Appreciating that we’re not putting story spoilers into this review – we’ll be bringing a fuller write-up once the episode has broadcast – we can still relay that it’s hard not to be encouraged by how well the first episode of Ashes To Ashes‘ final season fires out of the blocks.
Kicking off with a brilliant, brilliant opening line that pretty much sums up how many of us felt after the denouement to series two and the cliffhanger it left behind, the episode spends the first 15 minutes or so dealing with the ramifications of Gene Hunt shooting Alex, and Alex waking up in the present day.
It’s no great surprise that the action subsequently moves to 1983, and that a plot device soon gets Alex Drake back there, but the manner in which it’s done leaves a little ambiguity around it, and left us with a question or two. That’s no bad thing, as one thing that bristles right throughout the episode is a confidence, a genuine feeling that those calling the shots know exactly what they’re doing. And it’s as strong an opening episode as the series has ever enjoyed.
It introduces a few factors and threads that you suspect will be running throughout the series, not least through the circumstances that send Drake back to 1983. And on the character side, there are two intriguing introductions. Firstly, there’s a mysterious figure that immediately had us thinking back to watching The Dark Knight. And secondly, there’s DCI Jim Keats.
Keats is the man brought in to investigate Gene Hunt in the wake of Drake’s shooting, and he’s played expertly by Daniel Mays. For Gene Hunt himself – and Philip Glenister utterly owns the role, as usual – is himself having to deal with the consequences of the shooting, and it’s clear that since we saw him last, he’s not been having the best of times. As we meet him, three months have passed since the end of season two, and one or two things appear to have taken their toll.
The episode also spends some time dealing with what happened next for Chris and Shaz, and focuses a little on fleshing out Ray Carling, playing a little on his relationship with Gene Hunt, and you wonder if it’s going to be tested a little more as the series wears on. For now, it’s the moments with Hunt and Carling that spark some of the more comedic highlights of the episode.
Yet, the comedy appears to be being toned down a little here, as Ashes To Ashes begins to take one or two darker turns. The crime of the week story is an unsettling one, for instance, covering the story of the kidnapping of a small girl. But it’s the underlying narrative elements that have us salivating for just where Ashes To Ashes is going next. For things are gradually changing.
If there’s a highlight to the episode, it’s the quite brilliant ending, that had us screaming at our television set, and impatiently beginning the wait for episode two there and then. It’s a finale that pretty much guarantees that each character in the show over the coming weeks is in for a very rocky ride, and it boasts some top-notch acting and delivery too. It’s not an outright cliffhanger as such, more a statement of intent for the future direction of the show.
We’ve deliberately kept all of this quite vague, because one of the main joys with the episode was watching all of this cold. There are complex threads, after all, to be dealt with from the last series, as well as key narrative arcs to set up for this one, and yet, the episode makes it look effortless.
It’s not, of course, but it’s all testament to the fact that this is an outright superb opening episode, one that finds the show on very strong form, indeed. The acting is top notch, the writing terrific, and the Quattro – which gets a little sequence of its own – has never been in better shape.
It’s not often a new series of a show roars out of the traps in such confident fashion. But Ashes To Ashes, for its final series, has done just that…
Ashes To Ashes returns on Friday 2nd April on BBC One at 9pm. Our full review will be live on Friday night.