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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

‘Torchwood’ blogging: “Random Shoes”

(before commenting, please read the intro to my Doctor Who blogging; the same caveats apply to Torchwood / previous: Episode 8: “They Keep Killing Suzie”)

Eugene Jones is dead. Long live Eugene Jones?

No, it just doesn’t have that necessary ring to it.

Man, this is grim. Nerd wakes up to the possibility of life outside nerdom, and dies immediately thereafter. What’s the point? That an aware life is better than an unaware one? That an unaware life isn’t really life at all? That Eugene wasn’t really living anyway, so what’s his big loss? Okay, but he might have started living then. And yet it doesn’t seem tragic: Eugene seems okay with all this.

Maybe he really was just a hopelessly irredeemable nerd.
Maybe the point is that there is no point. As a counter to the previous episode, in which the afterlife is revealed to be a misery of dark loneliness, with the spectre of something horrible bearing down upon you. You know, if you think being dead is bad because you never get to finishing watching your rented DVDs, just wait and see how frustrating it is to hang around here after you die, when you’re in the vestibule, the foyer of death, and all that was once held secret from you — like the bedroom of Gwen Cooper and the headquarters of Torchwood — is revealed, and turns out not to be all that cool after all. And the people whom you idolized are, you learn now that you can peek in on them, aren’t really worth idolizing after all.

Maybe that’s the point: Don’t be a fan of Torchwood. Everything connected to Torchwood is doomed.

Doctor Who has done this, too, with “Love & Monsters” and “Blink”: look at how sweet and how silly and how worth saving are those who long for something more than this small existence to the point that it impairs their enjoyment of this small existence. But only Eugene had to die to learn it. It’s fuckin’ tragic, it is: the “eye” that “almost certainly belonged to an alien” that came into Eugene’s possession at the age of 12-or-whatever, given him by a schoolteacher who took pity on him. No, surely this cannot have occurred on the same day that Dad went away forever — surely, this is older-Eugene’s mind compensating for the terrible crushingness of that abandonment: Dad leaves, but the alien eye arrives. And, no doubt, the alien it belongs to is close behind.

Ah, I know that every lifelong fan of science fiction understands deeply and spiritually how SF — fantasy of any kind — can be a coping mechanism: does an affinity for SF make one a nerd, or, as if infinitely more likely, does escapist SF simply attract those who are already nerdy, lonely outcasts? Not that that characterizes everyone who enjoys SF: that’s not what I’m saying. But not everyone who enjoys SF longs to be taken away from this planet either, like Eugene, who thought the alien would “change his life.” And, as we’ve seen, if that eye had somehow turned out to be something the Doctor left behind — maybe it’s not an eye but a nuclear fusion containment device, or an essential piece of a hyperspace engine, or a marble made of some exquisitely rare stone from a long-destroyed planet, or an item of jewelry he fancied giving Rose — Eugene might have seen his life change.

Instead, he got squashed by a car on the motorway. Sheesh.

Random thoughts on “Random Shoes”:

• In the video store, one of the movie posters is for Acid Burn, which also is for rent in the video store in the Doctor Who episode “Blink.”

• The “hand in a jar” at the Torchwood HQ that Eugene is so bemused by is, of course, the Doctor’s hand.

• There’s a quick “42” reference in the 1992 math competition Eugene bombed out of. If only he’d heeded that ultimate answer to the ultimate question at an earlier stage in his life…

• Our lives are made up of pictures of random shoes on a cell phone, and sodden with “the smell of exhaust and banana milkshake”? Oh, just shoot me now…

(next: Episode 10: “Out of Time”)

[Torchwood screencap from The Institute]


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
posted in:
tv buzz
  • PWB

    In reading your comments about Random Shoes, I was not sure if you were being sarcastic or ironic. I will say that this is my favorite episode of Torchwood. That it is the least Sci-Fi of the episodes I’ve seen so far says something about the series. What that something is, I’m not sure.

    My own take on Random Shoes is that it is a painfully beautiful elegy on life. Although the whole episode revolves around Eugene’s death, the points made in the story all have to do with living, not dying. And, the simple ordinariness with which the story is written makes the lessons being taught all the more powerful.

    While alive Eugene felt he was a failure. He did not have friends (he thought), his father abandoned the family because Eugene failed in a math competition (he thought), and Eugene was destined to lead a boring existence of work and home, work and home.

    In reviewing the last hours of his life Eugene discovers that he did indeed have friends that would miss him, he learns that it was not his fault that his father abandoned the family, and how boring can it be when you have a mother waiting supper for you when you get home?

    In his last moments on this earth, Eugene tells us the human heart beats over two million times in a lifetime, we excrete 8,000 gallons of saliva, and grow 350 miles of hair. And life is made up of exhaust fumes, banana-flavored milkshakes, and loft insulation. Life is filled with near misses, absolute hits and it is something so worthwhile that we should take a deep breath and swallow it whole because before we know it it’s gone.

    Eugene was not a nerd. He was a hero. He discovered that the meaning of life is held for all of us in those smallest of moments. There is where truth and beauty live. He made peace with his father and with himself. And, even though Eugene is a fictional character, I cried for all the real Eugenes that pass us in the streets everyday. They are not losers. Their lives do count.

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