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since 1997 | by maryann johanson

‘Torchwood’ blogging: “Meat”

Torchwood blogging is back! Haul out your Season 2 DVDs and get watchin’. (Before commenting, please read the intro to my Doctor Who blogging; the same caveats apply to Torchwood.)

(previous: Episode 3: “To the Last Man”)

Ah, great loaves and little fishes, but this is one of the most horrific inventions of science fiction I’ve come across. I’m an unrepentent carnivore, but hacking away at a sentient creature while it’s still alive, for its meat? That is simply barbarous.

“Imprisoned, chained, and drugged — welcome to planet Earth,” Jack says with disgust, and he’s right: this time it’s the humans who are the nightmarish villains. Even Tosh’s suggestion that this being, with its apparent capacity for regenerating its own flesh even as it’s being carved up, could feed the starving millions of Earth leaves me feeling a little queasy, as much as her heart is in the right place — how could that be any better than what the guys in the warehouse were doing?
And of course I’m not deluded enough not to see that my own assumptions about why it’s okay for me in the real world to eat some meat and not okay to eat others in this fictional world to eat other meat is tied up in much the same sort of hair-splitting and rationalizations. I’m not gonna get into philosophies of vegetarianism and carnivorousness because that’s not really the larger point here: the larger point is that really great science fiction cuts through your assumptions like a laser and make you question the things you take for granted by looking at them from a perspective that only science fiction can get at. And this episode does that brilliantly.

Then there’s the other side of this episode: What the hell is going on with Jack and Gwen?

I can understand why Gwen lies to Rhys, to protect him blah blah blah — though I’m not really sure how he is protected by his ignorance — but I can’t understand why she keeps stringing Rhys along if she’d rather be with Jack:

Or is she just teasing Jack here?

As a dramatic character, I love Gwen: she’s tough, she’s smart, she’s leading her life much as a man would do, even down to selfishly maintaining Rhys ignorance as a buffer that she needs — not one that Rhys needs — between the “insanity” of Torchwood and the comfort of the “real” world. (I use quotes because, of course, if the Rift and aliens and all that really are real, then there’s no insanity in it, and the rest of the world isn’t more real just because it’s ignorant of the truth.) But as a person, I really hate Gwen quite frequently, for being unfair to Rhys, and for being unfair to herself. Is she really any better off than the rest of the Torchwood gang, who have no one outside the Hub? At least that’s honest. Does Gwen really have an honest relationship with Rhys? How can she, when he doesn’t know who she really is?

And there’s more of the questioning of assumptions. Our pop culture and our real culture have always let men get away with what Gwen is doing — being one person at work and another at home. I’ve always wondered how men — fictional or not — could be satisifed with that, but it never seems to be an issue that drama wants to deal with. Swapping the genders makes the disconnect obvious, though. It didn’t need to be a science fiction story that did that, because there’s nothing science fictional in the idea that a woman might need to keep her work secret. But sometimes it takes the SF mindset in which questioning assumptions is inherent to make it happen.

Random thoughts on “Meat”:

• The way the cop says to Rhys at the accident scene that “Torchwood wanna look at it first” suggests that everybody knows what Torchwood is. Maybe everyone doesn’t know exactly what Torchwood does, but there seems to be an awareness that these people are around and making something of a nuisance of themselves. But we don’t know how or why the public knows whatever little they may know, which suggests lots more intriguing stories about the Cardiff Scooby gang we haven’t seen.

• That book Jack is reading in the image above (or not reading, actually, as he watches Gwen watch him while she kisses Rhys) is the 1959 pulp novel Scavengers in Space. (More info about it is available at Fantastic Fiction; used copies are for sale on Amazon U.S. and Amazon U.K.; it appears to be out of print.) I wonder if Jack thinks old sci fi is funny or quaint or charming… or something else entirely. Maybe he killed some time in the early 20th century writing up his own adventures in the future as pulp novels…

• Rhys pulls over the car to answer the phone! How adorably law-abiding is that?

• Ianto tasers that guy in the head! How terrifyingly un-teaboy-ish is that?

• I love how Jack can’t not flirt with almost everyone he encounters:

He genuinely finds almost everyone attractive. There’s something kinda sweet in that.

• Is there something about American muscle cars that attracts the wrong element?

Or is it just meant to be a signifier that this guy is kind of a jerk?

• Great quotes:

“What is this, Scooby Doo?” –Gwen (it kinda is, though, isn’t it?)

“You’re not gay, by any chance, are ya?” –Rhys to Jack

“Have you ever eaten alien meat?” –Gwen
“Yeah.” –Jack
“What was it like?” –Gwen
“He seemed to enjoy it.” –Jack

(next: Episode 5: “Adam”)


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

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  • Katie

    I agree this episode was disturbing in so many ways and I could not agree more about your feelings towards Gwen. I like how she’s basically playing the role of a man in this show but I often find myself disliking her because of her actions.

    And I love Ianto in this episode. Everything about him in this ep is wonderful. From the teasing with Jack to the badassness at the end. Go Teaboy!

  • Magess

    The thing that I don’t understand about Jack and Gwen is that they seem to go from 0 to 60 and that’s it. Either they’re kissing and crying over one another, or it’s all just business. I’ve never felt like they were developing a relationship, really. So the random bits of grab ass, or God Damn You’re So Hot just seem incongruous to me. Which is, shockingly, NOT how it is with Ianto.

    She is being terribly unfair to Rhys. But more, I feel like the writers are being unfair to me. Like they just can’t decide how to develop a relationship there, so they just don’t and hope a wink and nudge and a Jack has great pheromones are all it takes to explain away WHY Gwen, who’s supposed to be Ms. Moral Center, just can’t seem to help herself.

    That’s confused, and I know it. But I’ve just really had issues with why Jack seems so attached and why Gwen seems so attached when they just don’t seem to connect very often.

    And Meat was by far the most, pardon the pun, cutting episode of Torchwood I think they’ve done yet. The humans were evil. And it’s totally believable.

  • 51cen

    I’d argue that Gwen isn’t really the moral center – the “heart” that cares about people’s personal stories, yes, but she cheats on Rhys in S1 with Owen, so…she’s not an angel.

    I think the way the writers treat Gwen/Jack interaction is 100% fan service to induce squee in women who are squicked by Jack/Ianto.

    An interesting thing about Meat is that the real animals here (as a derogatory term for behavior) are the human beings. The massive space whale is a harmless creature being tortured by humans because of greed. Sad.

  • MaryAnn

    I like how she’s basically playing the role of a man in this show but I often find myself disliking her because of her actions.

    I would dislike a man doing the same thing — but I wonder if a much smaller percentage of the audience would join me in feeling the same way. I think not. We’re so used to seeing men behave this way, but we only really see it when it’s a woman doing the same thing.

    The thing that I don’t understand about Jack and Gwen is that they seem to go from 0 to 60 and that’s it. Either they’re kissing and crying over one another, or it’s all just business. I’ve never felt like they were developing a relationship, really.

    But surely that’s the point: they’re *avoiding* developing a relationship, because they’re both so screwed up.

  • Les Carr

    In the light of recent events, when John Barrowman got his willy out during a BBC Radio show, I noticed the following entries at position 6 and 7 in a Google News search for Torchwood:

    Torchwood’s Captain Jack Exposes Himself, Appalls One Briton
    io9, CA – Dec 2, 2008

    ‘Torchwood’ blogging: “Meat”
    Flick Filosopher, NY – Nov 30, 2008

    Nice to see that MaryAnn is on the money as ever.

  • Aoede

    I really never got the impression that Gwen had a thing for Jack – more the other way around. Dunno.

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