TV Thursdays: What Happens After We Die? (Life On Mars, Ashes To Ashes)


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A very sobering, uncomfortable, hotly debated, controversial and confronting topic, the notion that our actions in this life impact the next after we die, has been proposed in numerous formats by various religions and beliefs since the dawn of time.

While spirituality has been used as a launching pad in shows dealing with the paranormal and the supernatural such as Grimm, Supernatural, The Originals, The Vampire Diaries, Tru Calling, Haven, Eureka, Roswell and many others, inclusive of the upcoming new shows iZombie and The Messengers; I don’t think that there is a TV show that has actively tackled death and the concept of atonement and forgiveness, so skilfully and provoking so much thought and questions, than the BBC shows Life On Mars and its sequel Ashes To Ashes. If you’re wondering why I am talking about such a sensitive issue now, let me say that because I am a Christian, it’s natural to compare shows talking about the possibility of something more out there, to my own beliefs, and whether they align or not. And it so happens that one of my favourite TV shows ever has given me plenty of topics to discuss, some of which I agree with and some of which I do not.

While shows this year such as Red Band Society this fall and Chasing Life this summer deal with and delve into our mortality and premature death; Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, which allude to time travel as well as purgatory at the same time (sorry for the spoilers), look at death from another angle- not an angle where the protagonist tries to live, but one where the protagonist accepts the situation and embraces the life beyond. In Life On Mars, the protagonist, Detective Chief Inspector Sam Tyler, is shot during a drug bust, and subsequently is sent back to the 1970’s, seemingly through time, when he befriends other cops Chris Skelton and Ray Carling, falls in love with Annie Cartwright, and locks horns and battles with his boss Gene Hunt. All the while, he helps solves crimes for the local police station in Manchester, while trying to find a way back home, and not arousing suspicion to his new colleagues.

Throughout the series, Sam confides in Annie, and tells her everything, and together, they try to figure out the truth and what has happened. But at the end of the series, it is ambiguous as to what has happened- Sam wakes up in 2006 after being knocked out in 1973, but realises his new life was better than his old life. He doesn’t care about his life in 2006, and ‘commits suicide’, thus presumably going into the afterlife in the 1970’s, and it is unclear as to whether he is dead or has travelled to an alternate dimension.

In the sequel Ashes to Ashes, Detective Inspector Alex Drake, Sam’s psychologist for the brief time he was awake in 2006, is shot during a similar raid to the one that changed Sam’s life, and she is thrown back to the 1980’s, again working with Gene, Chris, and Ray, as well as a new detective called Shaz. She is shocked to find herself in the place that Sam described, and equally surprised to figure out that Sam and Annie married and had children. Throughout Ashes to Ashes, Alex strives to travel home to be with her daughter Molly even though it seems like she can’t find a way back, and in the latter parts of the series, every clue and mystery culminate in a massive twist designed to shock us all.

Though the premise of both shows sound like Continuum in reverse, the two BBC shows remind us that life is fleeting and we may never know how much time we have left on this earth and with the people that we love. While at times we think that Sam and Alex are both dead, or mad, or actually did travel back in time, our views on the afterlife are thrown into question, as we ponder as to whether we go to heaven or not after this life, particular as we watch Ashes to Ashes season 3. While it’s true that many people today think about our life after death is not important to dwell upon now, the fact that no one knows the future should spur us into action as we think really hard about the important things in life. Our opinion and thoughts on life and death, our choices, beliefs, ethics, morals, values, and relationships with others ultimately shape who we are as people, our character and how we act, and I believe that if there’s one show that makes us think about all of these factors that are building blocks and the foundation of us as people, then it is both Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. While two shows, you really need to see it as one package, telling us the same thing- that life can be over in the blink of an eye, and we need to be content with life and with our direction post-death (if you believe in that…) that we shouldn’t be afraid of death.

That’s why I talked about this show last. Over the last few weeks, we have talked about topics such as friendship, mentors and mentees, regrets, our need for a saviour and hero, other’s opinions about us, justice, familial relationships and identity; and this topic, of our salvation, or the security of our soul and knowledge that our life means much more than the 80 or so years we live on planet Earth, is what I believe is the most important thing of all that needs to be addressed despite the uncomfortability. Though these two shows do not give us any direct answers, but rather more questions, I believe that these two will make the most impact on viewers over the next however-many years, for the reason that every human being is longing for more, is longing for a purpose higher than their own, and is longing to know what happened after we die.

There are two things that are certainties in life, they say- which is death and taxes. Have you been looking deep into your own mortality recently, and delving beyond that? No? Then look at Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, and I hope that you take what is being presented and wrestle with it. There’s a lot of heavy material that you might not fully understand first go, but that’s also what makes it so rich, and this TV series one of the best of the 2000’s. So take a look, and tell me what you think about it, in terms of the afterlife, and other aspects.

So this concludes this part of TV Thursdays (me counting down my top 20 favourite TV shows). We will break next week, and the week after we will start a new part of TV Thursdays- maybe talk about actors, film franchises, favourite characters, I’m not too sure. But I will have a couple of weeks to think about it, so that’ll be fine.

Til next time!

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