It was perhaps inevitable after two storming weeks of Ashes To Ashes that, sooner or later, a lull was on the way. As it turned out, the third episode of the show’s final series didn’t match up to the opening instalments, although it still had plenty in the tank to keep the momentum going.
This week, the reach of DCI Jim Keats was perhaps a little less concentrated, but increasingly broad and influential instead. Brilliantly played by Daniel Mays, Keats is now a regular and unnerving presence in the CID office, and he’s gone beyond investigating the past and more towards taking a day-to-day involvement in present cases. Furthermore, his policy of trying to divide the team this week focuses on Ray.
Last week, we saw Shaz stepping into the limelight as her character was subtlety developed. And the highlights of this week were all about Ray Carling, superbly played here by Dean Andrews. If you want a lesson in character progression, it’s worth seeing just how far Carling has come since we first met him in Life On Mars. In this episode, we dug far into his background, his father’s story and why he never ended up in the army, supplanting plenty of added flesh on top of already-impressive bones.
The catalyst to this is a series of arson attacks, set around the 1983 General Election. This gives Ray a moment where he runs into a blazing building to be the hero, against all common sense. He’s pulled out eventually by a fireman played by Joe Absolom, and for me, that’s when the alarm bells started blaring.
Joe Absolom is a very good actor, but the problem is that I’ve never seen him in a role where he didn’t turn out to be some kind of unhinged nutter. His character here developed very well, but from the moment his face appeared, there wasn’t really much doubt as to what direction the crime of the week was heading.
Where the script particularly worked, though, was in tying Ray’s story to the main case, specifically in relation to the end moment where he talks Absolom’s character out of sending another place up in flames. That was a good end to what had been quite a routine crime story by standards, although it did offer a solid excuse to throw up some terrific and scary archive footage of the 1983 election.
But there are one or two questions. Ray’s been arguably the most loyal sidekick to Gene Hunt since these adventures began, and thus I never really bought that DCI Keats’ attempts to drive a wedge between Carling and Hunt was ever going to work. It was spun out well enough, but the ending never really seemed in much doubt from where I was sitting. Granted, that didn’t stop me screaming at the television again when the Life On Mars music kicked in again, and I’m guessing that in the weeks ahead, that we’re going to get a Chris-centric episode where the same thing happens.
What didn’t ultimately move forward was Drake’s checking out of Sam Tyler, nor the overall investigation into Hunt. But that didn’t mean more clues to the overall story arc weren’t thrown in. What’s the relevance, for instance, to the numbers carved into Drake’s desk? And what about Shaz’s story about the stars? Are we supposed to think that she’s now going through something similar to Drake? Are these Life On Mars clips and stares to cameras the pieces of the Gene Hunt jigsaw slotting into place?
And who’s the cop with half a face? Is it Keats? Hunt? Someone linked to them? Or are we going to get something akin to the clown from series one?
Bluntly, your guess right now is as good as ours. But what does seem clear is that Ashes To Ashes is continuing to lay down some narrative threads that we can’t wait to see resolved. This was the weakest episode of the three we’ve had of series three to date, but the standard was still good, and the decision to give Ray some spotlight time was a well rewarded one.
Next one? The trailer looked a little bit muddled, but it seems to involve Keats and Hunt clashing a little bit. Given that Keats is proving to be arguably the most intriguing foe that Hunt has faced in the five years that we’ve known him, we’re happy to look forward to it.
Read our review of episode 2 here.