Well I certainly didn’t see that coming. Two months later, various character shuffles a-go-go, some international espionage and answers – in its penultimate episode Torchwood finally delivered a lot on its teasing premise while, crucially, avoiding many of the character pitfalls which have plagued the series through sheer force of movement.
Or maybe that’s just the anticipation of the blessed release next week’s finale will offer.
We picked up eight weeks after our last episode left off, with Gwen firmly stuck in Wales with her family, Rex embedded back in the CIA, and Jack and Esther on the run and holed up in Scotland. The time jump alone was enough to shake the series out of its stupor, even if it does come hopelessly late in the day (this does seem like more of a mid-season trick, doesn’t it?), so it was refreshing to see endless exposition jettisoned in favour of “well here we are” plotting.
And while there is a vague sheen of separatism about the various members of Torchwood, the episode wisely dispatches with any Lost-like waiting around for reunification and just has the group meet up again in short shrift (even Rex, on the phone, got in on the action). And why did they reunite? Well because Oswald Danes had information for them, of course. For some reason. Because. Yeah.
Anyway, long story short there has been some dodgy activity in Shanghai and Buenos Aires – two cities which, as an increasingly manic and annoying Rhys points out, are on exact opposite sides of the world. Esther and Rex hit BA, Gwen and Jack and (for some reason) Oswald hit Shanghai, and our lovely Captain Harkness finds his blood mysteriously drawn towards “The Blessing”.
So what is The Blessing? Cue Jilly Kitzinger, now under the alias of Jemimah Staten Island Ferry (or something), who’s been summoned to work for the Families in Shanghai. And after some brief “hey look we’re in Asia” ethnic casting of extras, she finally encounters The Blessing. It’s early days yet, but it appears to be some sort of sentient vacuum vagina that stretches through the Earth. Also, something about showing you who you truly are. To be honest, I don’t know, but I was so impressed by the effects and the fact that we actually got there by the end of the episode that I found myself smiling nonetheless.
It’s at this point in the Torchwood narrative, with focus on Shanghai, underground vaginas and the Families, that it becomes clear just how off the story-telling has been to date. Was Vera important? Was Angelo important? Is the immortality even important? It all seems likely that very little of what we’ve seen up to now actually has much of a bearing on proceedings, and it’s a damning indictment (god I love that term) of this whole mess that you could reasonably watch episode one and this most recent installment and not have missed much of anything.
I said many, many moons ago that I don’t mind wheel-spinning – as long as it was entertaining. But so much of the character work has been frustratingly off, and some of the place-setting so blindingly nonsensical that it hasn’t kept me interested week to week.
So “The Gathering” was a major step up, yes. We’re in a place where momentum is making me enjoy myself, the characters are too busy being active to annoy me, and a sense of Alias-like international espionage makes me feel like I’m bathing in an enjoyable and mindless spy drama. But this late in the day you have to wonder if they knew what they were doing at any point along the way.
One thing’s for sure, though – the cast of Torchwood, from Lauren to Mekhi to John to Eve to everyone in between, will remember this experience for the rest of their lives. Because I’m sure they picked up every script and thought: “Wow? Really. Okay, but I…. well. Okay.”
And if that (along with a giant vagina) is what it takes to make Lauren Ambrose’s face look like that, then we’ve all gotten a little something from the experience.
– That was indeed Russell T Davies’ voice doing the radio announcement in the opening scene. FOCUS, Russell.
– Still loving Jilly. Just for Lauren Ambrose’s full-on batshit interpretation of the part.
– I say that they dispensed with much of the nonsensity in this episode, but we did still have to deal with the agonisingly slow capture of Gwen’s Dad, the team’s decision to partner up with Oswald, and Charlotte being the worst CIA double agent ever.
– Enjoyed Rex using the short story approach to uncover the progression of the Families over the years.
– Seriously, though. That was mega vagina, wasn’t it? I won’t make any jokes about RTD, gay men and fear of vaginas.
– Charlotte’s also gay. And she didn’t have to sleaze someone up to show it. Funny that.
– “Can you see my car keys? I can’t find them anywhere.” Nice line from Gwen to her across-the-street surveillance man.
– Rhys really did come off as a tool in this episode.
– Gwen rammed a car into that pharmacy and stole about eight boxes of pills. Right.
– Also enjoyed the subtle mis-translations that helped The Blessing disguise themselves.
– Tune in next week for finale “The Blood Line”. You know, if you want to.