Deus Ex Machina: (IPA: [ˈdeɪʌs ɛks ˈmakʰɪna], literally "god from the machine") is a plot device in which a surprising or unexpected event occurs in a story's plot, often to resolve flaws or tie up loose ends in the narrative. (definition: wikipedia).
There was "Deus Ex Machina" in every nook and cranny of the last five minutes of last night's season finale of Life On Mars. It's either that, or my remote changed the channel to Battlestar Gallactica. A strange contrivance here, a bizarre "lets wrap this damn thing up" vibe there. There was plenty of "Machina" working the creative wheels and not enough "Deus", because I think even God would be pretty confused about those final moments.
The conceit of the U.S. version of Life On Mars is that Sam Tyler, a New York detective in 2008, gets knocked out by a speeding car and wakes up in 1973. What follows throughout the next seventeen episodes is a heart stopping, mind blowing and emotional journey through Sam's mind as he comes to terms with being an "alien" in this foreign world that existed back when he was a child. His childhood issues are faced with brutal force. His father was a killer, a criminal with violence searing through his blood. His mother was loving, and struggled to keep young Sam safe. Throughout his fever dreamed journey, we are lead through his constant brush with death, with love, with loss. Watching his old world in 2008 go on without him (a television showed Barack Obama as president, and he teared up, missing the progress "back home"), we felt Sam's longing, his feeling of being "the spaceman", the crazy cop with psychological issues that Annie would study and try to comprehend.
There was always the sense that Sam was in a coma, and his travel back in time was part of his fevered dream. I suppose that would be too easy. However, switching channels on the flow of the show by making him an astronaut on a space mission to Mars, suspended in animation, living out a time stopping hallucination only to throw the audience a totally different view of what we've seen all season, was confusing.
I've only seen a few episodes of the original British series. I'm going to go back on YouTube and see if I can catch up. It's my understanding that ending (which I've saved to view after the US series had its reveal) had more emotional impact, and did not throw in a contrived device to tie up loose ends and cover up flaws.
Michael Imperioli, a fabulous actor, has now been in two series with finales that were so weird I thought my cable went out: The Sopranos and now Life on Mars. I wish Mars had the same end result. I'm left feeling bereft. I cared about these characters. And Elton John's "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" was a featured song too. It brought me back. But everything I've watched up until last night seems to be a lie.
Perhaps I need to have another look at this episode. I don't want it riding off into the sunset without finding the good in that ending.
Update: Could it be that another viewing would allow the ending to make more sense than upon first sight? After re-watching the series finale, I won't say I'm totally buying into the spaceship theory; however, I will say, the ending worked a bit more for me now that I expected it. Time to re-watch this entire series with all the secrets humming in mind so I can connect the dots.
I'm so saddened that this show is finished. In my fevered space animated dreams, Life On Mars exists in another dimension, where Sam and Annie are married and fighting crime on the streets of 1970's New York.