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Sam Tackles Heroin, Hate Crimes, and... Big Bird on "Life on Mars"

Just a few quick words this morning about last night's superlative episode of Brit drama Life on Mars, whose second season has been just as captivating as its groundbreaking first.

On last night's episode, Sam Tyler found himself once again saving his future by messing about with the past. This time, it's a dangling plotline involving his girlfriend, fellow police detective Maya, who was last seen in the series' pilot and who it was believed had been abducted by serial killer Colin Raimes. How Maya managed to escape from Colin's clutches in the future has yet to be revealed but Sam's early involvement in a 1973 serial killing case (with which Colin was connected as a young boy) may have altered the future.

In fact, Sam's entire reason for being in 1973 subtly points to a mission to change the future for the better and protect the people around him. We've already seen how this impacts his beloved Auntie Heather, mentor Glenn Fletcher, and perhaps Maya as well. But just what exactly was the man on the telephone speaking about a few episodes back when he said that Sam doesn't want his CID counterparts to know the "real reason" why he's there? Curiouser and curiouser.

In this episode, Sam's involvement in a case involving the murder of a Ugandan-Asian man, the heroin trade and Manchester, and hate crimes produces another one of those fortuitous moments as he manages to convince Layla, a woman caught up in the web of racial warfare, hatred, and lies, to go ahead with her pregnancy... only to discover that Layla is actually Leslie Roy, the mother of his future lover, Maya. It's a nifty twist that makes me wish that NBC's similarly-themed Journeyman had taken some more notes from Life on Mars' playbook.

While that was tantalizing enough, this week's episode also brought us two of the scariest, most foreboding, and just plain weird characters I've seen on television since the Greenes first appeared in Season Two of Big Love: Toolbox Terry (Ian Puleston-Davis) and Big Bird (Lorraine Cheshire), the latter of which gives Selma Greene a run for her money in the mannishly freaky female sidekick department. The scene in which Big Bird held a bag of irritated ferrets above Rocket's privates was freaky enough, but her evil, evil ways only become clear at the end, what with the hot iron bound onto Sam's chest, Annie all bound and gagged, and the unexpected shooting of Ravi Ghandi. Creepy.

And how fantastic was it that Chris was the one to save Sam, Gene, Annie, and Ray? I did not expect it at all when the gunshot rang out that felled Big Bird and the camera cut to reveal our Chris, dopey grin and all, holding the smoking gun.

And that brief kiss between Sam and Annie that only lasted a brief second but was tense with tenderness and longing? Priceless.

It was also great to see some depth to Philip Glenister's Gene Hunt, whom we learn has a junkie brother whom he hasn't seen in ten years. It's a small confession but one that's tinged with complexity and revelation, given Gene's seemingly irrational willingness to let Toolbox kill Ravi. After all, when Sam says that addiction is often a substitution for something that's missing from life, Hunt claims not to understand that... as he swigs from a hip flask. Just what was missing from the life of the swaggering Hunt remains to be seen but I have a feeling we're only just scratching the surface of Gene's hidden demons...

Next on Life on Mars, a drunken Gene Hunt turns up at Sam's flat in the middle of the night to make a shocking confession.


Anonymous said…
Sam and Annie are fantastic characters but it's bulldog Gene Hunt who consistently steals the show. How he can be such a complete jerk and still make you feel for him is beyond me. But I'm glad that we're finding out a little more (and maybe a lot more, based on the synopsis for next week) about him.

Best Gene Hunt line from last night's ep: "She's as nervous as a very small nun at a penguin shoot." Brilliant.

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