Life on Mars, S1 Ep2

Life On Mars

And we’re back.  Sam wakes up in the world’s most uncomfortable bed in his seriously crappy 1973 apartment.  But life isn’t all that bad — he gets to join Gene in chasing down a bad guy outside a pool.  And he clearly relishes it — he races past Gene and Chris and tackles the baddie himself.   Although he has issues trying to remember exactly what rights you read to someone when you’re arresting them in 1973, he enjoys the experience so much that he falls back and looks at the sky with an expression of carefree joy.  I believe that’s the first time we’ve seen Sam genuinely smile, in any era.  It’s good to see.  This is where I start falling just a little bit in love with Sam.

Sometimes, in TV shows, you’ll have a character who is really, really good.  I don’t mean a “good character” in the sense of being drawn well; I mean a character with a never-failing moral compass.  James on Law & Order: UK is the most recent example that leaps to mind.  He’s so genuinely good, you wouldn’t dream of suggesting he participate in anything unethical (no matter the cause) — you know he’ll say no and he’ll end up thinking less of you for even thinking it.  Characters like that very nearly glow, and, just by example, they influence everyone around them to be better people.

Sam thinks he’s that character, but he isn’t.  (We know this from the end of the first episode.)  But, in this episode, we actually see a bit of that quality in Gene.  Don’t get me wrong — I’m not suggesting Mr. Filing Cabinet of Plantable Evidence is an ethical policeman.  But when you look at things from his own moral code, there is something admirable there.  It comes out on the street after June is hurt.  His anger at Sam (for releasing the baddie who is responsible) is not only understandable, it has a sense of righteousness to it.  More than that, even though he truly wants to, he doesn’t beat the crap out of Sam when he sees Sam’s frustration and guilt at that moment.  Watch Gene’s face there — he’s actually evaluating Sam, like he’s grading him on his response, and he recognizes that now isn’t the time to take a swing at him.  Gene doesn’t exactly glow with goodness, but there’s a glimmer of it — he wants to do right by June, and he also wants to do right by Sam.  Even if he has to do it on the strength of his personality alone, he will get the right thing done.  This is where I start falling just a little bit in love with Gene.

It lasts for just a few minutes — right through the mutually cathartic fight at the hospital (and the post-fight scene where Sam and Gene try to find some sort of common ground) — and then flies out the window when Gene is needlessly insulting to Leonard, the hard-of-hearing witness.  (Gene, sometimes you make it so hard to like you!)

Now, when I was gathering my thoughts together to write this episode up, I realized that, when you get right down to it, Gene ends up making the same damn mistake Sam did in the first half of the episode.  Sam didn’t listen to Gene, did his own thing, and it ended up with June getting hurt.  But when we’re talking about Ray and Chris providing security for Leonard, Gene didn’t listen to Sam, did his own thing, and Annie ended up in harm’s way.  Just as Gene gave Sam hell for his mistake, Sam wastes no time calling Gene out on his — because it’s Gene’s fault that Annie is out there alone, trying to protect a witness against three heavily-armed thugs.

(And bless Annie, really.  I love how protective she is of Leonard, and stands between him and the bad guys, even though the only thing she has to protect them both is her uniform.  She doesn’t carry a gun, and sure as hell doesn’t have one of them Tonya-Harding-whacking-sticks Sam had in 2006.  But she bravely tries to protect Leonard anyway, because she’s the cop and he’s the firghtened witness — and you sorta hope Gene is watching this because Annie is doing what good cops do — as opposed to Chris, who puts his fingerprints all over a key piece of evidence, and doesn’t even get yelled at for it.)

Where was I?  Right … Gene messing up in a way that’s a reflection of Sam messing up.  There are a lot of reflections in this episode — and it’s more than the neat ones like Sam looking at his face in the cracked mirror at the beginning, or the fact that the episode starts and ends with the same song (“Live and Let Die”).  Besides Gene and Sam, consider June and Sam.  Sam is pretty sure he is in a coma, and June’s reflects his.  (When he tells June’s nurse to tell her family to be sure to talk to her, it sounds very nearly like he’s asking for himself.)  When Sam visits June again, at the end, he has that terrific scary crazy bit when he’s trapped in her hospital room because something has gone terribly wrong with his medical treatment.

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