Life on Mars — S2 Ep5

Lamb breaking down

So, the question is, when your leading character MUST be in every scene (since we’re seeing the world through his eyes), how do you do a flashback to a scene he was never in?

Puppet SamDrug overdose?  On paper it sounds ridiculous, but remember, we’re dealing with a universe in which being hit by a car magically transports Sam’s consciousness into 1973, so there’s a certain amount of flexibility built in.   Besides, they’ve been setting this up from the beginning; we know that 2006 can have some effect on Sam in 1973 — like when Tony Crane messes with his oxygen in 2006, and Sam can barely stand in 1973.  So if the plot calls for Sam’s brain to go into some freaky sort of overdrive in 1973, why not have him have a drug overdose in 2006?

And “freaky” it is.  Not only does Sam manage realistic flashbacks to scenes he never experienced, he also somehow picks up the present (from different locations) on his television.  The question arises as to what, exactly, Sam is perceiving.  His ability to pick up distant images of the present leads you to think he’s seeing true events–so his images of the past are also what actually happened.  But, ultimately, this episode goes all Rashomon on us:  Sam’s visions of the past aren’t what actually happened, but, instead, what his storyteller thinks happened.  In some cases, the two are the same–like when Sam brushes Ray and realizes Ray was sleeping at his desk the night before.  But in others, like the pivotal interview with the young murder suspect, the differences are critical.  God really is in the details.

Oh Shit signWhile I like to think that most episodes of Life on Mars are fun on repeat viewings, this one, in particular, stands out.  Sure, I love Sam’s hallucinations (watching clay puppet Gene stop kicking in the nonce to wave at the camera is precious, and the “Oh Shit” gets me every time), but what really makes this episode excellent the second time around is how it plays when you know that Mr. Lamb isn’t as innocent as he appears.

(It wasn’t until I typed that sentence that I even noticed the significance of his name.  But, it’s clear that nobody in CID suspects that Mr. Lamb is really a wolf in sheep’s clothing.)  Mr. Lamb is great fun to watch the second time around, though, because he isn’t simply a distraught victim, terrified that harm will come to hiLamb to the slaughters kidnapped wife and daughter.  Instead, he’s a man realizing that his own guilt has come home to roost, and he’s very nearly coming apart the seams.  Ask yourself this:  if you felt the police weren’t adequately investigating the kidnapping of your loved ones, would your first line of attack really be to hang yourself in the station?  Or is the fact that Lamb immediately leaps to the idea of suicide symptomatic of a rather deeper problem?  Look, Lamb is scum and deserves every second of the emotional torment he goes through–but I damn near feel sorry for him when, as the clock is ticking away on his family’s lives, he tries to confess to the crime he actually did commit, and nobody is willing to believe him.

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