Life on Mars — S. 1, Ep. 3


This time, we’ve got a murder victim right under Sam’s kitchen table, or, more precisely, right under what once was, and will be again, Sam’s kitchen table.  I understand how that sort of thing can put a time-traveling cop off his game — I just wish Sam would stop talking about it.  I mean, it’s fine when he goes on about stuff like that with Annie; she understands.  (She might not believe, but she understands.)  But Gene already thinks Sam is crazy enough without him going on about the corpse being where his flat will be.

Besides rambling on too much about his movement in time, Sam also has a habit of pushing the future too hard on people who aren’t ready for it — it’s great when he decides to use a cassette recorder to document witness interviews, and his idea of giving his bored subordinates a little motivational speech is good, too.  But when he tells them to roar like lions?  Even Sam knows he went too far on that one.

I’ll admit that this sort of behavior from Sam gets on my nerves, but the truth is that it’s a good thing that Sam does stupid things–because he’s not some sort of Perfect Savior from a Bright Shiny Future who has come to make the barbaric 1970s livable.  He’s a flawed human being in an impossible situation (that may or may not all be in his head).  Of course, he’s going to make these mistakes.  He’s just getting used to being there. Clearly, the fact that the murder victim fell in a place where he’s eaten his meals is going to weird the guy out — and that mental censor that might say “Keep that to yourself; they already think you’re nuts” is a bit out of whack.  So, yes, it annoys me that Sam does this sort of thing, but it makes Sam more real, so it endears me to the show a bit more.

OK, back to the dead guy.  In good old 1973, the corpse is discovered in a factory — a mill, actually, going through union troubles.  (And you thought nothing in 1973 Britain would be relevant to America today.  Ha.)  But the facts that Sam knows (and, consequently, that we know) provide a sense of hopelessness to the entire episode.  The union workers, who are trying to keep their jobs when an upcoming plant modernization renders many of them unnecessary, want to keep the mill operating for another 30 or 40 years — it’s the center of their community’s economy.  But we know what will happen in 30 years — it’ll be a block of flats.  Sam’s hip urban apartment will come at the expense of all of these families losing their main source of income.  Sam might not know how this particular union/management skirmish will turn out; but he knows that, in the end, they’ll both lose the war.

Interwoven with the investigation, we have the continuation of Sam’s adjustment difficulties.  The episode starts out promising:  Sam walks down the sidewalk — no, that’s not right, he struts.  He even jokingly mumbles to the errant bicyclist that he’ll go to his house and stamp on his toys — exactly what Gene told the group of kids in the first episode.  It isn’t that Sam is turning into Gene — that will never happen — but Sam is actually enjoying 1973.  I think the freedom of it all is getting to him.  No wonder he hears (or thinks he hears) the modern day voice over the radio, telling him that they’re losing him — he doesn’t seem particularly eager to go back home.  The voice tells Sam he has to keep fighting, and once the dead guy shows up on the floor of Sam’s (future) kitchen, he and Gene have plenty to fight about.

A wager is placed, involving ten pounds and a “Party 7.”  (The Party 7 explains itself — just think of it as a mini-keg.)  Sam will pit his investigatory skills against Gene’s instincts.  Sam is assisted by Annie and (somewhat reluctantly) Chris; Gene has Ray.

At first, things start to look good for Team Proper Investigatory Techniques.  Sam finds a bloody footprint at the scene (that Gene nearly missed) and gets someone in the station to act as a sketch artist, resulting in a decent drawing of the suspect.  The bad news, though, is that both of these pieces of evidence end up pointing directly to the man Gene had originally fingered on a hunch.  Worse, the man actually confesses to the murder.  Sam refuses to accept a confession and an open and shut case — the radio told him to keep fighting; all of his hunches tell him the man didn’t do it; and, frankly, the episode is barely half over, so there’s clearly something more going on here.

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