It’s done. Ashes To Ashes, and by extension Life On Mars, wrapped up not half an hour ago. And to coin a cliché, there was not a dry eye in the house. The questions that have dogged viewers through five series’ were mostly answered, and the identity of the mercurial Gene Hunt finally revealed.
Although the writers still managed to squeeze in a ‘crime of the week’ format right to the end, it was barely important. Quite rightly too. There were far more important matters to be dealt with.
Let’s flip straight to Alex Drake standing in the middle of a field, staring at a scarecrow. The scarecrow is wearing a jacket with the badge number 6620. Even though Gene Hunt appear behind her, Drake starts to dig into the shallow grave and initially believes the remains inside to be Sam Tyler. But they’re not. An ID inside the jacket reveals the bones belong to Gene Hunt himself.
But from the moment Hunt pulls a gun on Drake in that field, you know he knows the game is up. The look on Philip Glenister’s face is one of pure defeat, and it’s a look Gene Hunt’s never worn before. They go to the nearby abandoned house to talk, and the details begin to spill out. Hunt died as a rookie policeman and continued as a ghost in this purgatorial world. (We talked about the possibility of this in our Who Is Gene Hunt post.)
But out of the shadows, Jim Keats appears and mocks Hunt while trying to bring Drake over to his side. They all return to CID together in the same car with Keats being irritating and provocative the whole way. Glenister, Keeley Hawes and Daniel Mays were brilliant throughout those scenes, singling out Hawes for her devastation whenever she discovered whose corpse was in the grave. That single tear said everything.
Back in the CID room though, Carling, Skelton and Granger have all watched the videos that Keats left for them. The lead-up to this was impressive – the whistles that Skelton has been hearing, the long history of Carling’s obsession with the army and Shaz’s fear of screwdrivers. Seriously, remember when she freaked out at a workman in CID for leaving a tool on her desk? All clues, my friends.
Those videos reveal the truth of what happened to the three cops: Carling kills himself after beating a kid to death in frustration about his army career. Skelton was a rookie officer who got shot in the line of duty (perhaps why Hunt has always been harder on Chris than anyone else?), and Shaz was stabbed when she caught a guy trying to break into a car…with a screwdriver. The only slight disappointment is that it’s never explained how Keats got the videos. How do you get a video of something from another reality?
Anyway, when Keats eventually sucker punches (or headbutts) Hunt into the CID room, the three are not exactly Gene’s greatest fans. Keats rants and rages like a man possessed, and I have to give Daniel Mays for his manic, demonic performance throughout the finale. The mask of concerned colleague slipped once and for all, and he was for all intents and purposes the agent of evil. (They do say that Keats has been reporting to “Nick” throughout the show – a reference to the devil?)
All this talk of Satan has a bit more relevance when Keats takes Ray, Chris and Shaz to another police department. His best offer: come and work with me. Same reality, same purgatory, slimier boss? But he takes them to an elevator which is going down. Is this symbolic, or are they really going to hell?
Still, Alex manages to encourage a deflated Gene Hunt into making one last stand. They make contact with Carling, Skelton and Granger, but only Shaz shows up to work with them. They intercept the Dutch criminals, but the Quatro gets shot to pieces. Mission complete, they decide to go for a pint. Not to Luigi’s this time, they end up outside the Railway Arms and are greeted by Nelson the landlord.
And somehow we know – by going into the pub, each character will end their time in Hunt’s purgatory. Chris and Shaz share a brief romantic moment before convincing Ray to come inside with them. And this part is the most heartbreaking – Drake realises that she’s never going home to Molly, that this is the end for her. Gene reassures her that Molly will be fine in the end, and the two kiss before Alex goes inside the pub.
Sorry for the extended recap, folks. Almost every moment of tonight’s Ashes To Ashes was filled with poignant scenes. Perhaps the most pertinent thing is that while his colleagues ‘pass on’, Hunt chooses to stay in his world. After all, he’s been banging on about how “This place is mine. You lot belong to me.”
There are hints at a higher plan for Gene. By the time he gets back to CID, there’s a brochure for the new model Mercedes on his desk. Now, how did that get there? And no sooner does he start flicking through the brochure than a man walks into the office asking for his iPhone back. Yes, Hunt’s going to be there for all the lost souls for a long time to come. And that’s strangely reassuring.
Even if we’ll never get to see it, it’s kind of nice to know that Gene Hunt’s story will carry on.
It was refreshing to see that the writers didn’t cop out (pun unintended) and have Alex wake up from her coma. She has a brief flash of herself in the end, in her hospital bed, but she realises that time is stuck for her. She’s not going anywhere.
In perhaps one of the most emotional scenes, Alex realises she won’t be reunited with her daughter. It would have been easy for the whole thing to end with Alex sitting up in bed – Sam Tyler escaped from Hunt’s world once, didn’t he? I was far more satisfied with the more uncomfortable reality of Alex moving on and Gene staying behind. We’ve talked on Shout about them ending up as a couple – I think we’ll be glad they shared a kiss, but the ending had more substance by avoiding schmaltzy scenes.
Quotes from the Ashes To Ashes finale
This list is very incomplete. If you’ve got any suggestions for quotes that I’ve missed, drop me a comment and I’ll include it here!
- Hunt: “This place is mine. You lot belong to me. Not Drake. Not Keats.”
- Drake: “I didn’t take this world seriously then. I do now.”
- Carling: “That new Skip creeps me out. He doesn’t even get horny over a sawn-off.”
- Shaz scared of a screwdriver. Someone salutes Ray. Chris hears a whistle.
- Hunt: “In here he’s not some snotty kid in a uniform. Oh no, he’s Gary Cooper in High Noon. He’s the law.”
- Drake: “Why didn’t you tell me? All your swagger and your bullshit.”
- Hunt acknowledges that his world is a place between life and death: “Somewhere where we go to sort ourselves. Coppers.”
- Keats: “Gradually they came to you, those who had issues with their passing. And you tucked in their shirts and you wiped their noses. Sorting out the troubled souls of Her Majesty’s constabulary.”
- Drake: “You helped Sam. Do I mean nothing to you Gene? I only wanted to get back home, to my little girl.”
- Drake sums up Gene Hunt: “You’re the most difficult, stubborn, obnoxious, mysoginistic and reckless human being I’ve ever met. And yet still you make me feel safe.”