Lurky McLurklurk (ionlylurkhere) wrote,
Lurky McLurklurk
ionlylurkhere

The end of Life on Mars

So I've been thinking (instead of sleeping, mostly) and ...


... sorry, but I really didn't like it. I'm now doubly sad. One of the best TV shows for ages has finished. And yet I fear my enjoyment of rewatching it will be soured by literally the last five or ten minutes of the whole run (most of this ep was Very Good Indeed, they even had me going with the amnesia thing for at least five minutes until I remembered that Sam has too much knowledge of the real future, so that would just make him clairvoyant). I am probably overthinking it, but there are two important dichotomies that I think the ending comes down on the wrong side of:

Dichotomy 1: Dreams vs Reality



[Dougal's chart from Father Ted, as gacked from here.]

"Why live in the world when you can live in your head?" asks Jarvis sarcastically in Pulp's "Monday Morning" (a song which has been going round in my head for a week and seems to be infecting all my thought processes). I can't see the ending as anything other than Sam answering this with "yeah, good point!" - particularly the changing of the radio channel. As a massive telefantasy fan I have no problem with escapism, but I have a huge problem with completely rejecting the dividing line between reality and fantasy ("forgetting where your off switch is", as the Minds put it in Iain Banks's Culture), which is what Sam does here. All along, it's been "Am I mad, in a coma or back in time?" In the end, coming out of the coma - as he's been struggling to do across two series, rejecting the reality of his surroundings continually, all the way up to casually deciding to betray Gene as soon as he's decided he's the tumour, and deciding that he can just try and shag Annie with no consequences because he'll be waking up soon (and good on her for rejecting him) - sends him mad. I can see it as horrible tragedy, but that's not how it's portrayed.

The show tries to give this a positive framing in two different ways. Nelson the barman, who more than anyone else in the coma-world is an oracular character (indeed, I've only just realised: he's a full-on magical negro, isn't he? I should have noticed that ages ago. White privilege for you.), presents it as being about the importance of "feeling alive". (jekesta makes a brilliant comparison between this aspect of the ending and the ending of Quantum Leap which had completely passed me by here.) Sam feels more alive in the coma than on first waking up, but he doesn't give reality much of a chance, he doesn't give himself the chance to recover. Meanwhile, Sam's conversation with his Mum makes it all about keeping his promise to Annie. But on all the evidence, she doesn't really exist, so that promise is meaningless.

Dichotomy 2: '70s vs '00s policing

OK, so here's the thing: Gene Hunt is a monster. He's a monster who we've been manipulated into liking by some damned good writing, but he is (fairly intentionally) the embodiment of everything that was wrong with the policing of that era. In many ways, the show has been about the differences between these styles of policing, as embodied by the conflict between Gene and Sam. (So much so in fact that I've thought for ages that the ending was going to be about Sam integrating the Gene-like parts of his personality that's he been repressing. But I'm trying to be very careful not to criticise the show for turning out to be different than I thought. I also thought there was going to be some special significance to the "the lawman beating up the wrong guy" line from the song, so what do I know?)

Gene has good intentions regarding public safety - he's always talking, particularly in the second series, about his responsibility to the city (and if Gene is the tumour, is this some sort of metaphor for Sam's brain?), and the things that drive him as a copper - but his disregard for justice and explicit rejection of the presumption of innocence (his line in this ep that "human rights are for human beings" about Sykes sums it all up - he's already decided this guy is guilty, and that as a guilty person he is no longer human), ruins lives (I have a lifelong squick about miscarriages of justice, mainly because it seems to me they could happen to anyone - I get a very strong "there but for the grace of god" feeling from seeing the haunted faces of people like the Birmingham Six when they're freed). There's also a horrible undertone that it's much more fun when you can go after the obvious villains and beat them up cathartically. (Which comes down to fantasy vs reality again - the idea that there are cut-and-dried good guys and bad guys is a staple of simplistic fantasy.) The Sweeney is fun to watch, but I wouldn't like to be in the wrong place at the wrong time during one of Regan and Carter's enquiries if I was living in it.

Coma!Morgan, who was introduced a bit too late IMO to serve as a counterbalance, is Gene's polar opposite - has good intentions about improving policing and regaining public trust, but his underhand methods for achieving them are wrong. The ends don't justify the means for either Gene or Morgan. Sam's attempts at persuading Gene to change his ways, which have been fairly successful overall, and which he at least seems to be continuing when he goes back to coma-world, are the right approach.

But the fact that it's a meeting about the ethics of extended detention without charge that has Sam stabbing himself without even noticing and then heading up to the top of the building makes this "'70s policing better than '00s policing" thing fairly explicit. And we're told that Gene is the tumour, and that the tumour is benign. Well, he's not. Maybe he will be when Sam's finished persuading him, but not yet.



Weirdly, I can think of at least two minor variations on that ending that I would have found satisfying. The first is the dark one that accepts Sam's decision to jump as tragedy, and it kills him, but in his final moments he returns to the '70s world to kill Johns but die himself in the process of saving the others. The second is that after waking up he digs into the archives and discovers that Gene, Annie, et al. really existed and comes to believe, rightly or wrongly, that he has tumour-mediated time travel powers. In that case, I'd have been happy with the ending we got as his promises to Annie, etc. would have meant something.

Still, we got our Sam/Annie snog and if Nu Who has taught me anything it's that as long as we saw the actors' lips meet on screen the circumstances and context are irrelevant.

EDIT: People seem to think he did die (and it was a tall building), when he turned off the radio after they said they were losing him? But in that case what's going on with the '80s spinoff? Surely that's going to be happening inside Sam's head on some level? Or are we going to have to accept a much more fantastic explanation for the apparent coma-world than the show seemed to be going for?
Tags: life on mars, meta
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