Ashes to Ashes (3.3): Ask not for whom the bell tolls

Normally British TV drama and a serious ‘issue’ are a bad mix. Of course, the normal rules can be pretty much suspended for Ashes to Ashes, so that even an episode taking a dark look at the realities of war doesn’t turn into a clunking great disaster.

The episode is, of course, peppered with the ongoing elements of mystery (how weird is it that Shaz is seeing stars too? Is this going to be like the end of series 4 of Doctor Who with the boundaries between worlds breaking down?) but the meat of the story is the hunt for a serial arsonist who’s at work on the eve of the 1983 General Election, and the effect it has on Ray.

Ray often feels the most caricatured of the team, but last night we really discovered his depths. When the team are called out to another arson attack (which in turn brought back memories of the fabulous London’s Burning) Ray dashes into the burning building to rescue a trapped woman. He in turn is rescued by one of the firemen and when offered the kiss of life by Chris manages to stick two fingers up at the suggestion.

The hero fireman, Andy Smith,  is a Falklands War survivor too and Ray is typically respectful of this military history. It goes without saying that he buys Andy and his fireman brother Steve, a pint or two.

Sadly it’s not long before Andy Smith is chief suspect – he has the technical expertise and motive (he’s suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which feels a bit like calling a migraine a headache to be honest). Ray is deeply unhappy at the turn of events, and when another polling station goes up in flames, is relieved to be able to let Andy out of the cells.

All the while Jim Keats is trying to pull Ray’s strings, not to mention needling Gene and Alex unnecessarily. I know I’m not meant to like him (otherwise they wouldn’t be asking him to smile like Eugene Tooms from the X-Files), but he’s really starting to annoy me now. Nobody likes a gloater.

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the week is Gene doing some actual detective work. He deduces that the latest fire was not started with the complicated electronic trigger, but with accelerant, and was simply intended to get Andy Smith off the hook. I do hope we get more of this – deduction is much more fun than gut instinct.

It’s no surprise to learn that Steve Smith is cuckolding his brother Andy, and that his hand was on the petrol can at the polling station. Neither is it a surprise to find Andy Smith’s wife trussed up by her husband in a lounge soaked with petrol. What was astonishing was the honesty of the dialogue dealing with the horrific images haunting Smith from his time as a soldier, and Dean Andrews performance as Ray opens up – perhaps for the first time in his life.

All in all it was a devastating hour of drama, though they saved one of Gene’s best lines ’til the end to lighten the mood. “Gary Cooper is still a hero. Franny Lee is still a god. And I’m still the sheriff of this shandy-drinking, leotard-wearing godforsaken southern shithole.”

Final random thoughts: Is the image of the mutilated PC an echo of Alex’s situation? I’m so used to nice, neat prosthetic TV wounds that it’s only just occurred to me that Alex could be a real mess back in the 21st Century.

How lovely to see the delicious Robert Gwilym again – and in a London’s Burning outfit.

And really, definitely, lastly and finally: are we working up to the death of Gene Hunt? I can’t help feeling the team is being set up to go on without him. I think that will upset me even more than David Tennant regenerating. (Adds extra box of tissues to the shopping list.)

Posted by Jo the Hat

11 Comments

Filed under Ashes to Ashes

11 responses to “Ashes to Ashes (3.3): Ask not for whom the bell tolls

  1. Natalie

    NO NO NO NO NO .. to the death of Gene. I am hoping it’s his face staring in the camera is the last image we see of Ashes to Ashes…

    • Me too! Although I’ll settle for a happy Sam Tyler as the last image we see.

      • natalie

        it’s awful to be thinking of the end.. I don’t want it to end EVER! I completely agree with your comments especially about Jim Keats.. enough whispering in the shadows… come out with something concrete or GO AWAY!

  2. Anne of Green Gables

    The sad truth is – this is the last series! So it’s worth recording some Gene Hunt’s “awfulisms” for posterity (and did you notice the scriptwriter is also giving the odd rude and disgusting one-liner to other members of the cast – I think it was to Ray, in fact. Is he being prepared to take over from Gene again?).

    Here is one of Gene’s ‘jewels in the crown’ from the most recent episode (with thanks to the Sky rewind button):

    Shaz: God – that was the hospital about that journalist

    Gene: Is he up for answering questions?

    Shaz: That might be tricky – he’s dead

    Gene: Excellent. What else have you got for me? A burning down orphanage? A couple of char-grilled kittens? You know, if the Queen Mother self-combusted on my watch I’d be blamed for that!

    Is our Gene feeling under pressure…or is he feeling under pressure?

    As for the Falklands theme, linked with Ray’s lifelong – and until now secret – despair because he believed that his army father had despised him for not becoming a soldier…yes, I thought all that was brilliant, and gave added depth to this episode. The comedy and the deadly serious were juxtaposed, but nothing seemed out of place.

    • Yes, another excellent quote – thank you. Also demonstrates the unnecessary extra pressure the dastardly Keats is applying. I will be very sad to bid A2A farewell, but would prefer it to burn brightly and briefly than to go on for years and become average viewing.

  3. Natalie

    you are so right.. it’s much better for it to brightly and briefly.. and I love the quote too.. I loved the way he said Excellent..(oh dear I have got it bad haven’t I?). I think I will be weeping no matter how it ends… 5 to go…

  4. Natalie

    The Gene Genie…..I didn’t really see it in LOM .. but since A2A.. oh dearie me .. yes I would definitely like to be in Alex’s pointy shoes! Loved your lustbox ..and it’s very good to know we are not alone are we?

  5. Natalie

    but then I really liked Mac in Clocking Off and wept buckets for Mr Carter in Cranford.. there is a theme here isn’t there ….

  6. Anne of Green Gables

    Just a quick post (script) to my post yesterday. It occurred to me that some people might not know me… I am in fact the *grown up* Anne of Green Gables, and even have grey hair (though that may change!) – otherwise I would not be watching Ashes to Ashes and enjoying if not admiring that sad and delicious monument to bad taste, Gene Wilder. As a child, I would not have been allowed to watch…in fact in those days, TV hadn’t been invented!

    Post, post script: Glad you liked the quote I picked out!

    • Have just had hallucinogenic vision of Gene Hunt as Willy Wonka… I can see him subjecting some scumbag to a near-drowning in the chocolate river, or dropping them in the squirrel room (without any trousers or pants). Not sure if purple crushed velvet is his kind of clothing though.