Us Martians are used to a steady diet of cliches, so the sight of a politician making time with a prostitute in the opening of "Home Is Where You Hang Your Holster" seems like one more item ticked off the list. Oh, you crazy, horndog councilman! Will you ever learn? But surprisingly, things are actually much more complicated. Bobby Prince may have looked like one more in a long line of barely two-dimensional walking jokes, but when he tells Sam, "I don't know how I got here," and starts ranting about getting hit on the head in 2009 and waking up in 1973—just like our hero—the situation takes a turn for the slightly more interesting. And when Prince is shot mere minutes after confirming his time travel ("We have a black president." "He won?"), you can remove the slightly.
After Prince is shot, Gene throws the whole station into lockdown, which gives us a standard scenario: there's a killer, a limited number of suspects, a time-limit (not even Gene will be able to hold everybody for that long), and a series of discoveries that fall forward like a line of dominos. Not the most original idea in the world, but at least there's a solid edge to it—there are stakes, Sam's invested in what happens next, and so, to an extent far greater than I was expecting, was I. At this point, I couldn't honestly tell you what a successful episode of Life On Mars should look like. I don't know what this series is striving to become. But "Home" is definitely a step in the right direction; given that next week will almost certainly be a five foot leap in the reverse direction, I'm going to take what I can get for now.
While Gene and Sam run through various interrogations at the station, Annie and Ray have a team-up. The flashier developments were focused largely on Sam, which is as it should be, but the Annie and Ray stuff is terrific character, some of the best we've seen yet. Ray has always been the loud-mouth id of the 1-2-5, and having to spend the whole day working with "No-Nuts" Norris seems like a perfect chance to show his softer side. Sure, he's dismissive of Annie's abilities as a policewoman at first, but once he sees her working and risking her own neck to get the case solved, surely he's got to come around, right? And hey, he even takes her home to meet the wife. Finally, a chance to see Ray outside his native element.
It's to Mars'sinfinite credit that, once you dig past the surface, Ray turns out to be an asshole all the way down. He dimisses his wife's interests (she's a talented seamstress, he doesn't get the point of sewing; she wants to cut her hair, he won't let her), he browbeats Annie every chance he gets, and when the climax of the episode finally gives him a chance to learn his lesson—Annie saves him from getting a knife in the gut—he uses the opportunity to deliver his harshest lecture yet. As Annie notes, Ray's clearly scared of her, and of what she represents. While making the chauvinist deep down terrified of an empowered woman isn't hugely original, it's a strong choice for the show, because it gives us an on-going conflict that can't be easily resolved. Michael Imperioli is great, and having him force Annie into a corner in the last scene created the kind of tension that Mars desperately needs. It had nothing to do with the mind-fuckery over Sam's predicament. It was just two people running up against each other, all jangled nerves and short tempers.
Gene and Maria's conflict wasn't quite so unpleasant, but again, we have a situation where a momentary band-aid isn't going to salve years of cutting. Sam and Gene have a brief talk, but really, Gene's not mad at him; if I had to guess, I'd say he's not mad at anybody, at least not in this situation. The few conversations he has with his daughter before she leaves the station (I'm going to assume we won't be seeing Maggie Siff again for a while) are filled with the sort of frustrated accusations that you only ever get between loved ones. Again, this isn't new stuff, but I liked seeing Keitel and Siff butt heads, and I especially liked the way it led into Gene's last scene, lurking in his office in a T-shirt, half-drunk and hating the world.
But what of Councilman Prince? Before he gets shot, Bobby tells Sam he's "found a way home," and much of Sam's plot for the episode is trying to figure out what that means. When Annie and Ray make a pick-up that was supposed to help Prince on his way, they meet an older man in a black hat who hands them a box; inside the box is a postcard and a file for the cop who turns out to be the man who killed Prince in the station. I first thought that getting shot was actually Bobby's way home, but the prostitute, Elena, tells Sam Bobby didn't make it. So—what, exactly? I generally look forward to the weird stuff, but the drama was strong enough tonight that Sam's metaphysical malady was a little flat by comparison. I do like the structure, though; while it sacrifices ambiguity to show the supporting cast without Sam observing (he was basically a supporting player himself tonight), if that means we can have solid week-to-week personality conflicts to back up the head-trip, I'm all for it.
One other thing before I check out—we actually had a hint of an over-arcing theme tonight. We've heard mention before of Sam having a "job" to do (shades of Quantum Leap), but for the first time in "Home," we get a sense of what that job entails. Before he was killed, Bobby Prince was a big time reformer, working to bring his adopted present into the future. But he was getting tired—he tells Sam he wants to get home because there's hope in 2009; there's no hope in 1973. One of my biggest issues with Mars is how often it settles for the goofy, but Prince's line made me wonder. If this show were to somehow survive into next season, and if the writing staff actually pulled it together, could we expect to see a darker '73? I'd be for that. Contrasting Sam's idea of modern policing with Gene's more hand's on approach is supposed to be a cornerstone, and yet the 1-2-5 never seems like that dangerous a place to be.
- One the reasons the myriad Wizard of Oz references tonight left me unmoved is that I really don't think there's a plan behind them; the mind-screw is reaching the Maginot line between excitingly unexpected and random bullshit.
- How great was that last scene between Sam and Gene? "You wanted to come."