The Weathermen are back tonight on Life on Mars, which means things go boom. We’re not talking about the predict-rain variety of weathermen, but the bomb-government-buildings-type Weathermen. You know, the ones Sarah Palin was so exercised about. (Yes, I know they were named after the Dylan song, but why give a radical organization such a goofy, easily-confused name? Were they trying to make things difficult for television recappers 30-odd years in the future? What about MY needs?)

An angry caller to the 1-2-5 claims to be  member of the Weather Underground and tells Gene that “these bombings are a strike to the heart of the US Gestapo organization!” Um, what bombings? Well, to start with, a cop hangout is destroyed, killing five people. Three of them were cops who used to work with Gene. The squad starts searching through records on who’s involved in the Weathermen and come up with the name Rodney Slavin, who was a radical leader and rising star of the movement. Rodney — and several other known Weathermen — took a class at Columbia called “The Role of the Radical Subversive In the Enlightenment of our Epoch.” Hmm — does that fulfill a distribution requirement?

The squad goes to Columbia to talk to professor Pat Olsen about the Weathermen, and find out (gasp!) she’s a she! She’s also Janel Moloney, and I keep flashing back to Donna Moss on The West Wing. Working for Josh Lyman would radicalize anyone. Pat talks a good game about the oppressive nature of the police, the likelihood that the folks who died deserved it, and her conviction that Gene has already judged her guilty. Gene starts out in non-brutal mode, but that’s going to change. Another old colleague found a bomb in his car, and the (woefully underequipped, by modern standards) bomb squad is trying to defuse it. Gene stands by his man until Sam and Sizeable Ted bodily drag him away. Just in time — the bomb blows, and Gene’s friend, plus the bomb squad tech, are toast.

Now Gene’s really pissed, and he works Pat over with varying degrees of force. Ray tells Sam not to worry — “He’s not going to hurt her, he’s just going to make her think he’s going to hurt her.” I’m not to sure, Ray, because Gene is plenty mad. Pat doesn’t help matters by bringing up “The Red Squad,” a purported cadre of cops who targeted radical groups. Pat says that all the men who died — and Gene himself –were Red Squad members, and they did very bad things.

One of those things may have been the murder of Rodney Slavin. He died of a drug overdose exactly one year ago, but 1) everyone who knew him said he didn’t use, and 2) the substance that killed him wasn’t heroin, it was a pharmaceutical-grade drug called Hydromorphone, and there was enough in his system to kill multiple elephants. Could he have been assassinated by the Red Squad? Gene denies this vehemently.

Annie figures out what really happened when she talks to Laura, Pat’s young daughter, who is towed into the station by Pat’s husband. See, Annie can tell that Pat was in love with Rodney (“a woman knows…”). Rodney had one blue and one brown eye (“Like David Bowie!” Annie says), and so does Laura. When Sam and Annie bring Pat’s husband, a doctor, into the interrogation room, they get him to admit that he killed Rodney when he realized who Laura’s real father was. It wasn’t about radical politics at all — it was a pure, ordinary, run-of-the-mill crime of passion. How bourgeoisie! The husband makes a run for it, and ends up in Gene’s car. Mistake — Pat had her radical cohort rigged that car to blow in revenge for Rodney’s death. Oops.

Sam’s psyche
There were some great Sam moments in this episode, starting with the opening sequence. Sam walks into the squad room to the strains of Rocket Man, and everyone is frozen — except Gene and Annie, who remain animated for a few moments. The shrink Sam is seeing (after all, he was injured in the line of duty, and therefore has to see someone), tells him this is a classic post-trauma dream, and it symbolizes that he needs to tear down the walls he’s built up around him, and start making this place feel like home.

By the end of the episode, Sam starts to bend a little. He looks at Annie and sees her as something “that make[s] breaking down those walls absolutely worthwhile.” He watches Gene comfort Danny, the son of one of the slain cops and a disabled Vietnam vet, and sees his depths. But even that isn’t enough. He tells the doctor that “as long as I’m here, I can never, ever stop trying to find my way home.”

Highlights, thoughts and odds and ends

  • I’m assuming you all heard the news that Life on Mars will end at some point in April? Yeah, I know. It sucks. I also have to think that this was NOT the episode to air when fans are thinking of what to send to the network in a “save our show” campaign.
  • I was way too young in the early 70’s to have been aware of anything dealing with the Weather Underground and other radical organizations. It never really sunk in for me that holy crap, people were setting off bombs! The ’70s kind of sucked, didn’t they?
  • I don’t know what it is about Kevin Kilner, but as soon as I see him on screen, I suspect the worst.
  • The Bowie eyes were a bit overdone, don’t you think? (Also, Bowie’s eyes aren’t really different colors — one is injured, so the pupil is permanently dilated. That’s your random fact for the day.)
  • I can’t hear Rocket Man without thinking of the Shatner version. It’s distracting.
  • Did anyone else sigh with nostalgia when they saw the 45-adaptor in the single on the portable record player? Just me? Ok, then.
Posted by:Sarah Jersild