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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

‘Torchwood’ blogging: “They Keep Killing Suzie”

(before commenting, please read the intro to my Doctor Who blogging; the same caveats apply to Torchwood / previous: Episode 7: “Greeks Bearing Gifts”)

Holy crap, ‘Torchwood’ is returning to the BBC for its second season on January 16, and to BBC America on January 26 (and I expect to be able to watch those new episodes shortly after they air in England), and here I haven’t even finished up Season 1 yet. So I’m cracking down on myself and promising to try to get through at least an episode a week, and then to jump right into blogging about the new stuff right away.
We snark about how no one ever dies in science fiction (or in comic books) but still… this is the weirdest extrapolation of that idea ever. Torchwood is a deeply weird show, of course, but it gets weird and profound in this episode. The resurrection glove is one of the most interesting SF objects ever invented, and one of the most disturbing: how awful, to be awakened, however briefly, from death! And the implications such an idea are barely hinted at here. Suzie’s been dead for months, but obviously there’s been some sort of residual activity in her brain — she remembers shooting herself, which suggests that her brain kept working long enough after that moment to write the memory of that to her brain, and her brain is able to wake up after so long, and resume its normal activity: it hasn’t deteriorated. I mean, I know this is all invented fiction, not rigorously researched fact or anything, but still: it’s dealt with plausibly enough, within the realm of fiction, that you sense that there’s lots more to be explored here.

And of course Suzie, having seen what she had seen about some of what the glove can do, might be drawn to a religious support group: the glove challenges all our ideas about what happens when we die. Even if you’re an atheist who doesn’t believe in life after death. The atheistic idea is usually: “Well, there’s nothing. Your brain stops working, and that’s the end of you as a sentient being.” But the possibility that your brain could start up again… and Suzie’s cryptic line about how there may not be a heaven of fluffy clouds and angels playing harps, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing there (“There’s something out there in the dark, and it’s moving”)… it’s all deeply creepy and disturbing and — most thrillingly — a new concept of what happens when we die. You don’t actually have to believe it outside the context of the narrative to recognize and appreciate the special intellectual delight in discovering some new extrapolation about an area of human experience that appeared not to offer much in the way of new possibilities short of the invention of an actual Brainstorm device.

This whole episode gives me the screaming heebie jeebies in all its tiny, ugly details (however beautifully they are appointed, from a perspective that values excellent storytelling). Suzie with half her head blown away, and still alive — truly, that is horrific. Suzie who wants to see her father again, and how easily we accept the sentimentality of that — how Suzie’s final meeting with her father plays out is a reminder that “family” is not a cozy concept for everyone. All of Suzie’s belongings being relegated to a storage locker — whatever security implications are involved, Tosh hits it on the nose with how all of our lives can be reduced, in the end, to our accumulated stuff.

That’s a cynical idea, in many ways, one that dispenses with the idea that we are beautiful and unique snowflakes, that we have an impact that outlasts us… except it reinforces that idea, too. Suzie was, well, not a very nice person, and she diminished her own beautiful and unique snowflakeness, perhaps, by her selfishness. She tells Jack that “life is all,” and deems all us sentient creatures “moths around a flame… clinging together in the cold,” which sounds terrible, until you consider that it’s also a plea to make the most of what you’ve got while you’re here. Jack seems to be doing that. And the more he learns about what awaits us after we die, the more it seems he shouldn’t be so ready to die no matter how long he’s destined to live…

Random thoughts on “They Keep Killing Suzie”:

• I mentioned, in my blog on the Doctor Who episode “Idiot’s Lantern,” how ordinary cops seem to know about Torchwood, and how odd that seems, and in comments Ryan H. refers to this episode, what with “Torchwood” emblazoned on the side of the Torchwood SUV, and cops at the crime scene knowing about the organization (“God help me, the stories are true”), but still: I wonder how much all these cops know about Torchwood and its mission. On the other hand, Fox Mulder didn’t seem concerned with keeping the X-files and his mission secret, either.

• Owen’s quip about the “four or five million people” Torchwood has pissed off, and Jack’s rejoinder about that number covering “only the humans,” and the cop’s line about “Torchwood walk[ing] all over this city like you own it” all tie in together with the gritty realism of the new Doctor Who, making these events things not removed from reality, not existing in a realm of fantasy, but impacting real people (human or not) in the real world. Fantasy is fantastic, but stories like these have so much more shock value when they seem to be that much closer to actually happening to you. (Plus, that line about Torchwood and the city hints at all sorts of intriguing stories we’ve yet to see.)

• “I had a boyfriend who used to walk into rooms like that. The grand entrance — got kinda boring. Though he was one of twins, so I put up with it. Twin acrobats. Man, I gotta write that book, maybe even illustrate it.” Man, I love Jack. I suspect a lot of what he says is bluster — not that it’s not true, necessarily, but that he’s not as jolly and carefree as he makes himself out to be. But that only hints at a deeper sensitivity that makes him even easier to love.

• What’s with Jack and Ianto and the stopwatch?

• “That’s the thing about gloves: they come in pairs.” I expect a sequel episode eventually…

(next: Episode 9: “Random Shoes”)

[Torchwood screencap from The Institute]

MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
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  • And the title is a nod to the Avengers story ‘They Keep Killing Steed’, fact fans.

  • Lucy Gillam

    What’s with Jack and Ianto and the stopwatch?

    General consensus would be sexin’. Then again, I mostly hang out in slash circles, so sexin’ is our default assumption.

    Now, the real question would be: is this their first time? Because it doesn’t really come across that way, and if not, that makes “Cyberwoman” all kinds of more interesting.

  • MaryAnn

    Well, sure, sexin’ seems to the obvious answer, except who wants to time it with a *stopwatch*? Or is that just a girl thing, not to want it to be over in seconds?

  • Here’s a link to the 2-01 preview up on Freema’s fansite: http://freemaagyeman.com/news/2008/01/07/torchwood-series-two-preview/

  • You don’t just time speed, you know. You can also time duration.

  • Lucy Gillam

    Oh, I think our Jack could think of much more creative things to time than just how long it takes them to, er, finish.

  • boz

    ok this episode, especially ianto jack thing irritates me. not because i have thing against them having sex but its downright absurd. in cyberwomen we saw that ianto hates jack in some level. note a love-hate thing but fundamentally hate jacks character.

    if ianto and jack have a friends with benefits thing thats ok. if ianto has a infinite love for a woman that became a cyberwoman, killled a pizza delivery girl and put her brain into poor gal and yet ianto still loves her thats astonishing. put these two things don’t click.

    characters change too much, too quick for my taste.

    btw i was starting to get uneasy about gwen’s teeth on this episode. i know it’s perfectly normal but… :)

  • MaryAnn

    See, I’m with Boz. It seems unlikely that Jack and Ianto are into the sexin’ thing. There’s gotta be something else they’re doing with the stopwatch.

    Maybe seeing how long it takes to order pizza…?

  • Ianto has been quietly working his way through the mourning process in the background in the intervening episodes. In Small Worlds he was in shock, all awkward and saying things off-kilter. In Countryside he was in anger and seething quietly at the others. In Greeks Bearing Gifts he was deep in despair, with rats in his stomach. But after despair comes acceptance. I thought they were wonderfully subtle in how they handled it.

    Anyway, for something wonderful but not subtle at all, here’s the second three minutes of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, complete with James Marsters scorching up the screen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-v0szrB5nB8

  • Mo

    I don’t dispute that their take on the afterlife is fresh, at least for scifi, but it’s actually a very old idea.

    Some christian philosophers in particular fed up with ideas of fire and brimstone thought that hell would be like that. Just darkness, cut off from anything good for eternity. If memory serves me right, C.S. Lewis held that opinion. (Although his more well-known idea about hell was more like that virtual world ‘Second Life’.)

    I’m still not sure what the writers intentions were, but it certainly puts an interesting spin on things…

  • Mray

    As for the dying and getting brought back to life ever-so-briefly thing, that’s the entire premise of the series, Pushing Daisies – with results that are alternately funny, disastrous and bittersweet.

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