ASHES TO ASHES - Series 2: Episode Seven

BBC1 - 1st June 2009 - 9.00pm

'This is supposed to be a stakeout, not some midnight feast at Mallory Towers'

'Not enough sugar. Or milk. Or tea.'

'Several people were looking for a Mr. Hugh Jarse. And it turned out Mike Rotch was quite popular too. Five or six had chronic asthma and one man had some very imaginative suggestions.'

'Jail isn't your sentence, Chris. I am.'

Ah, the dream team. Writer Mark Greig and director Catherine Morshead return with an episode that completely rearranges the world we thought Ashes To Ashes was. The creators promised the series would get very dark and by the end of this 50 minutes you'll think you've been thrown in a coal house, at midnight, wearing very dark clothes. How ironic that Morshead opens the episode with Alex dreaming of Molly waking her up in hospital only to have her face blur into that other symbol of innocence, Chris Skelton. The theme of corruption strikes at the very heart of innocence here and leaves us shattered and bewildered. Baby bear has gone bad.

Opening with the stakeout at the building site and the neat reversal of 'Mummy Bear' Alex saving Gene's life for a change, the plot centres around the activities of dodgy builder Lafferty who treats his immigrant Polish staff very harshly and keeps the bodies buried in the concrete. But his connections range further than we expect and what seems to be a coincidental tip-off turns into a nightmarish journey into the heart of darkness. 'Forgive me if our little investigation costs Sir Henrington Arse-Twat a year's subscription to his private members club!' spits Gene, not knowing that the investigation will be far from 'little'. As the coroner confirms that the body recovered was the victim of a murder ('Bugger' indeed) and Alex ponders that often bad things happen for no reason, there's a little birthday celebration at Luigi's for Viv.

Alex makes a cringe inducing speech, declaring her love for everyone, convinced she's off back to 2008. A lively, frothy scene, with Keeley sparkling away and Philip doing his best glowering as Gene. Compare that to the later scene, after Gene has planted the seed of suspicion to nail his mole in the station, where tensions rise and a great many things, as well buried as those bodies in concrete in the builder's yard, which should be left unsaid, are said. Poignantly, Alex chats to Chris, expressing how lucky he is to have Shaz. Looking back now, Marshall Lancaster's performance is pitch perfect. Look at that pause before he responds with 'Is she?' to Alex's 'And she's a lucky girl'. Gene's familial embrace of Chris and Shaz is equally a moment of joy tinged with bleak foreshadowing.
Alex's desperation to finally wake up back in 2008 is all too palpable
And it all starts to go horribly wrong when the young PC Martin Summers, revealed as Gene's informant, turns up at CID. Gwilym Lee looks astonishingly similar to Adrian Dunbar as the older Summers and he captures well many of his vocal inflections and mannerisms. Alex, and the audience, is immediately on guard, both sharing the knowledge that Summers is much more than a humble PC. With the young Summers in the equation Alex finds herself trying to alert Gene to the fact that he can't be trusted. Keeley's handling of this frustration and confusion is brilliant and Alex's desperation to finally wake up back in 2008 is all too palpable, boiling over into rage as she violently interrogates Summers in the loos.

Greig's script twists and turns, slipping past your rationalisation of young Summers' motivations, through Lafferty's apparent innocence, through Alex's suspicions so much like a wet fish trying to get back in the river. Just when you think you know who's deserving of the handcuffs, the plot shifts again. Again, it's all about who we think we trust. Gene swears by Summer's decency and yet is later confronted by Chris' corruption. And was Super Mac's dying pronouncement just a wild rose chase? However, Alex's determination to flush Summers out gives her more than she bargains for and shifts the character's motivations to as dark a place as Chris' eventual corruption. Not only is she still carrying the guilt around about her parents deaths but she also has to deal with the older Martin Summer's deliberate murder of his younger self.
the disassembling of the 'family'
The impressive, and very surreal, scene in the building site, as Alex is confronted by the two versions of Summers tips all of our notions about the 'world' of 1982 on their head. Summers shoots his younger self, admits to tipping off CID about Lafferty, the drugs and the body and Alex realises she's at the mercy of a master manipulator. Her certainty about time, history and the way things are supposed to happen disintegrates as she's left to dispose of the younger Summers' body. A sublime bit of rug pulling and a very twisted way to keep Alex struggling to return to 2008 with the discovery of the builder's body at the opening of the episode mirroring the way Alex has to get rid of Summers body. The notion of the disassembling of the 'family' is also brought home by the reappearance of Caroline Price, accusing her daughter of not trying hard enough to prevent the car bombing that closed the first series. Morshead echoes the signature style of director Johnny Campbell from Series One in her use of the whizzing tape images and the exploding car.

The older Summers confronts Alex in her flat and we learn that he is perhaps a man of two times, slipping between 1982 and 2008. And yet, why is he doing this to Alex? And is he and all of 1982 still a subconscious realm to where Alex has retreated and where anything can happen? Is the twisting of the rules of linear time and history just part of the healing process for Alex? Her mother reappears and reaffirms her mission: to reunite mother and daughter, to reunite the family. However, the final half of the script takes yet another turn as evidence goes missing and Summers signature has been faked to sign it out of the evidence room. Lafferty, Super Mac and Kevin Hales all seem to be linked to a mole in the CID office.

the world turned on an axis
As The Cure's 'All Cats Are Grey' drifts beautifully across the soundtrack, Morshead superbly uses a prowling Gene to observe our familiar characters as they go about their daily business but now with an unsettling note of suspicion in the air. Gene sets the trap and Morshead ratchets up the tension as a fight breaks out in Luigi's. It's horrible to see our favourite characters change and hurl suspicion at each other but the worst is yet to come. It's utterly devastating when Chris is revealed to be the inside man. Morshead also symbolically captures the way this world has turned upside down in that slow pan and track into the safety deposit room where the lighting from the CID office is now the tiling on the floor of the room. The ceiling is the floor, the world turned on an axis. Equally, as Gene pins the crime and the disappearance of PC Summers on Lafferty, Alex's guilt and her interjection suggest that Gene's world could topple still further if she dares to reveal her own crime.

Marshall Lancaster and Philip Glenister are really quite superb during the confession scene after Chris walks back into the station. The following scene in the interview room also gives him and Keeley an opportunity to show how close they've inhabited, and we've got to, these characters and this entire sequence is perhaps one of the single best scenes in the series to date. It's sad that it stemmed from his desire to buy Shaz the best ring he could and then spiraled into losing Kevin Hales prison transfer file. This revelation finally cuts the cord and Chris is lost to his colleagues and to us too. Riveting and emotional, the confession concludes with his admission of forging Summers signature and removing evidence from the office.

To make matters worse Gene punishes Chris by forcing him back to work with his close friends and colleagues. But they don't particularly want to work with him and will Shaz ever forgive him? Finally, Alex traces Chris' corruption back to the older Summers and a room full of images and press clippings of the various incidents of the series and the inevitable rose symbol calling card. Was this corruption what Summers had in mind for Alex all along and by her refusal he then set his sights on Chris? As Chris stands alone in the CID office, the ceiling and floor symmetrically swallowing him, he looks to the heavens. 'It's all shit, isn't it?' confirms a drunken Gene at Alex's flat, summing up the devastating impact of Greig's script on our family of characters and the end of a truly stunning episode.

Series Two Reviews:

Episode One review
Episode Two review
Episode Three review
Episode Four review
Episode Five review
Episode Six 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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4 Responses to “ASHES TO ASHES - Series 2: Episode Seven”
  1. I was NOT expecting ANY of this episode. Definitely 10/10.

    The shooting of Summers Junior was a total "WTF?!?!?" moment, and Alex hiding his body was awful. Really horrible. It had a sickening sense of inevitability about it as she bound the chain round his legs and pushed him into the concrete.

    I'd've put good money on Ray being the traitor. Marshall Lancaster's acting was just perfect.

  2. Quite!

    Three really awful things that no one could have predicted:

    Chris as the traitor; Summers shooting his younger self; Alex having to dump the body.

    I thought it would have been too obvious to have Ray as the traitor. It was a nicely played red herring though. My money was on Chris, Shaz or an incidental character like Viv. I didn't think they'd be brave enough to throw innocent Chris to the slaughter but by the heck they did!

    Although the trailer for next week's doesn't really sell the impact of the final episode, according to Ian Wylie at the Manchester Evening News it's shocking and will provoke big debates.

    Marshall really does deserve huge credit for his performance last night. He was superb.

  3. I suppose it's good that they're giving Chris' character some depth. Ray has spade-loads of depth, so it's about time Chris got some. And perhaps now Shaz will finally have something to do beyond look beautiful (which she can do as easily as breathing).

    I must check out that MEN article. The trailer did look a bit pedestrian, but maybe that was 'Silence in the Library' syndrome.

  4. Nice review and I agree that the unexpected nature of the events was shocking. I've posted my own review at:

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