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"I Am Not Going to Die in a Trattoria": The Manc Lion and Alex Square Off with Death on "Ashes to Ashes"

Last week, I told fans (via Twitter) of both Life on Mars and the series' sequel Ashes to Ashes to be sure to tune in to Saturday's installment of Ashes to Ashes on BBC America.

The most recent episode ("Charity Begins at Home") offered several intriguing twists in the ongoing story of DI Alex Drake (Keeley Hawes), a forensic profiler from 2008 who was propelled backwards to the year 1981 after being shot at point blank range. As Alex tries to figure out how to get home, she's increasingly faced with the prospect that she might be seconds away from dying in the present day and that her entire life in 1981 might be a series of puzzles that her psyche, at its shuts down, is presenting to her.

This week's episode of Ashes to Ashes featured the gang at Fenchurch East Police Station attempting to solve a robbery involving prominent fundraiser Gil Hollis (Matthew Macfadyen of Spooks, who is also Hawes' real-life husband), a mustachioed OCD sufferer who spent eight months in a bathtub to raise money for children in Africa. After he's found shot in London and his money stolen, Gene and Alex investigate what really happened to Gil and their discoveries lead to a dramatic break in their own professional and personal relationships when Gene twice crosses a line, choosing instinct over logic, savage brutality over cool professionalism.

I watched Ashes to Ashes' first season last summer (thanks to a box set I picked up in London on holiday), but I've been rewatching them the last few weeks, thanks to BBC America, and I didn't want to let this haunting and memorable episode go by without making a few comments.

First of all, I have to say that I was absolutely shocked by the death of Shaz, short-lived (heh) though it was. The Pierrot clown promises Alex that he'll come for one of the members of CID that day and Alex makes it her mission to stop him, to exert control over her life. Which is a rather Herculean feat when the Pierrot Clown seemingly represents Death itself. Accompanied by that creepy dripping noise (and some water-based imagery), Alex bares witness to the possible deaths of Gene, Ray, Chris, Viv, and Shaz. But it's Shaz herself who dies, accidentally impaled on the Swiss army knife owned by by fraudulent Gil Hollis himself who, after engaging the gang in a firefight at the Italian restaurant, takes off and reveals that he shot himself and hid the money in the scaffolding of a billboard that plays rather prominently into the plot.

That Shaz should die, after murmuring that she's more than a typist (echoing Alex's own words to her that women like her are "the future" of the police force) and then seeing the Pierrot clown himself, was utterly heartbreaking. I'm glad that Shaz didn't stay dead as Alex is able to revive her, as Shaz brings a light and glow to the oppressive environment at CID. Both have now glimpsed the clown's evil smile and icy breath and Shaz's brush with death will likely link these two in more ways than one. I was completely shocked that Shaz saw the clown (how creepy was that?) and that Gene would once again break the law outright by letting Chris attack a cuffed Gil Hollis, as Viv tried to stop him and Alex was paralyzed with grief.

And yet Alex does win this round against the clown. She does prevent him from taking another life and does exert control over this reality. Which all begs the question once again: has Alex actually traveled back in time? Is this reality as we know it? Or a fantasy land that enables her to revisit a critical time in her life, regain memories that were lost to her, and achieve a knowledge of her parents in ways her younger self couldn't? Or, to use an image that resonates with young Alex, is this her Narnia, a symbolic battlefield where good and evil collide and the fate of Alex's existence hangs in the balance?

On the season finale of Ashes to Ashes ("Alex's Big Day"), Alex is just 24 hours away from the day when her parents were killed by a car bomb. With help from Ray, Alex races to try and save them and alter history, hoping it will send her back to 2008.


LeilaM said…
This was definitely one of my favorite episodes of the season. Matthew Macfadyen was excellent as Gil Hollis. It was fun to see him in such a different role since he's usually kind of bad ass (at least in Spooks). And seeing him and Keeley Hawes reunited was also cool!
Brodie said…
Argh! I can't believe this season is almost over. I didn't think I'd like it as much as Life on Mars but it has been truly fantastic!
Anonymous said…
Gah! I adore this show and I too got hooked on it last year while in London. It's been a year and half and I need Series-2 now!
The last episode of Series-1 is probably the best last episode of a continuing series I've ever seen. Beautifully constructed, written and acted!
BBCAmerica will air (a cut up) Series-2 in May.

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