In the final episode of the Torchwood: Children of Earth miniseries, Gwen Cooper fights for the lives of a small group of children at a council estate while Jack is forced to choose between two horrifying options. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Torchwood.
This really wasn’t ever going to end well, was it?
I don’t know that I actually expected some sort of joyous end to this story, but the amount of tragedy left behind by the appearance of the 456 is just….holy god, this is so bleak. Torchwood haven’t always been successful, but aside from defeating the 456 themselves, what good came from all of this?
There are a lot of things here that frightened and disturbed me. I don’t know why I thought the 456 would have some “noble” purpose behind their visit. Given what they’d done to everyone upon their second visit, this actually makes no sense at all. Still, they’re using the children for RECREATIONAL DRUG USE? I can barely process the idea. That means that the original visit in 1965 was merely a gateway, in a sense, to an addiction on behalf of the 456. They became addicted. TO CHILDREN.
this show. THIS SHOW.
The horrors of this concept, though, seem to pale in comparison to the actions taken by the British government. I really do adore that “Day Five” opens with Gwen’s recorded monologue about the absence of the Doctor. Obviously, I love any and all references to Doctor Who, but it’s more of a thematic idea that is presented here: Sometimes, humans do things that are absolutely atrocious. The events we watch on screen are terrifying in a completely different way for a show so heavily steeped in science fiction. “Day Five” instead chooses to show us how a government can work against its own people. I commented yesterday that the conversation in the Cobra meeting about the league tables unsettled me because of how real it seemed. Given my country’s actions during World War II when we interned thousands of Japanese-Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, I don’t doubt for one second that something similar to the events on screen in “Day Five” could happen again.
Humans have a history of treating each other horrifically in times of crisis. It’s incredibly difficult to watch a bunch of soldiers essentially kidnap the lowest performing ten percent of Britain’s children, sometimes right in front of their parents. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so helpless while watching a TV show, so consumed by a futile rage and knowing that this entire situation seems impossible. Once the children start being rounded up, I started thinking that this was actually going to happen, that at least one nation was seriously going to give up their children to the 456. How could I not? The opening of “Day Five” showed Gwen and Jack admitting the most ultimate defeat. (That was also a brilliantly acted scene, too, especially when Gwen called Rhys to tell him that it was all over.)
Torchwood gave up. They conceded. i feel no good things at all.
If anything, Children of Earth is a story about failure, and what people do when their traditional avenues of action and agency provide them with no answers and no relief. How do human beings treat each other when chaos looms around the corner? How does a government behave when forced into the most inane decision imaginable? How does one man react to the revelation that there’s a way to save the world, but only if he destroys his family in the process? There really aren’t too many science fiction stories that focus on the ramifications of chaos and destruction and, in that sense, I’m reminded of why The Walking Dead has been such a revealing graphic novel series. Hell, the zombie genre in general approaches the idea of futile, impossible chaos and shows us what human beings will do when faced with abject terror. (Can I just take this moment to recommend World War Z to each and every one of you? It’s possibly the best thing the entire zombie world has ever given us, and on top of it, it is a brilliantly written book.)
I think that by exploring this idea, as difficult as it is, the various writers of “Day Five” have taken every single character to a fascinating place, even if I don’t necessarily like where they end up. Ianto’s death was sudden, the result of a bluff being called and the lack of planning on his and Jack’s part, but throughout Children of Earth, his relationship with an immortal man was taken to it’s inevitable, depressing conclusion: one day, Jack would have to watch him die, and there was nothing he could do but move on. Obviously, I don’t want this, and it would be silly to say so, since….ugh, I really liked Ianto a lot, even more so during Children of Earth. But what does a man do when faced with his coming death, knowing the man he loves isn’t ever going to die?
For Gwen, she’s faced with the prospect of raising a child in a world where leaders can write away the fate of millions of children in a single meeting, where the human race might always be subject to the drug-fueled cravings of a seemingly-invincible alien species. She makes an offhand comment to Rhys about the future of their own child. It’s a statement made in a moment of desperate fear, too, but when she heads to Rhiannon’s estate to notify Ianto’s sister about his death, she is forced to see first-hand just how horrifying this world is going to be. Honestly, the scenes at the council estates filled me with a rage I’d not really experienced while watching television. It wasn’t that the writing was bad, or offensive, or poorly acted. That’s a different kind of rage. This is that dull, constant sensation of realizing just how unfair the world can be, and how the powerless can be utterly useless to fight against those with all of the power. It’s that feeling I got in junior high when I was bullied. It’s the feeling I get when I see governments centering the majority in ways to screw over the minority, when I feel as if nothing is ever going to change, that anything I do is pointless and futile.
Just so I’m clear, this is a compliment about “Day Five.” Christ, this is so good.
But is there any character arc better written (or more tragic) than that of John Frobisher? His story is ultimately about the disposability of the middleman, of how his government used him to make contact with alien beings in the most important act of diplomacy in the history of the world. In every sense, Frobisher was a hero to the world for what he did, even if he was part of a decision-making process that ultimately sold out the most disadvantaged citizens. I viewed Frobisher’s actions as uniquely unselfish in many ways: he sacrificed the happiness of his family. He ignored his own personal moral crisis. He did everything he could to not only do his job, but to navigate a frightening, jarring, and confusing world disaster with force and control.
I was horrified (but not surprised) to learn that a “vote” had been taken, and Frobisher’s children were chosen for the “inoculation.” I wanted to punch the Prime Minister in the face, but this isn’t real and I’m being silly. No, but seriously, watch how he doesn’t even look up at Frobisher for the most part, as if he just told him something. For all of the work that Frobisher has done in the past four days, his reward is this: he’ll be the public facing savior for the government. He’s already done this in private, and the government uses him once more. I can’t deny that once Frobisher finally seemed to crack, yelling at the Prime Minister, I felt tears suddenly well in my eyes. I’d grown attached to a character I’d only been around for four and a half hours. I wanted so badly for Frobisher to break from the government, or to find freedom, or to experience some sort of joy, but we were given none of this. If there is anyone that the government failed miserably in the end, it was Frobisher. Here was a dedicated civil servant, devoted to his job and his family, and they took all of it away from him. Knowing what would happen to his children, what choice was left to him? Could he live with the thought that his children would be used to fuel an alien race’s drug addiction while his colleagues continued to pretend it was all an accident?
Christ. What a depressing character arc. How haunting and poetic is it that Ms Spears gives her monologue about Frobisher being a “good man” while images of his actions at home are shown on screen? God, it’s so unsettling, but it’s a fitting tribute to a character who absolutely held together this entire mini-series.
But in terms of an actual discussion, I’m fascinated by the gutting moral decision Jack Harkness is faced with at the end of “Day Five.” After the colossal mistake at the end of “Day Four,” where his Doctor-lite bluff was called and Ianto and many others were murdered by the 456, the level of guilt and shame that Jack is feeling about his actions is at an all-time high. The writers have taken Jack to an extremely dark place for his character, as those two emotions can cause people to make poor decisions. But it’s not as simple as that. What if the two choices you have are just as awful as each other? Do you err on the side of your own family and those close to you? Or do you save the entire world while killing your own grandson?
It was simply awful to watch John Barrowman’s face during this scene, his eyes glassed over with tears of his choice, because it looked so real. The anguish that Lucy Cohu displays cuts right to your heart, too, her horrified screams permeating the entire scene. Even Johnson’s face is unbearable to look at. I’m glad that this show did not portray any of this as a victory because it’s not. Yes, it’s probably way more practical that one child is sacrificed in order to save the world, but we’d been shown that Jack’s daughter was finally growing close to him. AND NOPE. GONE. DESTROYED. NO CHANCE. Holy shit, THIS IS BRUTAL.
What’s satisfying to me (in a really odd way, I must admit) is how Children of Earth is wrapped up in a way that actually doesn’t wrap many things up. When the 456 disappear due to Jack’s reconstitution wave, it doesn’t solve the government’s problems. Not only does Ms Spears’s recording of the proceedings with the Torchwood contact lenses add a wrinkle to any containment problems, the British government is left with the mess to end all messes in its hands. How on earth do they explain to their own people the reasoning behind kidnapping hundreds of thousands of students? Or the decision process? I actually like that it’s not explained and we’re left to imagine the disaster that remains. (Bravo to Ms. Spears, by the way, for finally standing up to these assholes.)
For us, though, the end of “Day Five” spells out the dissolution of Torchwood. What a bleak, depressing end to this mini-series: Jack cannot escape his guilt, so he simply runs away from his problems and his friends, leaving Gwen Cooper in tears on that remote hillside. There can be no Torchwood at this point.
In that sense, this mini-series highlights what people and organizations do when everything goes wrong. As much as it is about the horrors of a drug-addicted race that invades earth, I was always frightened more by the political realism. The writers took a huge chance in centering Peter Capaldi’s character throughout the narrative, but it paid off brilliantly. John Frobisher was given one of the best character arcs imaginable, and Capaldi gave the performance of a lifetime. Again, I’m still reminded just how different this five-part mini-series is when compared to the previous two seasons, but it doesn’t really matter to me. This story was fascinating, thrilling, terrifying, and a bit too real at times, and it’s among some of the best television I’ve ever experienced.
Thanks for joining me on this brief journey. On Monday, I’ll be starting Battlestar Galactica with the first half of the miniseries. You should join me for that as well!