Life on Mars – S1 Ep8


This is it!  The season finale!  Eight episodes and we finally find out what was going on in Sam’s dream about the forest, the girl in the red dress, and the guy with a pilgrim buckle on his shoe.

And the payoff is:  It isn’t a dream; it’s a memory.  It’s something that young Sam actually saw when he was a child and then repressed.  Now that (older) Sam finds himself back in 1973, he has a chance to change it — to prevent his father from beating up (and possibly even killing) a policewoman before running away.

This just throws into chaos all the theories about what is actually happening to Sam — the questions of whether he’s time-traveling, in a (2006) coma dreaming this, or just a 1973 nutjob.  It certainly puts a huge check mark in favor of 1973 somehow all being in Sam’s head.  Because it seems that Annie, for instance, is just a creation of his memory, based on the policewoman he glimpsed in the woods as a child.  (And, really, if the forest holding Sam’s darkest memories isn’t a metaphor brought to life, I don’t know what is.)

But if that’s all there is to it, I’d be incredibly disappointed because I’ve come to think of the 1973 characters as real.  Not to mention that I’d like to believe Sam’s intervention really did change things.  Even if Sam couldn’t accomplish what he’d wanted to, and keep his father from leaving the family, he saved Annie, and he spared himself from seeing his father beat her.  (While Life on Mars, unlike most other shows involving time travel, never discusses the complications involved in changing your own past, I find it quite tidy that the biggest change Sam worked here is saving himself from a painful memory he’d forgotten he had.)

LOMS1E8SmileyvicI like the way Vic Tyler is written.  For the bulk of the episode, he comes off as a two-bit crook — a two-bit crook who has stumbled upon what every two-bit crook could really use:  a police officer who wants to believe him.  Sam is the living definition of “gullible” when he’s dealing with Vic — not only buying Vic’s excuses but damn near making them up for him.  (Even I found it hard to believe Vic when he was the only living person in a building with two dead bodies — and the building had been surrounded by police when the shots were fired.  Come on.)  But young Sam idolized his father, and older Sam can’t stop seeing him through the eyes of that child.

(It actually makes me wonder if, at the end, when Sam finally doubts Vic enough to remove the ammo from the gun, Sam does this because he trusts Gene or because he was finally remembering what he had seen his father do in the forest.)

But before it all goes bad … before Sam gets a harsh dose of reality at the other end of his father’s (thankfully unloaded) gun … Sam gets to kick a soccer ball around with his dad.  I think of this scene as Sam’s reward — he’s about to get seriously challenged and put through an emotional wringer, but he first gets to go out on a field with his dad and kick the ball around, man to man.  It hits you in that father/son “Field of Dreams” way:  having one more afternoon with his father, when he’s old enough to really enjoy it, is what Sam would gladly go back to 1973 to do.

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