I’m going to break with protocol here and go straight to what, for me, was the big question mark raised by the terrific second episode of Ashes To Ashes’ final season.
Matching the standard set last time, this latest episode ended with Shaz being tempted to stay with the police force with the carrot of a CID post at the end of the year. And as she agreed to stay, she turned to the camera, stared, and a short snippet of Life On Mars music started to play.
So what the hell was that all about? Was that Gene Hunt putting together a piece of the jigsaw that explains his character? Are we supposed to see that as part of the overall puzzle coming together?
Or is it something to do with the investigation into the death of Sam Tyler that Alex Drake is busying herself with?
Did Sam Tyler actually die? What’s in the package of personal effects that Drake has had sent down from Manchester? Does that have anything to do with Shaz, and how will they all fit into the overall story arc? These are the threads that we’re being continually teased with, but that short clip of Life On Mars was surely the most puzzling, yet intriguing, clue to date. We suspect we’ll be chewing on that one moment alone for much of the week.
The episode as a whole focused a lot on the character of Shaz, and how she’s gradually become disenfranchised with the force. The characters around her are hardly the people to talk to about it, and she even struggles to confide in Drake. In short, she’s in a bad place, and needs something dramatic to shake her out of it. Her implicit wish is, ultimately, granted.
It’s great to see Shaz taking centre stage here, and her career dithering added a real sense of ambiguity to the investigation she found herself a pivotal part of. When it came to the denouement of the case, I was fairly convinced that she wasn’t going to make it to the end of the episode, and it’s credit to writer Ashley Pharoah that he managed the guessing game quite so well.
The scene where she’s alone with the man exposed as the killer was really, really tense television, made all the more unnerving by the fact that there was a sporting chance that she was on the way out.
Pharoah also, to be fair, delivered some superb comedy moments. The stand-out, and set to become a YouTube classic, is the warped dream that Drake – whose investigations into her own situation went on the back burner a little this week – had been having. Ray, Chris and Gene Hunt singing Uptown Girl? It’s not quite up there with Camberwick Green in Life On Mars, but it’s not far off at all.
The case of the week that formed the centre of the episode provided some comedy too, when the investigation led the team to a dating agency. This gave space for a bit of fun at Ray’s expense (given his familiarity with such agencies), and also set up a terrific speed dating sequence that ultimately became what helped resolve the case. Gene Hunt speed dating? Comedy gold. Considering the darker turns that the series has been taking already, it’s nice to still have space for the lighter moments that have been one of the trademarks of the shows.
The case itself was interesting, well told and perfectly enjoyable. But it’s the ongoing story elements that were by far the most interesting.
I’ve already touched on Drake poking her nose into the fate of Sam Tyler, which looks like being a recurring theme, but for the second week running, the shadow of DCI Jim Keats was all over the episode. After his impactful final scene confrontation with Gene Hunt last week, this time he plays a game of divide and conquer, as he takes his affable demeanour to try and expose the cracks in his team instead.
His probing exposes one or two small areas for further investigation, and if the trailer for next week’s episode is anything to go by, fireworks are imminent. I’m looking forward to seeing them.
As for the health of the show as a whole? Ashes To Ashes is on fire from where I’m sitting. Rarely have I seen a programme in its final season shoot out of the traps in such confident style, and it’s so far delivered two intriguing cases and some threads that could and should lead to one heck of a climax.
Furthermore, it’s been utterly gripping at its best, and given that the show usually hits its peak in the last couple of episodes, I’m salivating at the thought of what lies ahead.
If it keeps matching this standard, then it’ll be the best series of Ashes To Ashes & Life On Mars to date.
Read our review of last week’s episode here.