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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

‘Torchwood’ blogging: “Countrycide”

(before commenting, please read the intro to my Doctor Who blogging; the same caveats apply to Torchwood / previous: Episode 5: “Small Worlds”)

I’m probably in the minority on this, but I like that there turned out to be no psychopathic alien influence at work here. I like that Torchwood isn’t pretending that you have to leave the planet or import creatures from outer space in order to find terrible things. That does tend to be the way of these kinds of shows, whether it’s the old Doctor Who or any of the Star Treks, for instance: it’s always the aliens who are up to the worst things while the humans look on in horror. But sometimes we’re the monsters. In reality, we always are, of course, and so the nontwist of a twist to “Countrycide” gives it a greater feeling of existing in the real world we all know and live in, removing it from a fantastical realm and bringing it literally down to earth.
It expands the range of drama Torchwood is open to, as well: the missing-persons-and-gruesome-murder story here could, theoretically, have been part of an episode of, say, CSI or Law or Order, or part of a realistic crime/horror movie like The Silence of the Lambs, but none of those narratives would allow themselves the possibility that the perpetrator could be an extraterrestrial being. But now Torchwood is telling us that we can’t always be so sure what we’re in for — it won’t be able to play the no-aliens card often, or else it wouldn’t be Torchwood, but there’s a whole other layer of suspense at work with the show now, too.

And it underscores that Torchwood is about people, about human beings of the here and now (even 51st-century Jack is stuck in the hear and now, and there’s no question that he’s human). Science fiction always is, when it’s done right, but Torchwood barely even pretends otherwise — you don’t have to root around in the metaphors to connect it to the lives of modern people. Sure, Gwen is having trouble with Rhys and with her “ordinary” life because of all the top-secret stuff. But the same happens to many of us even if we are allowed to talk about our work. It’s hardly a stretch to recognize that many of us see our daily lives so rooted in our work — whether we love our jobs or are tied to them out of necessity — and work such long hours that it affects our relationships with everyone else, and makes it very easy, sometimes, to get especially close to the people we work with so closely and for most of the day, most of the week, most of the year.

The sexual minefield that is this Scooby gang isn’t about sex, for all they can barely shut up about it: it’s about connecting, or not. Oh, comparing recent snogs is so not a good idea with this group: here’s Ianto with his grief over Lisa; Tosh with her loneliness; Jack with his even more yawning loneliness; and Gwen and Owen with their explosive chemistry. Owen might be just about sex, but for Gwen, it’s about being with someone who understands her. It’s not so much that she’s forbidden from talking to Rhys about the details of her work — it’s that even if she could, there’s no way he could possibly understand. He’d be sympathetic, sure, but he’d never really get it.

For all its fantastical elements, Torchwood is shaping up as a startlingly pragmatic — even bleak — assessment of modern life. Never mind the all-too-human cannibals who are “happy” to slaughter and eat their fellows (and who will be echoed, 100 trillion years from now, by the Toclafane in “Last of the Time Lords,” who think it’s “fun” to kill their human ancestors) — they’re enough of an aberration not to hit too close to home for most of us. But someone who’d rather spend time with — even have sex with — a man she doesn’t even like, rather than have a cozy evening at home with the man she loves? That’s a lot closer to reality than many of us would, I suspect, like to acknowledge.

Random thoughts on “Countrycide”:

• Humans are the only species that goes camping? I think Jack is pulling someone’s leg there…

(next: Episode 7: “Greeks Bearing Gifts”)

[Torchwood screencap from The Institute]


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
posted in:
tv buzz
  • I’m probably in the minority on this, but I like that there turned out to be no psychopathic alien influence at work here.

    I’m right in the minority with you. It’s always good when normal TV sci-fi reminds us that ordinary humans can be total bastards.

    Owen might be just about sex, but for Gwen, it’s about being with someone who understands her. It’s not so much that she’s forbidden from talking to Rhys about the details of her work — it’s that even if she could, there’s no way he could possibly understand. He’d be sympathetic, sure, but he’d never really get it.

    I’m right on board with you on this one, MaryAnn. I personally find Owen to be the most repulsive member of the Torchwood team–to the point where I’m amazed that the rest of the team puts up with him–and yet I completely understood why Gwen slept with him. (I also feel really, really bad for Rhys, who seems like an okay bloke who doesn’t really deserve the relationship unhappiness that looks to be looming).

  • Lucy Gillam

    I don’t think either of you are as much in the minority as you think. That was generally the reaction of most people I knew. To paraphrase Dean Winchester, demonsaliens are easy; it’s human beings that scare the crap out of you.

  • Magess

    I do find the relationship with Owen most distressing. There’s generally lots of me yelling at the screen about it. But it also seems so inevitable. I mean, you’d choose Jack if you had the option, but he’s so cut off that he’s not making himself an option. He couldn’t connect a plug into a wall. So who does that leave as someone who is, at the very least, not so totally wrapped up in their own shit that they forget that other people exist.

    Frickin’ Owen.

  • Katie

    I actually really liked this episode as well. I think it worked well and it was nice to see them all in the field, even Ianto, who looks like he’s never been in the field before.

    I couldn’t agree with you more about Gwen and her “relationship” with Owen. And yeah, Owen is a twat but sometimes, every now and then, he redeems himself so I can’t completely loath him.

  • MaryAnn

    But that’s what makes this show so fascinating: the characters are so damn complicated that you can’t quite figure out if you actually like them, but you like being around them because they surprise you.

  • Colleen

    With you on this as well. Used the show to teach my 10-year old that humans are scarier than any aliens/demons we can dream up.

  • MaryAnn

    You’re letting a 10-year-old watch *Torchwood*? Wow…

  • CrabbyLioness

    MaryAnn, you are completely in the majority for Torchwood fans.

  • Martin Hodgkins

    I’ve been reading this blog as an attempt to see what Americans thought of the programme (new series starts tonight in uk). Interesting, especially the comments on language and sexual content which to a uk tv viewer are nothing out of the ordinary.

    As to “countrycide” my friends and I (and most other viewers I have spoken to)thought the no alien plot was great. As other posters have said you don’t need them for evil/bad things humans aremore than capable.

    Now for a bit of perpective from a UK point of view….many city living English consider the rural Welsh to be weird, unwelcoming and a little bit scary. ( to clarify the weird/unwelcoming bit…walk into a pub in rural(not coastal or city)Wales and the conversations will be in english and welsh, when you are ID’ed as english the conversations switch entirly to welsh and people give you the eye… unless you happen to have a strong regional accent at which point they start speaking a mix again and being freindly, it’s ok to be english as long as you are from the sticks!!!!as a yokshireman no probs)

    Ok I am rambling but the point I am trying to make is that it’s not a big leap of imagination for a brit to believe that folk in an isolated welsh village eat people.

  • MaryAnn

    I’ve been reading this blog as an attempt to see what Americans thought of the programme

    I’m only one American, and I don’t think I’m representative of my fellow countrymen.

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