Sunday, April 09, 2006

My Review of Life On Mars 1x04: "Episode 4"

Written by Ashley Pharaoh
Directed by John McKay

Sam: “It’s a beautiful life, Joanie. Too beautiful to waste dancing in a rusty cage for men like that.”
Joanie: “I know.”

After two rather standard episodes, it was time for Life On Mars to come back with something of the same strength of the first episode and luckily, this episode was the very tonic for that.

So far we’ve had a serial killer and stories about robberies and now Sam faces something that actually poses a real threat to his integrity and profession – bent coppers. Knowing that many positions of authority and power have a successful corruption rate, it seemed natural to tackle this issue.

Things started out with Sam arresting Charles Edwards for assaulting a man in the street. Sam should’ve known that something was amiss when even the bloke in question refused to go against Edwards in front of a weary Phyllis. Also the fact that Charles was suitably smug should’ve been another hint.

Of course it turns out that while Charles might be pond life, he’s also a good source for the cops and that’s what keeps him out of trouble. Sam is predictably disgusted with this and he’s even less impressed when Gene forces him into meeting with Charles’ boss Steven Warren to apologise.

Warren is a lot cleverer though and makes Charles apologise to Sam. He’s also a good example of things being too good to be true on several fronts. Giving Sam a cigar and the lovely Joanie with to dance in his club came back to haunt our 2006 copper later on when him and Gene dealt with some hippies.

Not only did Gene rope Sam in on a job that Warren tipped him off on but he also put a wad of cash in his back pocket. Now I get that Sam wasn’t best pleased with this but he really should’ve treaded carefully when dealing with Warren. Even though Warren didn’t sound particularly clever when Sam faced him, I knew the guy was going to stitch Sam up good and proper.

Using Charles to give Sam a good beating might have been a bit too obvious so it was perhaps a good idea to then use Joanie and her feminine wiles on Sam instead. Even Sam can’t resist a pretty girl and while he was noble enough not to take her up on her offer of sex for shelter, Joanie was still able to play Sam.

First she laid on a pretty convincing sob story and then she spiked him with LSD and made sure that steamy photos of them together existed. With Sam tied to a bed, Gene had great pleasure in taking the piss out of his self-righteous colleague. Ray and Chris also wasted no time in having fun at Sam’s expense.

The only two people who didn’t find it funny with Phyllis and Annie. Maybe it could be the gender thing or the fact that both of them have more brain cells than their male colleagues but either way, their responses were interesting. Phyllis thought Sam was being genuinely reckless and Annie decided to decline dating him.

In any series, Annie’s reaction might have been written as something rather childish but Liz White definitely conveys the exact opposite. Annie hasn’t exactly been shy about liking Sam and she even admits it here too. Sam didn’t seem all that surprised when she jested about seeing him naked. I like the sweetness of their relationship but I also hope it doesn’t descend into sickly sweet either.

As for Joanie, while Sam might have had the right to call her a coward, at least she did try to redeem herself by burning the negatives of them together. She even had the sense to take Sam’s advice by trying to escape Warren but it was obvious that when Gene called round to Sam that Joanie would be the latest casualty.

Still her death several great purposes. For all his smart arsed comments so far this season, Ray finally crosses the line and Sam smashes his face against a wall as a result. I shouldn’t condone violence but I would’ve happily done the same to Ray in the same situation. It’s nothing against Dean Andrews but I flat out hate Ray out of the entire main character.

While Gene is capable of being an utter asshole, at least the writers imbue him with some depth. Ray on the other hand can’t be accused of the same thing. Speaking of Gene, its Joanie’s death that gets him to admit to Sam that he’s not entirely happy with taking backhanders. Sam then employs some of Gene’s methods in order to avenge Joanie’s death.

With that in mind, Warren gets his due, Charles experiences a humiliating lesson by Sam and the entire force are actually grateful for Sam ridding them of Warren. It’s even nice in the end when Gene actually praises Sam. It does seem that Sam and Gene are slowly getting past trying to annoy the other.

However the mystery angle of the episode is also a strong point. With the Test Card Girl not providing much to go on with this episode, the introduction of Sam’s mother is a nice highlight. Sam did open up this episode by actually trying to look for his younger self.

Joanne Froggatt is a good casting choice as Sam’s mother. Immediately you feel for her when she faces problems with the rent and there are some nice subtle moments when Sam tries to help her without coming across as obviously strange. The money angle might not have been a smart idea but Sam did amend for that later on.

Of course Sam doesn’t actually get to meet his former self and towards the end, his childhood home is empty. There’s no doubt that his family are going to play an integral role in the series, especially given that he might slipping closer and closer to death as we speak.

Also in “Episode 4”

Sam had a ginger cat called Ivanhoe that took to him only after he entered his home. I don’t know why that’s significant but I have a feeling it is.

Gene: “What are you doing tonight?”
Sam: “I can’t believe what I’ve just seen.”
Gene: “Cancel it. You’re having a drink with me.”

Sam got star struck in this episode when he saw Bobby Charlton and met Marc Bolan. His warning to the latter was amusing.

Sam: “I’m losing it, Nelson. I’m forgetting who I am and what happens. I want to go home.”
Nelson: “Me too Sam. Close the door on your way out.”

Mrs Tyler: “I don’t even know you. Why would I take money from you?”
Sam: “It’s only money.”

We learned that Sam has a thing for custard, went to Mexico for a period of time and worked in a DIY store during his gap year.

Chris (to Sam): “Had a few calls for you, Boss. Told them you were tied up.”

Annie: “I’ve decided something.”
Sam: “What have you decided?”
Annie: “I’m going to be a really good friend to you.”
Sam: “A friend.”
Annie: “’Cause with the enemies you’re making, you could do with all the friends you can get. Look after yourself Detective Inspector Tyler … please?”

The movies that Sam had suggested going to with Annie were either Carry On Girls or Mean Streets.

Sam: “Annie, please.”
Annie: “Hey I got to see you naked. It’s not all bad.”

Sam: “I’m not cuffed to the bed. Sorry to disappoint you.”
Gene: “Get your coat.”

It did actually look that when Sam and Ray were scrapping that Gene wasn’t too sure as to whether he should’ve broken them up.

Gene (re Charles): “I didn’t think you’d lock a murder suspect in a giant fridge.”
Sam: “He wouldn’t answer my question.”
Gene: “I have a feeling he will now.”

Gene (to Sam): “You did well Sam. Every officer will be walking a little taller tomorrow because of you.”

Standout music: Oh the best music was here. “Jean Genie” by David Bowie, “Blockbuster” by the Sweet and “I Don’t Believe In If Anymore” by Roger Whitaker all hit the right spots.

Easily the strongest episode of the series so far. This one is not only further developing Sam as a character but it’s also doing the business with Gene by giving him some depth and not resorting him to archetypal thug. The addition of seeing Sam’s mother as well should help with the mystery of his current situation.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

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