The second and final series continues with Sam Tyler (John Simm) trapped in 1973 after being hit by a car in 2006 and answers the question he asks in the opening credits, “Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time?” Although there is some minor misdirection along the way, the creators tip their hand throughout, but the resolution of the series is ultimately unsatisfying.
During the second series, Life on Mars remains a very good police procedural and there are interesting ideas worked out from the premise. In “Episode 1,” Tyler tries to put away casino owner Tony Crane because he will one day be a murderer. Things get especially complicated when Tyler sees visions of what he thinks is Crane trying to kill him while he is in a coma in 2006.
Tyler meets other people from his modern-day life: his mentor, Glen Fletcher, as he deals with becoming the first black detective on the force; his Aunt Heather during an investigation of a serial killer; and the mother of his girlfriend Maya, who is considering having an abortion, while Tyler has visions that Maya is giving up on him in the hospital. These are all nice character moments as we see the relationships from different perspectives of time.
DCI Frank Morgan (Ralph Brown) arrives in “Episode 7” to conduct an investigation when DCI Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) is accused of killing a man and has no memory of what happened due to his drinking. Morgan seems aware of Tyler’s predicament and in “Episode 8” convinces him that taking Hunt down will return him home. Tyler receives messages through devices about a tumor that needs to be removed in 2006, paralleling his situation with the police force in 1973. He is almost certain he has to destroy his current life to return to his former/future, but these people are so real to him, he doesn’t know if he can. Also, Morgan, who Tyler hears has the same name as his doctor, presents a fourth, plausible scenario, making Tyler doubt his understanding of what is happening.
[Spoiler:Since the ending is where the series fell short, there’s no way to discuss what the creative team did wrong without revealing it. Skip to the last paragraph, if you don’t want to find out.]
I enjoyed the writing up until the resolution, although it seemed like it had to be a coma the entire time as I guessed in my review of the first series, and the misdirection of Tyler being mad comes off forced upon reflection. However, by trying to end on a positive note, the creative team throws logic out the window and does a disservice to themselves and the viewer by blurring the series’ mythology.
After turning his back on his friends while they are in trouble, Tyler comes out of his coma, although that doesn’t discount the fact that he may have traveled back in time. Tyler finds his modern life unsatisfying, so he throws himself off a building, which allows him to return to 1973 and save his friends. While it’s great to see the gang back together, there’s no real explanation of what happened. How could he return to 1973 by killing himself, and why would he think that he could, if that were his plan, because that’s not how he got there? Being in a coma and being dead isn’t the same thing, yet now his imagination and the afterlife are the same thing? The creative team copped out to create a happy ending.
The set comes with bonus features of behind-the-scenes looks at episodes “3,” “5,” and “7;” a tour of the CID set; and Tufty’s cameo. “The Return of Life on Mars” (45 min) and “The End of Life on Mars” (28 min) contains interviews with the cast and crew as they talk about proceeding with the second series as well as wrapping it up. Everyone seems content as the creators explain what and why they did what they did, but none of them take into account what little sense it makes.