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Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Things Fall Apart on Ashes to Ashes

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

Just what is Yeats' rough beast that slouches towards Bethlehem to be born, within the context of Ashes to Ashes?

Is it the mysterious DCI Gene Hunt, whose presence within the world of Ashes and Life on Mars seems to be one of the few constants? Or is it his nemesis, Discipline and Complaints Officer Jim Keats, Gene's dark reflection and a man of enigma himself?

Once again, Alex Drake finds herself caught between wanting to trust Gene and her own suspicions about what happened to Sam Tyler. Despite the fact that she wants to make a major leap of faith and believe Gene when he spins her a yarn about faking Sam's death, there's something that she can't quite let go of, something that's not quite right, and something that Gene isn't telling her.

What that might be remains to be seen, but it could bring about the end of this world if Alex manages to uncover the truth about Gene Hunt, Sam Tyler, and the world they are all currently inhabiting, a series of secrets that involve Officer 6620, the car crash, a weathervane, and the identity of Gene Hunt himself.

Yes, everything is beginning to unravel as, for each of the characters, things fall apart...

Warning: spoilers abound for US viewers who haven't seen Season Two or Season Three of Ashes to Ashes.

Functioning as the penultimate episode of Ashes to Ashes and the joint storyline of Ashes and its predecessor Life on Mars, I though that this week's installment was a work of staggering genius, managing to balance both a compelling mystery of the week--surrounding a potential ANC plot to assassinate South African president Pieter Botha in London--and the funeral of Viv with the sort of slow-burn reveals and mind-bending twists that this series excels at.

Viv's funeral brought things home for the gang at Fenchurch East (save maybe Chris, who found himself laughing at a rather inappropriate bit), offering up a Gene Hunt who, for a change, seemed utterly defeated, having to admit that he'd lost another officer to death. (Or is it Death?) The fact that the curtains wouldn't close around Viv's coffin, leading Gene to yank them shut, to grant Viv a final piece of dignity denied him by the brutal way that he died, was a biting reminder about the transience of life... right before we got a shot of a flame and those ubiquitous stars, which this week seemed all the more vital and important.

While Alex was forced to turn over the film canister she swiped from Gene's office to Keats, a number of inexplicable things occurred this week, as Keats received a set of VHS tapes (which he labeled with Ray, Shaz, and Chris' names), Shaz and Ray heard a disembodied voice from a supply closet at Fenchurch East, and Chris Skelton finally got his own well-earned Life on Mars moment this week... and managed to solve a crucial part of the puzzle in the process.

All this and the sexual tension between Alex and Gene nearly came to a head, before their near kiss was brutally interrupted by the arrival of Jim Keats, who brought Alex the developed film that she had given him. Just what did the film reveal? A series of photos, all happy ones, of the Manchester gang, including Sam Tyler and Annie... and a photograph of a house in Lancashire, one with a memorable weathervane that we've seen before.

There's been a bit of conjecture about that weathervane. I've long maintained, since the first or second episode of this season, that it depicted a crone with a walking stick facing west, a symbolic manifestation of Oz's Wicked Witch of the West, and another in a long line of Oz imagery that has peppered both this and LOM. Given the appearance (as seen in the promo for the series finale) of a scarecrow (!!!), the fact seems certain that we've been meant to see these things as symbolic allusions to the Oz story, pointing towards the fact that this world is a magical realm along the lines of Oz or Narnia, an impossible place that shouldn't exist.

Like either of those fantastical worlds, characters find themselves traveling there unwittingly and want desperately to return home, only to discover that, once returned, the place they were truly alive was in that other realm.

Home is, as they say, where the heart is.

Like travelers Sam Tyler and Alex Drake, we've seen others who were out of place in this world, like Railway Arms barman Nelson and Italian restaurateur Luigi, who this week informed the gang that he had come into money and would be going home. A foreigner (whether real or fake) has run both drinking holes in both series; several characters have looked for ways home but it's rarely ever as simple as clicking your ruby slippers together three times (though Ashes has shown a fixation with all things red from the start).

Alex's mission has been returning home. For the others, it hasn't been quite so clear cut. To use the Oz metaphor I invoked a few weeks back: Shaz needed courage; Ray a heart; and Chris needed brains. All three have attained their missions now, Chris by disobeying the gov and doing what was right, releasing prisoner Joshua and sending him out into the wind and then facing Gene one last time. In doing so, Chris got the moment that had been denied him: the acceptance on the part of Gene Hunt, that pat on the shoulder and respect that signified his inclusion into the circle of trust.

And just as the others did, his moment of epiphany came with darkness and the familiar strands of Bowie's "Life on Mars," though Chris realized two things that the others didn't: that the song was being played somewhere like a pub and the voice he heard in the foreground was none other than Nelson, the barman at the Railway Arms in Manchester. (In the end, it all seems to come back round to Manchester, doesn't it?)

It's an important realization and another clue towards where the series is going in its final week. Both Alex and the others are looking backwards, towards the past, in order to figure out the truth about their present day, much like both series did in their own way. Does it all come down to a song played in a Manchester pub, a place where perhaps the truth came out between Sam and Gene?

I'm also curious about the fact that Joshua literally disappeared after he provoked Chris to realize that Alex might be from the future. An intentional tip of the hat to the religious and mystical? Is it vital that Chris accept just where Alex--and maybe himself as well--actually came from? What to make of the old-school police whistle as well that was freaking Chris out so much this week? Another clue about the Officer 6620?

Meanwhile, Ray and Shaz heard a voice echoing out of a Fenchurch East station supply room, a moment that terrified both of them so much that they instinctively grabbed onto one another for support. Given the fact that Shaz loathes Ray, it was a major turning point in their relationship, a realization that they're either both going mad or are experiencing the same mortal terror as their world begins to disintegrate.

Later, joined by Chris, the troika are given another vision of the stars, looming over them, around them, a suffocating, dizzying swirl of light and darkness, that obliterated everything else out in its wake. A vision of the afterlife? The truth that this world is fleeting and false? Or that they're on the road to heavenly release? Could it be that each of them is closer to death than anyone realizes?

Just what is on the tapes that the malevolent Keats is preparing for each of them to see? Proof of their deaths? Of their pasts? Is he trying to goad them into catharsis or death itself as he attempts to tear this world down around their ears?

What did Shaz mean when she said to Ray and Chris, "it's like 1953 in your heads"? A throwaway line or something deeper? Could it be that that was the year Gene Hunt died? Hmmm...

Alex and Gene, meanwhile, come closer than they ever have to a full-blown sexual encounter with one another. While the night is ruined by the explosion at the South African embassy, the two retire to Alex's place where they dance that delicate dance and very nearly kiss for the first time. But whatever trust is there, whatever fragile faith, is destroyed by Keats' appearance with those photographs, which he claims depicts the grave of Sam Tyler, one in the shadow of that house with the weathervane.

I don't believe that is the case. Gene, though he tells Alex that he helped Sam fake his death, didn't tell her the whole story. And while there might be a grave in those fields, it's not Sam Tyler's grave, but that of Officer 6620. Just who is he? Another traveler, like Alex and Sam? Or, as I've suspected for a while now, the body of the "real" Gene Hunt, dead and buried all these years? Will finding that corpse and unearthing it cause this world to end, to disintegrate into nothing more than stars in their firmament?

There's also the matter of the bullet. Keats makes a point of referring to the bullet that nearly killed Alex and she infers that he means the accidental shot that Gene took at her in Season Two. But what if he was referring instead to that original bullet, the one that Layton fired at her skull in the very first episode? The point of impact that would have likely shattered her mind had Gene Hunt not stepped in to save her psyche?

As Gene said, the Final Chapter is at hand now. (Or as he actually said, "This is the final chapter, Bolly.") We've only got one episode of Ashes to Ashes remaining as the interconnected mysteries of Gene Hunt, Sam Tyler, Jim Keats, and the true nature of this world come crashing to a conclusion on Friday evening. Regardless of the outcome and the numerous reveals that the episode will likely contain, I'm going to miss Ashes to Ashes more than I can say, from the memorable characters to the mind-bending mysteries that the series has kicked up over the course of its intoxicating run.

The end is almost here... Will it end with Gene pouring Alex a big glass of Chianti or the destruction of their entire world, ashes to ashes, dust to dust? Find out Friday.

What do you think is going on here? Is the gang already long dead? Clinging to life? Will Alex get home or is that not even a vital component to the series anymore? Just who are Gene Hunt and Jim Keats? What happened to Sam Tyler? Head to the comments section to discuss.

On the series finale of Ashes to Ashes, DCI Gene Hunt and his team investigate a diamond heist following the murder of three London gang members. But DI Alex Drake is distracted and, with encouragement from DCI Jim Keats, she decides to pursue her own investigation to the bitter end, seeking to discover whether Gene Hunt murdered Sam Tyler; Gene races after Alex, leaving Ray Carling, Chris Skelton and Shaz Granger to plan an ambitious sting operation. As Gene desperately tries to reach Alex before she discovers the truth, Chris, Shaz and Ray's world completely falls apart. It's time for Alex and the rest of the team to find out the truth about Gene Hunt...


Unknown said…
Thank you for finding time during the Upfronts and the ending of Lost to review the (near) ending of one of my
favorite shows of all time, "Ashes to Ashes."
I really don't want to guess as to the ultimate "identities" of these characters. I sense good and evil, and I like your Oz analogy, but I guess I've decided to get through this week unspoiled and just enjoy what Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah have written.

Although, with your Oz analogy, maybe Alex does get home? And is Gene the Wizard, and does he get respect? or what?

Yes, I DO have questions, but I SO don't want to be spoiled, and I don't want to write my own ending.

I will miss this show...

Can't wait for the US-release DVDs!
- Cindy from PA
Bella Spruce said…
Even though I have no idea what it means, I was so relieved when Chris finally got his "Life on Mars" moment in this last episode. Whatever is happening to them, at least they're all in it together now!

Every TV/film writer should watch that scene between Alex and Gene dancing in the dark as a "how to build sexual tension" reminder. Amazing!

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