Thursday, April 23, 2009

My Review of Ashes To Ashes 1x05: "Episode 5"

Written by Mark Greig
Directed by Bille Eltringham

Alex (re Simon): “Now can we please concentrate on the crimes he commits and not whose cock he sucks.”
Chris: “Did you just?”
Alex: “Yes, Chris, I did.”

At this point in Life On Mars we had the macho posturing of football when Sam went undercover to catch a football hooligan. With Alex, she’s brought into the glittering world of Simon Neary, London’s most notorious gay gangster.

Okay so we’ve had one of those in Life On Mars as well, but Neary makes a big name for himself just by having a rent boy killed in the opening credits. More interestingly is when Alex and company try to stake out a hotel where Neary is staying; they end up nabbing his boyfriend.

Now in this world all the heterosexual male characters seem to be beaten with the homophobic stick. Gene doesn’t believe in the concept of two men being love with each and seemingly prefers to believe that Marcus’ involvement with Neary has a more sinister motive and Chris and Ray are their usual immature selves on the issue as well.

One of the funniest about the sexual politics in this episode is how Alex tries to bring them into a reality check. Her statement about focusing on Neary’s crimes rather than his sexual prowess is well judged even if the way she conveys this comes across as trying to be shocking on the writer’s part.

Neary’s nastiness is something more successfully thought out though. As well as killing rent boys for no reasonable, he also deals with the biggest scum in London and even seems to have his hands in the gun trade honey pot, which is something that naturally resonates with Alex.

Seeing as she’s still vaguely hopeful that Layton might not have killed her, Alex becomes pretty determined to crack all of Neary’s connections. Given that in the year 2008, there is an epidemic on gun violence, Alex’s desperation to stop Neary may come across as a little preachy but it’s effective nonetheless.

Ray’s even useful in telling Alex the type of gun in a photo ID just by looking at it and as soon as Gene’s snitch Reeks is found, the former becomes more determined to prevent further violence. Of course Gene openly threatening Neary wasn’t the best of ideas that he’s had though.

However with one snitch, the only possible way of getting to Neary lies in using Marcus as an informant and that is obviously something that takes a while for Alex to crack. Marcus is pretty head over heels and seeing as it’s shown earlier on that Marcus is a guy down on his luck, I can understand the reservation he might have had for turning on Neary.

Casting wise though, can I just say that Russell Tovey is definitely one of the best guest stars we’ve had on the series? I know he’s mainly known for The History Boys but in the last year I’ve mainly seen him in the likes of Annually Retentive, Gavin And Stacy, Doctor Who’s “Voyage Of The Damned” and Being Human and his performance in this episode is fantastic.

He’s brilliant at conveying the genuine dumbfounded stance when Alex and Gene first caught him in the hotel and he’s also one of the few rare male guest stars that Gene hasn’t roughed up either. It’s also easy to believe that Marcus is in love with Simon, despite the latter being an evil bastard.

What’s even better about Marcus is that he inadvertently gives Alex a chance to show her compassion with more conviction this time round. Aside from Shaz, she’s the only person accepting of his sexuality but also warns him about Simon’s really like. Unfortunately it takes quite a while for that to sink in with Marcus.

For the most part, he’s trying to get rid of Alex and when Simon catches the two of them together, Alex lies about her and Marcus working the streets a while back. Of course almost to prove Alex’s point, Simon behaves rather venomously towards the woman, even when she goes on a night out with the dysfunctional couple.

The fun part of this episode is the undercover operation. Gene is stupid enough to go to a club after he confronted Neary and Chris and Ray aren’t pleased when they realise the club is a gay one. It’s even harder for Ray when he then has to proposition Neary in order to turn Marcus against the gangster.

Although some of the jokes during these scenes are rather immature, I have to admit that as a gay bloke myself, I did laugh at some of this stuff. Alex trying to tell Ray to be himself and Chris’ childish glee later on all raised a giggle and besides, while this show does depict homophobia, racist and sexism, I’m not once under the impression that the producers are trying to advocate any of those negative characteristics.

Its lucky then for Alex that her big plan ended up working. Although Marcus was furious with her scheming, it was nice to see him realise what a scumbag Simon was. It also later helped that Marcus ended up believing that Simon did have that rent boy and Reeks killed.

The undercover element of the episode was a mixed bag. On one hand maybe we didn’t need to have Alex and Gene eavesdropping on Simon and Marcus getting physical but at the same time, at least the result winded up with Neary being killed and Marcus not having to go to jail.

More importantly Alex also managed to get Marcus to connect with his parents in a beautiful scene and even told him to go to the doctor. Those were legions on the back of his neck, weren’t they? It’s also not a coincidence that Marcus’ fear of rejection from his parents is what compelled Alex to get in contact with Caroline again. Although Caroline is still far from sympathetic, it is nice that she apologised to Alex for using her.

Also in “Episode 5”

Given that we’re getting so many flashbacks to Layton, surely we’re going to see him before the season ends?

Chris (re Simon): “Must have bloody big ears.”
Alex: “Wrong orifice, Chris. It’s a butt plug.”
Gene: “Goes up your arse.”

Chris was the only person who dressed while undercover (as hotel staff) in this episode. I felt a little bad for him when Alex roped him into going through files.

Gene (to Alex): “Your problem is you can’t take a compliment. One of your problems.”

Alex: “Once the genie’s out of the bottle, he can’t go back in.”
Ray (re Gene): “He’d never fit.”

I had to laugh when Shaz said she would do Alex in this episode. I bet that made a lot of slashers very happy.

Alex: “I thought you wanted to take Simon Neary down.”
Gene: “I do and we will after the match.”

Marcus (re Simon): “It’s only because he loves me.”
Alex: “It’s not about love, it’s about possession.”

Gene’s lust for Alex does seem to be going into overdrive here. He even arranged her undercover outfit by removing her earrings. Alex didn’t exactly seem turned off by this either.

Simon (to Marcus): “Wear the other shirt. He looks good in blue.”
Alex: “Bet he does.”

Alex: “Hang on, hang on. Now this is worth getting straight; I’m imagining you, imagining paying for sex with me, in my imaginary role as an imaginary street whore?”
Gene: “You must have a filthy mind.”
Alex: “Absolute sewer, apparently.”

Is Alex always gonna feel woozy whenever there’s a gunshot fired? We also got to see her on the slab this week.

Simon: “Sweetheart suits you better.”
Alex: “Oh, why? Is that because I’m so sweet?”
Simon: “Because that’s what I’m gonna call you.”

Marcus: “That was a shitty thing to do.”
Alex (re Simon): “I think you deserve to know what he’s like. He doesn’t have any loyalty to you. He doesn’t love you.”

Other noteworthy things: Chris’ Mr Humphries impression (a little too good), Shaz’s own theories on sexuality and Alex making her colleagues uncomfortable by calling them “poofters”.

Caroline: “You are after exploiting another human’s weakness for your own ends.”
Alex: “Like you did with me?”

Marcus: “Never knew you were such a nag.”
Alex: “Terrible. Never marry me.”

Standout music: “I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper” by Sarah Brightman and Hot Gossip (also used on Torchwood’s “Exit Wounds”) and “Where Did Our Love Go?” by Soft Cell.

Okay so some of the humour in this episode was a bit on the silly side of things but I can it given that overall this episode was laugh out loud funny and had a terrific element of sexual politics and Alex is improving as a character, so hat’s off there.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

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