You want to know how freaky the ending of this episode was? When it was over, I turned to the missus and said, "Why don't we watch It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia just to take the edge off?"
But before we can get to the big, freaky-deaky ending, I suppose we need to deal with what otherwise would have been a fairly pedestrian episode. The best and brightest of the 125th Precinct are trying to solve a kidnapping by staking out the ransom drop. The detectives manage to apprehend the dumb schmoe who shows up to pick up the ransom, and it turns out to be Vic Tyler, Sam's no-goodnik father.
Vic claims he's just doing the bidding of the horrible Pignato Brothers, the crime kingpins of legend and song, in order to pay off some ill-advised gambling debts. Sam, for one, is willing to believe him because, quite frankly, Vic plays his emotions like a Stradivarius. After all, this entire deal is going down just before what would have been 1973 Sam's fourth birthday party -- for those of you keeping score at home, that's when Sam's dad took a permanent powder.
So after some father/time-traveling-son bonding, Vic agrees to confront the Pignato Brothers wearing a wire and with the police lying in wait. But the sting operation goes south when many, many hoodlums get shot, the police-supplied ransom money disappears, and, soon enough, Vic does, too. It becomes readily apparent that Vic is not the humble cleaning supplies salesman he purports to be.
Just how crooked Vic is becomes readily apparent at the aforementioned fourth birthday party when the father-of-the-year candidate slips off into the woods. This is the point that we learn the woman in the red dress who has been the focal point of so many Sam flashbacks is not, in fact, Sam's red dress-clad mother, but rather Annie, also sporting the red dress. As it turns out, grown-up Sam suppressed the memory of what his father did back in 1973 -- beat a policewoman to death and then flee from justice. Fortunately, he's there this time to spare Annie, but not before his own father shoots him in the gut. Twice. That's going to lead to some therapy bills.
Oh, but that's not the disturbing part. You see, thanks to a clue Vic drops, a recovering Sam goes back through his old cases and comes up with an address to a seemingly abandoned cabin. Once there, the phone rings, and the voice on the other end of the line -- think something out of Saw VI: The '70s Edition -- congratulates Sam for being so clever and suggests that he go check out the basement. And that's where we'll leave things until 2009, apparently.
So anyhow, I can't recommend that It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode enough to chase the night terrors away.
Previously on Moonage Daydream: Cop goes back in time. Gets to solve some crimes, some of which involve mobsters. Meets his mom, which turns out to be awkward. And there are many, many flashbacks to women in red dresses. There. You're all up to date.
Speaking of women in red dresses, Li'l Sam -- that's the 1973 toddler version of Our Hero -- is watching one flee to the woods on a TV screen, when a gentlemen in a hat presents the boy with a new toy spaceship. The hat-wearing chap is, very obviously, Sam's father, who is played, even more very obviously, by Dean Winters. You may recognize him from such TV shows as Oz or, more recently, on 30 Rock as Liz Lemon's meathead ex-boyfriend. This latter role has robbed Dean Winters of some of his air of menace, for me, anyhow, as I now expect him to try and sell people pagers or deliver heartfelt monologues about how Liz Lemon has "chosen to abort me." I am almost certain that this is not the effect the producers of Life on Mars are aiming for. Nevertheless, our takeaway from this scene -- besides that shot of the lady in red on the TV, I suppose -- is that Li'l Sam has a birthday coming up and his deadbeat dad doesn't plan to miss it. "Maybe one day you can go to the moon," Ol' Man Tyler murmurs at his son. Or perhaps... he could go to Mars! Bwah ha ha ha ha!
And by "Mars," we, of course mean, "elsewhere in New York City," where Sam is on a stakeout with Hunt, Skelton and Carling. It is nice that they decided to carpool to the stakeout -- very earth-conscious of them. The boys are working a kidnapping case, in which the father of the purloined infant will drop off the ransom at Astroland Park -- fans of leitmotifs will enjoy the rocket ship in the foreground of the park -- and when the kidnapper shows up to collect the ransom, the detectives will nab him. And that's exactly how the plan plays out -- a shadowy figure picks up the ransom from a trash can, and after a fairly by-the-numbers foot chase, the cops pick up him. After a flying tackle from Carling, the cops slap some cuffs on the kidnapper, who turns out to be... Dean Winters. Poor Sam -- I bet he hasn't been this uncomfortable since learning that his mom was palling around with loan sharks. If this series continues much longer, he's gonna learn that his grandmother ran a profitable bookmaking operation and his beloved uncle was one of the Watergate burglars.