In the second episode of the Torchwood: Children of Earth mini-series, HOLY GOD THIS IS SO INTENSE THIS IS INCREDIBLE. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Torchwood.
No, this is what I want from a television show. Children of Earth has already shown me, in just two episodes, that Torchwood seems to work perfectly as a mini-series, when the writers can focus on a single theme, allowing the story and the characters to have a more natural arc. As suspenseful as “Day Two” is, I was completely enamored with how well this specific episode handles some of the more subtle effects of the Torchwood team on the side characters, choosing to give us the perspective of Rhiannon, Rhys, and John Frobisher over focusing entirely on Jack, Gwen, and Ianto.
The story lends itself to that easily by picking up right where “Day One” left off. (Doing a mini-series as five consecutive days is looking to be mighty fascinating, by the way.) First off, I’m glad the writers did not ignore the obvious: Jack Harkness had a bomb implanted in his stomach. If he had merely climbed out of the rubble and came back to life, I would have called foul. I’m aware of the absurdity of that statement, since I’m demanding “realism” from a man who can consistently come back to life. It does seem to be a bit mutually exclusive, but hey, I can have standards, even if they don’t make sense in any other context! In this sense, the audience is squarely thrust into Ianto’s shoes, and the episode does this well: we fear the death of Jack Harkness, we worry about the consequences of the bomb, but in our hearts, we know he can’t really die, right? RIGHT????
As Torchwood is forced underground (and their story lines begin to intertwine with what’s happening with Lois and John), we are given a story that stretches out and breathes, and there’s nothing I love more from fiction than this. This is all a very tense and unbearable situation, but there’s something to be said about a show that can stop and show us how John Forbisher has been forced into a terrifying situation where his own life seems inevitably aimed towards destruction, or that can show us how Rhiannon’s home can be affected by what Ianto does in his job, or one that can give us an intimate scene between a couple while they are hiding in a truck full of potatoes.
I’m not sure why I’m necessarily drawn to a story that can have such an emotional base, even when I don’t particularly relate to what’s going on. I don’t think I’ve actually figured it out after all this time. I know why I like these sort of stories: they tend to be much more interesting to me, and if I can feel something for a character, I feel more invested in the story itself. But I don’t always want an intensive, emotional experience from a show. Ironically enough, that’s why I had fun with Torchwood initially. I didn’t have to force myself to think too much about what was going on. Which is not to say that this show is either simplistic or unemotional. (OMG Tosh endless tears.) I’m not entertained by some monolithic form of story telling, either, as I find myself attracted to all kinds of entertainment. So why do I like this so much? I’m beginning to think that the only difference this has to what I’m used to on television is that it reminds me of the experience of reading a novel. Television and books are inherently different mediums, but the two can share similarities or borrow techniques from the other in order to keep us interested. I’m reminded of the fast-paced, action-heavy The Hunger Games trilogy that I read for Mark Reads when I first started that site. Suzanne Collins had a history in television writing (although for children’s programming, interestingly enough), and the rapid format of television seemed to bleed through into that series of novels. And the great part was that she made it work. Shows like The Wire or LOST or Rubicon have much more in common with opening a long, hefty novel than with television for me, because those shows took risks in opening up about the lives of the characters in ways that were not necessarily traditional for network television.
Watching the focus on Rhiannon, John, and Rhys throughout “Day Two” gave me hints of this sort of “novel” approach to television, and writer John Fay weaves them in with the INCREDIBLE plot twists seamlessly. It’s one thing to be able to give space to your characters, but the man must be commended for doing it in a way that gave all of the episode a very even pace.
Of course, the great mystery of “Day Two” concerns the 456. For such a nondescript name, these beings sure do creep me the hell out. Even better, we’re approaching the halfway mark of the mini-series and we still haven’t even seen them. At best, we learn only a tiny bit about them: They have sent only British authorities instructions for building a case of sorts that is to be filled with the gases that make up the atmosphere of their home planet. (At least, that’s all we can guess at this point.) In the eeriest moment of “Day Two,” while Ianto briefly meets with his sister, all the children of the world freeze yet again, and the 456 speaks through them: “We are coming tomorrow.” WELL, THAT’S A DIRECT MESSAGE, RIGHT? What interests me so much about this is that it’s all happening out in the open. This is not some secret conspiracy at colonization or invasion that’s happening to an unwitting populace. Every day, the people of earth are reminded that their children are at the will of some force, able to be controlled at any moment, and that those behind it are coming back. Forbisher asks the right question: When were they here in the first place??? (I have no guesses as to what this all means, for the record.)
Forbisher is a family man who is quickly realizing how overwhelmed he is by the events going on in his life, and I’m glad he is not painted as a simple villain. Even though he has much more access than pretty much anyone and knows more about what’s going on than most of the world, he is still aware that he is just a mere pawn in a greater scheme, and it’s terrifying to watch him unravel both at work and at home. His family suspects he knows more than he does, and his wife is tired of the secrets. Knowing his own children might be victims to some sort of invasion, who are his allegiances ultimately loyal to? His family? His government? What if he can’t choose either of him?
Thankfully, I was also glad that my prediction/desire to see more of Lois Habiba was granted rather quickly, and she’s proven to be quite an interesting character herself. In a way, it’s easy to parallel her with Forbisher, as they’re both government officials horrified by the acts being committed against people who probably don’t deserve it. For Lois, though, she’s more overwhelmed than anyone else in this situation: On just her second day of work, she’s seen an order for assassination being doled out, and she knows her government is hiding the truth about what is happening to the children around the world. Even worse, her own sense of patriotic duty doesn’t align with what her superiors are telling her to do. Her own moral crisis suddenly becomes too much to bear when Gwen Cooper finally calls the office of Frobisher and she is the one to take the call.
God, I cannot even imagine how difficult it must be to have to make a decision that risky in just a few seconds, but Lois errs on the side of her own conscience. She cannot rectify what the government has done when she compares it with the information available about Torchwood. If they’re supposed to help in situations concerning alien involvement, why are they being targeted for death?
The only thing I can guess from this is that Mr. Dekker is lying to everyone. Something about his final moment with that “chamber” thing suggests he knows way more about what the 456 actually are. Has he always known? Does he actually know what the chamber is and how the 456 are supposed to enter it? HE HAS TO, RIGHT??? Oh god I CAN NEVER FIGURE THESE THINGS OUT EVER.
From the moment that Lois meets up with Rhys and Gwen in that cafe, this episode is pretty much perfect. I’m not gonna lie: When Gwen extends a possible job offer to Lois after her impressive presentation, I squealed with delight. I really like Lois and her thirst for information and moral justice and the way she uses her conscience to take great risks in order to do what is right. In that sense, is there anyone more suited to join Torchwood than Lois? Oh god, please don’t let Lois die, I would love if she could join the team.
I also can’t deny how entertained I was by the elaborate “rescue” that Rhys and Gwen plan using the information that Lois provides them. Rhys is a fun character to throw in the mix, and it helps that Gwen and him have such excellent chemistry with one another. Plus, for someone who was thrown into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse, and then learned that Gwen was pregnant inside of a potato truck, he sure is game to do whatever it takes to rescue Jack Harkness. Above all, though, it’s just a hell of a lot of fun to spend so much time in a constant wince state as you watch the two of them get past each possible obstacle in their journey to find out where Jack Harkness is kept. Admittedly, though, when they opened Jack’s cell to find it’s a block of pure cement, I was stumped. How were they going to get out of this one?
Oh, Ianto. I don’t even know how you logistically pulled out a block of cement from outside of a building, but you are one fierce dude. Who knew one could make driving a forklift look so flawless? The rescue of Jack is just as ridiculous as the man and I honestly couldn’t ask for anything more. (Yes, I did notice that Jack slung Rhys’s jacket over his shoulder instead of using it to cover himself. I was not surprised.)
With the entire Torchwood team back together (although sadly without the hub SADNESS FOREVER), the episode takes this victorious moment and then SMASHES US IN THE FACE WITH CREEPINESS. I’m still completely creeped out by the revelation of what the 456 ordered the British to make and I cannot begin to guess why it was only the British who were commanded to make this. The perfect atmosphere chamber for the 456 confuses me forever and ever. The best image of the entire episode, though, is here at the end: Frobisher, Mr. Dekker, and Bridget Spears stand perfectly in frame of the lines of the chamber as the camera pans back to reveal the glass-filled room that is full of gases that could kill any human. It’s a foreboding moment, both calm and terrifying, and it suggests such a grand scale to whatever is coming back to earth. I also adore that it frames the three people at the heart of this secret plan, the three who know the most and who are willing to do anything to keep this secret.
Christ, what the HELL are the 456 coming back for???
- Hey, a totally naked Jack Harkness! I’m actually surprised it took this long to show up again. It’s….ok? I don’t know, I don’t find myself attracted to John Barrowman. I KNOW, I KNOW, SHOOT ME. He’s very handsome! I’d rather make out with Rupesh. SORRY.
- I believe this is the first time that Jack’s ability has been referred to by “Lazarus.” Kind of a neat name.
- “If she’s anti-terrorist, I would not mind being Uncle Terrorist.” RIGHT. Johnson scares me. 🙁
- I am growing to like Rhiannon a lot. More please?