“Life on Mars”: On a gene hunt

Don’t read any further if you haven’t seen the Life on Mars finale, “Life is a Rock.”


I can’t say I saw the flash-forward ending coming, even though I should have. From the show’s title to the Mars Rover-like devices that popped in and out of the 17 episodes to the nickname “Spaceman” bestowed on Sam Tyler — the hints that our hero was actually floating in a tin can in space far in the future were dropped all over the place — just as the trio of “Mars” showrunners said they were.

I can’t say the finale seg, written by exec producer Scott Rosenberg and helmed by Michael Katleman, was the best of the 17, but it was entertaining and it did wrap up the story, with a dash of “Flash Gordon” for good measure. (Sorry folks, no episodic art available for the finale.)

In a nutshell, Sam Tyler was actually on an expedition in the year 2035 with a mission to Mars to locate some real life DNA — or as Sam and his familiar crew mates put it, a “gene hunt.”

“Glitches in the neurotransmitter” managed to scramble the sleeping crew’s brains until they landed. Sam went off on a his wild cerebral adventure that had him thinking he was an NYPD cop circa 2008 who was mysteriously transported to 1973.

“You were there, and you were there,” Sam tells crew mates Ray and Chris and “Col. Norris” as they emerge from their sleep pods, in keeping with the recurring “Wizard of Oz” theme. (It was kinda funny in the last scene to see Michael Imperioli with a contempo look.) As he did throughout the series, Jason O’Mara’s ease and naturalistic perf made it work for this viewer, even with the hokey premise of the closing moments.

Putting the puzzle pieces together, the spacecraft Sam was traveling on was the Hyde 125, and he was housed in pod number 2B. Of course. The voice of the on-board computer was Windy. Another twist was finding out that Harvey Keitel’s “Major Tom” character turned out to be Sam’s father. (And there was a funny reference to one of the Obama daughters following her father’s footsteps by 2035.)

The final shot was that of Gene Hunt’s white loafer setting foot on the red planet. Very different from the conclusion of the Brit series, as it needed to be.

For my money, the best scene in the finale seg belonged to Imperioli’s Ray Carling, as Ray, Sam and Chris have a existential moment over whiskey shots in the precinct, shortly before we flip the switch to 2035.

“We live on a rock, just one of many,” Carling says after explaining his skepticism aboutLifeonmarsfischer faith, the search for deeper meaning in life and his mother’s fealty to the Catholic church. “There ain’t no answer; there’s just this.”

Also, a shout-out is due to thesp Tanya Fischer, who played Windy, Sam’s ditsy-hippie neighbor. She was only in four episodes but she always stood out with an infectious vivaciousness. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of her.

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