When Adrift started, I was a little let down to see that Chris Chibnall wrote the episode. I have lost faith in his writing recently and had forgotten that when it comes to human drama, he actually can write. Adrift introduces us to Nicki and her missing son Jonah. Jonah went missing at the start of the episode, but it was 7 months earlier from the point Gwen gets involved. The rest of the episode is about Gwen trying to bring hope to Nicki by helping to find her son.
As episodes go, this isn’t big-time science fiction, although I did like the concept that the rift could pull people in as much as deposit things out. It’s a very human story about people who go missing and it’s a strong episode. In almost every episode of this series, I have been able to find some flaw that has taken me out of the story, but the truth is, I really struggled to find any with this one. I think the only issue I had with this can be easily explained. The thing is, Gwen does find Jonah and he’s not the man he was. He was a boy of about 17 and is now a desperately scarred man of about 45 who watched a solar system burn. So Gwen pushes to allow Nicki to come see her son and after a heartbreaking denial, Nicki realizes she has found him. The trouble is she wants to take Jonah home but he begins screaming, as he does for 20 hours of every day; a raw, primal scream that tears Nicki’s soul out. Hope is destroyed for her as she sees what has become of her child. The issue I had with this is that Jack should have told Gwen, so Gwen could have told Nicki. And while I do think it would have been the right thing to do, I think Jack knows he has to let Gwen fail before she does this to all of those who have lost people; a group we find to be quite large in Cardiff. As he says, “some things we can’t fix.” It’s truly a sad episode but it’s incredibly acted on all counts.
Among the great performances, Rhys gets furious with Gwen because she says having children is a “dead conversation” yet I believe he’s justified in everything he says. She’s fighting so people can live their lives; real lives! That’s the whole point of what Torchwood does. Andy gets some fun moments too, but I felt badly for him because he’s finally being fleshed out more and Gwen doesn’t treat him very well. I did enjoy his referring to Jack as “Mulder” though and his outrageous line that “you have a face like a slapped arse”. (I confess, I’ve no idea how to interpret that!) But it’s Andy’s comment to Gwen that really motivates her, “you’ve got hard.” It’s his words that sends her looking for Jonah. Andy also asks if there might be any vacancies in Torchwood and I really thought that was foreshadowing the fact that Owen is effectively a zombie and would have to be replaced but Gwen says she would not recommend Andy for a job with them. She doesn’t want to see Andy turn cold, as he accuses her.
I think Jack is the toughest character to like in this episode because he does keep things secret from Gwen. One thing about building a strong team is that there has to be communication between its members. Trust builds that bond between people; keeping secrets weakens teams. Jack’s intentional secrecy ends up hurting not only Nicki but Gwen as well. He could have spared her by explaining things rather than shutting her down. All he really did was incite her to action. Gwen knew the hope of finding Jonah was driving Nicki and in the end Nicki hates Gwen for taking away hope and replacing it with a cruel certainty. If anything, Jack owes Gwen for the sorrow she caused because through communication, it could have been avoided.
The story ends with a sweet epilogue for Gwen and Rhys. She’s ready to entertain a future with children. At least there’s a glimmer of light in an otherwise dark and deeply disturbing episode. And Chibnall gets a gold star for a powerhouse episode. ML