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Tears of a Clown: Alex Unmasks a Killer on the Season Finale of "Ashes to Ashes"

I'm hoping many of you tuned in to the phenomenal and shocking season finale ("Alex's Big Day") of Life on Mars sequel series Ashes to Ashes this weekend. I saw the entire first season last fall (the spoils of a trip last year to London, where the first season was released a while back on DVD).

I discussed the questions raised by this season finale last October in a post about Ashes' first season finale, but rather than just direct you to that post itself, I thought I'd make things easier and reproduce some of my thoughts here for the sake of convenience.

So crank up some David Bowie and Roxy Music on your iPod as we dive into some burning questions left over from Ashes to Ashes' brilliant first season. (WARNING: there are major spoilers for the end of Season One after the jump.)

My very first question, after watching the full first season of Ashes to Ashes, naturally concerns the first season's ending... in which we learn that Young Alex had met Gene Hunt before, seconds after witnessing the death of her parents and that it had been Gene's hand (and not Evan's) that she had gripped in the hallucinatory memory flashes Alex kept experiencing.

The fact that she knew Gene in the past is significant: if Gene was actually in Alex's past, then he must be a real person and is not, as Alex keeps maintaining, a fictional construct. So is he real? And, if so, is he still alive in 2008? Alex has believed that 1981 is a series of puzzles devised by her subconscious to keep her mind struggling to survive rather than succumb to the darkness and cold of death. Has she then always carried a memory of Gene Hunt around in her subconscious, unaware of his significance in her life? Is this world a puzzle for her psyche as it resists shutting down or has she really traveled back into time?

I had figured out both the Clown's identity and the motive behind Alex's parents death a few episodes before the season finale. Watching as her father put "Ashes to Ashes" on the cassette player, Alex is stunned to see him remove his glasses and transform into the Clown seconds before the car explodes. So my question is this: did Alex again *always* subconsciously know that her father had planned to kill her and her mother in a pathetic murder-suicide as payback for her mother's affair with Evan? I'd suggest that she did and that her memory filled in the blanks in her subconscious that she had successfully managed to repress for so many years.

But if the Clown is her father and an Angel of Death, why did Shaz (Montserrat Lombard) see him rather than another personification of death when she was nearly fatally stabbed in the series' seventh episode ("Charity Begins at Home")? And is the Clown still significant now that Alex knows who he actually is? Is his power over her now nonexistent now that she's peeled away the mask from his face and seen the skull beneath the skin?

I had always thought it was interesting that the song that was playing when Alex woke up in 1981 wasn't Bowie's "Ashes to Ashes" but rather Ultravox's "Vienna," which is why I was so glad to see that the writers saved that song for the moment of her parents' death, a soundtrack to their demise that makes it far more iconic and significant to Alex and alludes to why she sees her father as the Pierrot Clown rather than in some other incarnation.

Lastly, as I mentioned earlier, Gene Hunt is an actual physical person in Alex's life as a child, so is he the reason that she was pulled backwards to 1981 and why Sam Tyler was pulled back to 1973? In both cases, Alex and Sam arrived in the past just prior to a critical incident in their lives that lead to their psychological development as adults. And yet in both cases Gene Hunt was on the scene, despite Mars taking place in Manchester and Ashes in London.

So, why is Gene significant in both their stories? And is Gene more than just a common link but a means for them to latch onto that particular point in time? And is it important that in 1981, Gene is struggling to maintain relevant in a world that is changing around him? If Sam thought that 1973 was his Oz, is 1981 Alex's Narnia, a journey to understand the critical incidents that defined them later as adults? For Sam, it's a need to follow the word of the law, to enforce the concept of justice. For Alex, it's the need to find logic and meaning in the criminals she chases, to understand the flaws in their psychology... even as all along she's been trying to discover what deficiency in her father's makeup lead to him seeking to obliterate his entire family.

And how does this connect to Arthur Layton, the man who created the car bomb that killed Tim and Caroline and who Alex arrested in the first episode of the season? The man who, I might add, shot Alex in the present day... after calling an unseen person. Just who does Layton call as he leads Alex away? ("I've got a piece of your past standing right here in front of me. Tim and Caroline Price's daughter. And I'm going to tell her the truth about why her parents died... Well, that's your choice.") His words seem to perhaps indicate it's Evan, but what if it's someone else altogether different? Some other force at work perhaps? A sign of something else yet to come?

What did you think of the season finale of Ashes to Ashes? What is this world that Alex has found herself in? Why wasn't she able to prevent her parents' death from occurring? And what will it take for her to wake up in the present day? Discuss.

Season Two of Ashes to Ashes, originally intended to launch this Saturday, will instead air later this year on BBC America.

Comments

I.J. Parnham said…
I'd say the starting point is always to remember that everything we see is happening in Alex's mind. Therefore the fact that Gene held her hand as a child did not necessarily really happen. She remembers that someone held her hand. She has chosen to put Gene in that role, perhaps showing that she sees him as her protector.

She perhaps did remember that her father killed himself, but suppressed the memory. People, apparently, remove their glasses before suicide. Perhaps she remembered that act but didn't understand as a child, but the adult Alex did know that the glasses being removed solved everything.

Shaz saw the clown, but that was Alex imaginging that Shaz saw the clown as a part her gradually reaching for that glasses removing memory.

And Gene is in Alex's world 'cos he's popular.
Mrs. James Ford said…
Loved the episode! I don't think Layton calls Evan because he says "someone from your past" and Evan and Alex still have a relationship in the present since he just picked up her daughter for her birthday party.
Such a great season finale! Makes me even more angry that they're delaying airing the second season!

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