Life on Mars returns after the holiday hiatus with a journey into the broken-hearted past of boss detective Gene Hunt (Harvey Keitel) and 9 1/2 Weeks-style quickie sex in a 125 Precinct closet, by way of an impromptu reunion of fattened Sopranos veterans.
The episode opens with Hunt, Tyler, Carling, and the 125 homicide posse at a suicide standoff. The jumper is a businessman who just lost everything after his mobile phone deal goes bad. Apparently, his wife thought his investment in mobile phones was ridiculous, as does every other character in the scene. Remember, this is 1973, and the idea of a mobile phone is laughable–but not to twenty-first century boy Tyler, who starts to make some progress in getting off the guy off the ledge.
Unfortunately, Tyler is interrupted by the arrival of Hunt’s arch-rival, Lieutenant Nunzio (Vincent Curatola, the slippery Johnny ‘Sack’ of the Sopranos), and his detective squad (also played by ex-Soprano-ers), who take charge of the scene. Nunzio’s taunts (including more ridicule of the jumper’s mobile phone idea) actually cause the jumper to jump, and the rap falls on Hunt, reigniting a long-standing feud between the two old boss detectives. Over the course of the episode, a wistful Hunt lets on that his rivalry with Nunzio goes back to a woman with whom Hunt ultimately had a family.
To get back at Nunzio, Hunt and the 125 squad muscle in on a bank robbery investigation in Nunzio’s district, and it starts to look like Nunzio and his detectives are in bed with Russion gangsters who are involved in the bank robbery. A key witness is a little boy, occasioning the appearance of social worker Maria Belanger (Mad Men‘s Maggie Siff) who, of course, is a smokin’ hot firecracker of a 1973 babe.
Cue the improbable semi-violent workplace sex.
Nunzio and Hunt finally team up in a climactic, fisticuffy bust of the Russian gangsters, complete with goofy soundtrack music right out of schlocky 70s detective shows. The bruised-up 125 gang retreats to their watering hole for some hard drinking, where Sam learns that the comely sex kitten Maria is actually . . .
Gene Hunt’s daughter. Sam Tyler will so need some ice for that burn!
Over the course of the episode, the little robot from the 21st century returns. Most significantly, a young Russian scientist, who recently immigrated to the US but had become entangled with the Russian gangsters, unexpectedly veers into a conversation with Tyler about little tiny robots that Russian scientists had developed that could explore the human soul. All of this takes place as one of the tiny robots drives out from under the scientist’s eyelid and around his face. The scientist goes on to advise Tyler to “embrace his immigrant status.”
While the robot’s appearance seems to suggest that the writers are sticking to the task of unraveling the mystery of Tyler’s dislocation in time, the sudden appearance of a love interest with whom Tyler engages represents a new direction. At a minimum, it shows that Tyler is settling in to 1973. Of course, making that love interest the daughter of the show’s alpha male character is a cheap, soap opera-ish ploy to notch up the tension between the characters.
Backstage, its worth noting that signs of Life on Mars‘ likely cancellation are emerging. The TV Series Finale web site reports that despite Life on Mars‘ well-received opening episode, its ratings have been in a steady slump of viewer indifference. TV Series Finale also points out that the show’s rescheduling to the slot just after Lost is another sign of doom, citing the fates of The Nine and Invasion.
Inspired casting was a high point for this episode, but the melodramatic tension seemed contrived. This ditty gets three out of five Harvey Keitel fists of fury.
Oh, and Keitel he still needs a !@#$ haircut. Everybody else on the show has an appropriate 70s coif–what gives?