It says a little bit too much about “Life on Mars” series two the writer tasked with resolving the “boyfriend in a coma, it’s really serious” arc presumably going on in future with Archie Panjabi, Simm’s girlfriend in the pilot episode who was kidnapped and apparently rescued; it’s been a season and a half and it’s time for Panjabi to move back.
I wanted to give “Mars” the benefit of the doubt and think Panjabi was just busy with her career but not so much looking at her filmography for those years. If they just waited to do this episode, without having a single Panjabi reappearance between… the show’s got such a distressing overall arc and so many missed narrative opportunities.
Panjabi’s back this episode in the present to dump Simm in his coma and move on with her life. In the past, he’s working a case where a recent Ugandan Asian immigrant ends up dead in his record shop and everyone thinks it’s drug related except Simm. Simm’s got to solve the case without any help from Philip Glenister, who’s too racist to actually work the case and instead wants to let respectable drug kingpin Ian Puleston-Davies kill the competition and keep drugs away from kids. It’s amazing Glenister is able to keep the character as sympathetic as he manages.
The mystery itself is rather compelling, definitely the best one of the season. There’s a stoner dealer, Tim Plester, the missing brother of the victim and Glenister’s number one suspect, Phaldut Sharma, and then Alex Reid as the victim’s girlfriend. Simm and Reid bond because they’re both dating East Asians and experience racism. There are some big, obvious differences, but suffice to say, when Simm is grandstanding to everyone about how he was a thoughtful boyfriend to Panjabi, it’s hard to believe.
There’s a cringe-y scene in the conclusion with Reid and Simm—mostly about Simm’s intent—and the episode’s way too easy on Glenister, completely copping out of dealing with the racism.
Good direction from Andrew Gunn, who scales to the various places the episode wanders; except with the opening Panjabi stuff, which seems like they’re using old footage repurposed and it immediately feels desperate. There are a number of desperate moves in the episode, which end up mostly fine thanks to the acting.
Reid’s never quite singular enough, especially given the desperate moves in her arc, but she’s good. It’s clear early on the show’s not delivering on the character front, rather the mystery.
It’s nice for the episode not to have any glaring problems though. Even if it’s unclear Jenkin’s aware he’s recycling plot points from first season episode, not to mention White doing her obviously unwarranted jealousy gag again.
Okay, so, a couple bumpy points. But overall, it’s the more successful episode in a while.