27 February 2006

The Mancunian Chronicles

O.K., so when I said "the weekend", I was obviously counting Monday, because I don't have to be at work on Mondays. Except that I did today, for reasons with which I shan't bore you.

Although it was, for this reason, foreshortened, my weekend was pleasingly productive: I sent off the proposal for my reference book, did some work on one of the short story ideas, and even managed to get to the pub on Sunday evening.

Anyway. Tonight the BBC are broadcasting the last episode of the first season of Life on Mars, and I wanted to get some thoughts down before it airs.

Personally, I'm a little ambivalent about the fact that the programme's running to a second season (the current thinking being, apparently, that there will be three overall, and that the background story of Sam's time-travelling and the reasons behind it will be wrapped up at the end of season three). It's obvious that everyone involved is having immense fun pastiching the '70s tough-cop show and doesn't want to stop, but many of the recent episodes have been marking time as far as the arc story is concerned.

Some of these episodes have been great -- last week's, with the crime under investigation being corruption in the police station itself, and with the unusually vivid images of Sam's 2006 life attempting to break through into his 1973 one, was fantastic. But I can't help feeling that a tighter story-arc operating within a single season would have been more satisfying.

Of course, as somebody astutely pointed out, three eight-episode seasons are around the same length as a single season of a US TV series, so it's not quite the grotesque inflation it would appear (though of course, a BBC TV hour is about half as long again as a US TV "hour").

All the same, I'm glad to see from last week's trailer that it looks as if some of the interesting stuff is finally going to be addressed:

[NB Look away now if you don't want to see SPOILERS:]

Sam's father is finally making his appearance, so we should learn how it was that Sam was "let down" by him, and there appears to be a conversation between Sam and Philip Glenister's very excellent Gene Hunt acknowledging that Hunt is to some extent in on whatever's happening to Sam.

The latter is something I've suspected for a while. The first time he meets Hunt, Sam asks him something along the lines of "So what part of my mind do you represent, then?". While I'm sure the situation is nothing like as Star Trek as that would imply, occasional scenes, as well as the DI's knowing references to "Hyde", have continued to foster the impression.

("Hyde", of course, is where the 1970s characters believe Sam came from prior to his "transfer", and has become a watchword for Sam's 2006 life. The name is surely significant. It immediately calls to mind "Jekyll and Hyde", suggesting that Sam may live some kind of secret life in the present -- Jim Smith at Shiny Shelf has an interesting theory along these lines. What's more, when taken alongside "Hunt" it suggests "Hide and Seek", which I'm fairly sure is what little-boy Sam and his red-coated friend are playing during the sporadic flashbacks to whatever happened in the woods.)

In Jungian terms, Hunt is functioning as Sam's "Shadow", the amalgamation of the elements of his personality (bigotry, sexism, brutality, boastfulness, and the instinct for policing which Sam has been prevented from exercising in the present) which Sam himself feels unable to acknowledge overtly. In this reading, the chalk-and-cheese buddy-cop aspect of the series rises above pastiche and becomes Sam's process of individuation, a confronting and uniting with his dark half.

And, while we're talking Jung, can it really be a coincidence that the show's only female regular, who persuades Sam to stay in 1973 and becomes his inspiration and guide during his stay there, is named Annie, as in Anima? It may even be that, with the second pair of polar opposites Chris and Ray factored in, the four male policemen form a quaternion, one of the Jungian models for the self.

Of course, this is unlikely to become explicit, and would almost certainly be horrible naff if it did: Jungian analysis is always more interesting than Jungian exposition. It would obviously be unwise anyway to expect much by way of resolution from an end-of-season episode, although I'm hoping for some significant developments. Lovely though the evocation of the seventies, both as a historical and a televisual era, has been, the show did draw me in by promising to be about a time-travelling policeman.

Given that there are going to be two more seasons, there are some places it will look increasingly odd if the narrative doesn't go. So far, Sam has made no effort whatsoever to contact himself or his friends in the future, whether by leaving himself messages or by making an alteration of any kind to history[*]. Surely, at some point, he's going to have to confront his own young self. The early promise of disturbing intimacy with his mother needs to be followed up. And, much though I enjoy the headfuckery of her occasional presence, some actual reason, even a dream-logic one, has to be given sooner or later for the the girl off the test card turning up in Sam's flat at nights.

Sadly they'll probably never do the plotline I most want to see, where Sam goes into a coma in 1973 and wakes up to find himself doing black-and-white Dixon of Dock Green style policing in the 1950s.

Evening, all.

[*] Certainly if I were a time-travelling policeman in Manchester in 1973, and people kept mentioning Hyde to me, I'd feel pretty much impelled to warn the local medical authorities not to appoint Dr Harold Shipman to any jobs in the area. Perhaps the programme-makers feel this might come across as tasteless.

No comments:

Post a Comment

(Please sign comments -- it helps keep track of things. Offensive comments may occasionally be deleted, and spam definitely will be.)