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The Girl with the Mousy Hair: The Lovely Shaz on Ashes to Ashes

"It's a god-awful small affair/To the girl with the mousy hair."

David Bowie's seminal song "Life on Mars" may have provided the musical hook to 1970s set metaphysical cop drama Life on Mars but its presence had until this point been limited to that series and not crossing over into sequel spinoff Ashes to Ashes. Until now, that is.

The song--along with Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl"--offered two of many memorable moments in the latest fantastic installment of Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah's Ashes to Ashes, a mind-bending installment that offered some additional clues to the identity of Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) and his war with Jim Keats (Daniel Mays) as well as the circumstances surrounding the death of Life on Mars' Sam Tyler (John Simm) and the presence of Alex (Keeley Hawes) in this strange world.

While retaining its aura of dread, this week's episode of Ashes to Ashes focused not only on a case involving a serial killer stalking the female clients of a dating agency but also on the team's most junior member, Sharon "Shaz" Granger (Montserrat Lombard), who has reached a crossroads with her career. Will she stay with Fenchurch East or will she leave the police force all together?

That was the question but while Shaz's employment may have seemed like a subplot, it became a driving force in the ongoing battle between Gene and Jim, with both of them manifesting a vested interest in Shaz's decision. But why? Hmmm...

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

I have to give Graham and Pharoah credit for meticulously recreating Billy Joel's 1983 music video for "Uptown Girl," right down to Alex wearing the hat in the car, Gene fixing his hair and tucking in his shirt, and the pin-up girl poster in the garage. Both hysterical and period-appropriate, Alex's "Uptown Girl" dream sequence continued to position Gene and Alex as star-crossed lovers from different worlds, here manifesting itself as the uptown/downtown dichotomy of Joel's song. (I'll also admit that I watched the opening about three times as I just loved seeing the guys sucked into Billy Joel's romance fantasy and found all of it to be absolutely hilarious.)

Of course, Gene Hunt seems to run Fenchurch East much like a garage: all pin-up girls, testosterone, and boys only. Alex and Shaz's presence there offers an injection of estrogen, along with a more modern approach to policing that's in line with Alex's experiences in the gender-neutral police force of the present day.

But the women aren't the spanner in the works. That role goes to Daniel Mays' Discipline and Complaints officer Jim Keats, who this week continued to search out Gene Hunt's weak spots, looking to turn the team over to his side. In addition to creating an uncomfortable environment in the hellish little office he's using, Keats literally turns up the heat on the Fenchurch East gang, a little electric fire roaring away at full blast in the corner.

Interestingly, Keats has already learned the team members' trigger points: he looks to manipulate each of them by appealing to their vulnerabilities. Ray's loyalty to Gene is tested, as is Chris' sense of ambition and Shaz's fears that she's not up to the task at hand. But why is Keats so determined to sway them to his side? Is it to tear down the kingdom that Gene has constructed within the station? Or is something more going on here?

With Ray and Chris seemingly unwilling--yet, anyway--to bend to Keats' will, he turns his attention to the team member that's currently the most vulnerable: Shaz. Doubting her role on the team and her place within the police force, Shaz is convinced that she needs to leave behind her dreams of being a copper and leave the force altogether, a position that Keats seems to support. In fact, he seems hellbent on making Shaz leave. The choice has to be hers but the outcome must be the one that Keats wants, another domino falling that he's knocked over.

As for Keats, he's more than just a shifty D&C man with a grudge against Gene. His abhorrence of Gene does a hell of a lot deeper than just a personal dislike; there's something between them, something dark and mysterious that has brought him to this moment. I'm also intrigued by the notion that he knows exactly what Alex is going through and might even be from her world. The fact that he didn't twinge at all when she mentioned Jeffrey Dahmer, agreeing with her assessment, was an auspicious one as Dahmer's killing spree didn't reach its zenith until the late 1980s and early 1990s. Was his agreement with Alex just a cover for his lack of knowledge? Or was he agreeing with her because he knew of Dahmer from the future? Hmmm...

This week's case focused on a serial killer whose victims all belonged to a dating agency called Crescent Moon--run by Elaine Downing (Beth Goddard, who just happens to be Philip Glenister's real-life wife). The women were all buried in shallow graves and branded by their killer with a crescent moon, a solid link between the women and the killer. While Alex and the others sought to catch the killer by infiltrating the dating agency (with Alex inventing speed dating), it was Shaz who was reluctantly forced into providing their last-ditch effort at catching the man responsible for the crimes when their efforts fail.

But Shaz had already announced her resignation from the police force. Already uneasy, Shaz was nearly the victim of mob violence and proved unable to stop the attackers by displaying her badge. When one of them drew a screwdriver and threatened her, she ran and later broke down, unable to stand up to the gang and get them to drop their weapons with just a sheer force of will. But Gene is awfully persuasive and he convinces Shaz that she has to do one last thing for him: go undercover and lure out the suspected killer.

Which she does. Despite her uneasiness, Shaz does manage to get the killer to confess, though only after he lured her to the deserted shoreline, where he attempts to brand her and strangle her on the ground. Paying off both the gang sequence and the ongoing construction at the station, Shaz stabs him brutally with a screwdriver concealed in her coat and manages to get to safety, before collapsing into Gene's arms.

Later, the gang celebrates Shaz at Luigi's, with Gene even calling her "Granger" and Ray making a speech about women on the police force. Gene, meanwhile, says that, if she keeps up the good work, Shaz could be a member of CID by Christmas. It's a strange and evocative moment as Shaz is swept up in darkness and Bowie's "Life on Mars" plays as Alex seems to look on from a distance.

Just what does it mean? Is it meant to be a portent of doom? Or just a sign that Gene Hunt has exerted his influence over Shaz and reclaimed her from Keats? After all, the lyric of that section of "Life on Mars" would seem to match Shaz precisely: "the girl with the mousy hair." Curious, that, given the song's importance to the first series and to Sam Tyler.

Alex, meanwhile, continued her own investigation into Sam's death, going so far as to order his personal effects from Manchester and secreting them in her desk drawer, where Gene discovers them. While he doesn't directly confront Alex about her ongoing investigation, he warns her that they all have to stick together as a team. His words aren't just a discussion of solidarity; again, there seems to be some notion that they do need to offer a unified front against Keats' entreaties.

But Alex isn't one to give up, especially when her curiosity has been piqued. She wants to get to the bottom of what really happened to Sam Tyler and Gene appears to be stonewalling her, but why? And if it wasn't Chris who took the photograph of Sam's car in the canal, who did? She's not quite willing to question Ray directly about the photograph or Sam Tyler, knowing that he'll likely tell Gene just what she's up to. But there is someone else whom Alex should be speaking to, someone who hasn't yet been seen in Ashes to Ashes: Annie.

After all, Annie would have some answers to Alex's questions and, given Sam's untimely end, would likely be all too willing to speak to her about Sam, Gene, and everything that happened in Manchester. While I have no idea if Liz White is set to appear on Ashes, I'd love to see her turn up here and offer Alex a few clues about what really went down in 1980. She's the only major character that hasn't been mentioned since Life on Mars and I do hope that there's some way Graham and Pharoah deal with just what happened between Annie and Sam after the final credits rolled on Life on Mars.

Meanwhile, there was Alex's shocking vision at the very end of the episode, one that had my brain twisting in knots. In addition to the shot of the blue puffy clouds in the sky (at odds with the stars in the nighttime sky she envisions while following Shaz earlier in the episode), there's a shot of the young copper in a green field, and then a quick flash of a weathervane.

That weathervane is hugely significant. I went back and rewatched the vision unfold and the weathervane would seem to depict an old crone standing atop the directional arms of the vane. A crone, huh? And then there's the fact that the vane is pointing west. So crone plus west...

Wait, that couldn't be a reference to the Wicked Witch of the West, now could it?

Both Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes have featured imagery dealing with Oz but this seems so pointed that it's impossible to ignore. After all, if we use The Wizard of Oz as a (very) loose analogue for Ashes, the characters do match up: Alex is Dorothy, lost in a strange world; Shaz is the loyal Toto; Chris the often unintelligent Scarecrow, missing his brain; Ray, the heartless Tin Man; and Shaz the cowardly lion. (Hell, Shaz even makes a "lion" reference in this week's episode.)

While I'm not suggesting it's as black and white as that, the Oz parallel offers some interesting food for thought. Oz, like this world, was originally thought to be a dream (remember, Dorothy wakes up believing she dreamed the whole thing) but she discovers later that Oz isn't a dream but a real place that she can access, just like Sam and Alex were able to access this world. And if we take the Oz analogy even further, would that make Keats the villain of the piece? The Wicked Witch of the West? Or is he the all-powerful Oz, himself a refugee from the "real world" who holds a possible key to escape? Curious.

Looks like we'll have to wait for some more holes to be filled in on this yellow brick road before we can form a complete theory about what's actually going on here. But regardless of the outcome, I'm hooked and can't wait for the next installment. Graham and Pharoah are doing brilliant work here as they wrap up five seasons of storylines and in the next six episodes bid farewell to the rich universe created by Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes.

What will happen next is anyone's guess. But I'm curious to see what you thought of this week's episode. Do you agree with the above theories? Disagree? What was your take on the weathervane imagery? What's really going on? Discuss.

On the next episode of Ashes to Ashes, the team investigates a series of arson attacks in the run-up to the general election, with a Falklands veteran, now working as a fireman, identified as the prime suspect; Alex continues to be tormented by visions of the mutilated police officer as she investigates Sam's death.


Karen said…
Hi Jace,

Just watched eps. 1&2 this weekend and completely fell back into that world -- so fantastic. I love the Wizard of Oz analogy and it seems apropos.

I've been thinking that Sam isn't actually dead and that the crash was meant to throw someone off his track -- someone from the future who was hunting him down? And that Gene knows this and is trying to keep Sam & Annie safe?

Thanks for the great review!
Anonymous said…
Hi Jace,

This is turning out to be a fantastic series. I can't wait for Fridays now.
With regards to Shaz and the LOM music playing it's all very odd. She also broke 'the fourth wall' by looking directly at us. I have toyed with the idea that Shaz is also from the future and the 'choice' to stay in the Genieverse was the moment she died in real life. Although I think that theory is implausible because she has never mentioned it before, and she knows that Drake thinks (actually is)she is from the future. Surely she would have said something.
Whatever happens it most definitely is all about Gene. He is the centre of all of this. Remember what Ray said to Drake in S1 Ep1 - "Look, Tyler didn't listen to the Guv and looked what happened to him. If you're smart, you'll learn that being where the Guv is, is the right place to be."

Steve C
Claire said…
Such an incredible episode and I loved the weathervane and the Oz imagery (and that it's done in a subtle way and is not heavy-handed). Very happy that Shaz is not leaving as she, like Annie before her, is the heart of the show. And, speaking of Annie, I would also love it if she showed up! I'm sure we'll at least find out what happened to her and Sam but an Annie appearance would be fantastic!
Pauly said…
Oz? Again? I can see the parallel, but didn't they use the Oz angle in the US version of LOM?
"I’ll miss you most of all, Scarecrow" I think was the line Gene Hunt said to Sam Tyler during their embrace that transported them from 1973 to 2035.
Rox said…
Hi Jace!

I enjoyed your review very much. I only wanted to point out that, in fact, Annie has been mentioned in Ashes to Ashes. In Series 2 episode 4 Alex asks Jackie Queen about Sam ("He married Annie?") and Jackie tells her that they did marry and were the happiest couple she ever saw. Also that they had no children.

After having been a bit disappointed in series 2, I'm really enjoying this final series. I hope that this high level of quality continues right until the end. :)
Debon said…
Hi Jace,

Some interesting observations indeed - particularly the Oz references. However, I have a few that might make some sense....maybe not.

The weather vane pointing West could mean Manchester as it is West (Northwest to be exact) of London ans as far as we know, Manchester is where this entire story begins and most certainly will end.

Another interesting theory that I read on another site is that Keats is actually Sam Tyler come back to finish what was started in the last 2 episodes of Mars where he was supposedly undercover to bring down Gene Hunt. Alex and Sam are very similar characters in their personality, morality and policing. The banter between her and Keats, particularly the references to serial killers who were yet to kill, was almost as if they shared a common knowledge and bond.

About she to represent Annie? Sam promoted Annie from uniform to DC on Gene's orders ("Find me a new DC") and Gene promoted Shaz (or soon will) - is this the reason for the darkness and LOM song? Shaz and Annie are both dark haired, uniformed and wanting to fit in to the team but realizing that things are not always as they should be.

If the young cop is not Gene - although I buy the theory that he could be (the young ideologue who turned in his superior for taking backhands only to do so himself a month later), but perhaps he is Gene's first victim? It is all hotting up nicely and frankly, I can barely breathe whilst watching - just as I did in series 2 of LOM.

Cheers and look forward to your next dissection!
Sophie Stree said…
Matthew Graham, near Christmastime one year, posted an online story about Sam Tyler after he went back to 1973 Manchester, and he killed Annie off (!!! Much to the chagrin of, well, everyone!). Hopefully, he convenienently forgot about that while he was working on Series 3 of Ashes to Ashes.
Anonymous said…
I Thought the weather vain was the one found at the Lord's Cricket Ground where they play for the "Ashes" I thought the figure is the Grim Reaper carrying a scythe !
Joyce127 said…
Really interesting article, I really enjoyed reading it and can't wait to find out what will happen in the end. I really hope Sam does come back ,and I'd love to see Annie again too.
I've just got a couple of small points - the weather vane isn't a witch, it's the Lords weather vane and it's Father Time, and if you look closely, it's pointing North, although the West arrow is closest to us so at first glance it looks like it's pointing West. Also sorry to be picky but Shaz has dark brown hair, not mousey at all!

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