We’ve been sensing for a couple of weeks that someone was likely to meet their maker in Ashes To Ashes, a feeling heightened by the fact that this is the last series of the show.
The events and actions of episode six weren’t really what we were expecting, and they’re going to screw with our head for a good week until episode seven comes along.
So where do you begin? The story that held the episode together was one of a prison riot. Immediately, this offered one of many opportunities for Jim Keats to take digs and potshots at Gene Hunt, as he basically sat back and allowed him to make what proved to be a mistake. For against the advice of those around him, DCI Hunt charges into the prison in an attempt to quell the uprising – cue a great scene of him walking ahead of all the riot shields, looking hard as nails – but soon it becomes clear that everyone needs to beat a hasty retreat.
The problem? Viv, who has been trying to tell Gene something before he rampaged in, is left behind. We never find out exactly what Viv was trying to tell DCI Hunt, so we have to assume that it was something to do with the plot that would unravel later. For, as it turned out, Viv was the catalyst for the riot, having smuggled in a gun that had been signed out under Chris’ name. It’s a move that ultimately costs Viv his life.
That’s just one ingredient part of a jam-packed episode, though. The growing divide between Alex Drake and Gene Hunt is another, and even though there’s still some semblance of professional trust between them come the last act of the episode, we’ve never seen them anywhere near this strained. Fireworks surely lie ahead.
For there’s no attempt from Drake to hide her disgust at Hunt’s methodology, not least when he beats up Thordy, an escaped prisoner, while in custody, to the extent where his jaw is knocked out. Keats keeps seizing on these moments, and Drake finally cracks, in what could and should be a pivotal moment for the show. Just Drake telling Keats that there have been cover-ups had us taking a deep intake of breath, as the bond between Alex and Gene fell apart still faster.
And yet there’s more. For we get more of the mystery over Sam Tyler and the numbers 6620. The only thing is, in giving us answers, Ashes To Ashes has thrown up a whole host of new questions.
Thordy is insistent to Alex that he is Sam Tyler, and it’s he that insists that the prison situation isn’t real. By way of proof, he offers the information that Viv isn’t who he seems to be, which of course proves to be correct. But furthermore, he also gives Alex a tin box which turns out to have the schematics to the prison in. Thus, it gives Drake and Hunt the knowledge of how to go in and successfully rescue those trapped inside, which by this point – much to the unhappiness of Shaz – includes Ray and Chris (who get to share a tender moment of sorts when they both realise they might be about to die). It’s made perfectly clear that the sending in of Ray and Chris is firmly on Gene’s shoulders, and Keats once again uses this as ammunition in his quest to bring Hunt down. But where on earth did those blueprints come from?
Then there’s the two mysterious figures to deal with. Firstly, the police officer with, as we suspected, the numbers 6620 on his arm. He eventually directs Alex to Gene Hunt’s office (where Ray and Chris had caught her earlier and been a little too easily fobbed off from where we were sitting), where she discovers another tin box. In it? A camera film, and a picture of a police officer, specifically number 6620. Only this time, his face is fully intact. What did Gene Hunt do to him and how did it happen?
And while we’re here, is Thordy really Sam Tyler? Because he knows an awful lot if he isn’t, aside from the fact that East 17 sang Stay Another Day.
But he’s not the second mysterious figure we’re talking of.
Instead, it’s Jim Keats. The same Jim Keats who’s had two people die in his arms now (and go back and watch the moment where Viv dies in his arms: is it just us that feels that Viv is fighting against something when that happens? He looks petrified of Keats, as if his life is being sucked out by him). The same Jim Keats who hasn’t looked too perturbed over time. And the same Jim Keats who seems to be successfully exposing the divisions and fractures in the CID team.
Just who is he? Is he a Sam Tyler-like figure? Is he someone else from the future? Is he the devil himself? Whichever formula fits, the performance of Daniel Mays week in week out is something of real quality. He’s been exceptional, and has us pretty much screaming at the telly.
Ultimately, we’re left with a humdinger of a cliffhanger, and a teaser for episode 7 that suggests far bigger divisions are coming to the fore. Is the house of cards really about to fall in around Gene Hunt? Are we going to find out who Jim Keats, Sam Tyler and officer 6620 really are? Who is Thordy, and how did he know so much? Is he really Tyler?
Given that it’s the penultimate episode of the show of all time next week, we certainly hope we find out more. For, and let’s make no bones about this, the episode we’ve just sat through was downright, edge-of-your-seat brilliant. Just superb.
The only sad thing about it? There’s just two hours of Ashes left….
Read our review of episode 5 here.