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Ashes burn out with a red-hot finale

Thanks to Sky One's simulcast with American television next Monday at 5am, Lost fans will be able to see the big finale several days earlier than expected.

In the meantime, there was another television mystery to be cleared up: Ashes To Ashes, which finally reached the dust to dust part of the equation last night.

Those who had been along for the five-year ride through three series of Ashes To Ashes and two series of its predecessor, Life On Mars, were promised that all would be explained in the final episode.

They'd learn the ultimate fate of Sam Tyler, the 21st-century detective who had been hit by a car in Life On Mars and ended up back in the 1970s, and who several people in Ashes To Ashes suspected had been murdered by his boss DCI Gene Hunt, the Sweeney-style copper honed by Philip Glenister into one of TV's great characters.


They'd find out why DI Alex Drake (Keeley Hawes) had similarly dropped into Gene's world in the 1980s, having taken a bullet in the head and if she'd make it back to her young daughter.

Most important of all, they'd discover who Gene Hunt, who had grown increasingly darker and more mysterious, really was and what he was up to.

Anyway, the question is: did the final episode deliver on its promises? Yes, absolutely, and with the impact of a punch in the gut from Hunt.

Whatever you may feel about Ashes To Ashes -- and it surely went on too long -- this was a cracking, supremely clever closing chapter, every bit as gripping and ingenious as the finale of Life On Mars.

So, explanation time. Everyone in Ashes To Ashes (and indeed Life On Mars) was dead, but the only ones who realised this were Gene and his nemesis, the creepy DCI Jim Keats (Daniel Mays).

The world they inhabited was an elaborate copper's limbo -- a kind of celestial holding bay between earth and heaven, or hell, where the dead live out their fantasies before moving on to the next plane.

And where better for a cop to fantasise than in a dream world of fast cars and big guns, where good always triumphs over evil and everyone goes off for a few pints after banging up the villains?

Gene, who in his real life had been a young uniform shot dead on the day of the queen's coronation in 1953, was revealed as an Archangel whose job was to save souls and prepare them for their journey through the gateway -- which in this case was the door of the pub they hung out in in Life On Mars.


Keats, on the other hand, was the devil -- or at least some kind of agent of evil -- who tried to persuade them to join his "team", which meant taking a one-way elevator down to a place where the screaming voices of the tormented and the damned echoed.

Ashes To Ashes ended with Gene, his old team, including Alex, now departed, back in his office and feeling lonely.

At which point, another bewildered young copper from a different time came bursting through the door wondering where he was and what he was doing there.

It was a satisfyingly melancholy ending. There won't be a sequel to Ashes To Ashes, which is just as well, since you can get too much of a good thing.

That said, the destination was just about worth the trip.