Friday, March 21, 2008

Torchwood - The Road Not Travelled?

I called up my state senator, they said he wasn't there
The secretary took my name and man she sounded scared!
So I counted my misfortunes, I added up the blame,
I picked through all the garbage, I checked off all the names!
I read in the newspaper they'd questioned all my friends --
They hoped that they could catch my ass before I struck again!

Once I had a reason, don't know what it could be
And the road I must travel, its end I cannot see!
Well I sang to myself, "That I want to be free!"
But the road I must travel, its end I cannot see!

All hope was lost. The enemies were too powerful, and not the mightiest nor the meekest had survived their strike! The end of everything was in sight, and we would be forced to witness it out of sheer sadism for the dark forces that surrounded us. We had raged against the dying of the light, inspired by the actions of one man who had now, for reasons that mean nothing at present, deserted us in the belief we could hold our own. Finally, the best and brightest had tried and they had failed, and there was no way out.

"Did you miss me?" asked Chris Chinball cheerfully as he returned to the Torchwood fold.

But would this Chris be our savior or our destroyer? The man who struck gold with Life of Mars, redeemed his reputation with 42, and showed us light to light our way with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang? Or the talentless juvenile who perpertrated such unforgivable acts as Day One, Cyberwoman and End of Days? All we can be sure of is that Torchwood has gone completely off the rails since he left, and only his return can change it's course.

Martha Jones struck a crippling blow before being crippled herself; the Sleeper Cell hasn't been so much as mentioned yet; the realization of Rhys lead to absolutely nothing changing; the death of Owen went nowhere; Tosh has been reduced to a state where she'd envy the wreck she played in Absolutely Fabulous; and there is no doubt that Torchwood Three are a bigger threat to humanity than any alien they persue, and its staff emotional cripples almost completely beyond redemption.

Plus To The Last Man, Meat and Something Borrowed were utter crap. And From Out of the Rain wasn't much cop either...

So, our savior/destroyer begins his tale of Adrift with some guy called Jonah crossing a bridge... but never reaching the other side. Whether or not this vanishing is disturbing with the odd relationship he has with his mum (to the point I assumed "mum" was some kind of affectionate nickname for his girlfriend) I dunno. Once again, the teaser sequence completely eats half of the plot as portrayed in last week's trailer, and I sigh and wait for the Torchwood gang to a) notice the problem b) explain it c) Gwen to rebel. I dunno if it's a fault of the writers or the trailers, but they always seem to end up with the first half of every episode being incredibly prectictable padding...

To my surprise and mild relief, the first scene past the credits is PC "Who?" Andy has summoned Gwen to discuss the disappearance... but his exposition is cut short as Gwen reveals she is only here to demand to know why the hell Andy wasn't at her wedding. Clearly no excuse will be good enough for her since SHE managed it while carrying alien demon spawn, and Owen managed it - and he was dead. What's more, she's used her contacts to discover he had the day off on her wedding and still didn't come, so WHY?!

N: Why on Earth would anyone want to spend their free time watching you get married to Rhys?
D: Even the Nostromites hated it.
N: And the Hub crew didn't want to go either.
A: Plus your dress made you look fat even when you WEREN'T pregnant.

Andy doesn't bother to justify himself and instead immediately gets in my good books by smacking Gwen down by demanding to know if she thinks living people vanishing out of time and space is "beneath" her? Gwen reacts by tickling her former colleage and grinning "Andeeeeeeeeee!".

No, seriously, she does.

Jared's recent pointing out that Gwen seems to have the intellectual and emotional age of a 15 year old never really struck me before (hell, weren't they ALL stunted teenagers?), but here it beggars belief. We have a trained police officer TICKLING her fellow. At the crime scene. In uniform. To change the subject.

But, hold your horses - Andy's priceless expression is one of horror and disbelief: even HE can't believe she's pulling this Little Miss Jocelyn kiddie act to get out of trouble. I dunno who came up with 'Gwen is 15' angle, but it clearly annoys and disturbs the writer as much as me. So, at least, CC is not auto-retconning the previous nine episodes out of existence and stating that Gwen is the same self-absorbed quite possibly insane bitch established over the season. It quickly becomes clear that Adrift is a kind of wake-up call to our increasingly repulsive "loyalty" character.

It seems CC is also sticking to his guns from KKBB and the Welsh are NOT utter retards. As Andy works on the case and the mysterious lights that heralds each disappearance, Gwen suggests natural causes, passing boats, etc, leading to Andy reusing his "What is WRONG with you?!" expression and pointing out that he is NOT stupid, and they all know wierd alien shit happens in Cardiff and they all know Torchwood is neck deep in said shit and pretending they're secret is just... SAD!

(It's worth noting that "Torchwood is secret" angle only occurs in Meat and Something Borrowed - both of which clearly weren't script edited by the great man CC himself).

However, there's only so much "apologizing profusely for the crap you've had to endure disguised as comedic characterization" and it's on with the plot. Andy has CCTV (it's this thing they have in Hyde...) showing Jack was loitering at the bridge soon before the guy vanished. But Jack insists he was never there in such a nervous, shaky, playing with things and avoiding eye contact way that I pray, I hope this Con Man is actually winding Gwen up - this is the classist "the boss is bent" plot. You know, the type they used in the first episode of Blake's 7 to weed out those with a conscience. However, Torchwood has to be the first show where the boss loitering around young men for immoral purposes would be a feelgood explanation...

Further suspicion arises as Tosh (still in "are you BREATHING around me, scum?!" mode) insists there was no rift activity that caused the guy to vanish, and if there was no rift activity, there'd be no reason for Jack to turn up in his SUV, coat billowing and trying to outdo David Boreanaz. He then squeals "Ianto and a weevil hunt" and runs out of the room before he can question further.

Depressingly, Gwen takes this on trust absolutely (but I think we're SUPPOSED to sigh and smack our foreheads at this point) and buys Andy a coffee to tell him that he will not be allowed to continue the investigation and she's not going to so much as give an explanation for why her Team Leader was at the scene of the crime. "Bloody Torchwood," snaps Andy - a T-shirt slogan in the making, that. Andy points out that Gwen used to be a bleeding heart, compassionate woman who gave a crap about human beings in danger. Gwen shrugs, arches an eyebrow and sips her coffee in a scene SPECIFICALLY written to make you want to punch her lights out. In disgust, Andy storms out.

This is NOT subtext any more. Anyone who says Torchwood Three are worthy defenders of the Earth is not paying attention to the head writer of the fucking show.

Gwen reacts by pouting. Oh, and visiting the victim's mother like the "Old Gwen" would have. The mother has a ridiculous amount of VHS footage, having filmed crowd scenes in her determination to try and find her son. Gwen listens politely to the mother quietly reveal to us she's been shattered by the disappearance of her child... then buggers off. Returning home to Rhys she barrages him with questions... literally. It's like the trailer to Natural History of Fear: "Why don't you want to have babies? Are you still attracted to me? Do you think the marriage was a mistake? Have I changed since I joined Torchwood? Why does Andy hate you? Do you even have a middle name? Why exactly is the flat covered in TARDIS roundels? Why won't you be honest with me? Why won't you answer my questions? Are you even listening to me?"

Rhys just stares at her - and if he didn't regret marrying the looney before, he's starting to now as his beloved sculls down booze like Chatham without the charm, violently unzips her pants and explains that she is incredibly sexy because Andy fancied her, which is why he didn't go to the weddings, then she jumps his bones, all in less time than it takes you read the opening credits of Jekyll... but it doesn't end there! 12 hours of hardcore sex and she's up and about making toast and continuing her inquistion along with her character arc catchphrase "Tell me you forgive me. Tell me you love me." I am worrying reminded of B7: Warlord where the zombies on esclataors hear similar phrases every minute of every hour of every day. Anyway, Gwen does all this, has sex with Rhys AGAIN (while he's trying to eat toast), gets a phone call from Tosh and then races out, into the Hub, all in one go...






To the surprise of precisely noone, Tosh has discovered that there IS rift activity around the dude vanishing - it was a NEGATIVE pulse, not a POSITIVE. Ergo, the dude fell through the rift. It seems that after several centuries, it never occured to ANYONE before, not even Tosh, that the rift might be a two way system. So, the books aren't canon then? Oh well, CC can't fix everything. Gwen orders Tosh to keep this momentous revelation to herself and STILL speeding, races out again to find Andy and then all but screams in his face "I'm looking into this case! I'm still nice! I'm still cool! All your criticisms are entirely unwarranted!" (she honestly says, "I DON'T KNOW WHY I BOTHER, ANDY! YOU'RE SO RUDE!!" without letting him get a word in edgeways) and then runs off again like Speedy Gonzalas.

Meanwhile, there's a surprisingly heartwarming scene as the mum of the dude sets up a support group and glumly sits alone, assuming it'll be just her and no one will turn up. But people do. LOTS of people. We're talking crowds digitially increased by the Mill. This woman could run a Nuremburg rally if she wanted to. The realization that people have been vanishing into the rift at an unheard of rate seems to scare the crap out of Gwen, insisting "she only agreed to help find one person". And fifty or so is way out. Despite the fact she agreed to prove she still cared about the little people. Then runs away.


Not even Toshittymoodtoday can keep up with Gwen. Of course, it strikes me to wonder HOW the hell Torchwood wouldn't notice that many people vanishing, new rift ideas or not. But then, it struck me: they did, but have kept quiet about it. Paranoia strikes again! Yes, Jack, our "hero"/"main character" (both are debatable) is hiding the truth and is even MORE corrupt than before! Except, you know, shouldn't he have retconned everyone so they don't remember their missing friends and relatives - it's the thing he does to his best friends, after all!

Wow, not even fifteen minutes in. It seems the best way to unfold a blot is make the main character's so speedy they outrun Sonic the Hedgehog.

My opinion of Gwen's mental stability drops lower as, after creating a special punchcard of "Have you been abducted by the rift" checklist, lines the walls of a room (it looks like Owen's lab... probably a redressed set, but at the moment, I buy the idea she's stolen his workspace for herself... come to think of it, we haven't seen Owen, or Ianto this week... oh wait, there they are) with photos of the missing and then starts twirling in circles until she can hear the screams of the damned photo-ed victims... then she decides to tell Jack about it!

Yeah. What could possibly go wrong?

Oh, wait, Jack refuses to do a damn thing. The spikes cannot be predicted, delayed or monitored, so he points out they can't say, put a sign saying "avoid bridge tonight". Of course, even if they could, they wouldn't because that's too much hassle and they refuse to delegate with the police because of their total superiority complex. In any case, Jack bluntly asking Gwen what the hell they are supposed to do finally stops her breakneck speeding and she awkwardly suggests "helping those who are left behind". This leads to a spiel which, in the context of the episode let alone the series, shows Gwen is Going Crazy:

GWEN: Just because some things we can't fix, that means we shouldn't try? Is that what you all think? We are the ONLY ones who know the truth! We CAN help them! We don't have to be this harsh - it's not a badge of honour! Is that it? We just sweep it under the carpet?!

Jesus Christ. Gwen girl, where have you BEEN?!

Owen (who is, as per the other episodes, now so mellow and philosophical it's easy to believe he doesn't have a pulse - points there, CC) points out they don't have the skills or the resources to provide such services and Jack orders Gwen to close it down and accept that this is beyond their ability to deal with. The group one by one abandon Gwen who watches with paranoid suspicion as they seem to whisper and plot. She suspects that Jack and Ianto are conspiring when clearly they're wondering if they should stop her using firearms from now on...

Just in case anyone's starting to feel sorry for Crazy Girl, she takes it all out on Rhys when he tries to take her on a picnic and in her words "witter on" until she starts screaming at the poor guy. She doesn't want to talk to him because, apparently, they have nothing to talk about, because, apparently, Torchwood is screwing up her life. She can't have normal relationships, have kids (you still want them after the Nostromite business... girl, you're whacked!) and other stuff like that we not-too-affectionately declare "domestic".

"You know," Rhys says after the rant is over, "sometimes, I fucking hate you. Look at you. Caught up in your little group like nothing else matters. Like being a hero is an end in itself. Well, it's not. You save this city? Well done. You save the world, whatever... what for? WHY are you doing it? What are you trying to protect? Who are you fighting for? You do it because people can live their lives. And there is NOTHING more important than that. Falling in love, getting married, buying flats, having kids or not, but real life. THAT is what you're protecting. And if you think that your shit is more important than real life, then we're not going to last here very long, "love". When you're with me, you deal with US. Our lives. If you have a problem at work, you sort it at work. I - don't - care."

With that, he walks off.


You may applaud. I know I did.

There is no further doubt. This isn't just portraying edgy characters, but characters we, at home, would be consider daft for liking. Gwen is shown to be worse, in some ways, than the Master, because at least he didn't go round acting defensive when people called him an evil bastard. Ultimately, it is the hypocrisy of the Hub gang that we hate the most, the idea that they really seem to believe they're qualified for it and deserve the power they have. And now Gwen, the central character since Jack changed personality every time he enters and leaves a certain police box, is no longer a person with weaknesses and foibles or just bad writing.

She is someone we're not supposed to like. She's someone we're supposed to hate, or at least pity.

I dunno whether this is a grand plan or CC struggling with damage limitation, but it's absolutely abundantly clear that the decay of her character over this year is set in stone. She's been getting worse and now even her own god-complex work buddies can't stand her. Even Tosh.

A moment to reflect.

OK, on with the plot. There's still thirty minutes for Gwen to rehabilitate herself - an exercise, now I come to think about it, that might not work as she's been on this slippery slope since before episode one - it starts off with her rolling her eyes and arching her eyebrows as she silently listens to Rhys' heartfelt speech, proving once again that he and Martha are the only characters in the show with the right to be there, she blanks him and then returns to the hub. She's still moving at light speed, that's a given by now. And she...


oh shit...

It's a Chatham moment, ladies and gentlemen. As in "totally gratuitous gay sex on screen instead of plot". Gwen bursts into the greenhouse (which seems to have replaced Jack's office) and finds Jack and Ianto hot, sweaty and nekkid. Yet, I can't REALLY criticize because

a) Jack's got no sex at all on screen, bar a couple of mentions - most of them in Doctor Who
b) they're not being distracted saving the world, this is entirely after hours
c) it backs up the 'unprofessional irresponsible nutters' subtext
d) Jack is not in the slightest embarrassed when Gwen interrupts - he even cheerfully asks her if she'd like to join in, as if they were playing cards

So, all in all, it's the kind of crazy Harkness action promised way back in 06 when RTD sold us the idea of putting Cassanova on Heat in charge of the MIB. It's not as cretinous as Owen and Gwen deciding to have sex in a mortuary locker with a Cyberwoman trying to dismember their friends. However, Jack's lack of protocol is nothing compared to Crazy Girl who announces she is making the rift thing her own personal project and there's not a damn thing immortal indestructible boss man can do about it. (Yes, there is a slightly oxymoronic element to that sentence, did you spot it?) Jack stares at Gwen as she screams she CAN'T let it go, she CAN'T move on, that they're NOT finished and Owen and Tosh get their own projects so why can't she IT'S NOT FAIR IT'S NOT FAIR IT'S NOT FAIR!!!!! Then he tells Ianto to go back into the greenhouse and resume shagging, and doesn't even bother to look at Gwen as they walk off.

Yeah. You don't even merit a straightjacket Gwen, doesn't it make you feel important?

Cheer up, Crazy Girl, there is a suspicious anonymous package on your desk containing... a mobile phone or something. So, having all the men in her life walk away from her tantrums in disgust, Gwen turns back to PC Andy vowing she alone will solve the case with some stuff she stole from the Hub (coz that NEVER goes bad, does it, boys and girls). However, the stuff she stole was that mobile phone gadget and Andy reveals it's a GPS system, and our suspicions that Gwen really HAS gone batshit crazy increase as she is unable to tell a bit of Japanese car steering crap from alien artifacts. Gwen then rings up Ianto and accuses HIM of giving her this GPS thing as a conspiracy, ignoring his denials! OK, it's possible that Ianto IS helping her out, but she's screaming accusations again...

You ever see Larena in Star One? Gwen is worse. In fact, Andy starts to wonder if he should apply to join Torchwood, since he senses they might have a vacancy coming up - and as I watch Gwen knock back coffee like it was water, twitching and muttering, I congratulate Andy on his deduction.

The GPS thing tells them to go to a small Welsh isle, so go they do. Gwen returns home to find that, hah!, Rhys is making HER sleep on the sofa, so she immediately heads out again without a word - STILL moving so damn fast! - for the sea voyage to the island of lost souls. Or wherever. Andy attempts to tag along despite her insistance she works ALONEEEEE and leaves without him, bribing the dock workers with hard cash so they keep him on the shore when the boat leaves. "I'm soh-reee!" Gwen says, to rhyme with the Empty Child's "mumeeee!" It's creepy, I tell you.

On the island, Gwen heads for the nearest lighthouse and runs around inside. Since it's a perfectly clear day, this isn't as terrifying as Horror of Fang Rock, but the sight of Gwen's demented reflection staring at her from the distorted lamp mirror is kinda disturbing. Then her paranoid eye spots two people escorting a third with a blanket over its head to a kind of army bunker thing on the shore.

Followed by Captain Jack Harkness.

What? You forget the whole "boss is corrupt" textbook plot? The only difference is that the one that uncovers the conspiracy is a complete loony. Nice twist. Anyway, Gwen runs after them into the base, reads out her VERY LONG password to a speakerphone before lamely adding that she's with Jack, whereupon the bunker allows her access. Inside is a cross between a Victorian lunatic asylum and a retirement home, as screams emerge from cells and bunch of stoned-looking, oddly scarred people watch David Attenburough lifestyle documentaries. Nice to know he survived all the alien invasions of late.

What's REALLY disturbing is that it is only ten minutes into a tour does she realize that the patients are the people who have been vanishing into the rift. Seriously, I just automatically assumed that was obvious, but Gwen needs an LSD flashback to her "wall of pictures". Yet, if she didn't think the patients were the kidnappees, then who is the very specific person she was asking to see? And more importantly, why does she think screaming "TELL ME WHAT IS GOING ON HERE!!!" won't give her away to the staff.

Jack arrives in that "he wasn't there a second ago", and Gwen's too busy screaming at him to let him get a word in edgeways, so I'll predict what happens here. Turns out Jack was telling the truth about it being impossible to prevent people falling into the rift, but they CAN be recovered - unfortunately going through the rift drives them crazy, so Torchwood established the island of lost souls as a holding room for these poor suckers who are tended to the best of the available ability. Now, I've predicted that, what will Jack say?

Hmm. Turns out Jack set up the base to help those who fell back through the rift, only seventeen out of the hundreds missing have returned, and they aren't just crazy, but older and scarred. Text boy from the first scene is now identical to the freak from The Goonies, you know the bald, pointy-headed goblin dude with the bug eye? Him. Gwen insists robotically that she should bring the mother here to be reunited with her son, but Jack points out that this means telling her all about the rift, and Torchwood and stuff. However, I stress, it's not "telling people the blindingly obvious" that Jack has a problem with, it's "telling her her son is now an invalid pensioner that looks like the Michael Jackson of Sontarans and she can't take him home".

But, hah, Gwen's totally crazy, in case I hadn't mentioned it. "Nucking futs" as the expression goes. And she babbles crazily that Jack does not have the right to keep them apart because he thinks it'll hurt them (yeah, she's insane, utterly insane) and invites the mum round anyway, and Andy, but refuses to explain anything to them, she just wants Andy to confirm she's "not dangerous, mad or a liar". To which Andy replies, "Oh, piss off, why don't you!"

Andy rocks.

Ultimately, though, Andy confirms Gwen is telling the truth for the mum's benefit if nothing else as Gwen now emotionlessly confirms, yes, she just uses Andy because he is useful and would never help him otherwise. Psycho bitch, thy name is Cooper. However, when confronted with her hideously deformed demented octogenarian offspring mum freaks out and Gwen grabs her and doesn't let her leave the cell her son calls home. Which, of course, makes things ten times worse as Uncle Fester's ugly cousin babbles the sort of trivial stuff only the son would know, and mum freaks out even more and says the immortal words to Gwen:

"You're sick! You're ALL sick! Before you, I had HOPE!"

But, ultimately, in another heartwarming scene (and I'm sorry, it is, OK) the son apologizes over and over again for being late and the mum finally realizes that she's with her son, no matter what he looks like. Of course, this is when the nurses explain he cannot be allowed to leave the guy to suffer his increasing senile dementia. And screaming fits that would put Bonnie Langford to shame. What's worse is Gwen acts surprised and outraged when the mum DARES want his son back and expects her to be grateful to have visiting rights. Seriously, you can understand the allure of retcon after seeing this - would ANYONE want to remember a loved one like that? Maybe that was why Jack invented it, but got sick of answering questions and just used it with gay abandon... so to speak.

So, Gwen has destroyed someone else's life. Deliberately. With malice of forethought. Which is really actually quite novel, since mostly Torchwood ruins lives unthinkingly but Crazy Girl got up that morning and dragged mom to see her son, never once thinking that you know, maybe Jack had a point and might have explained further if she stopped screaming at him. Ironic then, she loses out to an insane mutant who literally screams twenty hours a day. So as the heartbroken mother finally clears out her son's room, Gwen glassy-eyed, hurls all the missing persons files into a filing cabinet and saunters off without changing expression. Even Jack, watching this, looks sad, but not Gwen.

The final scene has her return home to make a candlelit dinner for two. When Rhys arrives, Gwen, now sounding as emotional as a Kaldor City robot informs Rhys that from now on they will talk about whatever he wants to talk about. When asked if she is all right, she very unsteadily nods her head, like somone admitted that yes, yes, officer, they did have a bit of a drink before they got in the car.

And then she bursts into tears, unable even to speak any more.

The end.

Well, Adrift. Not the utter disaster I thought it would be and its semi-predictable nature was balanced by the fact Gwen finishes the story in a worse state than when she started. This is the antithesis of a healing episode, and her middle name is now "Damaged Goods" and she's as much use to Torchwood as that blonde catatonic chick in Night of the Living Dead. Coz, I may not have mentioned this, she's cracked in the head, out of the tree, off her trolley and I for one don't want to watch this derranged harpy with the big teeth any more. Kill her off in the series finale, there's nothing that can be done with her. Even CC has given up on her and declared her beyond redemption. This episode could have saved her, or put her on the path to recovery, but no it's clear she's out of the loop and conspicuously absent from next week's episode.

And what about next week's episode?

Well, the trailer shows Jack, Tosh, Ianto and Owen in a situation very Hitchhiker's Guideish as they realize they are surrounded by bombs that will blow them up and philosophically muse on the irony then BANG!! The warehouse they're in goes up like Mike Tucker on a drinking binge with the plastic explosive, and they flash back... to how each of them came to be in Torchwood, and why they choose to stay.

You know, what should have been the SECOND episode ever?

I eagerly await it, since it's by CC again and he's managed to salvage one character arc already.


Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

Man, I dunno - I prefer the "they were just having a bad day" method of "fixing a character" rather than the "yes, they're seriously that fucked up and it IS a major problem" approach that Torchwood seems to be using.

Who would have thought we'd end up liking Chris Chibnall so much?

Youth of Australia said...

Well, KKBB took that approach for the whole gang. I can only assume CC deemed Gwen beyond help...

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

Oh. Well, I'll buy that. Gwen's just weird.

Youth of Australia said...

Watching it again, I have to say Tosh isn't as bad as I thought. Very standoffish, but not the utter bitch I assumed... of course, she was hardly in it. Owen got only one scene.

I still boggle at the fact Torchwood need "Jack lite" episodes... how damn busy is the guy?