It was at the episode seven mark of the last series of Ashes To Ashes that the show delivered the best episode of that particular run. After the mind-messing of last week’s Ashes To Ashes, and knowing that this week’s is the pentultimate instalment of all time, our anticipation levels were high.
And now we can sum up the episode we’ve just seen with three words: Our. Head. Hurts.
That was an hour of utterly enthralling television, perhaps lacking the devasting impact of events at the same point last series (unsurprising, given this is effectively part one of two), yet nonetheless really drawing together the worlds of Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes, and sending our many theories off in all sorts of directions.
It opened by dealing with the funeral of Viv, which didn’t go quite to plan, and brought Keats more to the forefront of an episode than we’ve seen since the start of the series. Here, as the episode progressed, the threat of Keats escalated, and a slightly unhinged element came to the fore.
He’s clearly pulling strings together here. His report on Gene Hunt is nearly complete, and there’s little doubt that his findings aren’t positive. He’s continuing to push Alex to investigate Gene Hunt, and get to the bottom of who killed Sam Tyler. He’s also prepared three videotapes – VHS, rather than Betamax, of course – for Shaz, Chris and Ray.
At one point – and this might have been the drink – we were convincing ourselves he was a character only known to Gene, Alex, Chris, Shaz and Ray, plotting back to see who else he’d had major interaction with before we talked ourselves out of that theory.
Nonetheless, Jim Keats remains utterly pivotal to the show and its mysteries, and is a massively compelling character. From the trailer for episode eight, he’s still got a big part to play here.
But then so, clearly, have Shaz, Chris and Ray. We thought at times that their narrative in this episode appeared just a little less smooth than usual. After all, Chris – even though it’s been building up for a while – seemed to turn quite suddenly, and we didn’t really see the release of Joshua coming. Furthermore, the moment when Chris was supposed to think Ray and Shaz were having some kind of thing? Appreciating that Chris’ mind is clearly all over the shop, it still didn’t quite ring true.
However, those qualms were quickly tempered, as the head hurting began in earnest. Why did Chris hear Nelson from The Railway Arms? What are the stars all about? Why, when you come to think about it, was Luigi so suddenly excited about his news, a seemingly random moment in a scene that was full of things that have been plotted seemingly for years?
More to the point, what the hell is going on? Are they all dead? Were some of the theory articles we’ve been running in recent times closer to the mark than we realised?
All this, of course, is before we even get to Gene and Alex.
The two were coming closer together here, as Alex is drawn to Gene just as everyone else seems to be cracking. Finally, she buys the fact that he didn’t kill Sam Tyler. In fact, Gene reveals that he helped Sam Tyler fake his own death. But did he? What are they going to find in the grave that Alex ran off hunting for at the end?
We’ve never bought that Gene killed Sam Tyler (and was it just us that was hoping, as Gene and Alex settled down in her flat, that it was John Simm standing behind that door?), but there’s a major mystery here that’s about to be resolved, and he’s clearly involved.
It all points to a busy final episode, and one we’ll be talking about for a long, long time. Just look at what’s got to be sorted out. There’s Ray, Chris and Shaz, and everything they’re seeing. There’s the mystery of Jim Keats. There’s the small matter of Alex trying to get home to Molly (who hasn’t been mentioned, you might notice, in a loooong time). And there’s the small matter of Policeman Two Face and the grave. All in one hour. Yikes.
While we’re here, can we also ask which bullet Keats was referring to when he remarked to Alex about the one that nearly killed her? We’re supposed to believe that it’s the one Gene Hunt shot at her at the end of series two. But what if it was the bullet that started Alex Drake’s journey way back in series one?
Inevitably, as the serial elements of the show bubbled heavily to the fore, the crime of the week story took more of a back seat. It was an interesting one, though, and allowed the character of Joshua/Tobias to unlock Chris’ failure to see what Ray and Shaz had been seeing. The story followed the ANC ultimately planting a bomb in the South African embassy, but it was handled without a major sense of drama to it. That’s not to sell it short, it’s just it wasn’t the main thrust of this particular episode.
Instead, there was the real sense that things were coming to a close. “This is the final chapter, Bolly,” said Gene Hunt at one point, and it really feels like it. It really feels like we’re building up to one hell of an exit for the kind of show you can’t help but feel we’re not going to see again for a long, long time. Heck, we’re going to miss Ashes To Ashes, and this latest terrific episode is another reason why.
All that’s left is to say we’ll be back here in seven days’ time to try and wrap our head around the finale. It might just take a little time (and no, we’ve not seen it yet either)…!
Read our review of episode 6 here.