Ashes to Ashes, like Life on Mars before it is something unique in as much as we know about as much of what the series is actually about as we did when Life on Mars started back in 2006. Its actually incredibly bizarre because every time I think I’ve grasped something it throws me off course again hence I think as a loyal viewer of the series from the beginning of Life on Mars I’ve expecting big things and that every question I’ve ever had to be all tied up. If there’s even a wiff of ambiguity I’ll be yelling at the screen in the style of Sam Tyler. All that being said I also want it to blow my tiny mind and be something so left field I sit there dumbfounded. I can do without knowing the small questions like whether Tyler’s jacket was made out of real leather or why Zippy and Bungle from Rainbow appeared I want to know what the entire premise of the series is! That’s surely not too much to ask is it? In my opinion (which really own means something here) the third series has been the strongest as Ashes to Ashes started a bit weakly struggling to find itself as a new drama after the impact its older brother Life on Mars made, but now after three years and with the end of the whole saga approaching I think in some aspects Ashes to Ashes has proved itself to be stronger than Life on Mars. Quite a bold statement but true. So as I sit here glancing at the clock and counting down the hours to the start of the end (so to speak) I’m just hoping the ending doesn’t leave me as bamboozled as I have been over the past seven weeks watching the story unfold but saying that with absolutely no idea where the end will take us I’m just hoping that the answers we are given are satisfactory.
SPOILERS AHEAD SPOILERS AHEAD SPOILERS AHEAD
TV conclusions often leave the viewer a bit disappointed or a bit under whelmed but the final episode of Ashes was an exhilarating, emotional rollercoaster which by the end left me a strange mix of exhausted yet wide awake all in one. Despite my deep love for British TV drama there very few series that have actually given me goosebumps, I could probably count them on one hand but I had goosebumps throughout the final episode and when we were finally shown Gene’s warrant card I felt a chill run through my body.
It soon dawned on me that we’d been focusing on the wrong character since 2006! In Life on Mars we were concerned about Sam Tyler and the same with Drake in Ashes but really the entire saga revolved around the role of Gene Hunt and why these “lost souls” were sent to Fenchurch and as the realization of what I was watching sunk in the gravity of the performances from the cast hit. Take Dean Andrews as Ray Carling, once I understood the story behind him everything he had ever done or said made complete sense.
The episode kept building and building and every time I thought we’d reached the end and we’d had our last revelation it would take you on another journey with another heart rendering scene.
For those unsure about the conclusion we discovered that Gene Hunt had died (it was his body buried on the wasteland) when he was a young policemen after being let down by his governor and this left him in purgatory. Gene’s role was (and here’s where I struggle to use the right term) a sort of guardian angel to help the souls of lost policeman to heaven (or the Railway Arms Pub) Once you wrap your head around that the new world of Ashes to Ashes and Life on Mars opens up to you.
We were busy fretting about whether Alex/Sam would get home that it was easy to miss the clues that have stared us so plainly in the face since the start. The stars that Ray and Shaz had seen, Keat’s reaction to Viv’s death in episode 6 and the significance of Keats role trying to steer Gene’s team away from him. Daniel Mays as “Devil” Jim Keats was both mesmerizing and terrifying and you’d have to have a heart of stone not to feel uneasy as he beats up the young Gene Hunt unmasking him for the boy he really is. As if that weren’t surprising enough there’s yet another shocking twist. As Alex begins to realize that Gene has known all along she died at 9.06 and that she will never get back to 2008 and be with Molly.
After watching the final episode its hard not to kick yourself for not reaching the conclusion yourself but I put that down to the brilliance of the series and that as a viewer you become just as immersed in the “purgatory” as the characters.
I defy any long term viewer of the series not to be anything other than in awe of the final episode and whole concept of the entire series from the beginning of Life on Mars to the last nod of Dickson of Dock Green at the very end of Ashes to Ashes. The cast didn’t put a foot wrong and writer Matthew Graham’s script was truly a masterpiece in screen writing better than any blockbuster big wigs in Hollywierd could dream up.
The only downside to the end of the series is perhaps that we know that we’ll never see Gene Hunt, Alex Drake, Ray Carling, Chris Skelton and Sharon Grainger in their smoky 80’s station again and that does make me feel like reaching for the DVDs. Also I imagine if I ever do have the chance/time to sit down and watch Life on Mars or Ashes to Ashes again that I will have a greater appreciation of the series now that all my questions have been answered.
Philip Glenister needs a special mention too his presence as Gene Hunt is incredible and just goes to show what a truly amazing actor he really is. If I’m honest its taken me till series 3 to warm to Alex Drake. I found her character initially less engaging or interesting than Sam Tyler as she seemed to spend the majority of the first series whining or screaming at the TV about Molly but by the third series and particularly in this final installment I truly appreciated the relationship she and Gene shared.
At the risk of repeating myself this was the best example of British television I’ve seen for a while and just goes to show that the BBC can still deliver strong and thought provoking drama.