In the fourth episode of the Torchwood: Children of Earth miniseries, we learn exactly what happened in 1965, which inspires Torchwood to finally intervene in the negotiations with the 456. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Torchwood.
WELL, EVERYTHING JUST FELL APART, DIDN’T IT?
Holy god, saying I was unprepared for this is a crime. Is there a worse state than being unprepared? I feel like I just got hit by a bus, stood up, dusted myself off, and then got ran over by a trillion steamrollers. Then Russell T Davies and John Fay punched me in the face.
Ok, I’m being ridiculous, but there are so many things this brilliant story does that are uncomfortable, upsetting, and completely unheard of, especially for this show. Again, it’s not just a matter of being unprepared; it’s how I was completely convinced that I knew where this episode would head towards, and then being reminded that sometimes, things do not go the way of the good times, and that sometimes, when you take a heroic risk, you are left with nothing but tragedy.
Jack’s own risk is explained here as we flashback to the events of 1965. I’m glad we aren’t given every piece of information about the first appearance of the 456, but the major gaps are filled in: the 456 arrived in order to present the world with a vaccine for a flu that would decimate the earth’s population, but only in exchange for twelve children. It’s also shown that Clem escaped from them at the last minute, but there’s still a lot left that doesn’t make sense to me. Why is Clem still connected to the 456, even though he wasn’t taken? How did the 456 know that a deadly flu was going to ravage the earth? WHY DO I FEEL LIKE THERE’S A HUGE SECRET JUST WAITING TO PUSH ME OFF A CLIFF HERE? Oh god, “Day Five” is going to destroy me, isn’t it?
There is still a part of me that would have just enjoyed turning half of this review into a repetitive bolding of Peter Capaldi’s name in all-caps, but I have a little bit more taste than that. I cannot deny that this miniseries has placed him front and center and it has made it all so much better than I could have possibly imagined. To be completely fair, though, “Day Four” is full of so many brief moments of character growth and interaction that the story we’re ultimately given is a lot more rich and detailed than if we were just shown the main plot. WHICH IS STILL SPECTACULAR! But think about it: How much better is this episode when you consider Rhys and Gwen’s kiss before he heads off with the laptop to hide? How much better is it with Ianto’s shock and disappointment at Jack for being involved with the initial swap? How much better is it with Mrs. Frobisher’s silent sobbing when she realizes her husband has finally gotten involved with something that may be his undoing? Would this episode be the same without Clem’s “fatal” attack on Jack and having to face the man who gave him over to aliens?
The way that “Day Four” is written, every small interaction and moment is absolutely necessary to the story. It’s about how the various stories and plot lines will all come together and converge on what’s been building since the first episode: the intervention of Torchwood. In a sense, they’ve all been completely out of their element. Normally, they always have access and they’re always on the front lines, but they’ve been pushed to the fringes. If it wasn’t for Lois’s actions, they’d know nothing about what was going on. (Bless Lois and her brilliance, which I’ll get to in a bit.)
But before Torchwood do finally come into play, we’re treated to yet another FUCKED UP sequence of unbearable tension: The 456 invite a camera inside of their chamber with them. Just….WHO KNEW. HOW COULD I HAVE EVER GUESSED THIS? I initially pegged the pour soul who was chosen to enter the tank to be the first to die in the mini-series, but that would have been easy to stomach. The 456 are such a confusing species and this scene essentially sent the message that there was nothing they wouldn’t do.
My god, that child. WHAT DID THEY DO TO THAT CHILD??? And WHY??? Oh my god, there are few things in science fiction that will torment me like this will. That smoky image of that child’s eyes blinking…NO. NO THANK YOU. NOT EVER AGAIN.
Even though I brought it up in yesterday’s review, it bears repeating: This mini-series deals with political maneuvering in a believable, genuine way. The fact that I am able to state this scares me, though, because “Day Four” shows us how a government will act in a moment of crisis to protect their own interests over those of the people they represent. It’s a different type of horror than the rest of the episode. The 456 are undeniably frightening to me. They’re mysterious. They’re violent. They are absolutely in control of the situation. But when faced with the reality that the 456 are deeply serious about their request for children, the leaders of the world fall back onto some terrifying conclusions about their own citizens. Their own desire to keep the press out of the situation inspires a solution that will gain the least amount of attention: using those seeking asylum in Great Britain. It’s even more disturbing how quickly everyone in the Cobra meeting so quickly adopts the term “units” to talk about children. Anything they can do to disassociate with reality, right?
Basically, though, the 456’s response to this amounts to trolling, as far as I’m concerned. You reject our demands? Then we’ll control all your children and make them recite the exact number we require from each country. HAHAHA, WHO’S IN CONTROL NOW, WORLD?
I jest because holy shit this is so terrifying. It was quickly becoming obvious to me that this wasn’t going to be solved with any sort of easy answer. Still, I wasn’t truly ready to listen to the words that came out of Denise Riley’s mouth. If I felt uncomfortable before, now I was completely repulsed:
“Now look: on the one hand, we’ve got the good schools and I don’t just mean those producing graduates. I mean the people who will go on to staff our hospitals, our offices, our factories; the work force of the future. We need them. Accepted, yes? So: set against that, you’ve got the failing schools, full of the less able, the less socially useful, those destined to spend a lifetime on benefits occupying places on the dole queue and, frankly, the prisons. Now look, should we treat them equally? God knows we’ve tried and we failed, and now the time has come to choose. And if we can’t identify the lowest achieving ten percent of this country’s children, then what are the school league tables for?”
It doesn’t scare me because it’s offensive. It scares me because I believe my government would do the exact same thing if presented with this option. It disturbed me in a way that no alien (or alien child) could because it felt so real. I believed that politicians would do this and exempt their own children from any sort of lottery.
It’s why I felt I knew where this episode was headed when Torchwood finally decided to jump into the action. This story needed someone to expose the horrific actions the British government were going to take, and the government needed Torchwood to finally intervene. In short, I started pining for equilibrium: I wanted the good guys to finally waltz in and correct the wrongs we were witnessing. I wanted all of the people in that Cobra meeting to be held accountable for their deplorable actions, and I wanted someone who had experience dealing with the 456 to have a conversation with them. And I thought I was getting that as the group split up to take their places for the greatest act of blackmail I’d seen on television. Bringing together Johnson, Gwen, and Clem while Jack and Ianto infiltrated the Thames House, the real performance of the entire hour was Lois Habiba’s nervous (and then thunderous) confrontation of the cabinet. She’s been such a fascinating character throughout Children of Earth, torn between her civic duty and her desire to be moral. She has just witnessed the impossible ON HER FOURTH DAY OF WORK HOLY GOD and has never been more afraid for her future. Yet she decides to go ahead and reveal Torchwood’s trick to them all. God, it is the FIRST moment I felt truly good about the events on the screen. There’s been so much shock and fear and disbelief on my end, and, knowing this story is approaching its end, I genuinely believed we would see the Torchwood team become their normally-badass selves to save the day.
As Jack and Ianto arrive in the room housing the 456, I was curious to see how they’d change the tide of the diplomatic stand-off. Unsurprisingly, all three members of Torchwood are their usual selves: Jack is brazen and confrontational, Ianto is sharp and determined, and Gwen Cooper does it all with a gorgeous smirk on her face, knowing she’s much more clever than the foe she is facing. It’s even more fascinating to watch how quickly Johnson goes from a ruthless bounty hunter of sorts to completely horrified by the people she works for, tears brimming in her eyes as she realizes the work she’s done has been to punish people who actually would support her in the end.
It is at this moment of pure hope, when I eagerly awaited the moment I could throw my fist in the air victoriously as Torchwood gained control of the situation, that everything falls apart.
I suppose you could say that Jack and Ianto got called on their bluff. You could say that they underestimated the 456. Either way, I watched in dejected horror as the 456 not only rejected Torchwood’s demands, but released a deadly virus into the Thames House building. As Jack scrambles to save lives, he forgets that the man who came with him is not immortal like he is. Amidst scenes of chaos, Jack tries to negotiate, but there’s no time for diplomacy. The 456 use a specific term–“The Remnant”–and tell Jack that “the Remnant” will be disconnected and everything goes from Pretty Bad to This Is Terrible Bad. Clem begins to scream, bleeding out of his mouth and ears, and dies in Gwen’s arms, a horrified Johnson looking on.
I wanted some deus ex machina to save Ianto Jones. I didn’t care how illogical it was or how out-of-character it may have seemed. I did not want that man to die. But this is a story about all hope being lost, of risks being taken and the ramifications that come with them. I can’t imagine a more depressing way to die than begging the man you love to not forget you. That’s what Ianto died thinking about.
As if watching two characters (AND ONE OF THE MAIN ONES!!!!) die onscreen isn’t enough to have to deal with, Gwen’s goodbye to Ianto seems so much worst than everything else. It’s the final line of the episode that really gets to me: “There’s nothing we can do.” The truth is that the Torchwood team has made a mistake that cost the lives of hundreds of people, including their own friend Ianto, and there is absolutely nothing they can do to bring him back, to stop the 456, or to prevent the British government from giving away the most disadvantaged children to a group of aliens.
This is fucked up.