This post contains me ranting about Life on Mars, or more specifically, Matthew Graham. Um. Yeah.
So, Matthew Graham was goaded into posting on TRA. I think he was feeling a tad defensive. And I think I can understand where he's coming from on that point of view - he compromised his text to make his fans happy and a great deal of those same fans turned around and whinged about it.
I do think he compromised his text, by the way. I think he's lying when he says this was always to be the ending. If this was always to be the ending, and if he was a writer worth any salt, he would have built the text up more convincingly. And we see from series 1 that Matthew Graham is a writer worth salt. A nice crisp sea salt that you put in fancy dishes. Plus, he contradicted himself, rather obviously, (I'm thinking of: "And so, originally, we were going to end it on him waking up, but literally having him find some kind of resolution/.../The idea was going to be that Sam had brought a little of Gene’s methodology into the modern world.")
That would have made narrative sense. It would have been logical. And it would have been heartbreaking. But right.
So now, we have Matthew, defensive, apparently being flamed... and he comes off as (to quote John Simm on Sam) - a bit of a prick. First of all, fans are relegated to not being ordinary people - he does qualify this, but he still uses the term. He says "[a]nd then the Test Card Girl appears. And her look is intended to say "That's enough of that. It's only a story and now it's ended. Go and read a good book." And off goes the telly." --- That's not insulting at all. And he obviously hasn't been reading the criticism too closely, because he'd then know that the fans who aren't entirely happy with the ending would have been even more pissed off had Gene been Sam's dad and Chris the secret leader of a cult of Martian scientists investigating the human condition.
So now, to live up to my reputation of not being ordinary, I'm going to go through Matthew's post and respond and question. Basically, I, too, can be a bit of a prick.
Many of you liked it. Some of you loathed it. A lot of you were baffled. This struck me as an interesting irony. Because I have noticed that the deeper a person's love of the show is, the more that emotion clouds their reasoning. "Ordinary" folk (by that I simply mean people just sitting down and watching their telly of a night) tend to get the ending. Sam lived in 2006. He was stifled by red tape and modern life only he didn't know it. He harboured secret fantasies about breaking out. He had an accident. He pitched up in a place of bigotry, narrow-mindedness but also of emotional liberation.
I wonder how many people Matthew has spoken to. Not one 'ordinary person' that I have chatted with got this. And by 'ordinary person', I of course mean people who didn't become incredibly invested in the show. In fact, many of those I've had discussions with were convinced 2007 wasn't real - that Sam was from 1973 and really was Sam Williams. A whole other host were just completely confused and needed a lot of explanation. At which point, they crinkled up their nose and went "oh? that's silly! it would have been better if ---"
He didn't embrace this world but he loved to fight against it. The fight made him feel alive. And he fell in love. With Annie, not Gene.
My dad - my dad - who is all about heteronormativity - said at the conclusion of 2.08, "I never saw much between those two - the two male leads had more chemistry." --- Once again, everyone, this was my dad - who, whilst not actively homophobic, tends not to slash. And putting slash completely to the side - I have to say that Life on Mars did not show me the great Sam and Annie love affair. I saw mutual attraction. I saw no small amount of lust. I saw Annie being Sam's confidante - but did she ever trust him? I like Sam/Annie, I find it sweet, but I never thought they were madly in love with each other. Sure, in series 2, the writers tried to make the Sam/Annie relationship more interesting (seeing as how a great portion of the show's fans decided to set up camp in slashdom - which was always going to happen, but was greatly aided by a whole heap of homoerotic subtext that no sweet Annie smiles could eclipse), but they actually weakened the relationship considerably, to the point where Annie accepting him at the end rings kind of false.
I can see it as completely platonic, and often do, but Life on Mars actually does show Sam and Gene falling in love. It shows them moving from a mutual wariness and dislike to trust and respect. It shows them overcoming their differences and working together. It shows early morning confessions - honesty and understanding. It shows them out on a dinner date and drinking by themselves. It shows them sharing Sam's flat and being on the run from everyone else - just them, together. I'm sorry, but if Sam fell in love with Annie, he had already long been in love with Gene. And yes. Once again. Completely platonic. But there all the same. And whilst I understand Matthew was apparently specifically responding to someone who was trying to say that the ending was all about Sam returning to Gene and not Annie - uh - well, it kind of was. If you're going to construct a 1970s buddy cop show, be prepared for fannish proclamations of the characters' pure, pure love.
Also? Three words. Radio Times Cover.
He fought to get home because he believed it was the right thing to do. But making it back to 2006 came at a price - leaving his "friends" and the woman of his dreams to die. He told his mother as best he could and she, in her own way, endorsed his decision to return. "Then she has nothing to worry about because you always keep your promises."
Perhaps if Matthew had shown some of Sam's inner turmoil, I could see where he was coming from here. Sadly, he did not. So I am left thinking that Sam gave up on 2007 because it was full of dull greyish blue meetings. For all I know, apart from making an emotastic recording, Sam didn't give any of his 'friends' a second thought. Nor the literal 'woman of his dreams'.
And how could Ruth endorse Sam's decision when she had no idea what she was endorsing? She couldn't. She was trying to placate her depressed son. She wasn't saying, "maybe 1973 was real and you should go jump off a building." What had Sam promised Ruth?
He committed suicide. But it was a positive act because he could rescue CID and find peace. As the Cortina drives into the setting sun, Sam hears a doctor pronounce him dead. He doesn't care. As the car drives away perhaps Sam now lives that last second of consciousness forever.
You can't call it suicide and then say he lives on. You can't. Maybe it's word choice thing - but suicide is about death. Not life. Religion dictates that you can't go to heaven if you commit suicide - that you go into limbo or purgatory. And if they're not real, so what if Sam rescues CID? It doesn't mean anything! Sam gave up real life for fantasy. Put this way, this is not a positive act.
I could reframe it my own way - that Sam was convinced 1973 was real, that he was going back to save his friends and the metaphoric woman of his dreams. That he sacrificed one world to save another. And that would be a much more positive portrayal than Matthew's. It is, in fact, the one I choose to believe - Matthew's intention be damned.
And then the Test Card Girl appears. And her look is intended to say "That's enough of that. It's only a story and now it's ended. Go and read a good book." And off goes the telly.
... So it becomes abundantly clear that I held the text in more reverence than Matthew did. I suspected as much anyway, but still, it's disappointing. I had assumed that, having gone through 33 drafts of the pilot, Matthew actually, you know, cared about his characters, his plot, his narrative. But apparently, it's only a story. And good books are clearly of much more value than a television show. No elitism there at all, is there? And no scoffing at those who choose to devote time to fandom of a television show.
Are there loose ends? A few. Is that deliberate? Of course. Loose ends are fun. Life has loose ends. No one has all the answers.
There's loose ends and then there's laziness. As the writer, you can never have all the answers - true. But you better anticipate the questions. I don't think Matthew or any of the other writers really did.
Should Sam have ended up on Mars? Should Gene have been his dad? Should Chris have been the secret leader of a cult of Martian scientists investigating the human condition?
Just to reiterate, I agree. These endings would also have been craptapular.
Why? Because this isn't an SF show. This is about a man's emotional odyssey. The ending was always going to be this. I didn't write the show to give it a wacky bizarro climax. I wrote about Us and what We were like Then. And then I left it open for debate - was 73 better? Should Sam have killed himself? Is Gene a good guy or a bad guy? Big questions but emotionally, this story hangs together. You don't have to like what I did with it but don't tell me it should have ended in deep space or with an elderly Annie or aged Gene.
Ahh,.. but the writers and publicity department tried to dress it up as a science fiction show. So don't be angry with the fans who were expecting something more of that nature. The pre-airing advertising (that was seriously awesome), made it seem even more sci-fi - what with the car morphing from present day to the 70s. It was always talked about as that 'time travelling cop show' - so forgive me for thinking that it could, conceivably, have involved some aspect of time travel. And why couldn't it? Time travel makes just as much sense as Sam living his final second in his 1973 world forever, doesn't it?
The writers worked so hard on getting all of the 70s details - 1973 details - right - to the point where there are few obvious, glaring anachronisms - why bother, if not to raise the question - is Sam really in 1973? And if he's really in 1973, there has to be an SF element - because time travel is supernatural.
Sam's emotional odyssey concludes with him learning nothing. It concludes with - as Matthew puts it - Sam's death. Unless, of course, Matthew had actually written the ending he really intended. I'll assume that had we ended with Sam in 2007, we wouldn't have had the team shot up beforehand, but that Sam would have done something to save everyone - committed a sacrificial act that gave him a revelation and the power to return (we were told, early on, that Sam had the power in him to return.) We would have had a clever and emotionally draining, but ultimately satisfying conclusion. (And yes, I'd still be heartbroken, but it would have made sense at the very least.) Or... we could have had the ending we have, but it could have been justified, explained, backed up by the show and not just our longing inferences.
Does my opinion vary from Ashley's or Tony's or Chris's or Mark's or Julie's or Guy's? No it does not. Because Episode 8 existed as a concept before any of them started writing. They all knew where it was headed because Ash and I had told them.
Then why didn't everyone plot accordingly? Why did Ash write episode four of the second series as the perfect example of Sam needing to return home? Why did Mark write that truly wonderful scene about Sam and Gene's trust only for Matthew to come along the next minute and have Sam happy to have Gene cut out of his skull? Why wasn't there an arc showing Sam assimilating more completely into the 1973 lifestyle? For hints of him being terrified that he liked 1973 too much? For him believing that it's all real?
Is there more to learn?
A2A will take you on a bigger journey. There is more to Gene Hunt than is dreamt of in our philosophies. But the journey takes time folks.
Tell me, because I want to know - why the hell should I watch another of Matthew Graham's shows when he's snubbed me for getting emotionally and intellectually invested in Life on Mars (and condescendingly suggested I go read a book.) When he hasn't taken the time and effort to create a text that makes logical sense. When he's rehashing the same idea - again - only this time with "real sexual tension" (because it's between a bird and a bloke), that's set in a completely illogical and frankly ridiculous construct?
The thing that gets to me is that Life on Mars was all about questions - it begins with a question - "Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time?" And yet, now that it's over, Matthew seems to want everyone to sit back and just accept the ending unquestioningly, - don't think - just feel (and only feel what I want you to feel.) I'm sorry, but I can't do that. I tried. I really did. I sat back. I went and read several good books. I did a whole host of housework. And I'm still annoyed by this. I still want to dissect and discuss Life on Mars. So in that way, Matthew Graham succeeded. I just wish he'd realise this. And that's it - you know? If he'd just accept that maybe he made a couple of mistakes, didn't anticipate all the questions - tried to do too much with the text - if he didn't lie and try to say he'd always intended this ending - I'd be less inclined to rant.
Well. That was cathartic.
My S2 DVDs arrived the other day. I'm going to watch the specials at some point and probably get even more worked up.