This Friday the final episode of [[Ashes To Ashes (TV Series)|Ashes To Ashes]] will air. If the hype is to be believed, the answers to the whole mystery will fall into place, revealing exactly what’s been going on for the last five series.
At the heart of Ashes and Life On Mars has been the super-arrogant, snakeskin boot wearing DCI Gene Hunt played by [[Philip Glenister]]. And unless you’re blind to the many clues that’ve been dropped over the years, Hunt seems to be the key to many of the mysteries posed by the series.
A bit of series history
Let’s look at the series for a moment. We know that the lead characters Sam Tyler and Alex Drake both sustained serious injuries in the line of duty. Tyler is hit by a car and Drake is shot in the head. Both wake up in a different era: Tyler in 1973, Drake in 1981. They’ both find themselves working for the police: Tyler in Manchester, Drake in London. They’ve stayed in their original physical locations, but they’ve travelled backwards in time.
And who is their superior officer? The acerbic Gene Hunt.
Both Sam Tyler and Alex Drake are convinced they’re in a coma, this is plausible to a degree when they frequently hear voices from their ‘real’ life via communication devices – TV’s, radios and telephones. It’s proven when Sam wakes up in the second series of Life On Mars, but he chooses to jump off a building and re-enter the world of 1970’s Manchester.
One crucial difference between Tyler and Drake is that Drake is already aware of Gene Hunt before she enters her coma. She’s a police psychologist who’s read Sam Tyler’s case files. This raises a major question: is the appearance of Gene Hunt (along with Life On Mars regulars Ray Carling and Chris Skelton) a figment of Alex’s imagination? Or is he a real person?
Gene and Alex
A critical twist at the end of the first series of Ashes To Ashes had us all guessing about whether Gene Hunt was a real person. After her parents were killed in a car bomb, a man leads the young Alex Drake away from the explosion. The man turns out to be Gene Hunt.
So, was Alex really rescued by Gene in her childhood, or is she getting confused between her real memories and what she’s experiencing in the coma world? Think back Ashes’ second series though: the corrupt policeman Martin Summers was able to shoot and kill his younger self. So that blurs the line between fact and fiction that Alex might be experiencing.
Police purgatory with Gene as the gatekeeper?
Why do Sam Tyler and Alex Drake end up in 1973 and 1981 respectively, and why is Gene Hunt the guv’nor in both their coma worlds? I used to entertain the notion that the coma had somehow triggered a physical travelling in time, but the Martin Summers incident and the various ‘communications’ from the real world seem to disprove this.
So, is Gene Hunt’s world a kind of purgatorial holding area for nearly-dead detectives? Hunt seems to be fiercely protective of his colleagues, and with the introduction of Jim Keats into the final series, there seems to be a greater battle going on for the hearts and minds of Alex Drake, Shaz, Ray and Chris. The only problem is, we’re not sure who the bad guy really is. Keats has smeared Gene subtly in a thousand different little ways, and Gene’s reactions to Keats are defensive and make it look like he’s got something to hide.
This series, we’ve seen all four of Gene’s crew experience surreal, celestial visions. So where once we thought it was just Alex Drake that was an outsider in this machismo world, the viewers are asking if Ray, Chris and Shaz are too? Certainly those three have become aware of something strange surrounding them, and they’ve all experienced what we’re calling the “Life On Mars moment” where the room around them briefly darkens and they hear David Bowie’s Life On Mars playing in the background.
Does this give weight to the notion that Gene Hunt’s world is a kind of purgatory and that Alex isn’t the only lost soul? It would certainly mean that Gene himself may know the answers.
The reason? Because Gene himself seems to be above questioning the world he’s in. He sees everything in black and white, appears to largely ignore or belittle any references that Tyler or Drake ever make about being sent from the future. He hasn’t experienced any celestial moments, but seems to be in a very knowing battle against Jim Keats. He makes constant reference in this series to it being the “final chapter”. That in itself kind of points to Gene having a unique knowledge of some kind of bigger picture.
There’s a lot of speculation surrounding the ghostly officer who appears to Alex Drake in Ashes To Ahes’ third series. With half of his face missing, the officer has the number 6620 on his epaulettes. Alex discovers a photograph in Gene’s desk of a young officer with the same number on his uniform.
As we know, at the end of Episode 7, Alex is en route to track down a shallow grave that may hold the answer to this mysterious policeman who’s been haunting her. But the theory is that the ghost is Gene Hunt himself – a young cop who died in the line of duty (just like Alex and Sam?) – who has lived on as the Gene Hunt we all know and love. Somehow, overcoming death, this version of Gene has come to rule over a band of officers who’ve suffered a similar fate over the years.
There are a million lingering questions – this is the beauty of the series in my opinion – and we could give ourselves headaches working out how the finale will play out. And yet, as I write the last paragraph of speculation about who Gene Hunt is, I can hear the man himself barking “pie in the sky nonsense, Bolly”. Could there be a more rational explanation though?