It's official—Life On Mars is ending this April. Hopefully the advance notice will give the people working on the show a chance to end on a satisfying note; and if I'm honest, I'd say the possibility of a solid finale has me more excited than another five seasons of the mediocre junk we've been getting. It's too bad that the cast and crew are going to be out of work, and it's also too bad that we'll never see the series live up to the potential it showed in its best moments. But I don't think there are going to be a lot of tears when this one takes its final bow. Mars stumbled too often to build up much in the way of goodwill. We may get a bit wistful when those final credits role, but it's doubtful we'll remember it come May.
But wishful thinking and all, I'm getting ahead of myself; it's still only March, so we've got a bunch more of these to push through before the finish line. Let's get to it, then—"Revenge Of Broken Jaw" takes on the hot button issue of social protest, this time in the form of the Weather Underground, a home-grown terrorist group that specializes in riots, prison breaks, and, most important for this episode, bombings. When somebody blows up a popular police bar, killing five, Gene goes on the war path; three of the dead were retired cops, friends of his, so he's got an emotional investment in tracking down the bad guys. The only clue is the phone call the 125 received before the bomb went off from someone claiming to be in the Underground, taking responsibility for the explosion. It's time to bust some heads, get cliched political statements from various protesters, and watch Sam keep on forgetting what year he's in.
Man am I getting sick of that; in lieu of actually trying to have our hero deal with his situation, or using subtle ways of showing how he doesn't quite fit into 1973, we get him making comment after comment reminding us he's from 2008. Asking Annie to go for a cappuccino, commenting on how the bomber's equipment is "Old School," referencing Al Queda—where this originally worked as a kind of "I don't get a damn" approach to time travel, now it's just grating and lame. Every reference draws attention to itself and makes Sam look like a moron, and they're hardly ever funny. (It wasn't bad having him make a bet with Ray on an upcoming boxing match, admittedly; but that one was, for this show at least, subtle enough.) "Revenge" does at least pay some lip service to Sam trying to come to terms with his predicament, opening and closing with him in a psychiatrist's office being told to open himself up to the world. I can appreciate that the series is trying to establish a place that Sam (and us) can feel justified in caring about; I just don't think they've managed it.
So how was this week's mystery? Middle-of-the-road stuff. After that first bombing, Sam finds a professor, Pat Olsen, who teaches a particularly incideniary class at a nearby college; a number of her best students are listed as Weathermen, so Ray and Sam head over to pick her up. We get a gag that wouldn't have worked even if this was the seventies, when a pretty blonde woman interrupts Ray's usual shenigans to inform us all that Pat is—gasp!—short for Patricia. I'd buy that Ray would be surprised by this, but Sam? Weak sauce, sir, weak, gender-biased sauce. But at least Pat is played by Janel Moloney; she's been doing a lot of guest TV work since West Wing ended, and it's always nice to see her getting screen time.
Too bad her character is such a humorless bore. It's a credit to Moloney's work that Pat isn't a total waste of time; the dialogue she spouts, full of the standard "imperialist pigs!" silliness that you always get when a show gets political, is insipid, but she delivers it with a level of conviction that almost belies its stupidity. Plus, finding out that Gene was involved with the "Red Squad," a group of cops working off-the-record surveillance on various subversives, changes the stakes, making Pat's cries of police brutality and tyrants sound a little less exagerrated.
But this is Mars, which means that our main characters can flirt with moral greyness but they can't ever truly commit. While Gene may or may not have done some naughty things in his past, he and his crew didn't actually bump off Rodney Slaven, the charismatic leader whose death one year ago by drug overdose inspired the current run of cop-killing bombs. As is nearly always the case, the actual killer was much closer to home; Pat's doctor husband, who murdered Rodney after discovering he and Pat were having an affair. How much of an affair? The doctor makes the connection after seeing that Rodney has the same two colored eyes as their daughter. (He says he avoided protests, so I guess he just never saw a picture of the dude until years after his wife gave birth?) The doc gives a rant about love and Pat being a hypocrite, before he flees the station just long enough to try and steal Gene's car; Gene being the target of the last bomb, this is a bad play, as both vehicle and cuckold go up in flames.
So it all ties up in a neat bow, with Gene even taking the time to reconnect with the wheelchair-bound son of one of the dead cops. The ending was oddly sweet, but didn't really make up for the blah that preceeded it. The time travel references were flat (mostly it was just Sam watching filmstrip of Rodney, who started talking to him; the dream sequence at the beginning was decent, though), and the mystery pretended to be about something important, but in the end, was just another domestic dispute gone horribly wrong. I'll give this one a slight bump because I dig Moloney, and the chemistry between her and Keitel was great ("I want to kill this woman."), but that's about all I'm taking away from it.
- So, what song is this week's title from? Anything?