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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

‘Torchwood’ blogging: “Adam”

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 4: “Meat”)

Torchwood blogging is late this week — sorry!
I love this episode. It represents the best of what Torchwood can be, and it distinguishes it from Doctor Who. Yeah, I guess you could do a Doctor Who episode with an alien who infilitrates the TARDIS by implanting memories in the Doctor and the existing companion(s) that he’s been there all along, but I don’t think it would work quite as well as it does here. At the very least, it would look very different from this story. Incursions into the Doctor’s mind don’t typically slip by nearly so unnoticed, for one…

This is how Torchwood came into its own in the second season: it stopped looking like plots rejected from Doctor Who and started being uniquely about the characters here. Like poor Tosh. She’s so lonely that it makes her particularly susceptible to anyone who pays her any attention, even if that someone is an alien looking for a foothold on Earth (as we’ve seen before). And because we’ve been privvy to the day-to-day workplace interactions of those who work at the Hub — which is radically different from what we see of those who travel in the TARDIS with the Doctor — we can have an entire subplot, or perhaps we should call it “one big clue that something is wrong,” about Owen being the lonely, sensitive nerd who’s after Tosh, and doomed to failur because of it. That scene in which Owen pours out his hear to Tosh — he loves her, he knows they’d be amazing together — isn’t heartbreaking just for itself, but because we know that Tosh, were she in her right mind, would be leaping at this chance.

Which in turn raises all sorts of questions about what, precisely, Adam has done to Our Heroes. Has he really just “made everyone better,” as he says, or has he released their true selves from shackles, or has he completely invented alternative lives for them? It’s almost easy to believe that Owen really does feel something for Tosh but that he’s too much of a scared, self-centered child to admit to it. It’s almost easy to believe that Tosh is merely waiting for the right impetus to burst out of her shell. It’s easy to believe that Gwen might take any opportunity to forget Rhys and put him out of her life. (“You’re itching to go to work, aren’t you?” Rhys says to Gwen in the opener — um, yeah, partly to get away from Rhys. What is wrong with her? Cut the poor guy loose already… And Rhys, don’t say things like, “I’m gonna marry this bloody madwoman even if it kills me,” because it might, as you now well know.)

It’s not so easy, though, to believe that Ianto is, under the skin, a serial killer waiting to happen:

(Does it say, “Home always hungry” on the door behind him?)

Though that would certainly be an, er, interesting twist to Ianto’s character: the mild-mannered young man who’s secretly seething with rage. It’s hardly unheard of…

Jack: ah, Jack. We learn more about him here, through Adam, but what we learn is only a tease, a reminder of how little we know of him at all. We don’t even learn Jack’s real name, in the flashbacks/dreams: he’s called “son” by his parents, and Gray doesn’t say his name at all. “My home in the 51st century…” Jack says to Adam. Has he told anyone else in 2008 Cardiff that? I doubt he has. And why Adam? Perhaps the alien has some sort of affect on its victims that makes them trust him, but Adam must have chosen Jack to be the one Jack confides in, in this phony alternate reality. Is it just because Jack has such a “singular mind”? Perhaps it’s the loooong extent of Jack’s memories that makes him such rich pickings…

What else we know now about Jack: He searched for his brother but never found him (which means Gray could — ahem! — show up in a future episode). He had buried the memory of his past 150 years ago… which makes sense: those memories could really weight him down, seeing as how he has so many of them. He lived “under the threat of invasion” on the Boeshane Peninsula by “the most horrible creatures you can possibly imagine” — Daleks?

What we also know: He doesn’t take a retcon pill when the rest of the Torchwood team does? Is that selfishness, a reluctance to let go of anything? Or is it selflessness, a willingness to hold onto unpleasant memories on behalf of the team, to be able to be alert to their recurrence?

Random thoughts on “Adam”:

• I love how they slotted Adam right into the opening credits:

as if he’d always been there.

• Have we seen this graffiti-style red dragon before?

I know the red dragon is the symbol of Wales, but it isn’t usually stylized like this… certainly not that I remember seeing at the Hub previously.

(next: Episode 6: “Reset”)

MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb

  • PaulW

    Inserting a pseudo-character into credits? Done. Jonathan: Superstar!

    He lived “under the threat of invasion” on the Boeshane Peninsula by “the most horrible creatures you can possibly imagine” — Daleks?

    Worse. American tourists.


  • Ryan

    I *loved* this episode. By the end I was crying. Made me realized that I actually care for this group of people.

  • Mo

    This was one of my favorites too. ^.^

    I get the impression that for the new personalities to work there had to be a bit of that personality in them already and that the things that could be changed were originally caused by experience rather than wiring.

    For instance we’ve had tiny little glimpses of some of the deeper layers of Owen’s personality before. Adam said he just took the protective layer of cynicism away. Owen and Tosh seemed to slip into their new personalities so naturally it was actually a bit of a shock for me when they reverted.

    Ianto’s nature on the other hand rejected his memories immediately, even though his mind couldn’t. Rather than keeping it all secret the very first thing he did was talk about everything and ask to be locked up. Since that was the first big tip-off something was wrong, I don’t think Adam expected him to do that.

    “Daleks?” Reavers?

  • NorthernStar

    One of my favourite episodes.

    All the cast were fabulous, most especially Burn Gorman.

    Re: the Welsh dragon.

    Yes it does appear in such detail in numerous places. But being filmed in HD probably helps bring that out more.

  • Keith

    Question: If the Adam entity could “exist” before he was remembered by the Torchwood team, how would forgetting him cause him to, Adam’s own word, “die”?

    Due to all the positive aspects of this episode, which MaryAnn covers so thoroughly in her review, I found this to be one of the most disappointing episodes of Season 2. The handling of Adam’s ‘existence’ is rather weak; the given logic is either contradictory or too absent.

    First, Adam’s existence in the void is a paradox. How could he survive before the team members remembered him? Without “existence” how could Adam manipulate someone’s memories since he needed to touch them?

    Adam seems to be able to manifest himself in different places without needing to travel there physically, like when he shows after Jack has been checking the sewers. Yet he can be confined to a cell in the hub.

    In the final confrontation between Jack and Adam, Adam tells Jack he knows what it’s like to not exist and asks Jack not to send him “back there.” Jack replies that he has to, which imply Adam will continue to exist in some form. A few moments later Adam says he can help Jack with his childhood memory before “I die,” implying Adam will be destroyed. These two statements about Adam’s fate are contradictory. Tosh’s report on rift activity at the beginning of the episode implies Adam came out of the void through the rift, where he was especially drawn to Jack, so how would forgetting about Adam force him back into the void? If wiping memories of this entity will revert him to his pre-Adam state, he could simply learn from the mistakes his first time around and try again (which makes me think of the Star Trek: TNG episode Clues). A clearer explanation of Adam’s existential mechanics is needed to make the story sound.

    It’s also indicated Adam has used his memory powers on others in his past, as evidenced by his comment, “I had forgotten how good it feels to feed in the bad stuff.” Since Adam needs the memories of others to survive, what happened to those that Adam preyed on in the past? If those beings managed to forget about Adam why wasn’t Adam destroyed then? How did he end up in the void? Too many questions that could have been addressed with a little more care by either the writer or the production staff.

    I hate to see a good story muddled like this, especially when it has so many good qualities going for it.

  • What we also know: He doesn’t take a retcon pill when the rest of the Torchwood team does? Is that selfishness, a reluctance to let go of anything? Or is it selflessness, a willingness to hold onto unpleasant memories on behalf of the team, to be able to be alert to their recurrence?

    But he does take one just outside the cell which is what finally “kills” Adam. He might suffer longer, but, ultimately, he does suffer the same as the rest of them.

  • RogerBW

    This episode seems to have been a dividing point for people watching the show. I was definitely in the “hated it” side: to me, this was the point at which Torchwood stopped trying to be interesting and pandered blatantly to the most blatantly Mary-Sue-ish of the fanfiction writers.

    Isn’t that just the setup here? Someone with nothing to recommend him suddenly finds himself an accepted and important part of the team?

    Meh. I hadn’t been enjoying the season much up to this point, and this is where I stopped watching. If other people enjoyed it, good for you.

  • Magess

    One of the things we learned from this episode: You can mess with anyone else in Torchwood, but you CANNOT mess with Ianto. Jack will #@!% you up.

    I will admit to not having watched this episode with a particularly critical eye. I’m willing to believe that the rules of Adam’s existence don’t actually make much sense. But I think the character studies were interesting enough for me that it didn’t really matter that those things didn’t make sense. Wibbly woobly timey whimey… stuff.

  • Keith

    I’m not sure Jack fully realizes why he delayed taking the retcon and went down to talk with Adam. I think he was torn between wanting to keep his childhood memories burried and to remember something good from back then. Jack’s resurfaced memories seemed to be more troubling to him than he would have liked to admit. Adam was right when he said that Jack wanted him to help recover Jack’s last good memory of playing with his father and Gray. However, while Adam did help Jack recover the memory, Adam ended up altering in a last attempt to save himself. When Adam saw it wasn’t working, he tried to ruin the memory for Jack. This just proved that Adam wasn’t worth saving, so Jack took the retcon.

    I think Jack’s motives were basically self serving, a way to stabilize the emotional turmoil he was feeling. There doesn’t seem to be much justification for MaryAnn’s selflessness argument. Jack also has much more on his mind than any other team member, which is what drew Adam’s attention in the first place. None of us can really know what someone who has lived as long as Jack is thinking.

  • Keith

    …It also just occured to me that Jack was probably motivated by curiosity as much as anything. Just to see what would happen. I’m sure Jack was thinking he was going to end up taking the retcon, which would wipe out any knowledge of the conversation, and figured he had nothing to lose.

  • @Keith: I’ve had a hard time wrapping my mind around Adam’s existence, as well. I recently watched this episode with friends who hadn’t previously seen it and they thought that the box which came through the rift was some sort of external ‘hard drive’, which would serve as storage for Adam and any memories he took from others. I got the impression that he took Jack’s early memories of his father, since it’s said that Jack would not remember his father, if he were to kill Adam. The sand from the box at the end of the episode, then, is symbolic of what Jack has lost. This doesn’t explain well how Adam was able to incorporate himself into the Torchwood team, but perhaps it was something they did to the box when they first found it that reinstated Adam to a form in which he could begin to alter the memories of the team? It’s not totally impossible to rationalize how Adam might have gone from non-existence to existence. (It’s harder to rationalize if the ‘void’ of which Adam speaks is the same void as the space between universes that the Doctor describes.)

    @RogerBW: I’m not sure that Adam would be considered a Mary Sue, since Mary Sues are supposed to be the big heroes/desirable objects of the story, as wish fulfillment on the part of the author. I don’t think Adam fulfills that purpose.

  • Keith

    The box as some sort of hard drive is a good idea, Clair. Adam tells Jack the box contains Adam’s last good memory of Jack, Jack’s father and Gray, which is about the only thing substantially connecting Adam to the box. However, if the box is some kind of backup system for Adam, keeping it around would keep Adam around to try again. They should have had Jack destroy the box as part of the teams effort to remove any trace that Adam had been there. Maybe Adam was somehow imprisoned in the box, which is what came through the rift, the team found it and freed Adam. In the framework of the story this wasn’t adequately supported.

    Another idea I had is if they gave us information that Adam used a critical amount of energy/life force to manifest himself and dies because he didn’t have long enough to recover from the process. Such ideas are fine as long as they are suitably supported within the story’s architecture.

    Yeah, what’s with the sand in the box? Is it supposed to be sand from the Boeshane Peninsula? How could that be? Aside from the symbolism, we don’t know what the sand is.

    It just seems to be continuity mistake that presents both the possibility of Adam being destroyed and continuing to exist after the Torchwood team retcons their memories. Could be the writing or could have happened during production of the episode. Davies and crew do such great work with their shows, it makes us expect better than this sort of error in the plot.

    Some of us obviously think way to much about this sort of stuff.

  • Warren Terra

    Rather somewhat off-topic, but I just came across this site because I finished watching Series 2 of Torchwood on Netflix and was looking around for information about what’s coming next for Torchwood, and wanted to complement you on it.
    I applaud you on your nearly comprehensive blogging of all things related to the Doctor – but I note that you seem to have missed one aspect of the recent resurrection of Doctor Who: the audio adventures broadcast on BBC Radio 7. This year’s series was only okay, but last year’s was much more ambitious, with solid writing, a complete narrative arc, and a much better joke about Human Resources than the television show managed in Series 3. You really should check it out (assuming you can find it – I note that it isn’t in the iTunes store, and it seems to be marketed poorly).

  • MaryAnn

    I don’t do audio.

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