Life on Mars – S2 Ep3

I don’t mean to pick on Sam here, but what the hell is he thinking?  Learning of an IRA bomb threat which he knows can’t be an IRA bomb, he immediately assumes that it’s no bomb at all.  Look, Sam, just because the IRA wasn’t making bombs in 1973 doesn’t mean nobody else was.  It isn’t like they lacked the technology.

Sam’s screw-up here is explained (or not) by an argument in 2006 (which Sam hears being conducted between his TV and radio) over whether Sam has suffered brain damage.  They think it might have impacted not his cognition, but his instincts.  Sam certainly has a reason to doubt his instincts; his instincts nearly get Ray blown up.

(Quick aside here.  The difference between Sam and Gene, when it comes to policing, has often been represented as the difference between intellect and gut-reaction.   They’re basically threatening to take away from Sam the part of him that’s most like Gene.)

Not trusting his instincts is even worse for Sam when paralyzed indecision leads him to nearly get himself blown up (and from a position much closer to the bomb than Ray was).

I haven’t spoken much of Test Pattern Girl to this point, but here is where I start seriously questioning her.  She’s previously told Sam that she’s his only friend, but she’s trying to encourage his decisional paralysis.  Is she downright evil?  Is Sam insane and she’s a manifestation of it?  It isn’t quite clear, but after this episode, I’ve definitely decided not to trust her.

So… the plot.  With a (supposed) IRA bomb going off, Gene arrests Patrick O’Brien.  As we’ve often seen when Sam disagrees with Gene on an arrest, the evidence starts to mount up against Gene’s suspect.  The most that Sam can do is stop Gene from actually beating the man to death.  O’Brien ends up giving them the best clue that they get (although they don’t notice it at the time) — that the list of streets he has, which happens to coincide with where the bombs went off — is simply a list of construction sites they’ve worked.

This really isn’t the strongest episode plot-wise.  It has a lot to recommend it in other departments, though.  I have no idea exactly when it was that the decision was made to end Life on Mars after the second season.  In my imagination, though, it happened right around when they were writing this episode.  There are five episodes left, and each one is either simply brilliant on its own or covers something significant in terms of the overarching plot.  This episode, to me, is best seen as a sort of prelude to the next five.  It’s setting everything in line for the sprint to the finish.

Like Ray, for instance.  Getting nearly blown up does not completely humble Ray although it’s a start.  What ultimately does it is having a gun pointed in his ear, with the bomber on the other end of it.  Sam talks the bomber down, but it takes a good long time during which Ray nearly falls apart.  By the time it’s over, Ray owes Sam his life and he knows it.  I don’t think Sam has to worry about Ray hurling any more lockers at him from here on out.

Also consider Annie, who is now officially part of the team.  She doesn’t get groped when crammed in the car’s back seat with Ray and Chris.  More than that, when Sam tries to get Annie to come with him to investigate his hunch, Gene says, “You’re with us” and takes her along.  She is “with” them, now.

The episode ends, of course, with a determination that Sam’s is not, in fact, brain damaged, so we know that Sam can enter the final episodes with intellect and instinct both intact.  Best of all, though, the team is fully intact — we’re going to have enough to deal with in the second part of this season that we won’t need any more intra-team squabbling.  Ray and Sam are now a non-issue, as is whether Annie is going to make it as a DC.

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