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I watched the last episode of Life on Mars last night (twice in fact). I was very engaged with what the shows creators were doing until the last few minutes. The episode had all the best things about the show. The narrative was ambiguous. You always have that edge wondering what is really going on-- is he a 1970s nutjob, a 2009 coma patient, or a true time traveler? It keeps you guessing and looking for clues, which is always more interesting than having everything handed to you. It also had the central theme of love as all important-- love for friends, for partners, for relatives, and for sweethearts. It's not the crime to solve that's important each week, it's the relationship among the characters.

However, I don't know what the shows PTB were thinking at the end. The last episode of the original version of Life on Mars from England had a lot more guts. Sam Tyler wakes in 2008 and yearns so much for the life he had in the 1970s that he leaps from the top of the police station. It is a literal leap of faith, where the viewers don't know if the happy return to the 70's is real or a dying man's delusion. The ambiguity of the story is maintained but the ending is still happy.

The US ending is pretty heavy handed in comparison. It's "whoops, none of it was real...we're really in the future. Oh, ya and we're on our way to Mars... to look for life." This ending collapsed the metaphor of the title. It also negated the love story between Sam and Annie. I wonder if the US network executives were not ready to broadcast a scene of the possible suicide of the main character as a happy ending. It's too bad they didn't have the courage.

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September 2010

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