NOTE: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. IF YOU WANT A SPOILER-FREE TAKE ON THE EPISODE, THEN PLEASE CLICK HERE.
“My name is Alex Drake. And your guess is as good as mine.”
Now how about that for an opening line for a series? And if the opening episode of Ashes To Ashes’ final run is anything to go by, this is a show bristling with confidence, happily assuming a degree of foreknowledge from its viewers, and continuing to develop plotlines that can’t help but get you checking that next week’s show is on to record.
The challenge facing Ashes To Ashes this time round is to make good on the mind-binding cliffhanger it left us with at the end of the last series. If you recall. Gene Hunt had accidentally shot Alex Drake, she’d thus awaken from her coma in the present day, but then turned round to see the mush of Philip Glenister on the screens around her. That, you would figure, is going to take a little bit of explaining.
Those threads are quickly picked up, although arguably with one or two questions still left behind. Drake is, it seems, in a coma now in 1983, given that we see Ray, Shaz and Chris individually coming and talking to her through the medium of a Currys showroom (de-branded for the BBC, of course). Plus, there’s the small matter of a fantastic-looking movie of the gang being sold on DVD. We’d have an Amazon order in tomorrow if they ever made it.
So what’s happening? Courtesy, it seems, of a sudden smack around the chops from Gene, Drake awakes in 1983, leaving questions as to what’s happened to her present-day iteration. Furthermore, before that she’s been seen by Jim Keats, a seemingly-pivotal new character who we later learn is the man charged with investigating Gene’s involvement in the shooting of Drake. Because, as we begin to learn, Gene Hunt seems to be at the heart of everything.
Where the episode has the most fun is in Alex and Gene’s return to the CID office, where the status quo has changed. Chris and Shaz are no more, yet the comedy gold is in the promotion of Ray to DI. This gives Philip Glenister some golden lines to spit out, and as always, he’s more than up to the job of doing so. It does segue into a serious side-story about how Ray looks up to Gene, yet never gets appreciation in return, and that’s tidied up before the credits roll.
There is serious business to soon contend with too, with this week’s crime being the kidnapping of a small girl, and a pair of parents who ultimately aren’t seeing eye to eye on how the case should be pursued. It was very well done, as always, although the highlights of the episode were to be found in the ongoing story elements, rather than the individual case. Still, it exposed Ray’s, er, ‘competence’ in the heat of co-ordinating an operation, even if he did get those begrudging compliments from what seems to be – at least from where we’re sitting – a weakened Gene Hunt.
I’d been picking up the feeling that Hunt couldn’t pick up from where he left off in series two all episode, but this was confirmed in devastating style by Jim Keats at the end of the episode.
How’s that for an ending? Here was a character who had come across as friend rather than foe for the duration of the episode. Far removed from last series’ Supermac, this was the police officer who was seemingly on Gene Hunt’s side, coming across perhaps a little in awe of him, if anything.
Keats seemed happy to clear him of the deliberate shooting of Drake, and pulled in a nice surprise by bringing along the bubbly once the case was complete. Superbly played by Daniel Mays (whom you can currently see in Nanny McPhee 2, fact fans), I was curious just where he was going.
As it turned out, he was going into Gene Hunt’s office and pulling down the blinds. And in the course of a brilliant couple of minutes of writing, this seemingly-bumbling man transformed himself into what looks like the trickiest foe that Hunt has yet faced. What skeletons does Gene Hunt have in his locker? What did he do three years ago that he wants to keep hidden?
We may be finding that out in the weeks ahead, possibly through Alex Drake. For what’s in the file she’s found on Sam Tyler? Are we supposed to believe that Hunt was involved in his death? Is that what Keats is digging at? These, and many questions, were thrown firmly into the mix.
As was the continual appearance of the police officer with half his face missing. Ashes To Ashes, of course, pulled a mighty twist with a recurring character in series one, and that leads me to question whether the identity of this mysterious character is closer to home? The underlying hint appears to be that it’s Tyler, but I don’t buy it. I couldn’t, at this stage, offer you a better theory, though.
All considered, I said it before in the spoiler-free review of this episode, and I’ll say it again now: while not perfect, this was still a very confident, very impressive way for Ashes To Ashes to shoot out of the blocks. It tucked in a diverting crime of the week story, while simultaneously shuffling the characters into slightly different positions, and setting up some substantive narrative arcs that I can’t wait to see played out in the weeks ahead. The way it’s gnawing at the edges of Gene Hunt’s character is terrific too, and surely a major part of what’s to come.
We may as well just say this now: we’re going to miss the show when it’s done and dusted for good in eight weeks’ time. For off the back of this series opener, the TV schedules next year will be considerably poorer for Ashes not being there.
Finally, while we can’t say much about it, we’ve managed to grab a sneak peek at next week’s episode (after we’d written the body of this review, we should add). And do you know what? The standard is just as high. A real treat awaits in seven days’ time…
Ashes To Ashes is showing every Friday on BBC One at 9pm.