My time watching Babylon 5 really made me aware of the impact the writer has on the show. I realize that should go without saying, but I never paid attention to it until the 90’s. By the time I’d seen The Soprano’s, I had started to realize the value of a consistent writer through a season. Sure, there could be a burden associated with that, but I think, by and large, having a lead writer with an idea where he or she wants to take the story is a benefit more than a curse. Look at the first several years of Doctor Who‘s return! For Torchwood, Jim Gray and John Shiban give us episode 4, Escape to LA. Why am I focusing on the writers, you ask? Because I really get the impression that Russell T. Davies was not doing any quality checking at this point. It was a situation of: “hey, I’ll do the first episode to get the series off the ground and then good luck!” See, Jim and John give me the feeling that they read the summary of what Torchwood was about and who Captain Jack was, then crafted a narrative around it, but it was just a blurb; they did no watching of the series to understand it. Jack makes a comment about having “lived through thousands of years”. Now, it is true that he was left buried since like 79AD, but I don’t know if I’d call that “living through” and it’s reminiscent of the third Doctors claim to being thousands of years old when he wasn’t even 750 yet! (Although Chibnall found a way to make it actually work, I’m still not applauding it!) But I would completely turn a blind eye… no, you know what, I wouldn’t even comment about it if not for the real galling bit. Rex homophobically asks Jack if he’s going to “make everyone around you gay?” Jack replies, “that’s the plan!” Um, no, its not, it wasn’t and with a good writer, it still wouldn’t have been. Jack wasn’t gay. Jack was omnisexual; open minded that all life was something he wanted to “dance” with. That was the beauty of Jack; he loved all life. He hit on ChanTho, the bug, just as much as Ianto or Gwen or Martha. Gender wasn’t his focus! That lack of comprehension of who the main character is really derailed my enjoyment of season 4. One episode like that, you let go. Two in a row…? Sure, I do feel like Rex is meant to be the new Captain Jack but that’s no excuse!
And that’s not even the worst of it. This episode feels like a video game and Rex even has a problem with that; he even comments that they treat this like a game. The team is given their choices and the steps needed to complete their mission and everything is very Mission: Impossible. But when things go wrong because master hitman C. Thomas Howell shows up, the writers assume we can’t tell time. We’re told that the fire department will arrive in minutes but Rex has time to hike up 66 flights of stairs to get Howell before he shoots Gwen. Ok, so far, not terrible – unrealistic, but not terrible – but Rex is utterly winded after shooting Howell in the throat and has to have a sit down while Jack and Gwen remain tied to a server rack. Still no fire department; surely some minutes have gone by. And more conspicuously, no fire. To complete their mission, they have to make it look like a stolen and replaced server has been burned. With the elevators shut down, 66 floors to carry a server down the stairs, two tied up heroes and Rex out of breath with a gaping hole in his chest… just how much time has elapsed? (And did the master hitman really have to talk for so long, I thought he was doing a valedictory speech for Toastmasters?)
Had this gone on to become a series beyond the one season romp, some of what happens here might have been useful. Rex goes to see his dad who has no compassion for his son. Esther goes to see her sister and has to report her to child services. And Gwen takes calls from her husband even while on high stakes missions. It all feels very… filler. If the series went on, it was establishing background. As it didn’t, it established that episode 4 could have been skipped. Gwen, hired by Torchwood for her intelligence and observation skills fails to see C. Thomas Howell on the beach photographing her with a lens of unusual size, while wearing a black jacket… as one does on the beach. Rex is depicted as a heavy drug user constantly calling his doctor for where he could find “drugs”; if he wanted pain killers, maybe that was the thing to ask for.
And the most amazing thing is that the writers take Oswald Danes, pedophile and murderer, and try to give him some arc that is bordering on redemption. Look, we know he’s doing it in a self-serving way, but as the music hits a high note, one wonders if the idea was to show him actually finding a path to redemption. Then I just remember that not 15 minutes earlier he was opening tonic water in his room just to let the fizz out and I realize: there’s no redeeming this monster. All his religious references of rising again and rapture can’t hide that this man is a monster. Even Jilly Kitzinger, who does seem to have a conscience, can’t stomach him. And I have to say, with all the medical things we learned since Covid, the whole hospital scene made me want to take a shower; extremely discomforting!
The entire episode seems structured around one thing: letting the audience know that whoever did this knew Jack all along. He has been targeted… not that it makes sense, mind you, but whoever did this, knows Jack and knows that he is immortal. Is this a good revelation? To quote Gwen, “Sure thing! Hot diggity!” This isn’t enough that we needed to waste an episode on it, but yes, it is a good revelation. Who could it be? Did Grey survive somehow? Someone else? This could be the one redeeming moment for the episode. We have a few weeks to find out, but I find myself looking forward to it, despite two weak episodes in row. Russell’s name is on the final episode, so we’ve got to be building toward something good. One hopes, but I’m beginning to think the only way that will happen is with a miracle. ML