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Sam Finds Himself Caught Between the Facts and His Gut on "Life on Mars"

While the ongoing dispute between the WGA and the AMPTP might have derailed our favorite series for now, there is one bright spot on the television landscape and that's BBC America's brilliant time-travel/cop drama Life on Mars.

While this week's episode, the second season's third, doesn't answer any more questions about the mysterious phone call Sam made last week (and its implications about his "assignment" in 1973), it did forward the story of Sam's possibly recovery from his coma in 2006 and give us an episode based around the constant pull between facts and instinct.

The basic thrust of the episode revolved around a car bomb outside a school that the IRA was allegedly behind. Sam knew that it couldn't have been the IRA--they weren't planting explosives on British mainland soil until the 1990s--but his hunches were discounted by the rest of the team as he couldn't prove any of the facts. He also managed to get colleague Ray Carling nearly blown to smithereens, as he wrongly suspected that there was in fact no bomb planted outside the school... and pushed Ray to investigate. The resulting explosion--viewed from Sam's POV as well as a gorgeous aerial shot--was impressive, especially for a television series, and had my jaw on the floor.

Much of Sam's skills as a detective come from his scrupulous analysis of the facts at hand but also his gut instincts (such as the fact that Pat O'Brien wasn't behind the bombings). Shaken by Ray's accident (and its odd resulting shock and hearing loss), Sam begins to doubt himself and nearly gets killed trying to defuse a second bomb. It's a gripping scene that's soon echoed in another appearance from the little girl inside the television set (a welcome return of a creepy trope) who reminds Sam to trust his instincts... even as he fails her little test.

Who exactly is this little girl (besides for the broadcast sign-off mascot)? Is she a part of Sam's subconscious? Did she help Sam restore some vital brain functions in the future? I do find it interesting that technology plays a large role in keeping Sam connected to the future, whether it be televisions, telephones, or radios.

And how much are we loving that Annie has become a major part of the team? I know I was pleased as punch when she showed up at the building site to help Sam and show her support for him, even after everything that had gone down with Ray.

As for Ray, I do think the bombing incident has made him much more sympathetic of a character to me. I know that he's supposed to be a chauvinistic hard-ass but it was fantastic to see him forced into several vulnerable situations in this episode. Did he hear Sam tell him not to shoot that fleeing suspect? We'll never know the truth there...

What did you think of this week's installment? Discuss.

Next week on Life on Mars, the discovery of a young woman's corpse in a wasteland sends the team into an investigation of wife-swapping in the suburbs, while the beauty rep's murder stirs up childhood memories for Sam.


Another fantastic episode. The aerial shot of that car bomb going off was beautifully done as was the scene with the creepy little girl. (So glad she's back!)

I am continually impressed with this show which has both style and substance. It's got everything - witty dialogue, amazing set and costume design, a fab cast and intelligent storylines. It makes me hope that Sam Tyler never finds his way out of the 70's!
Just to clarify about the IRA: they planted their first bombs in mainland Britain in March 1973. This escalation of the conflict was big news, so it would make sense to assume they were involved. However, the bombs they planted were in London. What Sam knows is that were are no IRA bombings in Manchester until 1996. For more details see the wikipedia entry.

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