Ashes to Ashes episode 5 review

Rob travels back to the 1980s with the Ashes to Ashes crew again... and is it just him, or is everything getting a bit dark and gritty?

First of all, an apology – I missed the most of last week’s episode as my DVD recorder messed up and I only got half the episode. However, thanks to the near perfect recall of my girlfriend I was given an almost scene-by-scene breakdown of what happened. To sum up, there was a murder, a CND-esque group of anti-government militants and a feminist action group for Gene to take a good pop at (with a classic joke that I will not repeat in mixed company) which was all good stuff. There was also a distinct lack of terror-clown antics; however, Alex did find that her mother was having an affair with her assistant who, in the future, is the father of her child – something that not only muddies the waters relationship-wise but is also very screwy in the whole space/time continuum sort of way. Added to this we also find that Alex’s mum is not all she seems. So far we have determined that she is very career-driven and also that she will never really win any mother of the year awards. However, we also find that she is working for and has connections with the anti-government group that Alex, Gene and co are looking into. These tasty spoilers go some way in explaining the flashbacks/forwards Alex has about her mother being blown up in a car bomb and makes for some interesting new plot twists. Pretty interesting stuff.

Getting back on schedule and settling down yesterday evening for this week’s show, I was asked by my loving partner if I felt this series was a lot darker and nastier than its pre-cursor Life on Mars, which is something I have covered a great deal in my reviews. I agreed with her completely – that, really, for all its jokes and poking fun at the 1980s, this really is a lot more mature series, dealing with some pretty hard-hitting crimes and social issues which are highlighted by the plot this week that deals with drugs, gun dealing and the perception of the underground gay culture in the 1980s.

Set against a background of the police department’s new obsession with football, this week’s show proves once again how opinion and society has changed in the space of 30 years. Gene, as Alex states, is still a dinosaur and even in the 1980s is out of depth with new social movements and policing techniques. In Gene’s world, things are black and white. Men like ladies and visa versa, there are goodies and baddies, and the bad guys, once caught, give up. However, in the brave new world of the 1980s this isn’t the case and these shades of grey (a quick nod there to Steve Strange) has Gene’s A-B-C of policing well and truly out of date and archaic.

So with this new status quo (sorry, that’s three music references in as many sentences) of boys liking boys, Gene and the rest of his department are well and truly out of their depth with a serious case of homophobia permeating the entire department. It is only the very open-minded Shaz who takes these ‘new’ ideas in her stride and it is up to Alex to quite forcefully point out that being gay is not a crime and has little or nothing to do with the case they are dealing with. Now I must admit that I am beginning to have a major crush on Alex Drake and that the lovely Keeley Hawes is becoming a new pin-up (from what I can tell for blokes and for ladies also). There is one little line by Alex this episode that made me spill my cuppa in shock and also at the same times created a very funny feeling in the whole trouser department. (Ahem.)

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Anyway, with a plot that revolves around the growth of guns in London and the growth in violent crime, this episode was a superb commentary on the upping of stakes in the ‘war against crime’. With Alex’s prior knowledge and having first-hand experience in the escalation of gun crime she forcefully gets the rest of the team (by fair means and foul) to get to her way of thinking. Which proves difficult, what with football and beer being a huge distraction to one and all.

This situation also sees the return, in full force, of the sinister clown who teases Alex with a grim trigger finger gesture to remind her that she is still on the brink of death in the real world and that maybe, just maybe, getting these guns off the streets might change time or situations and she might get out of the coma.

We also get to see Alex putting some of her psychological profiling skills to good use, using the main gun-runner’s boyfriend as an informant – a scenario that Gene is not too happy about as Alex’s prior interference has disrupted his old school policing techniques and indirectly caused his ‘snitch’ to be executed in a very gruesome way. However it’s not just Alex who takes all the glory for this episode as it is once again time for Ray to shine. He manages (a little too well) a bit of role-play to soften up … (or rather the other way around) the main protagonist and uses all his manly bear-like charms to quite literally kiss a near-confession out of him.

While I profess that my knowledge of the gay culture of the 1980s is somewhat limited, the exploration and writing of this was done very well as it would have been very easy to pop in every YMCA and Blue Oyster stereotype going. And while Gene and the others are very happy to run off the dictionary of derogatory gay terms, the lifestyle and personal issues (such as talking to your parents) were done in a well-written, thought provoking and realistic manner. I felt that there was one issue that was a little shoe-horned in at the end that involved the need to see a doctor which probably didn’t need to be there, but that’s just me being picky about yet another well-written and played episode.

Overall this was another superb episode that shows that the cast, writers and crew know exactly what they are doing. This isn’t Life On Mars 2 but a completely different beast and one that has a lot more bite and edge to it. For all the ‘Bolly Knickers’, car chases, sexism and general excesses of the 80s, Ashes to Ashes is as hard-hitting and thought-provoking as a lot of the more ‘serious’ dramas we see on our screens.