Thursday, March 30, 2006

My Review of Life On Mars 1x02: "Episode 2"

Written by Matthew Graham
Directed by Bharat Nalluri

Sam: “My name is Sam Tyler. I had an accident and I woke up in 1973. Am I mad, in a coma or back in time? Whatever’s happened it’s like I’ve landed on a different planet. Now, maybe if I can work out the reason, I can get home.”

As statements go, it’s both a nice of summing up the series and also wondering which one of these three outcomes is most likely to be true. Sam’s still stuck in 1973 and suffice to say, it’s something of a culture shock for him as well.

When a dodgy bloke named Kim Trent is hauled in for questioning over a robbery, we get to see Sam being rather shocked by Gene’s methods of trying to get a confession out of him. Maybe just like in Dexter, the reason why I’m not appalled entirely by Gene’s behaviour is because the people he interrogates are scumbags.

Okay so it might not have helped so significantly that Kim Trent comes across as someone who would rob you blind without a care in the world but maybe Gene’s old fashioned techniques aren’t entirely bad either. Sam should be grateful that Gene isn’t making a little slide collection.

Of course the thing with Sam is despite his self-righteous streak, you can’t blame him for wanting to do things properly. Doing things by the book means that a guy like Trent will be caught fairly and won’t be able to wriggle his way out. Unfortunately Sam’s attempts of putting this into practice go awry.

Not only does Trent and two of his dodgy mates end up robbing another place but save a few bullets aimed at Sam and Gene, its cleaner June who has to get one. Luckily June isn’t dead but she is comatose and this very incident has major consequences throughout the episode.

First off all there’s Gene’s rather savage way of forcing Sam to clean up her blood in the street. Even more interesting is both Sam and Gene beating the living daylights out of each other by June’s bedside. I wonder how much fun both John Simm and Philip Glenister must’ve had when shooting that.

June’s fate also continues to make Sam unpopular with the rest of his colleagues as well. At one point, Annie has to drag him out of Nelson’s pub before Gene and the rest of them arrived. It might feel a little tacked on that Sam only really has Annie to confide in but it’s making for some good moments in the episode.

Sam’s still really not all that convinced about his surroundings. I don’t blame him for feeling that way though. It’s great to see him vocalise them even though at some point it might become old. It’s also noteworthy that both Annie and Nelson are the ones who keep telling Sam that he’s really here.

Chris on the other hand doesn’t really know what to make of Sam. On one hand it looks like he sees Sam as a mentor but on the other hand, he’s also part of that gang with Gene and Ray that Sam has yet to become part of. I like Chris but Ray is quite annoying but that’s more to do with the fact that the writers aren’t developing him as strongly as the other characters rather than Dean Andrews.

The Trent angle of the episode isn’t as compelling as the Colin Raimes/Edward Kramer one in the first episode but it still has a few neat twists. The introduction of scared, deaf witness Leonard is yet another element in the case that Sam and Gene can actively disagree on.

Gene is rightly pissed when Leonard almost chickens on making a positive ID statement on Trent and its Sam who both encourages and endangers Leonard while trying to get him to do the right thing. The endangering part would involve the ID without special glass. The encouragement, well that part’s obvious.

Of course it’s not just Sam’s recklessness that almost saw Trent get away. Gene was stupid in pretending to get Ray and Chris to keep an eye on Leonard and Annie and if it wasn’t for Sam and Phyllis, the both of them would be dead. In fact it’s nice that it isn’t just Sam who makes occasional bad choices.

The actor playing Trent started off being pretty generic for a bad guy but by the time he had Sam, Annie and Leonard in his grasp, he got suitably nasty. For a minute it almost looked like Trent could’ve killed at least one of them. Luckily Gene’s punching skills put a stop to that.

With that particular case solved, it’s interesting then to see Sam ask Gene to get rid of him. More interesting was the fact that Gene sarcastically emphasised that it was Sam’s decision to be here. There was an earlier scene in this episode where some similarities to Gene and Sam’s policing techniques came into play. Perhaps these two have more in common that they’d like to think they do.

As for the other stuff of the episode – Sam’s psyche is certainly interesting. That creepy Test Card Girl had fun frightening the wits out of him and the blackout in the hospital was deliciously creepy to boot. The coma theory does seem to be the one the writers are peddling more but at the same time, it could also be a mislead. Then again, it could also be twisted fate. It does however add to the show’s allure as well.

Also in “Episode 2”

The episode was the first to kick off with proper title sequences and a narration from John Simm on Sam’s predicament.

Gene: “You know if you were Pinocchio, you’d poked my eyes out.”
Trent: “Ha-ha-ha.”

Sam realised that the cleaners in this episode didn’t clean the cells but that the WPC’s had to. Trent was a major dick but even I sided with Sam on that issue.

Gene (after they’ve been shot at): “Are you breathing?”
Sam: “Almost, yeah. And you?”
Gene: “Yeah.”

Gene (re Trent): “And you let him go to prove a point.”
Sam: “We had no evidence. I’m better than any of this.”
Gene: “Says you.”

It turns out that part of Ray’s hatred for Sam was that he was going for the DI gig before Sam arrived.

Sam: “I only know one way to police.”
Gene: “So do I. She’s not giving up and neither should you.”

Sam: “Oh dear.”
Mrs Trent: “You filthy nonce ridden pig.”

There’s a comic moment in the episode when Gene gags the annoying Mrs Trent with her own drawers.

Phyllis (re Annie): “God she shouldn’t be out there. Slip of a girl.”
Sam (to Gene): “No she shouldn’t.”

Sam: “The place is surrounded.”
Trent: “By who? They’ve left you behind. From what I’ve heard your DCI will be glad to get shot of you.”

Gene quipped about being all three from “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly”. It’s actually a fitting tribute to him.

Gene: “You were transferred here Sam of your own request. I didn’t ask you, you chose to come.”

Gene: “Sure you’re in?”
Sam: “Deal me.”

Standout music: “Live And Let Die” by Wings and “One Of These Days” by Pink Floyd.

A strong second outing that proves this series has got some weight in it. Sam’s adjusting to his new surroundings isn’t done too quickly and the series definitely flits between nostalgia and mystique so effortlessly as well.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

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