The Happy Day
"It's like a powder keg around here. Just waiting for a spark. But it's not going to happen, not this week, not on my patch, not for Di. Chris, get up there and kick the door down."
"Hang on. Why risk a spark? Look and learn, fictional constructs!"
"Right... let her do her stuff for a minute and THEN kick the sodding door down."
How the hell do I review this episode beyond, quite simply, "much better"?
The writers have clearly had a decent night's sleep and downed a bottle of Chris Chibnall patented talent retcon before working on this. The characters have been slightly modified to be less pointless and annoying. Raymondo, for example, while still pig ignorant and offensive, is shown to be a hard working copper who, while not able to work out the answers, can at least ask the right questions. Chris is not the complete arse of last week, but instead shows himself to be a kind of social Kamelion. I dare say few saw that brilliant Aunty Jack skit where the waiter at a club changes personality and manners to become equal to every person he serves, (butch beer drinker, camp martini know-it-all, shy soft drink collector)? Here we see Chris changes similarly in company - he's vulgar and coarse with Ray, exhuberant and open-minded with Shazza, a vaguely competent cop with no personality to Alex, and... well... Chris when he's with Gene. Gene too has lost the 'talk tough' of last week and IS the hard bastard we remember, quite willing to strap an innocent man naked to a pool table and then play a game if it will prevent loss of life.
The loss of life in this case is the London Liberation Front, a mysterious terrorist organization disguided with "Thatcherite economics" and in particular the upcoming marriage betwixt Charles and Di. Gene tells his superiors he will stop this outfit and their plans and makes sure his whole department is on the same page. Well, except for Alex of course, who walks the knife's edge this week between pure comedy character and someone Sparacus would aspire to.
One of the truly heartwarming parts of Life on Mars, was the fact that Sam's compassion drove the storylines. True, he might be lying in bed and this is all a dream, but he can't take that chance, and so helps people whenever he can. Alex, however, thinks this is all a dream and refuses to become involved. She openly tells everyone she's dreaming all this, and they clearly hear what she's saying. Gene, Ray and Chris have wordlessly decided to avoid discussing this, but the rest of the world do not know Sam Tyler and think she's a nutter.
Worse, an incredibly condescending and patronizing nutter. For all her bollocks about being brilliant at personality profiling, she is unable (or more likely unwilling) to talk in a manner anyone understands, and sounds like she ate a psych text book that keeps repeating on her. Worse, she goes out of her way to be annoying in a way unseen outside of Ben Chatham. Imagine him trying to console someone, crank up the cynacism and you have Alex Drake.
In short, Gene spends a good chunk of this episode apologizing for HER behaviour. And considering he at one point decks a suspect and drags them down four flights of steps after they dare call him a coward, its damning that he still seems the more responsible and sympathetic of the two.
To my intense relief, the story makes it clear that Alex's detachment to Gene's World is not endearing and cheerfully smacks the bint down as Alex bumps into her own mother - who in 1981 was a successful female lawyer single-handedly trying to bring down the Metropoliton Police Force. But just in case we start to feel for Alex's mum - who died in 1981 in a car bombing - we get to find out that not only is she blinked by an unreasonable hatred of the police, she is a careless and neglectful mother with a chip on her shoulder. For such an intelligent woman, it takes a REMARKABLY long time to notice the police woman she's tearing chunks out shares the name of her daughter and even calls her "mum". Pretty much all my feelings on Alex Drake senior are summed up by the following phrase I hurled at the screen after she stormed out of a pub screaming feminist propaganda:
"OI! PAY FOR YOUR OWN FUCKING DRINKS, YOU BITCH!"
This episode is more like Life on Mars as it gleefully skips from comedy to some quite dark places indeed. Gene is brilliant at both, of course, from the side-splitting treatment of some cardboard boxes, his incredibly backhanded compliment to Shazza when she points out the freaking obvious he overlooked, to his passionate belief in office moral and police tradition. There is also amongst other stuff him being serious, such as having to provide police protection to a man he wants dead, having to arrest a man whose cause Gene personally believes in, and the scene where he insists that the police have the rare ability to change things and are duty bound to do to make life better for the people they serve.
There's also a brilliant sequence where Alex visits a New Romantics disco and meets Boy George as Fade to Grey plays in the background (that's the music video for State of Decay if you check out the BBC site), only to discover Shazza and Chris are some of the... er... New Romantics. Then of course, there is Pointless Clown Cameo where she chases him into the toilets and nearly throttles some poor girl whose only crime was to go to the loo dressed a bit like a clown. And said girl is more frightening than the Clown anyway. PCC also leads to plenty of other 'twisted flashback' sequences which just go to emphasize how much better Sam was at coping with Gene's world.
The plot also has a dark root in it that leads to a shockingly dark finale as a drunken remark from Alex concerning the future leads to, well, bad shit happening. But, like when Alex puts on her tart outfit (which she seems to be contractually obliged to do at least once an episode) to get laid, she insists on taking no responsibility for her actions as this is all a dream. But how many times is Gene going to accept this philosophy? We're heading for showdown, and the complete lack of URST between Alex and Gene gives me hope the result will be worth it.
Luigi is still a waste of space though.
Next Week - Trixie la Bouche from Red Dwarf claims she's been raped. The police aren't interested. Alex is. Everyone goes to a fancy dress ball. Alex dresses up as a prostitute. Again.
Um... not a lot to say except it better stay as good as this.