ASHES TO ASHES - Series 2: Episode Eight

BBC1 - 8th June 2009 - 9.00pm

'Willie Rushton...Kenneth Williams...I loved Kenneth Williams. Could have been anyone...'

'Shut yer gob! Or I'll come round yer houses and stamp on all yer toys.'

'That's how they look at Kurt Russell when they think he's the thing in, well, in The Thing'

'You are pulling my todger?' 'Well, he's not pulling his.'

'She's just seen a man's tackle turned into a fish supper'

Thank God Alex didn't wake up on a spaceship where Gene Hunt turned out to be her father. 'Alex And The 'Orrible Awful 'Eadache' at least had a conclusion that didn't give you the urge to throw the telly out of the nearest window. Actually, naughty Matthew left us with our knickers in a right old twist. But more of that later. We have a story of deep fried todgers, gun toting brides and Quattros to talk about. Now, are you sitting comfortably, children?

a fairy tale intertwined within a darker reality
The pre-titles sequence with Gene Hunt as the guest reader on Jackanory is probably one of the funniest things either Life On Mars or Ashes To Ashes has ever done. Glenister gets Gene's irritability just right as he tells the tale of Alex and her love of brains, her career as a 'police woman' and knowledge of 'psychiatry'. I adored the retorts from Alex to these moments too. Director Catherine Morshead, one of the series' great assets, intercuts this mockery with Gene violently attacking a snout, Doyle, in a chip shop. It's a very odd, surreal opening because it essentially sums up the relationship between her and Gene even whilst he's assaulting someone and guest starring on Jackanory. It's a fairy tale intertwined within a darker, violent reality, especially when the book's illustrations recap the shooting that plunged her into this world of '1982' and the dilemma of purging the infection in her brain with a heavy dose of 'super-antibiotics'. The disease metaphors are an interesting way of depicting the '1982' in her head, linking her fever state into anxieties about her family in 2009. Alex goes through a series of night terrors linked to post-traumatic stress disorder, where the infection induces a form of depression and melancholia.

Alex identifies the infection as Martin Summers who mysteriously manages to get into her flat and sits waiting for her to wake up. Summers finds this idea of him being the infection ironic and, as we see later, he's possibly correct. He's more like the super-antibiotic that cleans up a corrupt mess he was paid to ignore back in 1982. He also confirms that he is the figure in the bed that we saw in the very first episode, claiming that they share nurses and he is in the room next to her. There's also that neat way that words bookend the episode - Summers claims she's said only one word in the hospital: 'Gene' and the episode nightmarishly concludes with Gene screaming out one word repeatedly: 'Bolly'. Summers also suggests she tell Gene the truth about hiding the body of the younger PC Summers if he is indeed the one constant that she claims him to be. The episode's strengths lie in how it begins to repair the bonds between Chris and Shaz whilst at the same time showing Gene 'adrift' in the aftermath of Supermac's death and Chris' betrayal. When Alex's private audio tape is planted in his office and he listens to it, his trust in Alex is seriously compromised.
'you could do with something stiff inside you'

Loved the black humour in the fish and chip shop as they discover the dismembered remains of Doyle. 'His second battering of the night' mutters Gene as the wonderfully broad Carley (brilliant playing from Ellena Stacey) explains that a certain part of his anatomy has also been removed as Morshead immediately cuts to Ray chomping down on what looks like a deep fried dildo. They really are unstinting in their suggestions about Ray's sexuality in this series and this is further underlined by the scene where Alex and Ray hilariously start to come across as fag and fag hag when they both enthusiastically declare they'd pay good money to see 'a bluey starring Daley Thompson'. As the office breaks into a round of knob gags and Ray chugs on the mouth wash, poor Chris is still being sent to Coventry despite trying to join in on the fun. When Gene introduces Carnegie from Fenchurch West there is that wonderful scene where Alex turns the suggestion that her brain infection is an STD into a dig at Gene's attitudes 'I'm an aggressive, deeply promiscuous nymphomanic, you know that' but the real bombshell lies in the news that PC Summers body has been found. The innuendo climax with Gene suggesting she has a Scotch: 'you could do with something stiff inside you' after he dismisses her attempt at a confession for dumping Summers' body and an explanation as to who killed him. He's only interested in the rumoured blag.

The plot advances via chip fat on Tiny Tim Rivens shoes ('if that isn't chip fat then I'm Liberace's love child'), a lovely scene between Ray (Dean Andrews is on top form in this episode) and Alex where she tries to get him to investigate Summers' background as she's convinced he's back in 1982 for a specific reason (and it turns out to be a sausage Ray was chowing down on), and the sultry Jenette who attempts to twist Gene round her finger. Jenette's a bit too obvious as one of the villains but Eva Birthistle skillfully manipulates the audience's desire for Gene and Alex to get together and turns it into complete distrust of this blonde interloper. As she distracts Gene with her own brand of cod-psychology, the relationship between Ray and Chris hits rock bottom. The aftermath of last week's episode delivers some great character development even though it is rather obvious that Chris will go on to redeem himself. Well, we wouldn't have it any other way, would we? Keeley is outstanding in the word-association scene with Tiny Tim Rivens, steely and gritty, barely containing Alex's anger and there's that lovely moment when Gene, after she's connected the blag to Operation Rose, tells her to keep going with the psychology (rather than the 'psychiatry' in the earlier Jackanory sequence) and she's taken aback slightly because he's got the terminology correct for once.
'Raiders Of The Lost Blag'

And then, there's that scene with the tape recorder. Glenister and Hawes turn the relationship between Alex and Gene inside out with some beautifully delivered performances. 'You talk to me Alex. If I mean anything to you at all' signifies a Gene desperate to cling on to trust, not to feel adrift. Alex desperately tries to tell the truth and Gene refuses to believe her. It's horrible and sad as we see the trust drain away between them and Gene's response, 'I ask for the truth and you piss in my face', is utterly heartbreaking. We want him to believe her story after all they've been through and Matthew Graham refuses to play to the crowd and uses Gene to punish us and Alex. Fortunately, Chris and Shaz come to Alex's rescue. Montserrat Lombard is incredibly moving as Shaz in the scene where she is reconciled with Chris. She and Marshall have a great on-screen chemistry. Chris helps uncover the 'Raiders Of The Lost Blag' but the briefing just leads to Gene and Alex having an argument and her suspension. The slap she gives Gene is something he utterly deserves after he accuses her of being a cold, unfeeling mother. Again, Glenister and Hawes are terrific in the scene and you're left wondering how all this will resolve itself. It ends on that prophetic declaration that Gene will kill Alex if she gets in the way of the operation. Very unsettling. As is the return of Summers to Alex's bedroom and the weird is-it-a dream-or-isn't-it sequence of Gene chatting to Jenette about Westerns (a running theme for sheriff Gene) and about to snog her as Alex wakes up.
Gene knows far more than he should

Car chases, blags, Shaz the bride saving Chris' neck and a spectacular instance of 'you've been Quattro'd' as Gene runs Carnegie over, amusingly scored with Associates 'Club Country' lead to the denouement. Alex gives chase after Summers who has emerged from the police van as the bent coppers steal the bullion, a blag only to be thwarted by Gene after he realises that Alex was right all along. A really thrilling sequence, akin to the rougher stuff out of The Sweeney, and topped off by Shaz, all in white, striding down the steps towards Chris, blazing away at one of the blaggers. Alex learns of Summers desire to return to 1982 and put right the blag by the bent coppers and how he knew that Alex would uncover Operaton Rose. I loved the fact that he also seemed to know that Gene Hunt would appear and shoot him down, aware that death would be his final release. It perfectly summed up the existential Western theme of the episode. There is also the response from Gene too that suggests he knows that this is Summers and his line about Summers remembering the proud young copper implies that Gene knows far more than he should. Adrian Dunbar has also been a great guest star this series and these final scenes are electric.

Then the final twist - Jenette pops up demanding her money, holds Alex at gunpoint and in the struggle, as the super-antibiotics are administered, Gene shoots Alex. It's a shocking ending and as Alex sees the world of 1982 fade to white, she reawakens in 2008 only to find herself still stuck in the nightmare as Gene appears on every monitor in the hospital shouting for her, needing her to help him because he's struggling to clear his name after shooting her. So the series reverses itself, with Alex in a coma in 1982 and now awake in 2008...A thrilling end to the series, hilarious, sad, surreal and very twisted. Series 2 has overall been confident and consistent with only a couple of episodes somewhat below par and this ending provides a great set up for Series 3 and the final chapter in the Gene Hunt saga. 'Bolly! Bols! Bolly!'

Series Two Reviews:

Episode One review
Episode Two review
Episode Three review
Episode Four review
Episode Five review
Episode Six review
Episode Seven 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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14 Responses to “ASHES TO ASHES - Series 2: Episode Eight”
  1. Great review. I can't wait for series three!

  2. R L F says:

    Is she awake in 2009 though? My interpretation is that she's in a coma within a coma (so she was shot in real 2009, woke up in 'construct' 1982, was shot in 'construct' 1982, woke up in 'construct' 2009.
    Brilliant review, Can't wait for series 3! A year is too long away!

  3. Hi, RLF. Thanks for the comment.

    Well, yes, that's the question. Is it 'construct' 2009 as envisaged in her 1982 coma or is it real 2009? Is she just suffering from the after effects of the super-antibiotics in 2009 or is she in fact still in 1982 and just imagining in her coma she's in 2009?

    Open to much interpretation.

    My theory is that she's still in 1982. Never made it to 2009 but only imagined it as she lies in a coma in 1982. The third series would have to go through some complicated hoops to move her from 2009 to 1982 again. I just don't see the point of that. They'll start with her recovering in 1982, I reckon.

  4. S Bates says:

    Third series aside, my theory was that Alex woke up in 2009 but has been driven mad (or suffering brain damage) due to her accident and the 1982 "experience". So, although she's back with Molly she's desperately haunted by a pleading Gene, so much so that she can no longer live a normal life. I quite like dark endings. :)

    But with series three going ahead, obviously this isn't the end. So, as you say, she'll probably wake up and find herself back in 1982 (a dream within a dream).

    Wonderful final episode. Great start with Gene on Jackanory. Loved Shaz in the wedding dress (it wasn't unlucky for Chris to see the wedding dress before the big day!). And thank you Frank for all your bloomin' marvellous reviews.

  5. Thanks Nimbus.

    Yeah, I thought initially that she'd woken in 2009 and was suffering from the effects of the surgery, the super anti-biotics and it was sending her doolalley - thus seeing the visions of Gene.

    But I do think they'll plump for the coma within the coma scenario when Series 3 begins.

    And of course I'll be here with some more bloomin' marvellous reviews!

  6. FRANK: That's what I thought too -- but have reconsidered after reading this and that online.

    The funny idea would be to have adrift in a coma constructed 2009 which looks like the future we expected in 1982 with flying cars etc.

    On the basis of Glennister's performance in this episode I truly wish he'd reconsider doing another spin-off, this time with Gene Hunt adrift in the future, Adam Adamant style, bewildered by modern policing.

    But then, for to happen, my theory that he too is a visitor to Sam & Alex's world would have to be proved ...

  7. Hi, Mr. Burns. Nice to see you.

    Yeah, Glenister was pretty bloody good in that episode.

    The press release for Series 3 from Kudos is full of heavy hints that we'll find out who Gene is and more about what happened with Sam. Could they entice John Simm back for an episode?

    I've had my suspicions that Gene is a 'visitor' to Sam and Alex's world. Perhaps he's been there for such a long time he's forgotten that he's been in a coma too?

    I love the idea of Gene in the modern world, a la Adam Adamant. Would make a terrific series.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Regardless of what year Alex is actually in, shouldn't "modern" Alex be in 2008, not 2009? She was shot in 2008, and only a few days have passed for her... in 2008, right?

    IIRC, Life On Mars was the same way. The show started in 2006 but ended (for us) in 2007, but Sam was only in a coma for a few weeks in 2006, so he awoke in 2006, not 2007.

  9. Anonymous says:

    "On the basis of Glennister's performance in this episode I truly wish he'd reconsider doing another spin-off"

    Yeah, but there are no good post-1983 Bowie songs to name the series after! No one wants to watch "Loving The Alien! :)

  10. Anonymous says:

    UPDATE: The BBC's Ashes website says that "modern" Alex is in 2008, not 2009.

    Can we accept that as canon (even though the BBC sit does an atrocious job of keeping track of the music in the series)???

  11. In a word, Anonymous...yes. My bad, she does wake up in 2008.

    I'd watch a series called 'Loving The Alien'. It's the best bloody song off an otherwise fairly shit Bowie album.

  12. Anonymous says:

    This episode (let alone this series) have left me spellbound.

    Since starting to watch this show both on the net and on tv (here in New Zealand), I've come to realised that Series 2 has more twists and turns as that in Series 1.

    I've missed Series 1 when it aired on tv (thank goodness I've caught up with it on the net - which it was really fasinating), but seeing Series 2 before it reaches New Zealand really made me think about the outcome of what's going to be install for Alex and Gene.

    I cannot believe that both Keeley Hawkes and Philip Glenister are so bloody fantastic in this episode (let alone this episode). And that big twist at the end.... legendary!! Can't wait to watch all of Series 2 again once it's here in NZ. ;)

    Nice review by the way Frank. Can't wait for Series 3 to come out.

  13. I should've posted earlier but I agree with everyone else, your review was brilliant. Looking forward to where Season 3 goes now.

  14. gretchen says:

    Lovely review as usual, but honestly I thought the ending was total crap.

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