Thursday, April 27, 2006

My Review of Life On Mars 1x08: "Episode 8"

Written by Matthew Graham
Directed by John Alexander

Vic: “Who are you?”
Sam: “Second chance. You wanna be rich? You already are. Stay with them, Vic.”

After eight weeks of Sam trying to escape it all comes crashing down in one episode where he might finally realise that he’s not leaving 1973 anytime soon. It also happens to be the very episode where we finally meet his father.

When two men die in a police chase, Sam finds the address to a hotel and Gene and company arrest Vic Tyler. Yeah, he’s Sam’s father and Sam is suitably shocked to finally see his absentee dad. As for anyone else, it was about damn time we got to meet the man.

Naturally Gene doesn’t trust Vic as far as he could throw him and Sam only further warns Gene not to do try and frame his father for anything without evidence. Sam’s desperate to believe that his father is a good guy and Gene thinks that he’s hiding something. As much as I understand where Sam is coming from, I also know that Gene’s instincts aren’t that terribly.

While Vic might have cleared out for being a door to door salesman, Gene was right on the money in taking a snoop around his house. Sam got to meet his mother Ruth again and had to explain that he used an alias last time. Funnily enough, neither Ruth nor Gene seemed all that bothered. In fact no-one really seems to notice that Sam acts erratically around his parents.

Sam might have also enjoyed getting some insight into his folks and while Vic does seem genuinely dedicated to both Ruth and Sam, Gene was able to find the listing of a bookie office. Now there are plenty of things they could’ve behind closed doors but the distribution of pornography was a good touch.

For instance it got the lads in the station excited and Sam got to make a modern reference. Also for the first time, the rest of Sam’s co-workers actually did something he said without question or disdain. Maybe Sam should try busting more purveyors of blue movies in the near future. Even Ray kept his snide comments to himself.

Vic being involved with porn however was the tip of the iceberg. Being a serial gambler meant he racked up enough debt and the Mortons wanted to be paid. While Gene wasn’t particularly sympathetic to Vic’s plight, Sam naturally took it upon himself to protect his father at best.

John Simm has been brilliant in every episode of this series as has the rest of the cast but he really does excel himself here. While he’s happy to tell Annie that Vic and Ruth are his parents, he doesn’t have the same luxury of letting Vic in on the big secret. However he does make the effort to get to know his father as best his can.

It was around this time in 1973 that his father abandoned Sam and his mother and while the two of them are waiting for a call from the Mortons, they have a game of football to relax. It’s a genuinely sweet scene and probably one of the few good moments Sam gets to have with his father.

The shootout at the bookies scared Vic enough into running away. Sam tried to confront his father and for a second nearly succeeded in changing history. One of Sam’s biggest fears was that history was going to repeat itself and you feel for the guy when he’s trying to get his father to stay.

However Vic did have his reasons to leave and it was obvious that his promise to stay was just to get Sam off his back. He might love Ruth and Sam but Vic messed up enough to scarper. Gene was right on the money when he revealed to Sam that Vic wasn’t whiter than white.

The problem is that when it came to his father, Sam did have a blind spot. You don’t want to think the worst of your family but at the same time, it doesn’t mean the worst won’t happen. In a lot of ways, Vic becoming more villainous than expected was a shocker but it was finally nice to get some sense of that forest stuff we’ve been seeing since the first episode.

I didn’t expect Vic to attack Annie and it took me a while to realise that she was going to be the woman in the red dress. Sam managed to save Annie from getting a serious beating but he wasn’t able to save his father. Vic was right about not having a future if he stayed. Because of that Sam allowed his father to abandon him a second time.

However the way he had to tell Ruth about it cut to the bone. Sam genuinely thought he was going to make a difference. He also thought that he was going to snap out of it and return to 2006 but because this series was renewed for a second season very quickly, I knew that he wouldn’t be leaving this time period just yet.

Annie at this point really has gotten tired of hearing Sam’s time travel theories. Sam needs to pay heed to that. At one point she actually threatened to get him professional help and even told him that he was still awake. However I did love Sam for having a go at Gene’s attachment towards him. That scene was worthy of fan fiction of the tawdry kind.

So now that he’s still stuck in 1973, where else can the writers go with Sam? He’s clearly not going to give up trying to go home but at the same time he can’t keep banging on about it every episode. Besides Sam is even becoming accustomed to his new surroundings.

He more or less told Annie that not everything about being in 1973 sucked royally and even Gene once again had a go at Sam for not wanting to admit that he enjoyed being in his current predicament. When the opportunity to go back really does fall into Sam’s lap, will he be so quick to take it?

Also in “Episode 8”

After a two episode absence that creepy Test Card Girl finally showed up again to taunt Sam.

Test Card Girl: “You’ve done everything you can think of and you’re still no closer to home. Why are you still here Sam?”
Sam: “I’m here for a reason.”

I just noticed in the police station when playing cards that Marshall Lancaster (Chris) and Lee Ingleby (Vic) looked freakishly alike.

Vic: “I’ve got a young lad named Sam.”
Gene: “I’ve got a pain in the arse called Sam.”

Annie (re Vic): “So what are you gonna do?”
Sam: “Save him and that’ll save me.”

Some of the porn titles were funny – “Once Upon A Time In Her Vest” and “Fistful of Donna’s and a few Donna’s more”.

Chris: “That new aftershave, Ray?”
Ray: “Yeah, Klingon.”
Sam: “Lucky Wilma.”

Annie: “It hurts me to see you suffering so much.”
Sam: “Sanest lunatic you ever met.”
Annie: “He’s not coming back Sam. I’m gonna get help for you. I should’ve done it weeks ago.”

The episode had more football homage when Vic went back to get a card of Bobby Charlton for Sam.

Young Sam: “Have you seen my Daddy? I need to find my Daddy.”
Sam: “Go back inside. I’ll get him.”

Sam: “Don’t leave, I’m begging you.”
Vic: “You can’t protect me Sam, not even from your own DCI.”

Standout music: David Bowie’s “Life On Mars” once again as well as “Meet Me At The Corner” by Lindisfane and “Little Bit Of Love” by Free.

Ruth: “I have to tell my son something. What do I tell him, Inspector?”
Sam: “Tell him he’s on the road again. Back on the road and tell him he’ll see his Daddy soon.”

Annie: “Do you see now nothing can wake you up because you’re already awake.”
Sam: “I’m never gonna believe that but you should know I don’t hate everything about this place.”

Chronology: A few weeks since Sam’s first encounter with his mother.

As finales go this was a suitably good way of ending the first season. It turned a lot of Sam’s expectations on his head but at the same drew the possibilities that he’s close enough to getting home. Eight episodes might be too short for a season but this was a brilliant opening year and it’s going to be interesting to see what Matthew Graham and company can muster in the show’s make or break second season.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

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