ASHES TO ASHES - Series 3: Episode Six / Review


Chris: (watching footage of prisoners on the roof) 'Took our roofer a fortnight to clear the same amount of tiles.'

Shaz: 'How did the riot start?'
Ray: 'They took jellied eels off the menu'

Alex (about Gene): 'There he goes. Braveheart. In Paco Rabanne.'

Jim: 'Perhaps it wasn't a wise call to take charge of the attack?'
Gene: 'Are you saying this is my fault?'

Gene: 'I'm not playing Jim. Not any more.'

Gene: 'I am negotiating!'
Alex: 'What, like Hiroshima was negotiated?!'

Chris (thumping Paul in an alley full of washing): 'Well, when the sheets hit the man...'

Alex: 'Oh, so you think his escape and the riots are connected?'
Gene: 'No, I just spent an age scouring those files for my own mindless entertainment. '

Paul: 'I want to float amongst the stars.'
Gene: 'The only thing you're gonna be floating in is your own shit.'

Gene: 'I'm not sorry that I beat that bastard up in there. He's a convict. He should be in prison and not on the run. And Viv should be in front of that desk. There's something wrong with the world when he's not.'

Paul: 'None of this is real'

Alex: 'We have an officer in that prison!'
Paul: 'He's not real. Let him die.'

Sachs (to Ray as he smells him): 'Old Spice. Fags. And loneliness'

Sachs (to Chris as he smells him): 'Talc. Fear. And spunk? You and your bum chum have some fun on the way here, did you?'
Chris: 'No'
Sachs: 'What's that smell, then?'
Chris: 'Could be brie. I had a ploughman's before we came in.'

Gene: 'Tell me, as boffin of the noggin, is that what psychos do?'
Alex: 'No. Altruistic traits are anathema to sociopaths.'
Gene: 'Blimey, try sayin' that with a mouthful of Bakewell.'

BBCHD - 7th May 2010 - 9.00pm

West Ham anthem 'I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles', as well being Viv's 'theme' in the episode also has a decidedly Ashes To Ashes spin to its lyrics. It talks of 'I'm building castles high. They're born anew, Their days are few, Just like a sweet butterfly' and the chorus tells us 'They fly so high, Nearly reach the sky, Then like my dreams, They fade and die. Fortune's always hiding, I've looked everywhere, I'm forever blowing bubbles, Pretty bubbles in the air.' It suggests a deeper meaning for the characters of Ashes To Ashes, particularly reflecting Alex's dislocated reality, her disturbing dreams and the theme of absolution that seems to be hovering in the air.

That opening shot of the football bouncing along the corridors of Fenchurch and Alex picking up the ball is a disturbing foreshadow of the episode's dramatic conclusion. And also note that this is in Alex's dream and it's a dream that director James Payne and writer Jamie Payne (yes, they are two different people!) don't show ending. There is no shot of Alex waking up here and he directly cuts from her holding the ball and then straight into her entrance into the building as riot police amass to deal with inmates 'taking over the zoo' at HMP Fenchurch.

Jim Keats continues to bait Gene about the fact that he isn't leading the police operation to restore order in the prison and at the same time uses it as a way of preventing Viv, preparing to engage in the operation, from directly communicating his concerns to Gene. By the time Viv and Gene are caught up in the operation it's too late and Gene ignores Viv's plea, 'You need to listen'. It is a part of the continual battle between Keats and Hunt for the hearts and minds of those at Fenchurch East. When we get to the strange conclusion of the episode that titanic struggle to secure the souls of those around them is played out over Viv's dying body.

The episode also reflects how the personal can become political. The riot develops from Viv's desperate need to get his cousin Carl out of C Wing and Viv's fate is sealed by Gene's desperate act of self-validation (as Jim points out: 'You deposed the unit leader. Because of what? You fancied a punch up?') in opposition to Keats. These forces, represented by that amazing shot of Hunt swamped by riot police as he realises he's left Viv behind to the mercy of the rioters, trigger recriminations between the regular characters and Alex's further loss of faith in Gene. There's a real sense of pressures starting to boil over.

If you didn't manage to avoid recent spoilers then you'd have been aware that one member of the regular cast was doomed to die in this episode and logically, once you'd ruled out the main characters, it was likely that Viv, the desk sergeant at Fenchurch, was going to cop it. A shame then that his character has been in the background, with little development, and only now in his final hour does he get some significant involvement in the plot. It's a tiny flaw in an otherwise great episode that ratchets up the tension between Gene and Jim, shunts forward the mystery about Sam Tyler's death and Alex's attempts to find the truth. The battle between Jim and Gene is figuratively depicted within the episode with various shots of Jim in the background, overseeing the field as it were, or passively sitting and smoking (more fire imagery) as Gene starts to tie himself in knots about whether he's doing the right thing and his team swings into action to support him.

Keats is definitely biding his time until the conclusion of the episode and drops various hints about Gene's past record about putting officers in danger and piles the pressure on Alex to reveal what she's found out about Gene. Is there also some significance with the various moments where he removes his glasses in conversations as they start to unearth the truth? Eyes being the 'windows to the soul', perhaps?  His comment 'Ever stared at something so long the rest of your vision goes black?' and his chat about nuns seeing visions of the Virgin Mary underlines the themes of unswerving faith and devotion between the characters at Fenchurch. Keats obviously believes Alex's faith in Gene is seriously flagging and tries to get to Alex, just as he tried with Shaz and Ray, by using Viv's downfall as emotional blackmail. By the end of the episode, when Ray and Chris are prisoners of Sachs and Gene is seemingly defeated, Keats calls in special forces to handle the mess, humiliating Gene in the process. However, Alex has the word of one Paul Thordy.

Paul Thordy. A con man, having escaped from HMP Fenchurch, who tips the team off about Jason Sachs, the riot and Viv's involvement. And a man who is convinced he's Sam Tyler. There is a conversation between Chris and Ray that initially doesn't suggest that Paul is just a fantasist. 'So you thought you could run away from the old team, did you?' implies that, yes, he's a man on the run from officers he's familiar with but also that he may have been on their team at some point. He's beaten violently by Gene, and Ray and Chris do nothing to stop him despite Alex's protestations, and this is possibly a reaction to the man's claims to be the very officer that served with them in Manchester and then mysteriously disappeared. It horrifies Alex to the point of actually hating Gene. Their confrontation in Gene's office shows Alex finally venting her frustrations with him ('you are becoming a stranger') and suggesting she knows 'things about Sam Tyler'.

This game between Gene and Jim, for that is the implication with the symbolic object of the football, is about following or bending the rules. In the Ashes To Ashes universe these 'games' are about anarchy versus order, from Gene's unpremeditated assumption of control over the riot to Keats premeditated 'by the book' attempts to use his colleagues to undermine him as well as, having foreknowledge of Viv's fate (he whistles the 'Bubbles' tune as he leaves Gene's domain). Gene also counters Keats desire to see him fail with the visitor records to the prison, suggesting Keats is causally linked to the riots. Tit for tat, again. There is also Alex's strange dream of Chris, Shaz and Ray all sitting round a table in a field (rather like a family) unwrapping a present or a parcel. A bit like the children's game of 'pass the parcel', it is revealed to be the tin box that is then found in Paul Thordy's possessions and in the desk drawer in Gene's office. Each opening of the box reveals a clue and it wouldn't be right to associate it with Pandora's box because this box seems to offer more clarity to this world of 1983 rather than keeping something terrible at bay.

But then why would an impostor like Thordy then start spouting lines like 'I want to float amongst the stars' when it's clearly a major clue as to what is happening in this version of 1983. It leads to that very interesting conversation between Shaz and Ray about their visions of space and stars. Ray suggests that the points of light might be something you would see before blacking out. An interesting emphasis about losing a conscious grip on the real world, of going to sleep, of being in a coma as well as the significance to the heavens and celestial light. This is then followed up by that touching scene of Alex drifting through the office in the early morning and finding the sleeping forms of Ray, Chris and Shaz. It's like the disciples asleep in Gethsemene.

Is Thordy more than a con man and fantasist? Unless he's had access to Sam's files then how would he know about the blackouts and dizziness that Alex suffers from? He was Sam's last arrest so it's possible he found a lot out about Sam, I suppose. And everyone evades Alex's questions about this. We also have to ask ourselves as to why Gene was in Thordy's cell as Thordy is dragged from it after what appears to be a suicide attempt. 'Jesus wanted him for a sunbeam' notes Gene, with more nods to sun images and to the Christian hymn.

Hilariously, Alex calls Thordy's bluff about East17's Christmas hit of 1994 (Thordy talks of her playing 'parlour games' when he's doing an awful lot of that himself) but he does make an important point 'You forget, Alex. That's what happens to you here, you forget.' And she's certainly been doing a lot of that. He later tells her that once she finds out what the great secret is at the heart of this universe, then everything will disappear. 'I found the answer Alex. And I was taken out of the game.' So he postulates that, discovering this as Sam, his appearance was changed and Gene Hunt framed him, then threw him in prison to cover it all up. A red herring? Or will we see Thordy again?

More intriguing visual signs and symbols too: Viv kneeling and praying whilst held by the rioters and Sachs, the 'shrine' like treatment of Gene's inner sanctum as Alex enters it looking for clues, the use of the ceiling's lighting grid to suggest states of consciousness, Gene returning to a darkened office with a bold white crucifix formed by the dawn light from the window, its reflection in the ceiling and the fluorescent tube lighting. There's also quite a bit mentioned about becoming 'a legend' or 'immortal', and it's a particular desire articulated by Jason Sachs, the riot leader embroiled in Viv James' fall from grace.

We also get several return visits from the scarred young copper, with the final one leading Alex to the tin box and the photograph. There is also a remarkable facial similarity between Paul Thordy and the vision and image of the dead man. He's there to point the way and he underlines the meaning of Paul Thordy's tooth she finds in the evidence room. Surely a 'wisdom tooth' or a pearl of wisdom in that it leads her to that photograph but then he claims it isn't a real tooth, doesn't he?

Finally, we have that disturbing scene that the episode is driving towards. As Ray and Chris discover Viv's involvement in the riot ('We put our lives on the line for you. Well, you know what. I hope he shoots you first. I mean it. You're dead to me'), Gene and Alex use the contents of Thordy's metal tin to put an end to Sachs plan to electrocute the three men. Ray and Chris have a brief moment to indulge in a heart to heart as they presume their demise. Chris asks Ray to tell Shaz that he still loves her. Just as you think Ray is going to reciprocate with something heartfelt, he says: 'If you don't get out of here...can I have your mug? Cos mine's knackered.'

During the confusion as the special forces raid the prison, Gene talks to the dying Viv over walkie talkie. It's a terribly sad scene as Viv pleads with Gene not to tell his mum that he was scared. Payne shoots all the prison raid scenes in bold silhouettes against the smoke filled sets. It's a very atmospheric conclusion with lens flares and so much desaturated colour that it's almost monochrome. Keats reaches the dying Viv, quoting the 'I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles' song, and then deliberately seeks some sort of communion with him, struggling with his dying body. Is he extracting Viv's life-force? Whatever he's doing, he's then interrupted by Gene who grabs Viv away from Keats, saying 'I'll take him'. Is Gene also trying to achieve something similar. As he dies, we hear that whisper of 'soul' on the soundtrack too. In an attempt to give the man some dignity, Gene asks the others gathered there to remember Viv as a hero despite his past mistakes.

Meanwhile, Alex upset and clearly breaking down in the office, sees the scarred policeman again and he leads her to the tin box in Gene's drawer and the picture of the same young policeman. She finally connects the two with the epaulette number 6620. Who is this mysterious man? Is it a young Gene? Or one of his relatives? A fantastic ending to yet another very successful episode and with particular appreciation to Geff Francis for his performance as the doomed Viv, and for two remarkable performances from Glenister and Hawes showing the turmoil and pressure now bearing down on Gene and Alex. 

With only two episodes to go we should start seeing some of the answers to many of the questions raised thus far.

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16 Responses to “ASHES TO ASHES - Series 3: Episode Six / Review”
  1. Anonymous says:

    You mention 'Alex's further loss of faith in Gene,' but you don't mention that she set Thordy free in cahoots with Gene. Gene says, "Do you really think DI Drake would fall for your old fanny? You see the thing is, Thordy, good coppers stick together. You should know that by now."
    Just thought I'd mention it, because, despite everything, it gives me faith in Gene and Alex's partnership.
    - Cindy B

  2. Indeed, she did set Thordy free in collaboration with Gene but I did feel that she needed some real encouragement to trust him.

    Until then, the relationship between them is really at rock bottom.

    And appropriately she does brush off Keats as the team rush to Viv's side.

    I too have faith that their partnership will survive. There is an excessive amount of debunking of Gene going on and I'm hoping the writers will show us how wrong Keats is.

    I think there will be some kind of crisis where Gene will reveal his own past mistakes and similarly everyone will choose to remember him as a hero rather than as a corrupt and rotten copper.

  3. Jack Yan says:

    Wonderful review. I like your theory about Sam being taken out of the game.

    One tiny point, which was easily missed: Thordy’s and Gene’s boxes are different: the former is taller and green; the latter is a Coronation souvenir and blue.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Hi there, just thought i'd say i really enjoy reading your ashes blogs, they really provide a good incite into each episode which includes loads of stuff i seem to miss, in particular all the visual clues like the lighting etc. and what everything could mean.

  5. Anonymous says:

    thanks for another insightful review, I too look forward to reading'em (waiting for the latest Doctor Who review :-)

    Just thought I'd mention that when Chris and Ray are tied up they look about to be crucified-a bit obvious, maybe but it seems to blend in with all the other christian motifs suffusing this episode, most of which you've mentioned of course!

  6. Anonymous says:

    « that amazing shot of Hunt swamped by riot police » is a complete replica of another shot in Clint Eastwood's Mystic River.
    But let's say it was made as an hommage rather than a pale copy of it.
    Still, it doesn't matter, the episode was really good, and anyway, better Eastwood than nothing.

  7. Anonymous says:

    The episode was written by James Payne and directed by Jamie Payne. Similar names but two different people. Could you correct?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Just discovered your reviews and find them very helpful, particularly with this final series - so much is happening that its difficult to remember them all w/out sitting with a notepad whilst watching! This episode was jam-packed full of allusions and hints - the whole family watched (husband and 16 year old son) and we were all agreed that we felt mentally exhausted by the end of an hour!

    The thought of only having two hours left of this brilliant universe is only softened by the thought that at last we will know what it was really all about. I have my theories (one in particular) and am itching to know if I'm in any way close....

  9. Anonymous - Yes, I checked that with Matthew Graham and they are two different people. I stand corrected.

  10. Anonymous says:

    When Keats was playing cards, it looked to me as if he was playing an opponent that we could not see. The half faced PC? Incidentally, this is the first time I have ever added a comment to a blog - I created a Live-journal account especially, not wanting to appear anonymous! I, too, noticed that the dream was not shown to end - I wondered if the whole episode was a dream, especially when D.I.Drake walked down the corridor and heard her own voice coming from somewhere. Perhaps the half faced PC is Gene; my theory was that it was the person who had killed Sam Tyler, who Gene had then exacted revenge on. Thordy did seem to talk in a similar way to Sam, and Ray said something like, "If she finds out who he is..." Perhaps he really is Sam Tyler; perhaps Gene put Sam's soul in a different body?

  11. grinch456 - Yes, I was toying with the idea that Gene had somehow placed Sam's soul in another body and that Thordy actually was Sam. But that might just be over complicating it.

    And you're the second person who has said to me that it looked as if Keats was playing cards with someone we couldn't see. It registered with me but then I just simply forgot about it but now I've watched it back then yes, it really does look odd!

  12. Steve says:

    I find it very hard to comprehend how it's possible to over-complicate a plot like this. It is already complicated. Indeed, I noted Thordy's reference to how they could do anything in the future. And that future would have to be far beyond 2006 & 2008. Does this suggest manipulation from the far future? And what about Thordy's reference to Sam Tyler dying in 2005? Was it a mistake, or had Sam Tyler actually died the year before the road accident? Was everything in the case of Sam and Alex merely a set of computer-generated artificial realities, created by future humans...or even by aliens?


  13. Steve says:

    Quote: “She finally connects the two with the epaulette number 6620. Who is this mysterious man? Is it a young Gene? Or one of his relatives?”

    Brilliant! Yes, it could be Gene himself, which would explain why the photograph (possibly from the early sixties) is in his drawer. Gene could be dead. Gene could have found out, as with Sam Tyler. Yes, he would be scared...he could be so scared that he can't accept Thordy (suspect that this name was taken from John Thaw, of Sweeny fame). What a scenario!


  14. Anonymous says:

    There is so much to think about! I love it!
    Interesting how Thordy said, "There's a tin..." rather than, "The answer's in this tin."
    Keats: "It's not the first time he's been cavalier with an officer's safety." Could that refer to Sam Tyler's death in the version that Ray told D.I.Drake in episode 1, series 1, i.e. "Sam went into a bank raid alone, didn't wait for back up, and was killed." Or something like that. [The body was never found.]
    How did Thordy get the blueprints - is history repeating itself; is it because his thoughts go forwards [as he put it]?
    Viv said, "If not me, then who?" Does that mean that in the game [whatever it is] that someone had to do it?
    Gene said he would go in and rip Sachs' heart out of he laid a finger on Viv - and he shot him in the chest, so not a bad prediction! "My place is secure" said Sachs - "Immortal, a legend." Does that mean in the game, rather than merely as a cop killer?
    And what was Gene doing in the office when D.I.Drake went to see him in the office? He got up, walked out of the office to meet her, and shut the door, leaving her looking through the window at the desk. As Gene left he said, "Anyone would think you didnt trust me Drake..." and she's left looking onto his office through the window.
    Perhaps the weather vane will return in episode 7.
    John Thaw - I never thought of that! Could be!

  15. Anonymous says:

    A new thought - perhaps what Keats knows from 3 years ago is that Gene killed Sam's executioner BUT loved Sam so much that he managed to extract Sam's soul and put it into the body of the person who killed Sam. Well, that's what I would have done. Thordy?
    Which reminds me of the graffiti on the wall that indicated, "Gene loves Sam."

  16. Steve says:

    I’d say that it’s a 50/50 bet that this is a computer game. When A2A series one first started, I noted the symbolism of the checkerboard lighting.

    This checkerboard effect suggested, to me, an X-Y grid. I must admit to finding that a fascinating scenario. Wouldn’t a computer game scenario explain how Sam found himself working on the same bootlace strangling case in 2006 & 1973?

    It reminds me of the Sherlock Holmes/Moriarty case from Star Trek: the next generation, where the computer had managed to turn a fictional holographic villain into a sentient being...a virtual sentient being.

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