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