When going into Life on Mars, I expected to just be happy with Phil Glenister having a starring role. I never thought I’d grow to admire John Simm so much. I never expected the humour, or the thought-provoking issues that didn’t feel like ‘an issue a week’, or the seriously brilliant production values. I didn’t expect such fine tuned characters and I especially never thought that these two characters these two fantastic actors play would strike such a resonant chord with me.
So I was shocked when I realised that Sam and Gene had become my “One True Pairing”. Up until then, I had successfully been very broad minded and not had any, in any of my fandoms. I’d never been much of a shipper. I’d never really been obsessed with a pairing before – concentrating more on individual characters. And even though it was quite clear that I’d been subconsciously operating with Sam and Gene as my primary pairing for a very long time, I didn’t consciously accept it until quite recently. I think you’ll remember the post.
So why? Why is it these two characters and their interaction that gets me like this? Especially when there are so many problems to overcome. The least of which being that in Matthew’s mind, Gene is, in fact, not at all real. (And of course, he’s actually not, but I mean in relation to Sam.)
I say in the previous post that I can relate to the distance between Sam and Gene as much as the bond – and that is so true. But their bond is certainly the thing that makes me grin like a maniac when I think about them.
The thing about Sam and Gene is that they know each other. On the surface, they each have wrong-headed notions of each other – Gene thinks that Sam does things just to make life difficult, Sam likes to think he regards Gene as a thug. But when it comes down to it, they know those notions aren’t true. They know what makes the other person tick. It’s instinctive, a gut feeling. And it’s there from the beginning.
They trust each other, Sam and Gene. Despite all odds. Even though Sam is insane, and Gene’s a dangerous man. Those things don’t matter to them. And they both know this. I shall now quote some scenes in demonstration.
S2, episode 7 (which is surely to become the number one episode of all time for Sam and Gene interaction fans – and yes, I am still boggling that I wasn’t CAPSLOCKING all over the damn place when I first saw it);
MORGAN [speaking about Gene]
Why did he call you?
Well, I suppose he trusts me.
Now, let’s look at this. From an objective point of view – Gene ‘running’ to Sam is confusing. Why would a DCI call his DI? Especially when they have loud and public arguments constantly? Surely it would be safer for Gene to call someone who has operated as his right-hand man before, someone who has known Gene the longest, such as DS Carling? But no, he calls Sam. Why?
Well, Sam knows the answer. The “I suppose” there is Sam doing what Sam does best, bringing negativity into something positive. The answer is simple - Sam knows that Gene trusts him.
Well, then he did it. He crossed the line. He killed a man. You always said Gene didn't know when to stop.
I trusted him.
So did I. We all did.
You know, without trust, we've got nothing. Who am I supposed to believe in now?
The thing that gets me about this, is Sam’s genuinely confused about who he’s supposed to believe in. It never once occurs to him to believe in Morgan. Or Rathbone. Or any of the other members of CID. Not even Annie.
And Sam trusts Gene. Despite using past tense there, Sam continues to trust Gene – as evidenced by my NUMBER TWO FAVOURITE SCENE IN LIFE ON MARS EVER.
Why should I believe you?
Because you trust me, like I trust you!
God. I can’t even go into how much this scene gets to me. Phil’s line delivery is pitch perfect and the way it’s shot and lit is stunning. And it’s confirmation and back up of what we’ve been given in the episode. Even though there’s no overwhelming reason for Gene to trust Sam – there’s no overwhelming reason for Sam to trust Gene – they do and they acknowledge it - in words and actions.
That could be enough, right there, for OTP status in my mind. But then we have other scenes. Like MY NUMBER ONE FAVOURITE SCENE IN LIFE ON MARS EVER from earlier on in the second series – S2, episode 2;
Do you want my appraisal of you?
It's your round then.
Mere words don’t actually render this scene in its true glory. It is again another case of pitch perfect delivery and framing. But fuck. It’s amazing. The things not said are so loud. They scream off the screen. That single ‘thank you’ is more, means more, than ten thousand other words or phrases. It’s an example of what they end up articulating later on the series. And I don’t know if John Simm is entirely telling the truth when he says it – although I see no real reason for him to make it up either – but that scene even affected the actors watching a pre-screening. That’s how great it is.
I do find it amusing that my two favourite scenes of the show are in the series I find the weakest, in terms of overall development, but that’s the thing with the second series of Life on Mars - it has more amazing stand-out moments than the first series, but none of its consistency.
But, here we go with an example of trust from S1, episode 4:
Harry couldn't handle it. Ended up hanging himself with his own belt. Month later, I took my first backhander.
How did that make you feel?
How does it make you feel now?
You know, I try not to think about it. Do the best that I can. Try and look after my men and the people in my city.
But when you do think about it? How does it make you feel?
Like there's an animal eating away at my insides.
Fancy doing something about it?
I thought you'd never ask.
Oh, man. Gene would never, ever reveal this to anyone else at the station – nor at home, most likely – and Sam understands. He doesn’t try to tell Gene that it wasn’t his fault. He doesn’t try to tell him that he should feel like shit. He appeals to that aspect of Gene that is idealistic, but he also appeals to that aspect of Gene that we get to see from the beginning – the one that’s all about taking action.
And similarly, Gene confides in Sam again – actually explains his actions to Sam, to help Sam see, in S2, episode 6;
Have you got any shred of humanity left? Because, innocent or guilty, no one deserves to have their face rubbed in their own brother's death.
I had a brother. Some bastard got him hooked on speed. I tried to knock sense into him, tried everything. Haven't seen him in ten years. No one has.
You can't change someone. It's just like with Chris, you put the effort in and what do you get? Same stupid grin, stupid addict. Didn't wanna be helped.
You know, addiction's usually a sign of something else missing from your life.
Yeah, but me and him were brought up exactly the same. I'm not addicted.
He drinks from his hipflask. SAM raises his eyebrows. A body under a sheet on a trolley is wheeled across the corridor.
I mean, you know, the old man could be a bit loose with his fists when he'd had a jar or two, by the time I was thirteen, me and Stu stuck together, we could take him.
So a happy childhood then.
Ah, I dunno when it all went wrong. Drugs, eh? What's the point? They make you forget, they make you talk funny, make you see things that aren't there, my gran got all that for free when she had a stroke.
SAM looks at him. GENE drinks again. SAM puts a hand on his shoulder.
It's tough, losing someone.
Yeah, it was a long time ago.
He looks at SAM's hand.
No need to come over all Dorothy.
So, yes, trust and knowledge. It kills me. And I love it.
We have so many moments throughout the series of co-ordinated and synchronised policing. To the point where you can’t help but think that these two practice in Gene’s office late at night. Jumping over tables, bursting into rooms, even adopting each other’s posture when sitting or standing. Sam and Gene mirror one another constantly.
And they bleed into each other, don’t they? Who doesn’t adore that moment in s2, episode 1, when Sam pauses halfway through a rant and realises it’s startlingly familiar? Who doesn’t chuckle at Gene doing the exact same thing with ‘no flipping evidence’? Actually, look;
I would never fit anybody up who didn't - [beat] - Who didn't deserve it.
Because I am policing in the full glare of the public bloody eye and the Chief Super is taking a personal interest, and we also have no flipping evidence and I can't believe I just said that!
Oh, my, yes. Not only do Sam and Gene trust each other – but they influence each other too. In good and bad ways. And that complexity is something I really appreciate – because I’m not sure I’m entirely happy that Sam becomes desensitised to Gene’s violence, but I am very happy he learns to loosen up enough to start having more of a sense of humour. (Sarcastic Sam makes me oh so happy – Let Joy be Unconfined!) And I’m not sure Gene’s being forced into operating within the pressure of the public gaze is necessarily all that conducive to him getting the job done, but I am glad he stops taking backhanders and starts being ever so slightly more open-minded about the people he’ll have on his team.
As I mentioned before, there are things that Sam and Gene don’t get about each other – there is distance and space between them. But for me, these enhance the ‘OTP’ nature of their relationship – because I think that’s very true to life. Sam actually doesn’t confide in Gene – not with words. He listens to Gene, but he rarely shares anything. And Gene seems to accept that, doesn’t press the point – Gene’s not about questions, he’s about answers. The friction between Sam and Gene is what spurs them on. The fight, the push and punch, is what motivates each man to be the best they think they can be. The sad truth is, sometimes, they have entirely the wrong idea about themselves and need to pull each other into check, (S1, episode 7, S1, episode 8 and S2, episode 6 are all good examples of this.)
In reality, I could go on and on and on about this. I really could. The Sam and Gene coin is one I keep in my pocket, occasionally compelled to bring it out of the lint to stare at its shiny magnificence. I have happy, warm, fuzzy moments when I think about Sam and Gene sharing a curry and Gene herding Sam out of a restaurant because he’s acting crazycakes – or a glance across a poker table, saying so much with a barely perceptible nod; acceptance and affection. In these moments, a smile will glaze over my face and I’ll lose myself for a moment.
“Boys. My boys,” I will murmur. (We won’t get into the whole aspect of a 36 year old and a 44 year old being called ‘boy’ when they’re clearly grown men, will we? No, I didn’t think so either.) And then I’ll continue with the washing up.
I have taken ownership of these characters. I have. They’re so well drawn – so well written. They’re complex and complicated – riddled with problematic and contradictory elements. And the thing that strikes me most about them is that they’re imperfect without each other. Sam is too much of a prick without Gene to counterbalance him. Without Sam, Gene is too much of a bastard. But, in tandem, they’re beautiful.
*Transcripts provided by Phantym here.