Thursday, January 17, 2013

Life on Mars Special: Life on Mars

Thriller the Thursday

NYPD Detective Sam Tyler is struck down during an investigation and is soon shocked to find himself in 1973 New York. Convinced that solving a similar case in the past is his ticket home, Sam works to solve the case assuming that he will be returned to 2008 as soon as the criminal is behind bars.

Sam Tyler (Jason O'Mara) is very by-the-book when it comes to police procedure, but when he's tossed back in time he's paired with Gene Hunt (Harvey Keitel) who's anything but. In order to find a way back home, Sam is made to bite his tongue and follow the lead of someone who's moral ambiguity could destroy an investigation before it starts, and when their disagreements finally come to a boiling point, their likelihood of solving their crime starts decreasing.

One of the main sources of conflict in this story is the difference in approaches that Sam and Gene take to their jobs, with Sam feeling that Gene mistreats his witnesses, stating that he would be suspended were he to pull the same stunts in 2008. Part of the reason that this is such a compelling argument is that he's not shown to be completely right, and while Gene's actions here are certainly, at times, at the extreme end of things, he's also shown to get results. In questioning Mrs. Raimes (Phyllis Somerville), Sam finds himself upsetting her the more he questions her, while Gene has the ability to calm her down with sweet talk, speaking to her like a person in a way that Sam simply can't, effectively getting the information that Sam was unable to. Their philosophies on life and work are vastly different, but neither are shown to be completely right or wrong, and the fact that neither are in the right all the time creates a good dynamic between the two of them.

As the story unwinds Sam confronts the young Colin (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) and contemplates shooting him in order to stop him from attacking Maya (Lisa Bonet) in the future. In speaking with Colin, and asking him why he worships Willy (Austin Basis) so much, Colin replies that "Willy's not afraid of anything, [he's] afraid of everything," and Sam realizes that this child is not yet the man that will hurt his future girlfriend. Though he doesn't go through with it, Sam is shown to consider extreme actions here, and the moral ambiguity of murdering this child is very interesting. Were he to do so would he alter the future and save Maya, go to jail in the past, inspire Colin's brother to do the same thing to Maya in the future creating an endless loop? There's no real answer here, but that's not what stops Sam from committing this atrocity: he can't bring himself to hurt this child because it's wrong, no matter what he'll do in the future, and it's his stalwart nature that makes him the perfect hero in this story.

Sam is really quick to anger in this story, and at no point does he really take the time to try to figure out what's happening, instead he just starts yelling at Ray (Michael Imperioli) and Chris (Jonathan Murphy) moments after meeting them because he doesn't understand his situation. It would have been nice to see Sam employing his skills as a detective to try to suss out the situation, but he's so confrontational here that his sleuthing abilities are never once put on display. Sam even attempts to start a fight with Gene, to what end I'm not sure, only to have Gene respond that his team is tight, and he always goes for the maximum, so when he retires they will say "he has been here," which, for whatever reason, placates Sam's anger. The tension seems more forced than it needs to be when it could be very organic and genuine given the circumstances.

Sam notes that Annie's (Gretchen Mol) familiar with the case and asks for her help, which she outright refuses because she doesn't want to be ridiculed by the rest of the department. She later calls Sam out on his behavior, stating that she would love to show how much she knows and be treated like a real officer, but "that day's not today," and it just seems like she's treading water. She wants this so incredibly badly but she's completely unwilling to stick her neck out to earn it, and it's questionable whether she wants it enough, since she appears to be under the impression that she won't be treated equally among the other officers within the time frame of her own employable years.

The acting here is largely good, though some of the accents can become perhaps more pronounced than they should be, especially Carrie Getman's (Dora) which seems more akin to a caricature than an actual person. O'Mara manages to carry the episode fairly well, Keitel provides a great foil for him, and Mol's presence here is also quite welcome.

Gary Fleder directs this episode very well, from Sam's initial collision with the car, through his utter confusion of being in a strange place, and the moment when he spots the twin towers is very nicely executed. In seeing his reflection Sam finally notices that he's wearing completely different clothes, finding his badge he sees that it expires in 1974, and in walking into the precinct he's met with old-fashioned telephones, tape recorders, and any number of other outdated equipment. As he begins to hear the sounds of the hospital in his mind the sunlight from the window slowly becomes a radiant spotlight over top of him, and the blurring between reality and insanity within this story is extremely effective.

Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec and Scott Rosenberg team up to write this episode, putting much focus on Sam's attempts to understand what's happened to him, and though Annie tells him to abandon the "time travel talk" fairly early on, it's largely the only thing on his mind, especially after connecting the case in 1973 to his and Maya's case in 2008. "That either makes me a time traveler, a lunatic, or I'm lying in a hospital bed in 2008," he explains, though later still, through the television, he hears his doctor from 2008 positing that he's "operating in an alternate reality." Thinking that solving the case will help him get back home, Sam asks that Gene allow him to lead the investigation as a chance to prove his worth, leading him to the opportunity to confront Willy wherein he asks him to shoot, assuming it will give him the jolt he needs to get back home and save Maya. The writers seem to be trying to come up with a number of possibilities for Sam's situation, and it should be interesting to see the scenarios they're able to come up with as the series progresses.

A lot of the action here is lifted directly from "Blowin' in the Wind" and a few other early episodes of the U.K. series, indicating a strong possibility that later stories in this series will follow a similar pattern. A notable difference here is a lack of sexual tension between Sam and Annie, though there may have simply been too little time to hint toward that in this episode.


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