With the end in sight the Ashes to Ashes team delivered a clenched fist of an episode tonight. Not even top-quality Huntisms (the rioting prisoners are “Scum de la scum – you name it, they raped it, robbed it, killed it.”; his riposte to Alex’s “I hope you’ve got a heart in there.” – “I’ve got two. Mine and some toerag’s I ate earlier.”) could pierce the darkness for more than a moment.
It was a clever move to have Viv taken hostage by the prisoners (as well as essential for the backstory to work) – he’s a sympathetic character, but one we don’t know well enough that we can second guess his reactions. So, we’re worried about him (and that football of his – I can’t help but admire the chutzpah of the writers chucking in random red herrings just to bait us – the bastards) and then there’s the mysterious Paul Thordy (the internet serves up dozens of anagrams for this – many of them faintly mucky-sounding – but none that scream out for attention. I suspect I’ve just had my chain yanked again…).
I had chills and tingles top to toe when Alex opened the cell window on Thordy (the escaped prisoner who apparently precipitated the prison riot) to be confronted by Steven Robinson doing his best Sam Tyler meets the Master impersonation… The mania was very Time Lord, but everything else – that classic Life on Mars intro (“Am I mad, in a coma….”), the intonation, the physical mannerisms, were close enough to conjure the tiniest drop of doubt. After all, we’re told Thordy is a conman and a fantasist – so he can’t be our beloved Sam, surely? When Ray and Chris go to pick him up and declare Alex would go nuts if she knew who he was, they’re alluding to the fact that Thordy was Sam’s last arrest before he died – right?
The performances and writing are pitch perfect and we are putty in the team’s hands. Having written him off as a conman – that Alex seems to find some sort of answer to her problem in a tin box just opens it all up again.
And there’s poor Gene – his colleague held hostage, Keats blaming him (of course) after he led the riot police on the first failed attempt to put the riot down (Braveheart in Paco Rabanne, as Alex warmly describes him), the team coming apart… though it’s hard to summon sympathy after he beats Thordy to a near pulp in a bid to get information about the riot leader Sacks. (Especially, if it does turn out that Thordy is Sam with a new face. It crossed my mind, when Gene confronts Sacks at the end, that perhaps this is some sort of game. When Sacks claims to be a legend, immortal, now that he’s killed a cop – it sounded like a computer role-playing game. I know, I know – they’re just messing with my mind…)
I love the real warmth that shines through between the team too though. Shaz’s concern for Ray about seeing stars (is it significant that he describes them as pricks of light, like before you pass out?), the team staying on late – and eventually falling asleep in the office – to try and help Viv, Gene’s answer to Keats’ question about acceptable level of collateral damage: “Not a hair on their heads”. And you can’t help but be touched by Chris sucking his thumb in his sleep when Alex takes the burning fag out his hand.
If I didn’t have doubts about Keats’ motives before, I do now. The look on his face leading the special ops guys into the prison tells you he’s hoping to get his hands on some bodies. And what the hell did he do to Viv at the end? (Is taking the gloves off significant or just sinister? Gene still had his on when he cradled poor Viv’s head.) The phrase baby-faced assassin springs to mind.
What are we left with? Poor Viv dead. The knowledge that journalists smell of old spice, fags and loneliness. The sight of Alex delivering a fabulous right hook to a convict. And an answer from the copper with half a face – albeit in true A2A style one that just leaves you with more bloody questions. Thanks a bunch guys. We’d have tuned in next week anyway y’know.
Posted by Jo the Hat.