your Victoria..blooming I hear'. The feminine flower symbol again to remind us of the corruption of innocence.

As the main storyline gathers apace, and here it successfully serves the great character moments and is an intriguing story in its own right unlike the previous two episodes, there are some charming moments for Ray and Chris (the Brideshead piss take, Ray's dig at women in the police force as Chris helps Shaz attaching a wire) and some understated bitchiness from Alex directed at Jackie which does seem to indicate that at least some of her feathers are getting slightly ruffled by a journalist who isn't as stupid as she seems when she digs up photographic evidence of Jarvis and Super Mac's association. It's great too that Shaz gets to go undercover and bring in some valuable information and Monserat Lombard subtly adds further definition to the character here. She discovers that virgins are invited to the parties to earn better money. The virginal status of Shaz is again a parallel symbol to the rose, itself a flower of both earthly passion and heavenly perfection. It's ironic that she, a sexual innocent one suspects despite her worldliness, is seen sitting in a room of presumably deflowered women. After a false trail to an empty house, the team meet Rachel, the niece who desperately wants to be taken seriously as an adult woman and as she rows with Jackie in Luigi's, and Chris, Ray and Alex name several famous people from Devon, Gene offers to make an honest woman of Jackie. When the truth is out, Gene quickly informs a champagne toasting Luigi, 'Put the cork back in.We've just separated'.
'he was not put on this Earth to have kids. He's got other work to do'

Finally, Alex and Jackie do connect in that beautifully played scene back at Alex's flat where a worried Jackie is comforted by Alex. It's here that Alex also gets to follow up her questions about Sam Tyler and we discover he did settle in 1973, marrying Annie and leading a happy life. It's a crucial scene, very heartfelt, and allows Alex to reaffirm her role in the Ashes To Ashes drama, 'That's the difference, you see. I have to get back. Somebody needs me.' The conversation turns to Gene and children and Jackie is quite adamant that, 'he was not put on this Earth to have kids. He's got other work to do' that again suggests Gene's role as that of some guardian or avenging angel. Once again, Alex has a disturbing nightmare, where Molly, blindfold, is preyed upon by the corrupting Jarvis. Oddly enough, the rose obsessed admirer calls her the moment she wakes from her nightmare. And is it me or is she always speaking to him on a red telephone?

the outrageous moment where Gene shoots the guard dog
The death of Debbie, the young girl lured from the coach station by the photographer, pushes the story towards its final, rather bleak, conclusion. Gene confronts Mac about his protection of Jarvis. This gives the opportunity for Glenister to put in one of his best performances to date as he tries to persuade him to give up Jarvis. Roger Allam also matches Glenister here, suggesting that there is a decency beneath the sordid exterior of the man, with a performance that claws at both your dislike and sympathy for the man. The man's so desperate that he suspends Alex after planting evidence in her flat. Ray and Chris are brought in on their bosses suspicions and Ray's loyalties are tested, eliciting a fiery performance from Dean Andrews. After a message from Molly, via of all subconscious symbols to choose - Roland Rat, Alex joins Gene and Jackie in a raid on what turns out to be Mac's house. There's the amusing moment as they climb the fence, which started me laughing, and then the outrageous moment where Gene shoots the guard dog, pretty much finishing me off. Jarvis is dragged in and Gene once again confronts Mac in another superb scene between Glenister and Allam.

'Operation Rose'
As so to the truly Jacobean ending. Irving Ribner described Jacobean tragedy as the search "to find a basis for morality in a world in which the traditional bases no longer seem to have validity." That more or less sums up the electrifying conclusion to the episode when Mac turns a gun on Jarvis and then dies when Gene attempts to stop him from then killing himself. And like a Wellesian conundrum worthy of Citizen Kane, Mac's parting words are 'Operation Rose' and 'it's coming' that suggest something much bigger on the horizon for the final half of the series. Just what could be bigger than this? A superb development of the mystery at the heart of this series and an episode marked by a brilliant use of music (Bauhaus and The Associates on the same soundtrack!), a black wit and a sad end to Roger Allam's tenure as Super Mac. I loved Gene's restatement of his mission, which is again part of the Jacobean drama's affirmation of human dignity and honour in the face of suffering and injustice, and its reaffirmation of male loyalty. Love the bittersweet use of The Korgis 'Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime' on the closing credits too. Very poignant end to a superb episode.

Series Two Reviews:

Episode One review
Episode Two review
Episode Three review

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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3 Responses to “ASHES TO ASHES - Series 2: Episode Four”
  1. S Bates says:

    A great episode. Loved the bit where Gene shot the dog (my wife was all "No! He shot the dog!?! He can't shoot a dog!"). I was surprised to see SuperMac abruptly bite the bullet at the end of this. I thought he'd continue to 'hound' Gene and Alex until the end of this series. Obviously not! Instead we have Operation Rose to look forward to. Ooher!

    we discover he did settle in 1973, marrying Annie and leading a happy lifeWell, supposedly, Alex is just making all this up in her head. It's all sort of a dream as she lies, shot, in 2008. So her mind has just decided that Sam had a "happy life" (he actually died thinking he was more 'alive' in his dream world than he was in real life after his accident).

    That also implies that she's making up the mysterious red rose stranger - or it's her subconscious personifying some outside stimulus. So, of course, he knows about the future (i.e. post 1982) because she knows the future and she's just making him up.

    is she always speaking to him on a red telephone?Well, in this episode she spoke to him on her police radio or walkie-talkie which was black. So I don't think she always talks to him on a red phone. Just that the phone in her flat is red and that's where she often speaks to him.

    Still, an association between Rose-guy and the colour red would be interesting. Hmmm...

    Thanks for the wonderful review Frank!

  2. Lovely analysis there.

    Yes, all of this could be a response by her subconscious and everything could be fictional or imagined. But does that mean Gene rescuing her younger self back in the last episode of Series One is also a fiction? It proposed that Gene was actually real for a moment there, didn't it? But, as you say, even that could be wish fulfillment on the part of Alex's subconscious creation of 1981. She could quite easily have made that bit up like she's possibly making up Dr. Death and a happy ending for Sam.

    Yes, I later realised that Alex did indeed use a police radio to talk to Dr. Death so the colour of the phone theory is non starter.

  3. S Bates says:

    Firstly, sorry for the dodgy formatting in my last comment.

    Next... well, if we assume she's making it all up (which is the rational explanation after all) then I'd say that Alex couldn't remember who rescued her and her subconscious mind just fitted Gene into that role.

    Mind you, if we do go along with the theory that this is all in her head (which was 'established' back in episode 1), then we lose a lot of the tension because none of it matters. It feels better to assume that something "strange" is going on.

    Oh, something else occurred to me. Sam Tyler was named by Matthew Graham's daughter after the Dr Who character Rose Tyler. And Operation Rose is coming... Coincidence?

    Stretching things, I know. Anyway, Alex is probably just in Rose Ward being operated on. ;)

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