Whether you warmed to the fourth episode of Ashes To Ashes’ final series or not, there’s surely one moment that we’re all agreed on: the Blue Peter garden moment, for viewers of a certain age, was absolute comedy gold.
It got us thinking too. In the course of discussing some of the darker themes that have come up through the series, it’s often been lost that, when it comes to humour, Ashes To Ashes has regularly provided an abundance of laugh-out-loud scenes. The aforementioned moment in this episode was up there with the best of them (Uptown Girl too, of course).
That said, for our money, this fourth episode was on the whole more in keeping with the quality of last week’s episode more than the barnstorming opening two instalments. That’s to say it was a good to very good episode, but not quite Ashes To Ashes firing on all cylinders. It’s also, incidentally, the one that marks the half way point of the show’s final series.
This week’s crime story kicked off with Gene Hunt discovering that there’s someone running an undercover operation in his back yard, and you’re hardly likely to be surprised to hear that he’s not best pleased with the news. The undercover officer in question is Louise Gardner, and she’s attached herself to an old nemesis of Gene Hunt’s, Terry Stafford, a man who’s a piece of work and not a nice one. His son, Daniel, doesn’t seem a great deal pleasanter either, to be fair, and when you throw in DCI Wilson too, there’s a mix of faces who may or may not be knee-deep in no-good activities.
The crime that links everything together is a series of drug dealers who have been subtlety bumped off, and Hunt and Drake both contact Gardiner while she’s supposed to be on the case. Cue the arrival of her in CID covered in blood, refusing to talk to anyone but Gene and Alex.
Soon, though, it’s Chris that’s warming to Gardner, and once again, we begin to see one or two cracks in his character. Chris from the off was the more likeable of the CID team, but last series there was, of course, the major revelation about what he’d been up to, and here he’s eventually exerting a Gene Hunt-style, career-threatening act of retribution on Daniel Stafford. It takes a while for potential charges against him to be dropped (and it certainly earns some currency for Jim Keats in the process), but there’s surely got to be some ongoing repercussion here. Not least within Chris himself, who’s left to confront the feelings he was having for Gardner come the final scenes.
Eventually, of course, everything is wrapped up when the gaps become apparent in Gardner’s stories – as discovered by Shaz – which then unlocks the holes in the case and eventually lead to Gardner dying in the arms of Keats. How affected is Keats, though? He looks up at the people around him, but hardly seems broken by the fact that a fellow officer has just died in his arms? Heck, who is this man?
As always, the most interesting elements of the episode were those that contributed to the bigger ongoing story, although they did take more of a back seat this week. At first we had a homeless man shouting at Drake that she belonged here, while sitting under those magic numbers again, 6620. Then there’s Drake asking Shaz about seeing stars, and a quite creepy moment when Alex is seen in a coffin (although that latter moment was related to the point in the episode where she was attacked). It’s a few more clues that are being tossed in our direction, but it’s not too easy to make sense of them at this point in time.
Still, there are things to take away here. Is there a closer bond forming between Keats and Drake, for instance? Keats has taken a slightly lower key role in the last couple of episodes, yet his influence seems to be growing. There’s the small yet potentially significant moment where Chris calls him the “guv”, for instance.
And then there’s the way the episode ended, of course, with Gene Hunt getting himself crossed off Keats’ Christmas card list once and for all. His idea of thanking Keats in the midst of Luigi’s is hardly what you’d call conventional, and in the immediate aftermath of that, we get to see the police officer with half a face standing in the doorway.
So let’s finish with some speculation: are things more and more pointing to the idea that said police officer is Gene Hunt, or is he a character that somehow links Keats and Hunt together? Why do we never get to see the numbers on his shoulder? Could he, in fact, be Sam Tyler, whose name wasn’t mentioned this week at all?
It’s strange to think that in four weeks time, all the mysteries (well, at least the lion’s share) will be resolved. And that process should move forward next week as Ashes moves into the second half of the series, and starts the descent towards that intriguing-looking final episode.
We’re really going to miss this show when it’s gone…
Read our review of episode 3 here.