Ashes to Ashes (3.8): A love letter to Gene Hunt

Two questions. One, how can a mere blog do justice to a proper thrilling TV event like the conclusion of Ashes to Ashes? And, two, did you guess correctly what was going on? Actually – make that three: Did you make it through without crying? Me, neither.

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in approaching this episode with some trepidation – we Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes fans have invested heavily (time, theories and emotions) over the past five years and if the writers fell at the final hurdle it wouldn’t just be disappointing now – it would devalue everything that went before (not to mention taking all the fun out of those DVD boxed sets).

I don’t know about you, but I take my hat off to Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah. They crammed the episode chock full of the things we love about LoM and A2A: the great, incomparable Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister in his finest hour yet), a daft TV reference (well done whoever made the papier mache heads of Alex and Gene for that It’s a Knockout run), wonderful Huntisms, spine-tingling tension and some serious chills too. If it wasn’t enough that we’re wrapping up five years of questions (well the most important ones anyway), we get a crime of the week too.

And the truths we’ve been hankering after? Gene tells the truth about Sam in a moment you might otherwise miss – the DCI sent him to get a pint in. It brings a whole new meaning to Last Orders, doesn’t it?

The policeman who’s been haunting Alex? Poor old Gene… a green PC who thought he was Gary Cooper in High Noon and was buried in a shallow grave back in the fifties. But from the moment Gene experiences his own weird TV flashback in Keats’ office, you know your heart is really going to get broken.

Philip Glenister has been the star of the show from Day One (if you don’t believe me, read the reviews of Harvey Keitel trying to wear the Gene Genie’s cowboy boots), but, boy does he blow you away here. The look of trepidation on his face as he drives onto the farm, the terrible, un-Gene-like look on his face as Alex uncovers, first, the bones and then the awful, awful truth. The poignant story-telling in the decrepit farmhouse. Who could blame Gene for forgetting his past, and that this world is a place where coppers go to sort themselves out?

Which answers another question – Ray, Chris, Shaz – they’re all dead coppers working through their issues. But who is Jim Keats? Some sort of demon determined to wrestle some souls into hell it would seem. If there was a line where Gene explained it, we’ll have to wait for the 100-minute version of this episode on the DVD extras I guess. We can only go on the heavy symbolism (Ray, Chris and Shaz being led downstairs for their ‘transfer’) and plentiful hissing noises emanating from Daniel Mays for now. I don’t know which I found more disturbing – Keats driving the Quattro back to London or him stroking Alex in his office. Both had my flesh creeping though.

Neither matches the horror of him leaving the death tapes for Ray, Chris and Shaz though (and let’s not forget the incredible performances of Dean Andrews, Marshall Lancaster and Monserrat Lombard here) or the manic insanity as he tears down the walls of the world. For all that, I love that the team’s love and loyalty is enough to repair the world – and that Alex can restore the Gene Genie to his full powers (and in time to solve that crime of the week).

Funnily enough, for all the revelations, it was the moment that the Dutchmen ‘killed the Quattro’ that really drove home that the end was nigh. Of course, the sight of the Railway Arms – and Nelson – really started the tears falling. And as Gene’s beloved team finally move on, bickering, Alex faces her final test, Gene finally gives Keats that smack in the face and Alex at last kisses that man… well, it’s a good job the tissues were close to hand.

And then, just when you think it’s all over (in every sense), in stumbles some poor sod looking for his iPhone…

So what am I taking with me to bed now? A satisfying explanation for five years of weirdness and the stand-out performance of Philip Glenister – from the vulnerability in the farmhouse to the full-on Armed Bastard. I’m glad that the Gene Genie lives (as it were) to fight many more days – even if we won’t get to see them. Thank you Ashley, Matthew, Philip, Keeley, Dean, Monserrat and John (not forgetting the rest of the cast and crew) – you gave us something wonderful and unique. The Quattro may be dead, but Gene Hunt will live on in our hearts for many years to come.

Posted by Jo the Hat

14 Comments

Filed under Ashes to Ashes

14 responses to “Ashes to Ashes (3.8): A love letter to Gene Hunt

  1. Natalie

    you have said it all beautifully.. I am weeping all over again.. and the scenes where Gene remembers who he really is and is so vunerable..they were incredible, and tender and heartbreaking and Philip Glenister should win every award going.
    Keats was outstanding and as just as bad as we had feared. When he distroyed Gene’s kingdom and the stars were revealed.
    I never thought that it was a place for Coppers.. and that Shaz, Chris and Ray were dead too.
    In fact they should all win every award going.. writers, producers, actors.. It was amazing and so well done. Hope you weren’t too disappointed Sam wasn’t there but I think that was played just right too.
    And that Gene lives on at least in our imaginations..
    Did you know that the final Dixon of Dock Green segment was in there because that was a character that died in an earlier movie and was brought back for the show.. a final beautiful twist.
    and Heroes.. was the perfect last song.. and I loved the titles with the pictures and names..
    And thank you to you I have loved reading your blog after every show

    • Lainey

      Fantastic – I just wish Gene had punched Keats harder! Loved the closing credits with the pictures too – when Shaz’s came up with her credited as DC I was blubbering all over again for some reason. It’s those little details that made it such a great show.

    • natalie

      “pictures and names” of course I mean images.. pictures make me sound like a 5 year old..
      massive tea spillage was ocurring as I was typing!

    • Thank you Natalie – very kind of you to say so. Actually, I’m quite pleased that Sam didn’t turn up here. I love Sam (and John Simm) but it would have been wrong.
      There were so many other things to love about this episode too (having watched it again tonight). Keeley’s acting (can’t believe I missed her out first time – but Philip Glenister completely dominates every scene he’s in here); Shaz’s line about not “wanting to see women with both bottoms while she’s working”, Gene’s “What are you muttering through your lipstick woman?”
      Thank god for DVD boxed sets, is all I can say.

      • natalie

        just watched it again and yes Philip Glenister is even better second time around, and he was pretty amazing the first time.

        off to watch ep 7 now.. just can’t quite let them go just yet.. how did Alex leave him and walk through those doors.

        and keats playing Club Tropicano all the way home on a 4 hour drive.. hell indeed!

  2. Anne of Green Gables

    Yes, the final episode of Ashes to Ashes was “something else,” in more senses than one. I’m not sure if it’s called magic realism these days, or fantasy, or are we in the realms of the spiritual or maybe the paranormal? And who needs to worry about credibility when you can have depth, mystery, tragedy, spookiness combined with the continuing clash of titans Gene Hunt and outsider Jim Keats?

    Just to be mean for a minute. Alex knows there is a body buried under the scarecrow in a remote field. She digs up part of the body, including its police warrant card. The body was buried in front of the scarecrow – but how, I wondered, did Alex find the bones first time? How did she know exactly where it was? (Don’t tell me if I looked on the BBC website it would all be explained!)

    Despite that, it was a chilling and wonderfully dark and complex ending to the series. Jo the Hat – you asked “But who is Jim Keats? Some sort of demon determined to wrestle some souls into hell it would seem.” Watching last night, I was certain I knew who he was. Despite his chinless civil servant appearance, he has become increasingly powerful and increasingly manipulative, seeking to fragment Gene’s team and persuade them desert him. He turns on a slimy but somewhat hypnotic charm.

    All through the series, and increasingly towards the end, we have been wondering if the loud, bullying Gene is the “baddie” – the person who killed Sam Tyler among other things. The twist in tail is that it is the softly spoken man with glasses, Jim Keats, who had come to lead Jim’s team in absolutely the wrong direction.

    So who is Jim Keats? Not some sort of demon as Jo suggests. Keats is the Devil himself, come to lead some potential “clients” into hell. At least, this is what I thought last night.

    But now I am inclined to think that he has two alternative identities and we will never know which one he really is. Either he is the Devil, or he is mad and simply imagines he is the Devil. There are a couple of places where he behaves absolutely like a madman: the first when he breaks up the team’s office, tearing at it in extraordinarily noisy fury and even removing the roof, enabling them all to see what looks like a million stars (is this a group hallucination or the real thing?). The second mad scene is very near the end when he and Gene are alone outside the pub. Keats has failed in his mission, his anger emerging in noises which sound like those of a wild animal – definitely not human. I am not sure whether Keats needs care in the community, or whether we should just boot him back to Hell.

    There is a wonderful precedent for using the Devil as a character: Milton’s Satan in the long poem Paradise Lost is by far the most interesting character. The Devil has all the best tunes? Certainly flawed and complex characters are the most interesting. Gene himself, as we know, was no angel. He could produce the most irreverent, tasteless, politically incorrect, rude, tactless and plain disgusting statements. “He’ll be losing limbs like lepers at a cookery class” is one I remember from a previous series. I mourn his passing.

  3. Natalie

    Paradise Lost.. in episode one when Keats and Alex are in Luigis and he quotes the bible, and she comments on it and he says that he knew the bible from his upbringing, it crossed my mind that Keats was the fallen Angel Lucifer.. which is from Paradise Lost isn’t it?

    however with all the story’s twists and turns and I must admit much love for Gene and Alex (and raymondo and chris and Shazz) I was very easily distracted away from that thought!

    Two final points.. I would really love to see more of the Gene/Keats story. Have they clashed before? Watching their struggle over Viv, I had thought it was the eternal war of good vs bad and I want more..

    and secondly.. will Gene ever get into the Railway Arms, I know he is there to ease the passage of the troubled cops, but will his troubles ever be over..

    and that makes a third question.. why did Gene’s ghost decide to haunt Alex or had it always been there and only she had picked up on the torment?

    • He could be the Devil or ‘just’ a demon – but I’m guessing this is one of those little ambiguities they wanted to leave us with.

      • I stand corrected. If Matthew Graham says Keats is actually Satan (not one of Satan’s little helpers) then it’s not ambiguous anymore. And he says Keats is Satan.

  4. Just watched that Ride of the Valkyries bit from the beginning of this series again. Sigh. Seriously though, there are fans complaining that if this isn’t a real world, Gene couldn’t have rescued Alex from the burning car at the end of series one. The point of this world is that it lets coppers work out their issues – and Alex clearly had issues with her parents. I’d have imagined Gene saving my younger self too. (Let’s face it, I’m quite busy imagining him saving my current self a lot of the time…)

    • natalie

      I have thought about the Valkyries scene since knowing the truth and thought how much more significant it really was.. I just thought it was a great way of introducing Gene into series 3 but of course she was thinking about him because she needed him. The more I t hink about A2A the more clever it is.

      and yes I keep also thinking I wish there was a Gene Hunt guarding over me too! mmmmmm!

  5. Anne of Green Gables

    Re Keats being Satan…Anne of GG is always right! (crow, crow) – though I did also suggest there was an ambiguity as he could have been a mad man and not the Devil after all. Have been looking on the web, including Beeb website to see where writer Mathew Graham is quoted as confirming Keats is the Devil – could not find it, though there are a few hints. Maybe Mathew phoned Jo the Hat?

    In my earlier post I did make one error when I said “The twist in tail is that it is the softly spoken man with glasses, Jim Keats, who had come to lead Jim’s team in absolutely the wrong direction.” Of course I meant to say “Gene’s team” not “Jim’s team.”

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