Things have calmed down a little after last week’s opening episode, and Ashes To Ashes hits its stride like a comfy pair of slippers that you haven’t worn for a while but get out and remember how good they are. There was no need for flashy car chases, shoot outs or a by-the-numbers explanation of the new status quo needed, as everything was really established last week.
So instead of lots of talk about being on the edge of life and death, as well as time travel and psychological profiling, we have Alex settling down into her role and ‘getting on’ with her new position with Gene and co.
The episode kicks off with an investigation of a disturbance and protest at a pub, which is earmarked to be knocked down for the Canary Wharf complex to be built on. And while nothing comes from interviewing the pub landlord (a militant ex-army pushy socialist), his timid wife, and his quiet bookish son, we get to see the feeling of a lot of the working class people pushed out of their traditional way of life by the regeneration of London at the time.
In polar opposite, we also get introduced to the other side of the development and regeneration argument as Alex is wined and dined by an ex-wide-boy-come-business man whose ‘greed is good’ philosophy has bought him a way out of the East End and a life of penthouses and DeLorean cars.
So with the two opposing sides, all set to a backdrop of the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Di, we have a great episode involving dynamite, bomb plots and even suicide bombers. What makes this a great episode is not only the well developed and quite poignant storyline, but also some of the points Alex makes, which are in part responsible for the sad and quite unexpected ending
So with a grittier and more down to earth plot steering away from the Miami Vice-lite of last week, we also get a lot more detail about the darker side and troubled background of Alex herself with the introduction of her mother, who is the brief assigned to the case against the pub landlord and his son. A manipulative and vicious lawyer, Alex’s mother tries not only to use Alex herself to be a mole in the Police Met office, but also shows that as a child she would leave her daughter alone at school to further her career. Again this is all pretty dark stuff.
However there is a lighter side to the whole proceedings. From the street party at the end where Gene tries ‘feeling up some posh totty’ to his continual referral to Alex by her new nickname of ‘Bolly Knickers’, to the fact that it is a requirement of the Met to stamp the bum of any new recruits to show that they are property of the police service, Gene brings the ritual fun and sexist tendencies to it all. He even goes against convention by not driving through a huge pile of cardboard boxes for fear of scratching his Audi.
Added to all this we also get a cameo of a DeLorean car (winged doors and all), and a great club filled with 80s clichés of harlequins, Boy George look-a-likes and pom-pom skirted clubbers. Finally we also get Chris wearing eye make-up and a flounce shirt with velvet cuffs as he tries to impress Shazza with his new found love of the entire New Romantics movement.
Overall this was a pretty dark affair and it seems that this new series will have a much more serious tone compared to Life on Mars. Whether this is a reflection of the darker times of the early 80s (with miners’ strikes, IRA bombs and the anarchy of Punk) compared to the 70s I don’t know, but the psychological flashes Alex suffers are much more nightmarish than from Sam’s same delusions in Life on Mars. The Ashes to Ashes clown that haunts Alex is a really nasty piece of work, and puts the Test Card Girl from last season to shame for sheer freakiness.
For a second episode the show has established itself and while some plot threads, themes and ideas are ported across from the last series, Ashes is really its own show with a complete different dynamic, tone and writing style. And after the very over the top opening last episode, if this week’s instalment is anything to go by it looks like things are going to get a lot more serious from now on.