Life on Mars – S1 Ep5


The football episode.

I don’t know anybody who says the football episode is their favorite episode of Life of Mars.  Not that it’s a particularly bad episode or anything, but it does end with that pretty clunky speech where Sam goes on about the Beautiful Game and how hooligans are going to ruin everything good and pure about it.  Perhaps it flies better in a country that’s rather more attached to football than we are (I’m not going to have to define “football” here, am I?), but it’s hard to get emotionally involved in the loss of something that we’ve never actually had.

It is, however, somewhat relatable when you sort of eliminate the sport itself from the equation.  Sam is talking about sons being taken to the matches by their fathers, and fans of both teams gathering round to watch the game together — and how all of that gets ruined by people who take the rivalries way too seriously and care more about the thuggish behavior than the competition that purportedly justifies it.  Thankfully, we haven’t had that sort of sports-related violence in the States, but then I read that some Dodger fans apparently critically beat a Giants fan in the parking lot after opening day, and I think maybe Sam’s message might be appropriate for American audiences after all.

(John Simm sells it, too, and you wonder how much of it he genuinely believes.  It’s no coincidence that Sam Tyler is a Manchester United fan; Simm is known to be one himself.  Perhaps some of Sam’s passionate nostalgia for how the game used to be resonates with the actor playing him.)


OK, though, the episode has Sam getting a bit preachy about football (after he brings fists to a blunt-instrument fight and still manages to come out victorious — and not with any of that fancy martial arts stuff, either).  But the episode also has a lot of charm to it — largely because Sam and Gene go undercover in a pub, an extended scene so perfectly executed that Life on Mars very nearly becomes the Sam and Gene Comedy Hour.  Sam and Gene have finally become a team, their arguments seem much less charged, and they’re each right about half the time  (a fact which ultimately has them arguing childishly over who should get credit for figuring out the killer.)  It also illustrates how much they need each other — Gene is overly-aggressive when trying to question one man in the pub; Sam has to ask Gene to back off and then gets more results casually chatting with the customer.  But Sam’s attempts to casually chat with a rougher crowd fail spectacularly, and it takes Gene (in all his hard-drinking and harder-talking glory) to connect with this bunch.  The two of them compensate for each other’s weaknesses — if they could only figure out whose turn it is to step up (and get out of each other’s way), they could actually become a well-oiled investigative machine.  But that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun to watch.

Back to football, though — for Sam, football is about fathers and sons.  It’s that way for the victim’s son, too.  I love how, when the son is first talking with Sam, the boy is sitting down low, so you get this great upward camera angle on Sam, making him look so tall.  Because later, when Sam is talking to the kid, and they’re both standing, you realize that the kid isn’t all that much shorter than Sam.  It sort of parallels their relationship — at first, the boy is looking up to Sam, wanting a promise that Sam will catch his father’s killer; but later, Sam talks to him almost like an equal, as another person who will no longer have the pleasure of going to matches with his father.

And boy, this episode is a jackpot of information about Sam’s father.  We now learn that Sam’s father left — right about now, in 1973.  Sam’s father takes Sam to the last football match they’ll ever attend together and apparently walks out of his life shortly thereafter.  We also get our biggest clue to date about Sam’s repeated dream with someone chasing someone in red — it’s got something to do with his dad, as he has flashes of it as soon as he starts thinking about his father.  And, of course, there’s the jaw-dropping scene at the end, where Sam is watching the crowd go to the game and spots himself as a little boy, excitedly going off to what Sam now knows is his last match with his father.  Daddy issues?  Big time.

Things to Watch For:

1.  Chris and Ray are pretty much relegated to comic relief this week.  Chris gets himself so tangled in the goal at the beginning, he looks like a tasty morsel a giant spider is saving for later.  Meanwhile, Ray calls in sick so he can go to the match — I guess we’re lucky that he didn’t call in sick so he could go to the fight.

2.  Undercover at the pub, Sam (with relish) calls Gene “Gene,” instead of “Guv.”  Annie does, too, and very nearly giggles because, were they not undercover, she’d never get away with that in a million years.  Remember this.