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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

‘Torchwood’ blogging: “Adrift”

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 10: “From Out of the Rain”)
I complained with the last episode that it didn’t feel Torchwood-y enough, that it didn’t feel connected to the characters we’ve come to know and love and/or hate and/or have deeply mixed feelings about (in that good way that you want to experience, that makes relating to complicated stories even more interesting). And then, with the very next episode, here we have everything I hoped for.

“Adrift” isn’t a great example of Torchwood only because it features a uniquely Torchwood-y story, though it is and it does: The Rift is snatching people away — just a quirk of nature doing what it does completely randomly, in the same way that an earthquake or a tornado does what it does, with no malice and no forethought — and doing terrible things to them, things so terrible that they cannot rejoin Earth society. That’s… awesome, in the old-fashioned sense of the word, not that it’s “cool” or “neat-o” but that it inspires awe on a scale so grand that it’s almost beyond human comprehension. It’s the kind of thing that I would have liked to see more of on Doctor Who, ordinary humans along for the ride in the TARDIS being impacted so profoundly by what they experience that they don’t know how to cope with it. It’s a lot of heaviness to expect from what was always a kids’ show, but still: Russell T. Davies new incarnation of the show has done better about touching on this (Rose got that the Doctor could be both hundreds of thousands of years in the future and in need of help right now, and was so upset about that that she could barely function; Donna, if she could remember, would be intensely changed by her time with the Doctor, too) but Torchwood — and in particular, this episode — really really gets it.

If Torchwood is the adult Doctor Who, it ain’t about the sex and the swearing: it’s about the acknowledgement that, fuck, the universe is a big, strange, weird, scary place that we might not be equipped to deal with, and even our attempts to deal with it will be mostly inadequate. Even Jack, who has 3,000 years of history on us — which means that he is more sophisticated than us to the same degree that we are are more sophisticated than early Iron Age people were — and has lived longer than most humans ever will, isn’t really equipped to cope, because after all that, he’s just a puny human, too. Whether what Jack has done to take care of the people who’ve been chewed up by the Rift and then spit back out is good or bad, helpful or not, is open to debate: surely the important thing is that he’s just making it all up as he goes along, too.

And that is scary.

It never stops being horrific — the revelation about the missing “teen,” that he screams for 20 hours a day over what he’s seen keeps haunting me.

This episode makes me think about, too, the value of ignorance, especially because I imagine myself to be someone who prefers knowledge over ignorance: I tell myself I would rather know the terrible truth over not knowing at all. But maybe I’m wrong. And the killer of it is: you can only know you’re wrong once you’ve learned something you wished you didn’t know. How do you cope with that?

Oh, and to get back to this: “Adrift” isn’t a great example of Torchwood only because it features a uniquely Torchwood-y story, but because it’s about how the characters we’ve come to know cope with this reality. Jack does what he does in a way that is uniquely Jack. Gwen does what she does in a way that is uniquely Gwen. You may love them or hate them, but you can’t deny that only they could have done what they did. (That’s true of Ianto’s leaving little clues for Gwen — it’s hard to see Owen or Tosh doing that, for their own complicated reasons, but it’s so Ianto. And it’s so Gwen to figure out that it was Ianto.) Gwen cannot help but try to solve this mystery of the missing teen, and then cannot help but try to help his mother assuage her grief. Jack cannot do anything other but what he has done, to keep the secret of the island facility to protect and care for these Rift victims, to protect the ignorance of those who could not handle the knowledge of what’s really going on.

I hate to argue for enforcing ignorance, but maybe Jack’s right. The possibility that he may be could be the most haunting thing about this episode for anyone who values knowledge and experience over ignorance.

And it certainly makes the bittersweet touches of this episode — the cop Andy admitting that he’s still attracted to Gwen; Gwen and Rhys arguing over whether they should have children or not — seem so puny in comparison.

It’s not at all a pleasant way to be thinking about this episode… and yet, it’s exactly why I love Torchwood, at its best, so much.

Random thoughts on “Adrift”:

Torchwood: always preslashed for your entertainment:

It’s never less than full service for all fans when it’s a Russell T. Davies production.

• Great quote:

“Bollocks to serenity!” –Gwen

(next: Episode 12: “Fragments”)

MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
  • Keith

    Good points MaryAnn. There have been times I’ve wondered to myself “what would it be like to know some of the absolute truths about the universe?” Then I’ve thought, but what if what I learn drives me insane? Think about what happens to the Walenski character in Dark City when he learns the true nature of his “world.”

    The missing boy’s mother is left having to deal with which is worse, the not knowing or the horror of her and her son’s reality. Once she learned the second, she couldn’t go back to the first (where her imagination was relatively limited by her concepts of “normal”). Not knowing at least left her with some shread of hope.

  • Mimi

    You know, it didn’t occur to me before, but I wonder why they didn’t offer to retcon the mother.

  • Keith

    Just rewatched this episode. Jonah’s mother asks Gwen not to reveal the truth to anyone else who has lost a person to the rift because it destroyed her hope. However, when we first meet Jonah’s mother, she was stuck in a sort of limbo. She spent all her spare time and energy looking through crowd footage trying to spot her son. What kind of life was that? Her request to Gwen was born out of her finally starting to move on with her life. Also, so early in the grieving process allowed her to romanticize what her life was life while the disappearance was still a mystery. Now that she knows what happened to her son, she has the hope of finding some peace, though she doesn’t realize it yet. Neither situation is very pleasant, but I’d argue that knowing is going to be healthier for both her and her son in the long run. Who knows how much longer the returnees have to live anyway. This way, both Jonah and his mother get some closure.

    Sooner or later the people that have lost someone will have to move on with their lives. Knowing should expedite the process. To some people, wondering can be far worse than anything they could find out. Depends on the individual. Jack is right though. There really isn’t a whole like Torchwood can do that Jack hasn’t already done.

    Naked Torchwood hide-n-seek! That should keep the rest of the team on their toes if they decide to stop by the office “after hours.” Though with the loneliness of Owen and Tosh, if they find out it may turn into quite the regular “team building” event, lol.

  • Rob

    My main problem with this episode is that Jack, from start to finish, was completely right about what was going to happen. He rather arrogantly dealt with Gwen at the start, and by the end, was still the one who was right. I would like Jack to be proven wrong, at least some times, particularly here, in such a dark episode, where Jack being right just reinforces the darkness, with not a glimmer of hope. In this case, the writers manipulated the characters and had the mother react how she did precisely to show Gwen that she was wrong, that she had to learn this lesson. This is my major issue with Torchwood, which I otherwise like. Doctor Who, to me, inspires awe, whereas Torchwood inspires grimness and fear a great deal of the time.

  • Rob

    Also, it is very noble of Jack to have taken care of all of these Rift victims, but couldn’t he have set the place up to be a little less depressing than it is? Even if he had to choose that spot, he could have done a little work to make the facility not such a living nightmare.

  • Katie Dvorak

    I remember being so angry with Gwen this episode. Her actions were completely in character but I think this was a prime example that her actions have severe consequences; her continual pushing isn’t always a good thing and that sometimes she needs to trust when people tell her to leave well enough alone.

    And Jack caring for those returned by the Rift was rather heartbreaking.

  • Keith

    I’d bet the “living nightmare” the rift survivors are experiencing makes the state of Jack’s island facility seem downright cheery. I mean, if you spend twenty hours a day screaming your head off the quality of your furniture is going to be the least of your worries. I doubt nicer curtains would even be noticed by after seeing sights like whole solar systems burning, or horrors the human brain is just unable to process.

    Yes, there is usually a certain level of audience manipulation on shows like these. Instead of showing the mother having some sort of life beyond the search for her missing son, that’s all we get to see. Mostly this can be a question of time available for a show, but it does tend to make the issues a bit more cut and dry than they would be in real life.

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