April 16, 2007

Life On Mars: Alternate Ending (Spoilers, natch)

To start it plays out pretty much as shown on TV. As Sam flees the scene of the gunfight he sees the white light and walks into it. Sam wakes up in a hospital room (Hyde ward) and eventually returns to work. We cut to the police station canteen, where Sam and Maya are eating lunch. Sam asks about her dissapearence (as shown in the first episode), but Maya looks confused and asks what he’s going on about. When Sam references the serial killer they were chasing she claims to have no knowledge of it, and asks Sam if he’s sure he’s fit to come back to work.

The meeting scene at the old office is extended. It opens with discussions on security for the upcoming United/City game next week. Sam’s colleagues discuss assigning a small detail to the gates and surrounding areas to ensure there’s no trouble. Sam queries how that will be sufficient to off-set the huge amounts of violence and vandelism that these games inevitably bring with them. Again they look at him quizically and point out that there have been no major incidents of violence at a Manchester local derby since the 1970s. Sam seems confused and becomes lost in thought, which is where the scene as shown picks up, with Sam not even noticing his cut finger.

After the meeting we see Sam rush to the archives room, where he digs out the files for 1973. He pulls out the “Hunt, Gene” file and finds attached to it a newspaper clipping: “4 Officers Killed in Train-sting Gone Wrong”, with the subtitle “A furthur officer is missing, presumed dead”. Sam is slowly becoming convinced that somehow he really did go back in time, and goes to visit his mother. Here we get another extended version of the scene as shown, where he tells his mother everything that happened. She’s skeptical until he relates to her the precise details of thier meeting in 1973, and her sudden dissapearence. She comes to accept that what happened was real, and encourages Sam to ‘keep his promises’ as shown.

The rest of the episode plays out as show, except it’s made clear through the radio at the end that Sam isn’t dead in the ‘real world’ but instead back in an even deeper coma, with little chance of him waking back up. We then cut back to the archives room, the headline on the newspaper changing to “Justice served for Cop-Killer”.


Okay so I made all that up.


It’s not that I was dissapointed with the Life On Mars ending, it far, far exceeded my expectations, and was brilliantly brave (our hero can’t cope with reality and so kills himself). In fact, I’d always maintained after the first episode that there was no way of resolving this show that would be entirely satisfactory: Sam’s primary objective in the show, as relayed in the titles voice-over at the start of every episode, was to get back home. But if he wakes up, all the characters we’ve come to care about cease to exist. And that gets to the problem I have with the ending: if Sam’s 2007 life was really so bad and pointless, why was he so desperate to get back to it? Why did he keep telling Annie “there are people that care about me back home”, when it really seemed from that episode that there weren’t. Sure, there was some attempt in the previous couple of episodes to show Sam coming to terms with staying in 1973, but by the final episode he was still willing to ‘betray’ Gene to get back home. He still chose 2007 over 1973, and it’s hard to reconcile why he’d do that if in 2007 he literally had nothing to live for.

The alternate ending I made up tries to address this by playing the science-fiction element up a little more, with Sam going back to 1973 not just because he doesn’t like his 2007 life (and to get the girl), but adds in the extra factor of him truely believing that through some strange circumstance he can actually do more good back there than in the present day. It’s still not a perfect ending. It still has problems, the major one being that, if Gene and co are real, how do they accept him back and forgive him so quickly for turning on them (the ending as show indicates it’s all in Sam’s head, so since it’s his ‘story’, thier motivations don’t have to make sense)?

Still, I prefer it, and it seems more logically consistent to me…

- 5 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. zoestar

    are you really THE Deano from the original james website chatroom of 2001???

    18 Apr 2007, 22:00

  2. Yes I am! I remember your name, but very little else about you…

    19 Apr 2007, 01:09

  3. Fallen Angel

    ummm ‘life on mars’ ay, sounds like a whole lot of junk to me, ill stick to x factor, yeahhh (puts on Mick Foley chessy chin and sticks thumb up)

    15 May 2007, 23:03

  4. Unfrozencavebear

    Immensely late ( 8 years) congratulations on writing fuller, better resolution to ‘Life on Mars’ “Total Recal”(original)style conundrum. I like the original ending, but there’s a touch missing-and ‘Ashes to Ashes’ may be a fine show, but I don’t think it legitimately exists in the same universe as ‘Life on Mars.’ Which brings us to our minor point of disagreement about the original show. I think, as the credits strongly suggest, to the very end what’s actually going on is ambiguous: as in Total Recall (especially after DCI Morgan shows up), there are a million hints suggesting one version of this story or another is real, and I don’t think he necessarily commits suicide in the show as written (they have apparently admitted to writing out a ‘fade to black’ which would have suggested that, but in any case, there are lots of clues-the incredible detail of the 1973 life, including the grit in Annie’s hand, etc-that suggest that, at least somehow he really is back in time somehow, at least until he wakes up.

    As you noted: it works best when the science fiction is at least played up as a substantial possibility (and ambiguity is present). I’m copy-pasting your ending into a text file on my machine, so as to always have on record how they could have ended this show (which I just watched for the first, and second, times) just that much better and more satisfyingly. Good writing—wish they’d found a way to film it this way.

    29 Apr 2015, 16:31

  5. Unfrozencavebear

    (I note they similarly dodge answering the question in that old Arnold movie from 1990, by fading the movie out before it becomes clear whether it’s a dream/paranoid-coma or not {“Kiss me before I wake up.”} And that’s the way it works best, overall. Your tacit use of (already suggested) science fiction finishes the show better than ‘Ashes to Ashes did, IMO. Good show)

    29 Apr 2015, 16:39

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