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Floating Among the Stars: Metal Boxes on Ashes to Ashes

"My name is Sam Tyler. I had an accident and I woke up in 1973. Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time? Whatever's happened, it's like I've landed on a different planet. Now, maybe if I can work out the reason, I can get home."

Those were the words spoken by John Simm's Sam Tyler at the start of every episode of Life on Mars, summing up the series' central conceit: the investigation of what had happened to Sam Tyler. His anachronistic presence in 1973 might have been the result of madness, coma, or time-travel... or something altogether different.

While Life on Mars wrapped up after two seasons, the mystery surrounding Sam Tyler--and Philip Glenister's DCI Gent Hunt--has continued to swirl tantalizingly around Mars' sequel, Ashes to Ashes, which delivered another knock out installment as it continues to head towards its own conclusion as DI Alex Drake (Keeley Hawes) looks for a way to return to her own world while looking to solve the mystery of Sam Tyler himself. Did he die that day when his car crashed into the ravine? Was Gene Hunt responsible in some way? And just what is Hunt hiding?

All of these questions seemed to forcibly collide this week as Alex came face to face with a man claiming to be none other than Sam Tyler himself. But it wasn't Sam, not really, though escaped prisoner Paul Thordy (Steven Robertson) did speak Sam's intoxicating words from the opening of Life on Mars. But if he's not Sam Tyler, then who is Thordy? And how did he know about Sam's predicament?

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

This week's episode, written by James Payne and directed by Jamie Payne, saw the tension among the members of Fenchurch East CID continue to fracture the group, assisted ably by the machinations of the seemingly malevolent Jim Keats (Daniel Mays), who continues to be one of the most terrifying characters on Ashes to Ashes, while maintaining an inexplicable aura of boyishness at the same time.

A riot underway at Fenchurch East prison turns into a hostage situation when Viv James (Geff Francis) is himself taken prisoner by Jason Sachs (Stanley Townsend) but not everything is as it appears to be here: Viv was in on the riot, itself a smokescreen to deflect attention away from what's really going on: a breakout. Finding himself between a rock and a hard place, Viv brings a gun into the prison in exchange for Sachs assisting in the breakout of his incarcerated relative. And if that wasn't bad enough, Gene sends Chris and Ray in undercover as journalists in an effort to get Viv out.

Just what did Viv want to tell Gene before the assault on the prison? Was he going to confess that he had done something wrong? Was he looking to backpedal and alert the team that not everything was what it seemed? We'll never know as poor Viv dies at the hands of Jason Sachs during the ultimate incursion to free Ray and Chris. He never gets to come clean to Gene, nor is he given a chance to redeem himself. (Though Ray, even after saying that Viv was dead to him, did attempt to intervene on his behalf to save him earlier, proving that some bonds can't so easily be broken.)

And then there was the manner of his death. Not just is he shot and left to die in a dank corridor of the prison but the first person to reach him isn't Alex or Gene, or even Ray: it's Jim Keats. And Viv doesn't so much as go quietly into that good night but is dragged there, kicking and screaming, by Keats.

Keats removes one of his black gloves and holds Viv's head in place as his body breathes its final, wracked breaths, staring into the eyes of Jim Keats. It's not particularly pleasant to watch and it seems as though Viv's soul is being sucked out of his body by Keats.

Which is interesting because we've seen this scene play out before. A few episodes ago, someone else died in Keats' arms and it didn't seem altogether pleasant either, reflecting some sort of weird connection between the victim and Keats that bound them together in their final moments. That person was Louise Gardiner (Zoe Telford), an undercover copper who was killed when she was struck by a lorry. She died staring into Keats' eyes too.

But that's not all that Viv and Louise had in common: both had betrayed the Metropolitan Police Force. Viv had sold out his team for his family, choosing personal responsibility over professional duty, though it was clear that he hadn't made the decision lightly (in fact, it seemed to be eating away at him). Louise had gotten her mission so confused that she became the villain she was trying to bring to justice. Both of them died and Keats was there when they did.

Could it be that he was sending their souls someplace? Not out into the floating stars of heaven but somewhere else? Somewhere, not above, but below? And if that's the case, just who is Jim Keats? Is he the Devil? Or Death himself? (After all, the title of Ashes to Ashes refers not only to David Bowie's 1981 song but to the Anglican burial service--"ashes to ashes, dust to dust"--itself derived from Genesis 3:19. If that's the case, the titles of both series together comprise an equation of Life and Death, really.)

If each of the characters are in fact dead--or nearly dead--could it be that this world and the alliances they forge and the actions they take there decide just where they go in the next world? Those who side with Gene get their glimpse at the celestial kingdom, the stars in the sky. "Good coppers stick together," Hunt said this week and that could be a clue to the ultimate identities of Gene Hunt and Jim Keats, one on the side of the angels, the other on the side of evil, each ferrying souls to their final destinations. The cops who have chosen to stick together, to remain with Gene, have been promised their reward: to float among the stars after being given the one thing that they've been searching for all along. Those who haven't, who have betrayed their fellow coppers, don't get that.

They also don't get their Life on Mars moment, either. All of which makes me extremely concerned about the fate of Chris Skelton (Marshall Lancaster), given that he betrayed the team in the second season and seems to be slipping further and further away from Gene as the third season goes on. Can he be saved? Is he doomed to fall at the hands of Jim Keats? And if Keats is able to pull away Gene's followers, would this entire world cease to exist? It's certainly food for thought.

And then there's Paul Thordy, the escaped prisoner who claims to be Sam Tyler himself. Thordy was Sam Tyler's last collar before his car crashed into a ravine and he disappeared like smoke. But Thordy knows things, things that only Sam Tyler could know: that he came from the future and pondered his presence in this world. How are these two men connected?

Likewise, Alex manages to trick Thordy into helping them save Viv and the others in the prison. He tells her that the answers are in a tin box... and leaves her the personal possessions he had brought with him into Fenchurch, which includes none other than a tin box, with a map of the prison and an illumination into Jason Sach's plan: to have Chris and Ray electrocuted by the good guys as they storm the prison.

But that's not the only box that contains answers. Alex has a vision of Shaz, Ray, and Chris seated around a table, unwrapping a box that contains... Well, we're not sure yet. And she's visited once more by the Officer 6620 ghost, who seems to be pointing her towards solving the mystery of Sam Tyler, a mystery whose answer lays just inside Gene's office.

In his desk is another tin box, one that contains a roll of film (likely the missing images from Sam's accident) and a small black and white photograph... of Officer 6620 with his face intact. Just who is he? Is he, as I've wondered for a few weeks now, Gene Hunt himself in an earlier time? And if so, why would Gene keep a photograph of himself hidden away in a box in his desk drawer? Thordy claimed, speaking as Sam Tyler, that the longer they stay in this world, the more they forget. (Alex herself once claimed that she couldn't remember what color eyes Molly had and said that she was forgetting what her daughter looked like.) Is Gene trying to remember where he came from? Was he the first cop to cross over into this world? Is he attempting to keep this world together? And will the future discovery of this body, near the house with that recurring weathervane, end everything?

What did you think of this week's episode? Do you agree that Officer 6620 is a young Gene Hunt? How did Sam Tyler die? Why is Gene being so secretive? Who is Jim Keats> And what do you think the ultimate resolution of the series will be? Head to the comments section to discuss.

On the next episode of Ashes to Ashes, the team raids an illegal drinking den used by members of the ANC, where Ray discovers a dead body; Gene soon extracts a confession from the group's leader, though he appears to be lying, as the team's investigation uncovers evidence of both illegal immigration and terrorism; DCI Keats presses Alex into continuing her investigation into Sam Tyler's fate.

Comments

Bella Spruce said…
I got chills when Thordy recited Sam Tyler's monologue! But I was happy that Alex did not let him walk free and, instead, used him to help save Chris and Ray.

There's definitely something off about the way Keats "comforted" both Viv and Louise in their last few final moments. I'm not sure if Keats is Death himself but he is certainly one creepy dude.

And I don't know if the stars that Chris, Ray, and Alex have seen signify a kind of heaven or if they are just an indicator of the limitations of the world they are in...that this world is not real and, beyond it, there is nothing.
Ridolph said…
Keats is the Man in Black! Crossover coming tomorrow in the LOST flashbacks...

"They tried imprisoning me in an alternate world with Jacob's cooler brother..."

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