Ashes to Ashes 1.03
Ashes to Ashes continues, hitting many of the same notes as Sam’s stint in Gene Hunt’s world. Since the pilot, Alex has reliably featured moments of headdesking stupidity in the presence of her mother and her mother’s law firm partner (in 2008, the godfather of her daughter). Abandoning her ‘you are all figments’ stance, she alternates between amazed gawping and craven attempts to elicit approval. Rather than backing away slowly from the crazy woman, they offer brief but meaningful insights into their perspectives that inadvertently guide Alex through her hallucinatory new world. Again like Sam, the gang surprisingly takes her lapses of cranial continence in stride while being horrified by her minor futuristic faux pas…but I suppose without this contractual genre blindness (or just plot-induced stupidity?), the show would be called Special Woman Is Instantly Institutionalised and Spends Thirteen Episodes Heavily Sedated.
Still, it bugs me. Almost as much as Alex’s club-appropriate workwear, set in a time when a female professional, let alone a detective, would have been strapped into restrictive chin-to-knees pseudo-Victorian armor, heavily featuring those awful high-necked blouses with sewn-in bows and boxy pleated wool skirts. A few years later, she’d be clad in a solid-color power suit with shoulder pads up to her ears. Professional specifically did not equal sexy, outside of fetishes similar to those surrounding schoolgirl uniforms (and bearing as much relation to the reality). A white-collar female was an impenetrable tank.
Despite this incongruity, the show is starting to play with a more complex morality. Along the lines of the impenetrable tank…after subtly hitting on Gene and being shot down, Alex lets herself be picked up by a red suspender wearing Thatcherite, who she drunkenly boffs to the energetic beats of Bucks Fizz. Her coworkers start out teasing her when she drags herself into work the following day, hungover and exhausted, but she reacts the way a modern woman working in a chauvinist environment should: yes, I’m dead tired because I was up all night shagging a total stranger, and it was bloody fantastic. No shame, no cringing, just one of the boys.
Unfortunately…1981 wasn’t quite modern enough for that, or at least for these blokes. No matter what Aaron Spelling and his Starsky & Hutch taught us in the late 70s, a confident, pretty woman interested in getting laid wasn’t a great girl but someone who should be far more discrete. The men are uncomfortable, Gene is furious and offering the hard truth that she won’t be respected if she’s known to have sex—part advice for someone working beneath him who needs the respect of his crew, part fury that a woman who’d made herself ‘his’ in some vague but definite way by hitting on him had flipped over to someone who wouldn’t look after her.
This is set in an episode focusing on prostitutes, specifically whether one can be raped, as she claims. Gene & Co display the sentiments that continue to linger in many minds today—prostitutes, as people who sell their bodies for sex, cease to be properly human. A woman who doesn’t strenuously resist having sex with men, let alone chasing them for her own pleasure, becomes something closer to a prostitute. These aren’t rational preconceptions, by any means, but divisions usually instilled before a child hits puberty and are rarely challenged.
Ray, however, possibly the thickest member of Gene’s squad, does rise to the challenge. He befriends a traumatised young woman and, while he’s obviously disturbed by her revelation that she’s a ‘lady of the night,’ it leads him to the second moral quandary of the episode—framing the man who raped and assaulted her for cocaine possession. Ray is now unable to accept that a man could go unpunished for violating just a prostitute, and betrays the law he is sworn to uphold in a satisfying but disturbing way.
Even more jolting, this takes place during the denouement, and Alex and the police watching the rapist being arrested on an obviously bogus drug possession charge applaud and congratulate Ray. None of them acknowledges Ray’s legal violation or suggests there was a better, legal way to go after him—ideally by following the bugger and establishing relationships with the local prostitutes to catch him repeating his crime, rather than bunging him up on a charge that will likely fall apart in court.
This department feels that, together, they can answer to a higher morality than the law when the law fails them. What terrifying disaster awaits this crew of celibate ersatz Dark Knights if they continue to follow this ‘higher’ calling?