Thursday, March 27, 2008

Life On Mars: Bring You Back Home

"Not your fault he got off.

"Hang in there.

"Bring you back home."

Life On Mars is a real mind-twister. Just when you think you have a handle on it, a few simple words throw your whole paradigm off kilter.

What other tv series has done that?

The initial premise doesn't sound simple enough. It's something one has to try to work out. And try again. Sam Tyler, a present-day Manchester police detective, is hit by a car and apparently finds himself back in 1973, newly assigned to a station that is equivalent, but 30 years out of whack. Cars, colours, attitudes are all different. Cases are not watertight, methods are not ethical, analysis is not sophisticated.

He can't get out. The world is consistent unto itself, so he has to make his way at face value. Work with his new team, solve problems in an old world with a contemporary sensibility that sometimes helps, sometimes roughs him up badly.

Consistent. Bar a couple of jarring, juddering sets of incongruity.

First, he keeps meeting people with a strong connection to his life in the future, albeit from 30 years in the past. He has to play this straight, because he's in a world he can't escape, except by being locked up for a lunatic.

Second, once in a while he is exposed to a feed from a world which he may never have left: one in which he is clinging tenuously to life support in a hospital bed. His 1973 world relays the occasional sound or image from that viewpoint - via radio, television set, telephone - with people passing comment on his likelihood of survival. What to think?

Is he really transported to the past? Is he really on life support?

You'd think it's just a transport of the consciousness. But at one point he traces back a call he got from the future, only to be told angrily: "you know you're not to ring this number."

Now in this, the penultimate episode, his boss, the guv, is fingered for a murder and on the run. Upon resolution, when he is cleared and helps collar the culprit, Sam asks his stand-in boss "are we all right?" Is it okay between us?

Then this is misconstrued, leading to the quote at top. Rounded off with the absolutely cryptic remark "Bring you back home". What is happening?

Who is playing what role? Who is on whose side, and who is just a figment?

One week to go.

(On a final note, no less jarring, and rather bamboozling in a completely different direction: the music played as soundtrack is often enough 1973: Hellraiser, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, etc. But often enough it's 1972: How Can I Be Sure?, Virginia Plain, and so on. Sometimes it's putatively on the cusp - Cindy, Incidentally (arguably). But why would one expect radio of 1973 to be playing so much 1972? Yet there has not been anything anachronistically later...)

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