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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

‘Torchwood’ blogging: “Greeks Bearing Gifts”

(before commenting, please read the intro to my Doctor Who blogging; the same caveats apply to Torchwood / previous: Episode 6: “Countrycide”)

Torchwood blogging is late, late, late this week — sorry. Wish I could say I was off the planet or time-traveling, but, alas, this is not the case…

Man, this is a bleak show. Not bleak about how the universe is out to get poor (almost) defenseless planet Earth or anything like that. Bleak about people. About how damaged we all are, even the healthiest of us, and about how hard it is to find people we can at least be comfortably damaged with. Owen and Gwen’s playful banter makes them seem so cozy and relaxed, but then, with Tosh’s alien listening-in device, we learn how unsure they are of each other: he can’t look at her because it makes him crazy (in a good, turned-on way), but she thinks it’s because he’s not interested in her all of a sudden. And that’s so real, and so depressing. It’s like we never leave junior high school.
And Ianto, so pleasant on the outside and so hurting on the inside. And Tosh, so needy and friendless that she’s easy prey for the alien chick… ah, the desperate and the lonely, it’s so simple for them (us) to be manipulated. And yet you have to take the chance and be open — like Gwen tells Tosh at the end. You can’t brood for too long, and you can’t shut off.

I love Tosh’s story about finding the alien document that took her months to translate, only to learn that it was “just” a letter home, as if that weren’t a profound discovery. Well, Tosh knows it is — one of those “fundamentals that stay exactly the same” — even if the rest of the gang doesn’t. I wonder, though, whether if she really tried to talk to some of them about it, she might find that they’re not so different from her as she thinks they are. Jack, especially, would get it, I think — though Tosh doesn’t know it, he’s probably learning about those fundamentals that don’t change from the other side of the mirror, learning how things that his 51st-century culture valued are pretty damn similar to those of the culture he’s stuck in three thousands years earlier. But of course Jack is even more closed off than Tosh, even more resistant to letting someone in…

Tosh might want to continue to avoid Owen, though, for all that she’s obviously in love with him, for god knows what reason. Damn, but he’s an asshole — intriguing as a character, but an asshole nonetheless. That business about “the stick up her ass” that has its own “stick up its ass” — man, that was totally uncalled for, and he’s completely wrong about her. How could he be so wrong? Well, he’s a selfish asshole, for starters.

The “scavengers” who pick up stuff on the Internet about Torchwood… one of the ways in which Torchwood (and Doctor Who) feel really, really modern is the fact that it deals with the new realities of information exchange that have sprung up since the original Who series ended — god, the Internet wasn’t what it is today even as recently as that dreadful American TV movie with Paul McGann. I mean, two recent prime minsters of Great Britain — Harriet Jones and Harold Saxon (was there someone in between them?) — have mentioned the Doctor in television broadcasts that, at minimum, a huge portion of the British public would have watched; it’s possible that Jones’s Christmas broadcast, the one in which she explicitly asked for the Doctor’s help, would have been seen around the planet. Too many people know about the Doctor — and, we learn in this episode, know about Torchwood — for him and them to be much of a secret… and they aren’t. (The same must go for UNIT, too.) Both shows have touched on the idea that the chatter about them can be dismissed as tin-foil conspiracy theories put about by nutters who live in their mothers’ basements — but both shows have dealt with that idea in ways both subversive and respectful. Maybe these people are, um, a little unsocialized and obsessive, but they’re doing a valuable job, at least sometimes.

Which reminds me: I would have liked to have seen more, in this episode, of the alien’s life on Earth. What does she do with herself when she’s not surfing the Web, having sex, and pulling people’s hearts of their chests? Or maybe that’s enough to fill up a day…

Random thoughts on “Greeks Bearing Gifts”:

• So, Jack has a direct line to the Prime Minister, does he? I bet he has a direct line to the Minister of Defence then, right? And wasn’t Harold Saxon in the Ministry of Defence — or actually the minister — before he was elected to Downing Street? I smell fanfic possibilities…

• The shape of the alien mindreading device looks familar — have we seen something that before?

• The alien chick couldn’t read Jack’s mind, but he could feel her trying. Interesting…

• Jack “smells different”? Oh, I bet he does…

(next: Episode 8: “They Keep Killing Suzie”)

[Torchwood screencap from The Institute]

MPAA: not rated

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