Life on Mars – S1 Ep4


The fourth episode!  It takes three full episodes (and a dream sequence) for Sam to finally think of looking up his mom…mum…whatever.  And he very nearly meets himself as a little boy, too.  (Doesn’t he watch Doctor Who?  Meeting yourself is generally a bad idea.)  But it isn’t a bad idea now, because Sam actually needs his mother, he just doesn’t know it yet.

Because it also takes us four episodes to finally run across Stephen Warren — the club owner and gangster whose syndicate pretty much runs Manchester, and who has the police in his pocket.  (Indeed, he shows up so much in this episode, you really wonder why he hasn’t before.  By the time one of his men is threatening Sam’s mum over the rent, and he just tells Sam, “I work for Mr. Warren,” you’d think someone would have dropped the name in an earlier episode.)  The problem with Warren is that while Gene thinks he has a sort of arrangement with Warren — where Warren keeps the streets clean and Gene looks the other way on Warren’s own activities — Warren is pretty sure that he owns Gene — a situation that is bound to end poorly for someone.

And it does — but not just for Warren.

Warren knows Sam.  I mean, he doesn’t know Sam, but he knows what type of cop he is.  When Gene brings Sam down to Warren’s club to apologize for arresting one of his men, Warren doesn’t wait for the apology (which won’t likely come) — instead, he has the man apologize to Sam.  Warren knows that Sam won’t respond well to intimidation, so he doesn’t try.  He’s all sweetness and subservience to Sam, and if a roll of bills happens to end up in Sam’s pocket, it surely isn’t a bribe, it’s just … lucky.

To Sam, the roll of bills in his pocket is a moral conundrum.  He thinks he has the solution when he sees Warren’s enforcer threatening his mother for the rent.  And, yes, there’s a certain charm to using Warren’s own money to pay Warren off.  But Sam’s mother won’t accept the money because she knows that at the other end of a roll of bills, there’s always a string attached.  (There isn’t here, of course, since Sam is family, but she doesn’t — and can’t — know that.)  Her upstanding rejection of the money from the detective she doesn’t know gives Sam the push he needs to get back on the right path.  It’s a reminder to Sam that he needs to be the officer that little Sam (right upstairs in the bedroom) is hoping to become.

Warren knows Sam, and Sam’s rejection of the cash in his pocket just moves Warren into Plan B. (With a quick stop first at Plan A-and-a-half when he offers to take care of whichever of his enforcers Sam is angry about. It’s quick, but it’s right there — just say the word, and Warren will lay off whomever Sam wants to protect–in this case, his mother–in exchange for Sam laying off Warren’s people.  Sam demurs because he’s found his moral compass by this point.  But it would have been so easy.) OK then, Plan B:  Joni.  Sam is a protector, a guy who wants to see himself as the man in the shining white suit of armor.  So Warren gives him someone to protect.

If you don’t see it coming (Sam certainly didn’t), it’s because you’re underestimating Warren (as Sam certainly did).  When Joni reaches out to Sam and begs for his help, she’s playing exactly into that image of perfect goodness that Sam has of himself, and he’s powerless to reject her.  He’s also powerless to reject her spiking his drink, a situation that results in his crappy cot seeing way more activity than you’d think it could stand, and Sam being humiliated in front of (in quick succession) Gene, Annie, and the whole department.  (Sam has such a blind spot when it comes to, well, himself, he doesn’t realize that he’s been had even when he wakes up handcuffed to his bed — it takes Gene telling him that photos should be coming soon for Sam to finally get that he’s been played by Warren and Joni from the get-go.)

Thank you, Gene, for making sure Annie sees Sam in his compromised position.  That’s the same Annie who had just asked Sam out on a date.  (You go, liberated woman!)  But Gene (and, to be fair, Sam) has ruined any chance of that.  Annie, bless her, tells Sam she’s decided to be a really good friend to him.  Sam is hurt by the rejection, but when Annie gives someone the old “let’s be friends” line, she really means it.  Annie’s right — Sam does need a friend just now.  Sam thinks it’s a step backwards, but it’s the nicest thing Annie could do for him.  He really is lucky that she reacted as she did although he doesn’t feel that way at the moment.

Which brings us to Gene.  Sam discovers that Gene — the same Gene who invited Annie in to see him handcuffed to the bed — went to Warren’s to give Warren hell for playing Sam.  Sam is Gene’s to take care of, and Gene doesn’t like it one bit when Warren is messing with one of his people.  (There’s that goodness from Gene again that we saw back in episode two when June got shot.  It’s odd to say there’s goodness here when we’re talking about a crooked cop, but there’s a line that anyone crosses at their peril:  Do Not Mess With One of Gene’s Own.)  When Warren doesn’t back down, Gene realizes that maybe he’s gotten in deeper than he ever intended to.

Sam, as (repeatedly) previously mentioned, is not as good as thinks he is.  What sets in motion the remainder of the episode is that he is better than Warren thinks he is.  He’s actually good enough to get through to Joni (by pitying her, even after she played him) — and when she eventually decides to get away from Warren, Warren kills her.  (One notes a certain irony here — when Joni was playing Sam, she lied and said she was trying to get away from Warren and needed his protection.  When she was actually getting away from Warren, she didn’t want his protection, but she really did need it.)

What follows is pivotal and probably the key to the future of the entire Sam/Gene relationship.  Gene asks Sam’s help in cutting ties with Warren and arresting him.  Actually, Gene doesn’t ask — he just starts a conversation intended to make Sam offer.  But we are seeing, for the very first time, Gene acknowledging that there’s something worthy to Sam, and that the two of them together can be better than either one individually.  Sam, for his part, meets Gene in the middle.  As Gene points out, locking one of Warren’s men in a freezer until he talks isn’t the sort of proper investigatory technique Sam is known for.  Sam gets off his high horse, and Gene steps up out of the muck of corruption, and together they not only arrest Warren for murder, they give clear notice to everyone that CID can no longer be bought.

Things to Watch For:

1.  Ray, at the scene where Joni’s body is discovered.  Ray first mutters that Sam is responsible for Joni’s death, but when Sam asks Ray to repeat it, Ray at first backs down.  Odd for Ray to back away from a fight — perhaps he recognizes just how dangerous Sam is right now.  When Sam pushes him to repeat it, Ray doesn’t repeat the same glib statement, but instead expresses, in a fairly articulate manner, why he thinks Sam is responsible.  Again, this is remarkable restraint for Ray.  It’s actually Sam that takes the first swing.

2.  Gene mentions a wife.  Gene.  Has.  A.  Wife.  Hard to believe.  The woman must be a saint.

3.  Sam meets the lead singer of T Rex and tells him to drive safely (a reference to his future death in a car accident).  Sam then takes his name when looking for a pseudonym to use with his mother.  Both of these things, asides regarding the future and Sam’s amusing choice of aliases, will repeat.  It’s like Sam is having little inside jokes with himself — and the viewers.

4.  When Joni questions Sam about his girlfriend, he says he hopes she has moved on.  Is this because he thinks he’ll never get back?  Doesn’t want to?  Or is maybe thinking about moving on with Annie himself?

5.  When Sam first told Annie that he was from the future, she asked him why he didn’t place bets on things he knows the outcome of.  He replied that he was just a little kid in 1973.  But when they start picking horses for the 1973 Grand National, Sam knows who will win — imagine you’re picking horses for the 1973 Belmont Stakes, and someone else gets Secretariat.  Interesting, though, that he doesn’t place a bet on Red Rum.  Even more interesting is that he doesn’t tell Annie he knows which horse is going to win.  Has he given up on trying to prove he comes from 2006?

6.  Sam’s dad.  Sam’s mum mentions him in passing, and as the suggestion is that he’s the sort who would waste his last penny gambling on a hot tip, Sam might not have grown up with the best father/son relationship.  Keep an eye on this.

Welcome to Britain:

We learn all sorts of British slang for “homosexual,” but Gene omits “bent,” which, in this episode, is used for its alternative meaning of “crooked.”