Torchwood: The Middle Men

I realized one of the things that was bothering me about season 4 of Torchwood: it’s the speed with which everything is carried out.  How much time has gone by since the Miracle?  Episode 4 takes place on March 5th, if Oswald’s hotel room clock is to be believed.  If each episode is supposed to be a day, in less than a week, concentration camps have sprung up all over the world with incinerators but how likely is that?  Looking at the slow treatment of Covid, would we really expect this to be so much faster?  Yes, perspective might be playing a part in this; even 6 months ago we had no basis upon which to base such a thing, but it just feels rushed.  I’m not saying I wanted to see this extended over months – I doubt Jack could have stayed alive that long – but it does make me think people would want to wait  a little while.  Maybe a month or two just to see if things go back to normal?  Otherwise, the governments are approving murder on a massive scale and what if the Miracle went away after just a week?   (Or ten days.)

A series like this needs to either change things up as it goes or add to the story or you end up with filler, and sadly I think we’ve already had that around episode 3.  Thankfully, episode 6 does add to the mystery.  Something is happening in Shanghai but we are given very few details yet; it’s there simply to whet our appetites for a big reveal.  We are also introduced to “one word: The Blessing“.  (Are you counting 2 words there, because I am.  Does the word “the” get so disrespected that we don’t even count it these days?)  So those are the “adds” that come in for episode 6.  Changes come from Rex himself, no longer claiming allegiance to the CIA but now actively saying he’s a member of Torchwood, a word just last episode he said “…just works as a code word”.  (More true than he realized from a development standpoint: it was a codeword to get the script of Doctor Who series 2 into others hands without being found out!  It’s an anagram!)    Also good is that Rex is vowing revenge for the death of Vera Juarez.  Another change is the nightmare that unfolds for Esther, who is rising as a great character.  Her murder of that easily hated villain Colin is marvelous.  “Very good indeed!”  (Sorry, Colin, I’m taking your words and using them to applaud your demise!)   Depressingly, Esther doesn’t take him down completely; that award goes to Ralph and his gun.  “This has got to stop!”  But she is instrumental in making that happen and I still give her the kudos deserved!

One thing the episode does very well is identify some of “the middle men”; the villains who are in fact just as much cogs in a bigger machine as our heroes.  People we are lead to believe are the bad guys are little more than middle men.  The “archaic views of good versus evil” are called out here and I think that’s clever.  Stuart Owens, played by Ernie Hudson, isn’t the big baddie he’s made out to be and he’s just as much in the dark as Jack.  Villains plan and they do it big using middle men as their faces because, as we saw last season with John Frobisher, they are expendable.  That’s good writing!  Another display of great writing is the whole discussion Gwen has with the doctor regarding the burning of patients.  We are shown with unwavering brutality what the “it’s not my department” mentality means.  It’s the “I was doing my job, following orders” that disgusts most people with a strong ethical core.  When Gwen condemns that doctor with, “I’m glad you’ve got the law on your side” it really puts things in perspective.  It shows how easy it is for people to follow blindly and not question their leaders.  I call that scary because, when the law is on the side of the wrongdoer, what sort of society are we left with.  How close are we to that on any given day of the week?  When the doctor asks what can she do, Gwen’s response is straight up John Sheridan: “You say no!”  (The line, from the superb Intersections in Real Time is: “You just have to say ‘no I won’t’ one more time than they say ‘yes you will.’”)  Brave words and ethically sound advice!  I love that sort of writing and character development.

Perhaps less impressive are lines like “how blonde are you?” stereotyping that blonde is another word for dimwitted.  Or as we see the guards approaching Gwen and Rhys, they have time to kiss and then kiss again.  And what about Jack: they constantly make him the master manipulator as he puts Janet at odds with her boss.  I wish Jack could actually be depicted as a good guy and not a flawed ambiguous guy.  But I guess, he’s a middle (of the road) man, right?

Still, we get a very strong episode and a cliffhanger that keeps the audience glued to their seats.  Gwen arrives in America and gets a very unpleasant message; her mother, husband, and daughter have been taken hostage.  To get them back, that have to “bring us Jack.”  Gwen falls back in horror; things just got personal.  ML

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1 Response to Torchwood: The Middle Men

  1. scifimike70 says:

    This is a chapter of the Whoniverse that can certainly mirror all that’s happening now in the sense of how easily we find ourselves re-evaluated everything. The concept of middle men for how they are used by the major villainy can qualify and is one of the most enlightening points ever made on the Junkyard. The consequences of great change, particularly the variable speeds of their impacts, are always a great subject matter for science-fiction. And now that Gwen’s family has been given a most dramatic turn, knowing Gwen’s formidable fierceness in following her heart, it will surely get a lot more bumpy from here.

    Stereotyping the word ‘blonde’ is indeed as unimpressive as many stereotypes that SF still struggles with today. I was born with blonde hair, which darkened as I started growing up, and so this one is a stereotype that I would gladly avoid. Thank you, ML, for that point and your review.

    Liked by 1 person

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