I said after Torchwood’s second episode – the fast-paced Agatha Christie “Cyanide Over The Atlantic” – that while wheel-spinning can often be frustrating, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Good character work, when people aren’t exploding or crying or revelating all over themselves, is after all wheel-spinning. I believe I cited Lost at the time as an example, and even knowing that so little is explored I still thoroughly enjoy re-watching its first season for the slow approach to character therein.
So while last week’s fannying about the concentration camps felt like running on the plot treadmill, this week told a slower and more emotional story that – would you believe it – gave us a plot jump even without having to try. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and so much of Torchwood still lacks a sense of reality in so many aspects, but it was a definite step in the right direction.
And we got to know Jack. Specifically we were dealing with him way back in 1927 and his undercover Torchwood efforts in pre-Depression New York. For those unfamiliar with the exactitudes of Jack’s background – and even I have some trouble – you will have heard him referencing things from after 1927. This is because Jack’s life pre-Torchwood involved much flitting back and forth through time before he settled into the extensive timeline in which we now find him. For new viewers it might have helped to explain this a bit better, but it did help to reinforce the idea that no matter how loved up or invested Jack may seem he is deeply familiar with how transient and unimportant life, and people, can be.
The people in this case came in the form of Angelo, an Italian immigrant who Jack encounters, woos, beds and partners up with over the course of the episode – before inevitable doom strikes. The development of Angelo was somewhat stilted at first, and I really could have done without Jack’s railing against the Catholic church from inside his private apartment.
But as it progressed it was just nice to see someone having fun and being in love and many of the other things people are too busy burning alive to do in Miracle Day right now. It was also nice to see some idea of what Torchwood actually does, with Jack neutralising the brain worm before it could alter history (with a brief nod to the Doctor’s old nemesis The Trickster).
But it wouldn’t be Torchwood without people dying all over the place, and soon Jack found himself on the receiving end of a headshot that Angelo understandably thought would put him out of action. When he got out of prison further down the line, it’s not hard to see why he thought a still living Jack might be the devil – although stabbing seemed like a little too much, and a more restrained approach would have gotten us where we needed to go without requiring such a turnaround from Angelo.
The final flashback scenes were powerful – Jack, killed over and over again by a group of enraged locals, then seemingly drained for his blood and bought by a trio of sinister investors (whose handshake resembled the familiar triangle from our mysterious phone conversations). And though Angelo rescued him, it’s fair to say Jack showed considerable restraint when he merely broke up with him. Immortal or no, I don’t think I’d be all puppies and sunshine after a day or two hanging from a meathook.
Back in the present, Gwen was ACTING ON HER EMOTIONS by kidnapping Jack and bringing him to a secret visiting site to exchange for her family. Essentially nothing happened here, and it’s infuriating that the kidnapping seemed unneccessary once Star Trek’s Major Naris explained that Jack would come voluntarily. But it did offer some great “less is more” work for the rest of the team. Gwen’s revelation – or perhaps realisation – that all the death and sadness she complains about makes her feel special was more deep than I expected, and offered an interesting take on what’s clearly a very flawed character. Rex and Esther, meanwhile, served themselves well by merely shutting the hell up and acting smart – and may have saved Jack and Gwen in the process.
Saved from what? Well as anyone familiar with Chekhov’s Gun could tell you, it wasn’t like Angelo was going to remain a part of Jack’s past. In fact, from the moment Jack pointed out the bloodshot nature of Angelo’s right eye it seemed fairly clear this would be a calling card when the character would be played by a different, older actor – in the present, say. I still don’t buy that Angelo would be inherently evil after the events of the flashback, but we are going in the right direction by giving humans more justification for their actions.
And it’s clear now that Jack’s immortality and blood in the way-back-when may well have been the impetus for the present predicament of the human race, but I guess we’ll have to stay tuned to find out. If Torchwood can continue to evolve as it did this week then I have hope, but I’m holding some serious reservations once Esther and Rex butt their way back into the picture.
– Again, no Jilly and Oswald; though a brief mention of Oswald’s support for the category system.
– GAY BUM SEX.
– “You’re Welsh, you wouldn’t know if the vowels were missing.”
– Many, many Jesus comparisons for Jack. First the location of his stabbing and then the washing of the feet. An odd thematic choice, but okay.
– Gwen’s family cannot be in danger anymore. I’m getting right sick of it.
– I do wonder why Gwen didn’t consider the many, many ways you can fool a contact lens camera that has no audio.
– The background music in Jack’s seduction scenes was far too “gay porn holiday” for my liking.
– Does the mind worm have anything to do with this weekend’s new Who episode (!) “Let’s Kill Hitler”? Probably not.
– Like I said about Lost, I will happily watch some good character work like this done week on week. Where’s Esther’s sister?
– I know Miracle Day has had some creepy moments, but there still hasn’t been anything to match the pants-wetting imagery of every child in the world speaking in unison as part of Children Of Earth: “We are coming. We are coming. We are coming….. back.”