When you’re reviewing a series, sometimes you assess things on what you see and then an episode later, you are proven wrong and have to retract your words. That’s the case with Dead Man Walking, written by Matt Jones. When I was saying that the commitment was lacking when they killed Owen in the previous episode, I couldn’t have predicted that they would bring him back in the next. Of course, that was probably going to be a one-episode reprieve and he’d have to stay dead by the end of this one, right? Wrong. Torchwood did surprise me with this. Owen was shot dead and brought back to remain a “dead man walking” potentially for the foreseeable future.
In fairness, by the time of this viewing, I did know what was coming, but that’s because I never forgot how I felt on that original viewing. But that doesn’t take away from my enjoyment… or my irritation.
OK, it’s only fair that I talk about the irritation first. When we last saw the “resurrection gauntlet”, Ianto made a good point: gloves come in pairs. So in that way they set the stage that somewhere out there, there might be another. (This is what I call a “pro”!) But when Jack decides it’s a good idea to bring Owen back from the dead (to get a combination code, as one does), he goes to see a psychic kid who tells him that it’s basically across the street. (This is what I call a “con”!) If it was so close by to begin with, why wait to go looking for it? And what was up with the Church of the Weevils anyway? The other con is that we saw the “shoot the glove to pieces to break the spell” in the first story with the gauntlet; why was it such a shock that they needed to do that again? And really: how easy is it to evacuate a hospital?! Maybe in Cardiff! You sure couldn’t do that in New Jersey! I’m also not sure how I feel about Owen becoming the “King of the Weevils” now, when that was effectively established last season and then ignored. Are we to take it seriously now? Same with the “something in the darkness” routine – wasn’t that Abadon, also addressed and resolved last season?
On the other hand, there are some great elements to this. I sometimes refer to the little things as brushstrokes that enhance a painting. Observe some of these: Owen’s wound is shown in all its gruesome glory and he has a hard time accepting it. His upside-down throw-up scene was actually utterly hilarious, especially coupled with Jack’s reaction to it. And watch Gwen’s reaction when Ianto walks by her holding the glove! Her phone call to Rhys was a bitterly sad moment but totally touching that she just needed to hear his voice. I also think there’s a much needed reminder that Torchwood and UNIT are effectively working towards the same goals and Martha plays that role, driving that point home to Jack. And I love Owen’s question about what happens when we become the monster we fight!
I think this episode really won me over in two ways. First, the idea of grief making us say things that we never say in life is depressing but true. Why do we have to wait for people to die to realize all the things we could have said? Loss makes us realize what we have. Sad but I can’t deny it and Torchwood was a good show for tackling that. It’s often heavy and doesn’t have the baggage of being very happy like Doctor Who, so it is well positioned to take on such an idea. But the real win that made this episode so strong for me is, to my eternal amazement, Owen! Yes, Owen has been a pig, disgusting, obnoxious, and about as deplorable a “hero” as any show could hope for. That is, until he tells Jamie, a child with Leukemia, that he’s going to fight death and beat it partly so that Jamie can have hope that he too can fight and beat his own death. And watching Owen fight the mist-shrouded skeleton of Death while some truly epic music plays is just so much fun. I punched the air! I hooted, or something closely equivalent. I just wish they went back to Jamie to let him know for sure that he too could win. But I’ll accept that time constraints limit those little things. Still, it was enough. In death, Owen became a hero. I don’t need a hero to save a planet; give one child hope, and you can earn the title.
Torchwood has never quite reached epic status (yet), but episodes like this come close. And who would have guessed that the character to bring us this close would be Owen. Didn’t see that coming! ML