At its heart, this latest episode of Ashes To Ashes was a solid hour of mid-story, with the crime of the week story surrounding a stand-up comedian. It wasn’t a bad crime story, to be fair, but not for the first time this series, it was these elements that made for the least interesting part of the episode. That said, with planted goods, falsified evidence and a flawed, quite tense set-up that hinged on a radio being stolen, it was still fine stuff. But we’re growing ever-impatient to find out more about the wider story.
Nonetheless, the crime story narrative centred around the aforementioned stand-up comedian, Frank Hardwick, who’s down in London and wanted for a theft from a pension fund. However, Hardwick originally harks from the Manchester area, and that allows the show to bring down a couple of CID officers from Gene Hunt’s old patch. Enter stage left DCI Litton (yay!) and DI Bevan, one of whom inevitably turns out to be not all that he seems.
For the early part of the episode, it feels like a real throwback to Life On Mars, too. And that’s no surprise either, for this is the first time we really feel the two shows coming together.
Putting Sam Tyler aside for a minute, the main catalyst for this is the return of Litton from Life On Mars, and it was great to see him. The banter and rivalry between Hunt and Litton has more of a feel of the older show than of Ashes To Ashes, and there’s clearly – as we discover for certain later in the episode – some history going on here that digs right into the foundations of what’s being going on across both Mars and Ashes.
At first, the presence of Litton allows DCI Keats to carry on with his game of divide and conquer, getting firmly under Gene Hunt’s skin by offering Litton office space and co-operation. Litton too soon starts wooing Ray over to his side, while Keats once more offers Alex a way out if she wants it. The cracks around Gene Hunt appear to be intensifying little by little, and pressures are coming in from all angles.
Where things really got interesting in the episode, though, was when it started to dig more into the ongoing Sam Tyler storyline. The catch-up at the start of the episode hinted it was coming, and then the montage of John Simm that soon followed brought the character very much to the fore. We didn’t get any more of him in person throughout the episode (even though after that montage we thought we were going to see more of him), but the name of Tyler was woven right through it.
But then there were other elements to consider too. Gene Hunt, as has been obvious for some time, is hiding something here, and when he crowbars open Alex Drake’s drawer to nab the file on Tyler and start burning the evidence, alarm bells were blaring all over the place. Also, when he ultimately shot DI Bevan, you could argue that it had a similar effect, helping to suppress the truth about Tyler’s demise.
For Bevan really offered some hints as to Gene Hunt’s involvement in the death of Sam. Hunt, we learn, gets others to do his dirty work, and has been covering things up. Granted, there’s little fresh there, but this time, it was all implied in specific relation to Tyler’s death.
It’s stating the obvious, but there’s clearly a major connection between Gene Hunt and the death of Tyler, yet we’re not being told what it is yet.
Alex Drake seems to be getting closer too. She finds herself wanting to trust DCI Hunt, but his unwillingness to open up to her, and the titbits she finds out from DI Bevan, continue to send her suspicions off the scale. The divide between Hunt and Drake is looking like it’s widening, and given that it’s arguably the core relationship that powers the show, that’s clearly going to have ramifications.
But are we nonetheless supposed to believe at the end that she’s finally having that chat with DCI Keats? That’s strongly implied, although it doesn’t necessarily strike us as something she would do. Given how low key Keats was in this episode – appearing really at the start and end – it was an intriguing place to stop.
Elsewhere, there were stars to be seen. Quite literally, as it happens. We were wary going into the episode of a warning from show co-boss Matthew Graham when he spoke to us at the start of the series, when he said not to read too much into something Ray said in episode five. Yet, when Ray sees the sheet of stars, the same that Shaz has been talking about, it’s hard not to start speculating (we’re guessing it’s the astronaut line we’re not supposed to read too much into).
What’s the significance of said stars? Are we looking at some Heaven and Hell thing going on here? Or are our theories simply getting worse by the week?
Back to the episode, though. Eventually, the crime story resolved itself – via a lovely comedy moment of Chris’ dancing (as well as a mighty verbal smackdown to Ben Elton) – and Litton got sent back to Manchester to face a tribunal at the request of Keats. Bevan, too, was ‘dealt with’.
Yet, the house of cards is beginning to tumble here, and across the next three episodes, we’re set to find out just how Sam Tyler met his maker, and just where Gene Hunt fits exactly into the grand scheme of things.
You sense there’s a lot to wrap up, especially as the supporting characters around Gene Hunt appear to be growing in importance too. But we’d imagine that next week, in the midst of a prison riot, it seems, the pieces might start falling more and more into place.
For now, this was an episode of two parts. The crime story was fine, the ongoing narrative elements were terrific. The overall episode? Really very good. And we can’t wait to see what’s thrown at us next week…
Read our review of episode 4 here.