Life on Mars — S2 Ep8

LOM S2 E8 featured

Someone that I know–someone really smart that I know–told me, after seeing the finale, that he’d figured it out, and Sam was always in 1973 all along and was just dreaming about 2006.

I smiled and said that’s one possible interpretation, but deep down inside, I thought, “Really?”

I mean, the evidence that Sam had actually experienced 2006 has mounted up for about 15 episodes.  Sam knows mobile phones, diet sodas, and chunky candy bars; he knows Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and how the lead singer of T Rex died; he knows about one-way glass, the stinger, and criminal databases; he’s seen Star Wars, Starsky & Hutch, and Robocop.  He wears a watch that didn’t even exist in 1973.  How could someone look at all of this and conclude that Sam is just a guy in 1973 who has a very active (and accurate) imagination?

But, of course, someone can.  The more I thought about it, the more I thought the fact that someone can watch the entirety of Life on Mars and come away thinking that Sam always was in 1973 is actually an illustration of how genuinely cool the writing–and the premise of the show itself–really is.  I was attracted to Life on Mars by the quirky science-fictiony time-travel elements; I wouldn’t have tuned in if it were just another ’70s cop show.  But my friend isn’t a science fiction fan at all; he was interested in Life on Mars purely from a “cop show with a bit of a twist” viewpoint.  Coming at it from that angle, he looked for the rational explanation rather than the crazy one in which the rules of time, space and brain injuries don’t apply–where when Sam is in a coma, his consciousness is somehow transported to 1973.

Me, I like the latter option.

Not only do I like the latter option, I was confident in it from Day One.  Sam is hit by a car in 2006 and wakes up in 1973–we saw it in the pilot episode, and it ran with the opening credits every time.  I took it as gospel.

Life on Mars, S2 E8 -- grave of Sam TylerThis meant that I didn’t buy Frank Morgan for a second; the whole idea that Sam is sent here from Hyde on some sort of undercover mission to take down Gene Hunt (and, if taking him down doesn’t work, to take him out) was just ridiculous to me.  (Not to mention that I don’t want to believe a cop would think this is the right way to “clean up” the force.)  I’ll admit I was a bit thrown by the graveyard scene when he shows Sam where he has picked out his pseudonym.  But, basically, the paperwork and the secret mission all struck me as lies, meant to make us question our understanding of Sam’s reality (and to make Sam question it too).

There is one other thing that I didn’t buy for a second, and I blame the Season One finale.  I never believed — could not possibly believe–that Sam would let Gene die.  Sam lets his father run off, and his father is a murdering low-life.  Sam respects Gene; Gene has been his mentor and father-type figure.  We just saw last week that Sam will break rules for Gene when the other detectives won’t.  We’re supposed to believe that Sam would just turn his back on Gene (and Ray, Chris and Annie), and let them all die, in the name of bringing proper investigatory techniques to the police?  No freakin’ way.   The only reason that Sam might entertain the possibility of letting them die is if he has come to the conclusion that they’re not real to begin with.  And that isn’t something that Morgan put into his head; hell, Morgan argues against it.  Sam lets them all die because he’s decided that, despite feeling Annie’s heartbeat and all the confusion Morgan has thrown at him, he really is in a coma in 2006 and is finally ready to wake up.

Hyde 2612

Catch the room number

I imagine every kid is disappointed when Dorothy wakes from technicolor Oz and is back in boring Kansas.  Slopping the pigs just doesn’t have the same charm when you’ve danced with munchkins and killed a wicked witch.  The seeds for Sam’s decision to try to go back to Oz were planted back in the second episode of Season One, when Sam cuts his hand shaving and feels it.  When Sam wakes from his coma, leaving his leather jacket behind and putting back on his sharp DCI suit, he goes back into the crisp, clean office where he cuts his hand on a letter opener and doesn’t even realize he’s bleeding.  After having spent time in 1973–even if it is just in his head–where he feels so alive, 2006 is dead by comparison.

Life on Mars, S2 E8 - Rainbow behind Annie and Sam

Look for the very subtle rainbow in the background

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