It is difficult for television series with complicated, intricate and mysterious mythologies to wrap up and come to an end. But Ashes to Ashes (and by extension Life on Mars) came to a beautiful and satisfying conclusion this week as we finally learned who Gene Hunt really is and what it all means.
Both BBC series have captivated viewers around the world, even spawning two respectable foreign adaptations of Life on Mars in Spain and the U.S.
And it is no wonder why. Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes were crime procedurals but also fantasy and maybe science fiction. The series, about present-day detectives somehow getting transported back to the 1970s and 1980s respectively, allowed an interesting and fresh take on the genre, meshing cultural milestones with the crime solving.
But it was the question of why and how Sam Tyler in Life on Mars and Alex Drake of Ashes to Ashes ended up back in time and just who their chief Gene Hunt, with all his bravado, cockiness, and kick-ass-ness, really was.
Don’t read any further if you haven’t seen the finale yet! Or maybe not even series 2 if you’re in the US!
One would expect answers in a finale, a satisfying conclusion with a little freedom for open endings. Ashes to Ashes certainly delivered on both.
While not a surprising explanation to the mystery of two series and five seasons, the revelation of Gene Hunt being some sort of an angel or guide in this limbo sort of place between life and heaven or hell just fits. It is a perfect ending that provided a touching and beautifully crafted finale.
Gene Hunt, himself killed too young when he was just a 19 year old constable, has somehow created or gotten himself into this world where other police officers come to after they too have died before their time. A place where they will remain until they come to accept their deaths in the real world, at which point, they can step into the Railway Arms pub (from Life on Mars) and assumedly enter heaven. However, their paths to heaven are not without obstacles, namely the devil himself it seems, here in the person of DCI Jim Keats who tries to lure and tempt the fallen police officers to hell.
It is such a simple premise, yet still profound and thought provoking.
Sam Tyler, Alex Drake, Ray Carling, Chris Skelton, Sharon “Shaz” Granger, even Gene Hunt, all suffered tragic deaths and have been ushered into this world where they are pulled in all directions, either they come to accept their deaths and move on to eternal happiness (whatever that may be for them) or get tempted by the devil and burn in hell.
And Gene Hunt, a man who underneath all the attitude and posturing, actually is a good man, whether he knew it or not, helping these lost souls along. Though it seems he’s fully realized that now and maybe sees his “job” in a different light.
The new arrival at the end of the episode, another lost member of the police force from the iPhone age, leads us to believe Gene Hunt will continue helping and guiding fallen officers for a long, long time.
Series co-creator Matthew Graham explains that this was their plan all along, and while looking back now you can see how they definitely planted the seeds, but while watching the last five years, this definitely wasn’t the first explanation that came to mind.
But again, the finale was a big “Aha!” moment where everything just clicked. It worked. And it was satisfying.
Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah have created two incredible series and one amazing story. It really is difficult to create a satisfying ending to anything, but they certainly did here.
They made reasonable connections between Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, while still allowing both series to stand on their own. Most showrunners can barely keep one show held together, let alone two.
While other series may need to knock you upside the head with clues throughout a series run to keep you interested, they didn’t need to here. Arguably, the main draw was the nostalgia and how a gritty, yet fun crime drama would fit in that time, complete with historical and pop culture references.
Life on Mars was certainly more on the darker, serious side while Ashes to Ashes loosened up and was more fun. Both though kept the hard hitting crime fighting and the teamwork of Gene Hunt, Sam, Alex, and what turned out to be other lost souls, Ray, Chris, and Shaz, at the heart of the story.
Ultimately when their true identities were revealed, we as viewers had already connected to them and felt for them as they too were awakened to the truth about their own lives. It is a different feeling finding out the truth at the same time as the characters on screen. It really emphasizes that you have just been on a journey with them.
That makes both series that much more of an accomplishment, seeing how they pulled everything together.
Engaging, witty, dramatic, fun… both Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes are amazing pieces of television. Excellently written, wonderfully produced, and beautifully performed by a perfect cast.
This has definitely been an amazing five year journey. There have been unexpected twists and turns, but all in all thoroughly engrossing and an incomparable joy to watch. It has been an amazing experience, and a production any television network will be hard pressed to match any time soon.