(Index to all Torchwood posts here.)
I know I owe you guys some RAWR action, but I’ve only read one and a half chapters, and, in comparison to the chapter I’m stuck on, Torchwood is kicking A Dance with Dragons‘ behind. (Oh yes, I said it. It is chapter and episode specific, though.)
So, at the end of last week (and do I need to say ‘big honking spoilers ahoy!’?) Vera Juarez gets burnt alive, making Rex very, very angry. Because he was such a happy chap before. But rather than starting straight back at his rage, we start with a new character, Stuart Owens (Ernie Hudson), someone inside of PhiCore, someone who doesn’t know the Secret, but who is starting to get damn curious about something. He orders a dude in Hong Kong to go investigate something. The dude looks like a tough guy, but whatever he sees is enough to make himself tell Stuart that he saw nothing, before throwing himself off a building. Closest thing to death in this brave new world – a jump off a tall enough building is said to bring brain death.
Cut back to Rex taking video of the modules and what happened to Vera and saying about how he’s going to expose it all. Meanwhile, Esther doesn’t know Vera’s dead yet. Her shift is just ending, but she’s worried about Vera because she won’t answer the phone, so she bluffs her way into staying on. In the meantime the camp-boss, Colin Maloney (Marc Vann), is going mega-paranoid in response to his guilt and puts the camp in lockdown.
At the same time in Wales Gwen is trying to get her father out and facing a bureaucracy both cowardly and desperate. In LA, Jack uses the creepiest come-on ever to persuade the mistress of Stuart Owens to help him get to the guy. Presenting her with emails that show Stuart to be a bit of a dickhead her persuades her that it will be revenge. But Jack finds Stuart surprisingly co-operative. Stuart can’t tell him much, but his reasons for that are interesting in themselves. Whoever has been stockpiling the drugs has been doing this for a long time using a lot of different systems. The real evil is hidden behind a wall of bureaucracy. The only true piece of information Stuart can provide is a single, enigmatic word: the ‘Blessing’.
Back at the camp, things are going crazy. They locate Rex and the camp boss goes to ‘question’ him. Esther does a passable job of nearly saving the day, but ultimately it’s the Maloney’s reluctant side-kick, Ralph (Fred Koehler) who cracks and decides the killing has to stop… by ‘killing’Colin Maloney.
The story wraps up as Gwen and Rhys save her father and Gwen blows the camp in Wales to Hell, capturing it on tape and sending a message to the world. A message that does not receive the resounding response they expected.
How was it?
It was stonking. Torchwood is well and truly back on form, despite killing off one of my favourite characters. The pace was fast throughout, without sacrificing the moral complexity that is starting to make this genuinely interesting. Although I’m still finding Mekhi Phifer’s performance somewhat weak, everyone else is bringing it.
They’re doing surprisingly well with the well-worn theme of how appalling it can sometimes be to just ‘follow orders’ – perhaps because they look really closely at the good reasons that might sometimes lead people to do bad things. I particularly loved Gwen’s railing against the doctor who refuses to reclassify her dad as category two, despite apparently being aware of what it means to be category one. I liked it because you could sense that the doctor was also angry – she wasn’t just following orders, she knew there was a crisis the extent of which Gwen is unable to comprehend because she is too emotionally involved in the very personal effect it has on her family. Not saying the doctor’s right, but they do a passable job of presenting her point of view without belabouring it. I especially like Gwen’s closing remarks to her, as she pulls back from her almost hysterical rage to a quieter, more terrible one. The reference to ‘not calling yourself a doctor anymore’ [sic] is call back to the Doctor’s comments in ‘The Beast Below’ and its maybe a little heavy-handed, but the final ‘shame on you’ is beautifully understated.
Relatedly, Ralph’s comeback to start saying ‘no’ is an effective counter-point to the doctor’s resignation. You can say ‘no’, but it doesn’t come cheap. He’s killed a man, and his youth-like appearance underscores the loss-of-innocence theme. Nothing is easy. Esther also has a loss-of innocence moment. They set this character up badly. In the first episode I took her for a badass, and have been wrong-footed ever since by the apparent ret-con of wimpishness that allowed Rex to take the lead from the CIA side. I’ve still got problems with that, but her arc over the last couple of episodes has been nice enough to help me ease into this other conception of her. I suspect she’s meant to be the one who gets ‘forged’ by her experiences this season, and who will come out hard on the other side. I can live with that. Not everybody should be a badass. Especially as Gwen is well and truly holding up her end.
They say that cool guys don’t look back at explosions. Maybe that’s so, but Real Badasses don’t look back at explosions whilst they’re driving away from them on their badass motorbikes. Where did Gwen get a motorbike from? Don’t care. How exactly does blowing up a module help all those people not get burned alive… care slightly more about that one, but I’m going with ‘she was blowing up the power supply or something – shut up it looked GOOD’.
She was a complete idiot to then go through an airport having completed an act of terrorism, but hey. It made for a nice contrast moment to see her in her casual, vulnerable, ordinary mum-gear as someone types directly onto her eyeballs that they have her child. Very powerful, very nice.
The political and media reaction to the message Gwen records is also very well observed. Any other year you might have been tempted to think otherwise – to think that governments would be shamed when faced with their complicity in mass murder and would act immediately. It’s by no means clear that they won’t react in the end, but it’s naive to think that governments can’t be dwarfed out of their morals by catastrophes, or that they won’t stick to ideals in the face of wide-spread public disapproval. Consider the slow reaction to the Arab Spring. Consider the stalemate over the US debt rating, or the backlash after the English riots. Consider the human rights abuses that have been widely ignored for years, simply because they are an inconvenience, but also because we have neither the resources nor knowledge to find solutions to all the world’s problems.
I’m impressed by this series of Torchwood. Granted, it’s been pretty rocky in places, but when it’s good, it’s really good. And despite still being ludicrous and fun in some ways, it’s actually dealing with some pretty significant and up-to-the-minute issues. Rock on!
And now for some WILD SPECULATION
So, who’s behind all this, then? Sounds like maybe not PhiCore after all. The Crazy!Theory side of my brain is screaming out for a Doctor Who tie-in. Like, maybe the Big Bad is all shadowy because it’s the Silence, which has found subtler ways to get its revenge on humanity. Maybe it’s all a big plot to draw the Doctor in after all. I don’t think so, though. It’s clearly closely tied to Jack in some way, anyway, as underlined by the Jack-flashback in the trailer for next week. Is someone using Jack as a battery for this whole Miracle Day thing? Might other people actually want to kill Jack to save the rest of humanity from the horrors of immortality? I just don’t have enough clues yet, but if you’ve spotted something I’ve missed, feel free to speculate away in the comments.
American viewers, though, please note: I am a Brit lass and I often don’t get to watch this until Friday – nearly a whole week behind you guys. Please don’t spoil me for next week!