After speaking to a lot of people, it seems few of them understood the final episode of Ashes to Ashes (Series 3, Episode 8).
I wrote an email to a confused friend about what I understand to be the truth of it, and have pasted it here for general use. Some of it is stating the obvious or using imprecise language, because I thought it might be easier to understand. It sounds a bit soppy but sometimes there is no other way of phrasing these things.
NB When I use the word 'heaven' it could be any kind of good afterlife, from any religion or none at all, but I suspect the writers were thinking of the Christian idea of heaven (without angels, harps, and possibly without 'God') when they created this, as they are British and thus the biggest religious influence in their lives is likely to have been Christian.
I wrote it after watching the episode the first time so it's not massively in-depth, but I hope it's helpful.
Anyway, turned out this was a world Gene had created for dead coppers. Like limbo, they work out their problems here. Chris, for example, struggled with his inferiority complex, whilst Alex defined herself, first and foremost, as a mother, and did not believe she had much real worth as a person.
They were all dead. Gene died in the fifties – when the Queen was crowned, hence the video clip and the flags in the farmhouse. The rest died nearer our modern day – we saw them on the tapes. The body buried under the scarecrow was Gene’s (the one with 6-6-20 as his epaulette number thing), as Gene’d buried the memory of his death deep down in his subconscious. Gene had completely forgotten that this was a fake world, as it seemed so real.
So. Jim Keats (scary guy who continually touches Alex's face) represents the devil. All the things Gene hates – bureaucracy, education; it’s why Keats torments Gene so much – the devil wants to piss him off. Note that Gene has come to accept it in Alex; she has allowed him to become more open-minded, but Keats has chosen this form so that he can also get to Alex.
Keats revealed to them all that this world was fake. In this way he hoped to buy their trust, and win them over to the dark side. He was going to take them to hell – this was what he was offering when he, Chris, Ray and Shaz all stood around the lift. This was why he was offering Chris and Ray those girls in low-cut dresses, why he offered Shaz promotion. Temptation from the devil etc. Alex didn’t even go to the lift because she was so loyal to Gene, and because she knew Jim wasn’t all he seemed.
Gene radioed the others, asking them without bribes to come back to him. He told shaz she can have her promotion because he's realised that if he keeps making empty promises he's no better than Keats, and Gene is the good guy. Shaz came back to Gene and his robbery foil – she’s always been the smartest and least open to temptation. Eventually the other two turned up too. They carried out the op, all fine.
Gene’s car died – we know they’re not just going to carry on as usual because that car represents everything this world is, to Alex. It was the first thing she saw of CID when she arrived here: Gene; the 80s; that signature orange-red which runs as a theme throughout.
Gene took them to the pub. This is the place which represents heaven – a pub/drinking place features in every Mars and Ashes episode. It is also the place that the others hear when they have those spaced-out moments: when there’s a black-zoom and they hear Life on Mars playing, and the barman Nelson talking.
Gene has taken them to the only good way out of this world – heaven. Keats turns up to have a last go at bringing them to the dark side. The others leave, telling Gene what he means to them as it’s their last chance. Our hope is that Chris and Shaz stay together in heaven, as they tell each other how they feel and leave together.
Gene had taken Sam Tyler and Annie here. Sam had realised this wasn’t everything – there was another place he had to be. Gene knew he had to let Tyler go, so they faked his death to cover up.
Keats tries to trick Alex one last time – to go with him. Alex checks his watch. It says 9:06. Do you recall at the beginning of series 3, she was in an 80s coma and looked into her hospital room in modern day? This is when she saw the news report on Gene’s body, and she looked at the clock which said 9:06. This is the time she died. [She therefore died when she went into the 80s coma; the infection killed her, at the end of Series 2, at the same time Gene accidentally shot her].
Alex realizes all this now, looking at Keats’s watch. She knows he is wrong, evil. She starts crying because she’ll never see her daughter again. But she’s not so upset – maybe because she always knew on some level that this had happened; or maybe because this world was designed to suck her in until she could cope with her own death, with leaving her daughter. She is free of earthly ties, like that old idea of the reason ghosts hang around; now she can move on.
At first she is scared of going – volunteering to stay with Gene.
Perhaps she did not love Gene enough; perhaps she knew Gene had some more problems to work out and would follow eventually; perhaps she knew it was her time; but she decides to go through the pub door. She kisses Gene because that’s what everyone has been waiting for, and because she loves him quite a bit. And then she leaves.
Gene is left alone. To carry on, not knowing why, or if it will end. He is left with his demons – Keats – and must either continue this miserable existence or conquer them, to move on.
The last scene is one to cheer us up. Gene goes straight over to Alex’s desk – she is the one he will miss most. He looks at the numbers carved on her desk. He put them there. He wanted her to figure it out all along, but at the same time couldn’t tell her straight out because he couldn’t bear to lose her, but loved her so much he had to give her the chance to go where she was supposed to.
A new era – symbolized by the new car: Mercedes Benz. A new guy walks in, from the present. And Gene resumes his position as master of this world.
I think the point is Gene was not ready, he still has things to deal with. He may leave eventually.
Some important things:
- The reason they never aged was that they couldn’t – it’s limbo. Which is why there’s so little difference between them in Mars and Ashes. They could have done it, make-up wise, but they didn’t.
- When Keats killed Viv, he was taking him to hell – Viv had been the most corrupt, putting his fellow officers in danger. Siding with the criminals – the personification of a copper must not be, and thus the most evil thing in this world. This is what Viv chose, and this is why Viv went to hell.
- Gene was killed in real life because of his obsession with being impressive: he mentioned going and kicking the door down to stop those burglars, imagining he was a hero from a Western. Throughout Mars and Ashes he has had cowboy references in his office, mentioned it in his speeches. And his first shot in Ashes was of those stupid cowboy boots, thudding onto the dusty ground. He is towards being cured of this, I think; Alex has taken him down several notches as he started to respect her way of doing things. It seems to be the thing he has to get over in this world – his biggest problem: something like pride, arrogance, but more putting on a front of being the most important being ever, strong and immovable, when really he should show that he's human like the rest of us; he has done that on occasion but he needs to admit it to himself.
- Alex’s problem, as mentioned earlier, was that she never saw herself as a human being; first she depended on her parents – then she saw them for what they really were in Series 1. Then she made her husband/boyfriend the most important thing in her world: she started getting over him finally in series 2. When her husband left her, she only had daughter Molly left, and made that girl the centre of her universe when Alex should have been the centre of her universe. She had lived through others for too long, and needed to be herself. Here, in the 80s, she found a new enjoyment in her career, she lived alone again, she faced her demons, she made friends, she developed her personality, she stopped seeing people as objects – she used to think the only person who was ‘real’ was Molly, the rest were just means to an end. And most importantly, she fell in love; she had never been able to let another person that close before. Here she realised her self-worth, and thus she was able to move on. The turning-point? When she had to help Gene. She had become strong enough in herself to help others, so she was ready, and in a way, she was perfect enough to go to heaven.