It has got to be said that this season just doesn’t let up. It’s well-written, excellently acted, and the direction is amazing. This is what Torchwood should have been doing from the start. But it’s problem really is Captain Jack himself. It’s not that he isn’t wonderfully charismatic, but that the writers can’t decide if they want him to be a good guy or an edgy bad-ass. The problem is that his characterization is what probably kept Torchwood from the heights it could have reached. Being the class ball-buster has its disadvantages: no one really feels safe with you because you might turn on them for a laugh. He knows full well what he’s saying when he mentions in front of Rhys that Gwen’s condition means she probably shouldn’t be in the fight. But he does it to rub it in Rhys’s face that he knew Gwen was pregnant first and it just loses some of the heroism that Jack should possess as the hero of the show. This is a big shame though because when Jack says “I’m back” and we see him in his jacket again, we want to cheer, but he just is too ambiguously written to feel the same love we’d have for the Doctor if s/he said the same thing!
“We are here!” Speaking of pregnancy, the species called the 456 takes that name because it’s better than their real name: Masters of the Pregnant Pause. That doesn’t win respect at the annual villains brunch meetings. While their pauses and occasional copycat speech seems to be a dramatic affectation, having seen this series before, I know what the 456 want and it only serves to make them more believable and it takes a second viewing to really appreciate it. It also takes a second viewing to start to appreciate the potential of what the vomitus sludge is.
I mentioned last week that the British government is not portrayed in a particularly loving light. This week, the Prime Minister gives a head-tilt-y speech to his people that is just trying to hide what a manipulative jerk he is. Later, he again throws Frobisher (Capaldi) under the proverbial bus saying that he’s a good man, but more importantly, he’s expendable. He allows Frobisher to represent Britain because if anything goes wrong, it’ll be Frobisher’s career, and possibly life, on the line. (But if he says it with his head tilted, you feel warmer towards him, so there is that…)
As the middle episode, the tide needs to turn in favor of our heroes and it is again Lois Habiba that brings that about, but not before team Torchwood do some work on their own. Their criminal actions may be necessitated by the circumstances and that does seem to be the message so far, but make no mistake, their actions are not laudable. Fun to watch, sure, but not the actions of heroes. Then they ask Lois to commit a treasonable offense which I also question. Lois does impress me for a second week running however because, besides her moral compass being far stronger than Jack’s, she uses a bit of clever insinuation to be involved in the action. Spears almost asks Frobisher about it, but discretion takes over and Lois is able to pull off her plan. Well played, Lois! Well played.
There are some mildly fun moments with Gwen’s frequent “shut up” to Rhys while he distracts her or the group discussion of using the contact lenses for “fun” but the story is just too powerful to focus on those things much. The best lines are around the Doctor referring to Jack as a fixed point in time, meaning he will live forever and Ianto’s worrying line, “one day you’ll see me die, of old age…” The pit in my stomach opened with that line because it was one of those moments of foreshadowing that I just hope I’m wrong about. Jack’s daughter, Alice, also impressed me in this story; she is truly her father’s daughter, but there’s a great moment between her and Johnson where Alice threatens to kill Johnson if her son should be hurt in any way. The very simple “understood” conveys so much from both mother and soldier.
But with all this and as much as I love this story, Jack’s characterization still bothers me. When he contacts Frobisher about the 456, he finds Frobisher is keeping Jack’s daughter and grandson to prevent Jack doing anything rash. Jack threatens Frobisher but Frobisher doesn’t believe Jack’s threats because “you’re a better man than me”. Is he? First off, if that’s true, why was Frobisher willing to murder people rather than ask for cooperation? Clearly Frobisher didn’t think Jack would cooperate… why? Admittedly, so far, we’re lead to think Frobisher is still a worse man than Jack but for the second point. That being, as the episode ends, we learn that Jack was one of the people who gave the children to the 456 in 1965. As the 456 tell Frobisher that they want 10% of the population of Earth’s children, sending chills up the spine, Jack admits that he gave 12 children to these creatures “as a gift.” The cold delivery sends the chills right back down the spine to complete their run through the viewers body and we are left wondering once again, just who are the good guys here? And how can we save the children? ML