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Living Dead: 'Lost' versus 'Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes'

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Message Dominique Lord
Reprint from Open Salon.

First, I'm sorry to arrive late to the party, but I was away for the last three weeks of May. I was finally able to watch the last episode of Lost on my DVR yesterday.

So, whether by karma, fate or simple coincidence, ABC's 'Lost' and, in my opinion, the superior BBC show 'Ashes to Ashes' (the continuation of the brilliant British 'Life on Mars') ended their respective series on the very same weekend. The final episode of the BBC series was shown on Friday, May 21st, while Lost was broadcast two days later. I realize that this, while tragic for me, is not particularly noteworthy. Except that the theme of these otherwise entirely different shows ended up being exactly the same.

*Spoiler Alert!*

As everyone in the entire world likely knows by now, Lost tells the story of the "survivors" of a horrific plane crash on a mystical island somewhere in the Pacific. Throughout the six uneven seasons we saw some pretty wild stuff, like time travel, infinite sources of energy, the explosion of a hydrogen bomb, parallel universes and the classic (and tired, and tiring) religious theme of good versus evil.

The BBC series, on the other hand, recounts the tale of two police officers, Sam Tyler in Life on Mars (two seasons) and Alex Drake in Ashes to Ashes (three seasons), who find themselves back in 1973 and 1981 respectively, following a "brush" with death. They end up working in a precinct of the precursor of the Greater Manchester Police, which is headed by Detective Chief Inspector Gene Hunt (played by the amazing Philip Glenister), who uses similar methods to Harry Callahan, just with a cooler accent and no squint. And smaller guns.

As narrated in the opening credits of Life on Mars: Are they mad, in a coma or simply back in time?

In both parts, Sam and then Alex after him are trying to figure out how to get back into their own timeline. Like Lost, the overall plot arc of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes involves the viewers (and characters) having to solve the overreaching mystery of what the hell they're all doing there, with the help of clues given throughout the series.

I'm not going to sugar coat it here. Life on Mars and its sequel Ashes to Ashes kicked Lost to the curb in every department: writing, acting, the plot, even the cinematography. The British series also managed to be witty and often hilarious, which was a nice breather after Lost, which took itself a little too seriously most of the time.

I really miss that BBC series. You should get the DVDs.

Anyway, by now we all know that all the characters on Lost were in fact dead. There's still a debate about whether they'd kicked the bucket from the beginning and were wandering around a kind of very scenic Purgatory, or if what they experienced on the island truly happened and then they all met again in the afterlife after dying in different points, different parts of the world, and off the damned island. Under the second scenario, the parallel universe would be considered the Purgatory (though a pretty cool one, considering). Discussions about the controversial series ending can be found here and here.

Still with me?

In Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes, we also found out at the end of the series that all the police officers, including the two lead characters, were in fact dead or in the process of dying, but in different points in time. All their cases, conflicts, even the trips to the local pub were all part of a Purgatory, in which each character had to make their own decision about whether to ascend to Heaven or drop to Hell. Gene Hunt the Chief Inspector was actually the Saint Peter for all these wayward souls, guiding them in his blunt-force way to make the right decision.

In Lost, the Saint Peter role was kind of performed by Desmond, especiallyafter he started herding the Losties in the parallel universe into meeting each other. I'm sure a lot of people would argue that Jack was the St. Peter from the beginning (not like his last name was a clue, or anything). Either way, since Lost is a US show, the good versus evil thing was omnipresent.

But in short: two completely different series, same ending!

Like I said above, coincidence... Or something more? (Cue portentous music.)

Ashes to Ashes characters, shepherded by "Saint Peter" Gene Hunt, walking towards Heaven. Perhaps not terribly surprisingly it's situated in the local pub. (Season 3, Episode 8)

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Dominique is an Associate Professor in the Zachry Department of Civil Engineering at Texas A&M University. His research work aims at reducing the negative effects associated with motor vehicle crashes. When he's not developing mathematical and (more...)
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