Monday, September 7, 2009

Dim the lights at The Hub


Torchwood – Season Two

So I finally watched (don’t ask) the last three episodes of Torchwood’s second season on DVD.

“Adrift” – After Jonah, a teenage boy, goes missing, Police Constable Andy Davidson, aka PC Andy, asks his former partner and current Torchwood operative Gwen Cooper for help. What Gwen uncovers rocks her to her core.

“Fragments” – The Torchwood team, minus Gwen, is ambushed and subsequently trapped under the debris of an old building. Separated, they each recall how they were recruited into Torchwood.

“Exit Wounds” – In the second season finale, Captain John Hart comes back to haunt Captain Jack Harkness and using the power of the space/time rift located in Cardiff, begins to lay waste to the city. But is he acting alone? And more so, will the team all make it out of this alive. The answer: No.

“Adrift” was a great Gwen episode and actress Eve Myles really delivered. We’ve all seen the cop shows and movies where the parents plead with the authorities to find their lost or abducted loved one. We’ve seen the anguish that not knowing what happened can have on a parent. But what if not knowing is truly the best thing? That’s what Gwen finds out the hard way here, after discovering that Jonah and others have been “abducted” by the space/time rift centered on Cardiff. Imagine being taken to another time and place and spending decades there, only to return home. Jonah was not only physically disfigured by his experiences (watching a solar system burn while being stranded on one of its planets, before being rescued at the last second) but mentally scarred as well (he looked into the face of a dark star and was driven insane).

As terrible as all this is, Gwen truly believes that Jonah’s mother should know the truth. That her son is alive and that he is back home (in the care of a hospital overseen by Captain Jack). Gwen does take the mother to see her son, but it is all too much too bear; the 17 year old fresh faced boy is gone and in his place is a 40 year old horribly scarred man. And just when mother and son make a tentative re-connection Jonah looses his all too brief hold on lucidity and madness overtakes him (his insanity manifests as he shrieks an ungodly ear piercing scream for 20 hours every day). This is too much for even a mother to bear and she asks Gwen to never do this to any of the other parents and family who might have someone returned from the rift.

If you’ve never cried while watching a TV show before, you WILL cry when watching this episode.

“Fragments” was a decent episode, but I think I was expecting much more. We see how the current Torchwood line up was formed, including Jack’s crazy stint in Victorian England, which was the most fun of the “origin stories.” Tosh’s story was rather bland in that she was being blackmailed into stealing government secrets, but after she was caught she spent a good deal of time in a solitary cell in the British version of Guantanamo Bay (no rights of any kind). Yanto’s tale was pretty boring in that he was already a Torchwood-London vet when he tries to get Jack to hire him (although the pterodactyl bit was fun). Owen’s introduction to Torchwood was full of heartbreak in that his girl was killed by an alien brain-eater. Again, this episode wasn’t terrible, but I think my favorite origin story with a similar flavor was Firefly’s episode “Out of Gas” where we see how that crew joined up with another captain.

“Exit Wounds” is the second season finale that really upends the apple cart. We find out John is being manipulated by none other than Jack’s missing younger brother, Gray, who blames Jack for the lifetime of cruelty and torture he had to endure when he was taken captive by alien invaders. Gray believes none of that would have happened if Jack had never let go of his hand when they were fleeing the invasion as children.

Torchwood splits up and tries to keep Cardiff from falling apart. Gwen takes the lead at the police station after its senior members are butchered according to Gray’s plans. Owen lends a hand at the hospital, and Toshiko and Yanto work at the city’s IT center. Then Owen and Tosh have to work together to prevent the city’s nuclear power plant from having a meltdown. And Jack is really put through the wringer in one of the most audacious plotlines I’ve seen in a while. It’s pretty complex – it involves a trip to 27 AD, so maybe convoluted is a better word - so just read all about it here in the Wikipedia entry.

Cardiff is saved in the end. But Gray still has a murderous hate for Jack, so Jack has him frozen and put in cold storage. Maybe, someday, someone can help him. In a shocking ending, Tosh is shot by Gray and as she’s slowly dying she works over the comm with Owen at the nuclear plant to stop the meltdown. They succeed, but Owen ends up sacrificing his life as well.

Torchwood has been cut down, losing two of its most valuable agents in Tosh and Owen. But they weren’t just agents, they were family. And their losses hit the surviving members of the team hard. Those tears on their faces were real, just like the ones rolling down your cheeks when you watch this episode.

Gwen questions whether she can continue after such terrible losses. But Captain Jack Harkness knows they still have a job to do. “You can. We all can. The end is where we start from” he says. And so it is.

Postscript: It seems like I mention the viewer crying a lot when watching Torchwood. Well, it is a three hankey show. The team has a crazy hard job to do and it affects their personal lives in ways they never expected. And they ARE affected by what they see and do. Unlike a good number of American television shows, Torchwood doesn't just hit the reset button at the end, with everybody returning to their posts ready for the next adventure. They question whether they can keep doing this job, whether they can move forward.

But for the viewer there is no question: grab your tissues and tune in next time.

PPS: Even after reading this review and seeing its spoilers, if you haven't watched Torchwood, well, what the hell are you waiting for? Rent it, buy the disks, check it out from your local library, borrow it from a friend. This is top-quality television. WATCH. IT.

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