ASHES TO ASHES - Series 2: Episode Three

BBC1 - 4th May 2009 - 9.00pm

"Oh, look there's the postie now, eyebrows singed, leg hanging off but, hey, at least he's still bloody whistling!"

"I only went out for a Curly Wurly"

"Sorry is this an incident room or the make-up counter at Kendals?"

"Would you like me to tatoo that onto me testicles and wiggle them about just in case you're inclined to forget?"

Similarly to last week's episode it isn't the main plot that's the most diverting element here. The prevailing notion here is more to do with how Alex is going to remain alive in 2008. The terrific opening sequence with Morph using a set of paddles to restart Alex's failing heart establishes this concern and we are reminded of it constantly through the episode. It's perhaps a little too close to the struggle that Sam went through in Life On Mars but Keeley Hawes gives such an engaging performance that it works well enough. I'm also pleased to see that the Kevin Hales mystery that commenced in the first episode is still being followed as Alex and Gene track him down. Unfortunately, he's just hung himself in his cell in HMP Felhurst. was an issue being manipulated to produce 'villains of the week'

The vivisection storyline is an interesting one to choose but I suspect animal rights supporters and anti-vivisectionists would find no particular empathy with the episode's decidedly uneven moral tone. In fact, the debate is rather reduced to a hunger striking Robin Elliot, rather wonderfully played by David Bradley, and the radicalised Jeremy and Adrian as simplistic antagonists in the drama rather than opportunities to at least discuss the ethics of animal testing and research. The Vivisection Bill that Robin, Jeremy and Adrian are campaigning against didn't actually pass in the UK until 1986 so it is stretching credibility somewhat to depict it as about to pass into law in 1982. In the end a still vital and important issue is treated rather tokenistically and although morally the bombing campaign is as wrong as the recent attacks on researchers there isn't much of a debate on the matter. Ray reduces a protest by petition as something only the 'posh' would do and sees it as a class issue. Gene sees Robin's question about the moral rights of animals and humans as something off 'Radio sodding 4', perhaps only a subject fit for the chattering classes. The idea of class as being part of the struggle is also reflected upon by the activist Adrian as he's interrogated by Ray, Alex and Chris. Whilst David Bradley as Robin exudes the kind of aura that would convince colleagues to carry out such extreme acts I just felt it was an issue being manipulated to produce 'villains of the week' and on which to hang the more absorbing conflict between Gene Hunt and Super Mac, Alex's life-threatening crisis and an alarming assessment of police tactics 1982 style.
...Glenister is rather frightening

Philip Glenister is quite magnificent in this episode and I think if you watch him you'll see him take Gene on an interesting emotional journey here. He's getting more and more frustrated by Super Mac's insistence on fabricating the evidence surrounding Kevin Hales' death and the methods at his disposal to deal with criminals as well as Alex's theories and information about Robin. Last week we weren't so sure that he wasn't still in Super Mac's pocket even after convincing Alex that he'd joined the Masons just to work out the levels of corruption in the force. His locking horns with Super Mac boils over into upbraiding a lazy Ray whilst he combs his moustache, then his assault on student Adrian which Ray and Alex bring a halt to and he's threatened with, and eventually is forced to accept, a transfer to Plymouth. Surely, he can't be in league with Super Mac now? Glenister is more like the Gene Hunt of Life On Mars here, willing to use very controversial methods to get results. The scene where he taunts Robin with the fish and chips and then plunges his face into them pretty much epitomises his attitude towards those with a cause and Glenister is rather frightening in that scene. There is also that telling moment when the bomb injures the little girl Charlotte where Gene almost seems to be reliving the Prices death and the rescue of young Alex at the end of Series One which gives him the moral imperative, whether right or wrong, to start a crusade against the activists. And I loved Gene's 'sounds familar' nod at Alex when Jeremy describes Robin's personality disorder in terms of 'only he knows the truth'.
...she thinks he might have something to do with her rose delivering admirer

Alex's crisis is exacerbated by Robin's mysterious prescience, his ability to 'see inside your head' as Jeremy puts it, and he reminds Alex that she is losing her grip on 2008 and thus the distance between herself and her child is growing. The eerie scene with the office cleaners adds further urgency to her plight. Robin's power is frighteningly realised in the very creepy sequence of Molly brushing her teeth in the kitchen only for her to be transformed into Robin, his mouth full of blood and lost teeth. His hunger strike is symbolic not just of his anti-vivisectionist crusade but also of the moral choice over life or death. As he says, 'Everyone wants to live Alex, but who are we to decide who's worth being saved' and with that he underlines Alex's own struggle in the episode to be successfully resuscitated in 2008. Keeley's scenes with David Bradley are excellent and there's a real sense of mutual understanding between the characters as Alex searches for answers and Robin provides cryptic clues to her questions. The interrogation scenes, as Gene and Jeremy listen in, are electrifying, supported by some very sensitive scoring from Ed Butt, and Alex goes into panic as Robin foresees the cloning of animals and she thinks he might have something to do with her rose delivering admirer.
Head Of State - Gene Hunt, Chief Of Justice - Gene Hunt, Executioner - Gene Hunt

For lighter relief we get some further Laurel and Hardy-esque banter between Ray and Chris as they both browse through a copy of The Joy Of Sex, the typical Gene Hunt way of dealing with lairy students in a Student Union bar, and Chris' attempt to rationalise animal cruelty via the P.G. Tips monkeys. The aftermath of the interrogation of Adrian, aggravated by the pressure from Super Mac, is a point where two extremist views violently clash with Adrian's political fervour and in Gene's vocal manifesto of: 'Head Of State - Gene Hunt, Chief Of Justice - Gene Hunt, Executioner - Gene Hunt. Shit at football, would never win Eurovision, but can spot a terrorist gob shite from a hundred yard away'. It's one of the darkest scenes we've seen in the series involving an out of control Gene and builds upon an underlying commentary in the episode about state control and power, with its inherent corruption, over the rights and actions of the individual, whether that individual be Gene Hunt or Robin Elliot.

It's interesting that in the end it is the psychoanalyst Jeremy that is the real culprit, carrying out Robin's original plan out of fear of blackmail for the cause. Jeremy is psychologically damaged and is prepared to kill himself. Again, Gene rescues Alex from a bullet and further emphasises his continuing role as a guardian angel in 1982 with the shock propelling her into a vision of paramedics resuscitating her in 2008. The episode ends on a bittersweet note. The case is solved, Ray agrees to be Chris' best man, Alex toasts her colleagues but Gene is punished by Super Mac with the transfer to Plymouth. Just what on earth is he going to do? Perhaps the weakest of the three episodes but still full of exceptional character development and some kinetic and very visual direction from Ben Bolt, it's clear that the series does struggle with 'issue' based storylines particularly when it wobbles morally on the fence and attempts to discuss them from a 2009 point of view.

Series Two Reviews:

Episode One review
Episode Two 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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7 Responses to “ASHES TO ASHES - Series 2: Episode Three”
  1. It was an interesting episode.

    A couple of things I noticed that might, or might not, be important.

    First was Gene's moral stance. I got the impression that he didn't much care about the lab owner's plight, but Gene won't stand for the innocent to be harmed; it's not that Adrian challenges him, it's that he hurt an innocent that gets Gene motivated to use brute force. For all his various faults, Gene still sees himself as a defender of the innocent.

    Second, moments after SuperMac tells Gene about the transfer, Glennister stands with thumbs in belt, in what struck me as the pose of a gunfighter. Gene is now the embattled Sheriff. Is his rather bizarre Deputy going to be able to help him?

    We also get unexpected development of Ray Carling, as he deftly saves Chris from the ire of Shaz; Ray is still the rough diamond, a follower rather than a leader, and I think about to be eclipsed by Chris. Interesting stuff, can't wait for next week!

  2. That's spot on about Gene as 'the sheriff'. That symbolism has been there since LoM and the whole set up with Super Mac is very much going to become a 'High Noon' type situation, I think.

    And the whole theme of Gene as Guardian Angel is not just about his protection of Alex but indeed as you point out about his defender of the innocent e.g. the little girl Charlotte

    Next week's episode is going to really shift things around a bit now that certain spoilers have come to my attention. Ian Wylie at the Manchester Evening News has already previewed it and categorically says Episode Four is probably the best ever A2A episode.

    Can't wait!

  3. gretchen says:

    and I do love your blog... just disagree about the moonlighting thang.

    -g ;)

  4. I do wonder about "Sheriff" Hunt.

    I think the character believes himself to be the kind generally played by John Wayne - the principled law man who's only ever as rough or tough as he needs to be; a straight shooter.

    If so, this is Rio Bravo and Alex is taking the Dean Martin role.

    We'll see. Next week will show whether the "Rio Bravo" comparison hangs together.

  5. Hi, gretchen. Thanks for making it over here.

    Well, I don't think there's much to disagree about. 'Moonlighting' is perhaps too easy an association to make. Mind you, that didn't stop the Radio Times doing a 'Moonlighting' themed cover to promote the series and BBC publicity itself doing those early 'venetian blinds' promo shots that reek of Maddie and David mixed with 'Miami Vice'. You just can't get away from the inferences it seems.

    'Moonlighting' will never be mentioned again in connection to A2A!

    Hope you stick around for the rest of the series reviews. :)

  6. gretchen says:

    Of course I will - I love your reviews here and your TRA comments. I look forward to more!

  7. First of all, why did you post that freaky picture of Robin spitting blood? YUCK.

    (Sorry, just had to get that out of my system.)

    Sometimes I think we're watching a series about the mental breakdown of a female DI.

    Loved the way Ray stopped Shaz from suspecting the worst. I just wish he'd leave those horrible Masons and come over to the side of the angels.

    Is it significant that Gene gave Alex a nickname that sounds like her daughter's name? Bolls/Molls, Bolly/Molly...

    Am slightly disappointed that nowhere in the episode did Gene say "I don't give a monkey's about monkeys!"

    Sometimes wonder how Chris got into the force. Occasionally he seems not so much wet behind the ears as antenatal. Shaz will definitely be the brains in their marriage.

    Preview trailer extremely interesting, can't wait for Monday.

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