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13 July 2009 @ 06:35 pm
Torchwood FTW  
So, I got tipped off that Torchwood was actually worth watching for once and I watched and REALLY LIKED IT.

Disclaimer: I have never and will never like Captain Jack. I never much liked the other cast regulars either and I had major issues with the entire Torchwood premise. I felt like what potential it had was largely jetisonned in favour of being the 'Jack is a Big Damn Hero' show. And with Barrowman's attrocious acting that just wasn't something was up for.

That said, Jack was at his most interesting in this arc. Which is to say: he was interesting! :D They finally used him as an anti-hero--whoooo hoooo! IMVHO, that's how he should have been used all along. His flexible morals, his shallowness, his egotism... these are not heroic qualities. What I loved more than anything (and I've got a lot more on the 'love' list) was that this showed that what makes Jack 'special', more than anything, is his ability to do unthinkably awful things for the greater good. Did he save the world? Yes. Did he make himself a horrible pariah of a being in the process? Yes. Furthermore, while has the courage to take the distasteful actions, he does not have the courage to live with the consequences--he runs from them. The consequences of his actions in 1965 catch up with him here, which implies that he can't run forever from his darker actions. I loved that his action in 1965, taken without much hesitation, was pointless and even detrimental--the aliens just came back with more threats. His actions in the current timeline, however, do appear to be successful--but he had to pay a terrible price for that, and I am really REALLY impressed that the show went there. This is heroism of a very dark kind, and I am entralled. Jack at his darkest is a lot more sympathetic to me than Jack the flirty, narcissistic 'hero'.

On a wider scale I was really impressed with the plotting of this five-parter. It was gripping, suspenseful and tightly controlled. Every minor detail built into the overall story, with B-plots reflecting the larger A-plot themes. While I wasn't very interested in Gwen's pregnancy on Ianto's family and coupledom angst, I found them watchable as part of the wider plot, which made sure to show us human consequences of the central crisis. Notably, where many shows allow most of the victims of a plot crisis to be faceless voiceless characters, here the majority of the victims (with the exception of the kids in 65) were 'known' to the audience. Ianto, of course, being the most well-known, but Jack's grandson, Clem and Frobisher's family were well established within this season.

The writing was courageous too in allowing so many of the characters to be unlikeable. Frobisher was absolutely fascinating and I found his journey moving and gripping. As a study of bureaucracy and the dangers of groupthink, the government sessions (while necessarily caricatured for brevity of message), were chilling. If the prime minster wasn't chilling enough, the woman that moved in to take over from him at the end was the very one who advocated the 'lowest percentile' use of the school tables. (And how dark was that?!) Frobisher, as an imperfect everyman caught in the system, became a tragic and chilling figure, and I loved the way he paralleled Jack.

In terms of suspense I've rarely seen a more gripping arc--by part 4 I was thoroughly captivated and impressed, but I was still sure that the end would be, in come way, reductive. Jack would, I was sure, get his 'big hero' moment (yawn), and there would be some shortcuts in the resolution of the alien plot. I never expected how fully they would avoid the reductive 'clean slate' ending. Yes, they did magically find a way to kill the aliens, but the price for that was so dark and so personally emotionally challenging for Jack that the suspense was completely maintained. And how wonderful that the three 'heroic' figures in that final scene were so unlikeable--Ms Johnson was perfect at getting things done, the mission-objective-obsessed lackey; the tech guy whose name I forget was a horrible 'low-key' bottom feeder (his 'I just stood back' line was so chilling!) and then there was Jack The Unkillable.

Speaking of which, this is another way in which Season 3 made better use of Jack than ever before: by exploring the horror inherent in the idea of a man who can never die. The horror exists on multiple levels. It exists in personal physical horror (Jack reconstituting himself in screaming agony) but it also exists for those around him--because as Alice says 'a man who cannot die has nothing to fear'. Perhaps the only thing he does fear is what he runs from at the end--the weight of his conscience, grief, and other emotional consequences. But he can just run. And does. Alice was wise to stay away from him, though I liked that her emotional connection to her father was also evident. It is absolutely tragic that her one moment of faith in him--when she convinces Ms Johnson to free him--was her undoing. As an innocent, her son was the perfect victim--Jack never got to know him properly, but his death will eternally fuck up his relationship with his own daughter. And I love that she had no words for him at the end. There are no words that will ever repair that rift.

I really enjoyed Lois, though her infiltration of the government was pretty implausible. It's the sort of thing I handwave on Who though, so I ran with it. She was a really likeable figure, and I loved that they used her PA skills of awesome! I also liked that Frobisher's loyal secretary got to play her own 'heroic' part.

Clem was also a wonderful character. I loved his reaction to Jack, a signal of what was to come. The idea of Jack as a figure of childhood nightmares really works for me. Clem's connection to the aliens provided a great deal of suspense, and his 'disconnection' from them was horrible.

Ianto's death would have been more affecting had I been attached to him. As it was, Barrowman's acting was really stretched to the point where I LOL'd involuntarily during the death scene. But I did find Jack awaking among the body bags, with Ianto unable to escape his quite poignant, conceptually at least. I also really liked Ianto's very ordinary sister and her revelation that Ianto was a bit of a trickster himself (which I remember from season 1 as well). Ianto seems to have been a bit of a 'Jack light', and the inherent narcissism involved in their ship kind of turns me off, but is interesting as an idea.

I never liked Gwen but here, her inherent characteristics (star-struck about Jack, naive) were also shown to be limiting. Her disbelief that Jack would really run away at the end helped make that scene a lot more effective. To me, it was obvious that Jack would run from the moment he made the decision, and probably from before that, from Ianto's death. I don't think he wants to live 1000 years remembering Ianto--that would be agony--and I think Ianto was right when he suggested that there was a lot more darkness beneath the surface of Jack. I like that we'll never really know.

The aliens themselves? *shivers* Great sci fi work there with having us not see the aliens properly--they were way more scary that way. And when they said 'the hit', I was awed at the horror. Kids as drugs. Wow. Their slowed-down speech could be read as drugged-out, though I had previously thought that it was an attribute of their species. I had so easily fallen into the trap of assuming, trained by Who, that the aliens needed the kids to live. To discover instead that they were a drug made the government's decision to sacrifice 10 per cent far more disturbing. It seemed really clear that the druggie aliens would just come back for more later.

There were limitations to this arc. For me, most grating was the fact that everyone just gave in so quickly and seemed to take it on faith that the aliens could destroy Earth at will. But that paid off when Jack strolled, all so arrogantly in, and achieved absolutely fuck all by being a hardass in negotiation. It was kind of two extremes of fail--underestimate massively or overestimate massively. I'm kind of glad UNIT was shown as slightly more effective--they at least worked out the aliens' objective. There were plenty of other nitpicks (the aliens took their atmosphere with 'em?) but these were small scale in the bigger scheme of things.

The main thing for me is that it's so rare to see an arc so well plotted that does not COP OUT massively at the end. It's also rare to see a television show willing to let its central characters seem limited or even unlikeable. I applaud Russell for this work--it is very encouraging to see such television out there!
 
 
Current Location: sofa of comfiness
Current Mood: impressedimpressed
 
 
 
Nickyobsessive24 on July 13th, 2009 09:26 am (UTC)
Great analysis. I loved it for all the reasons mentioned. It's probably the bleakest TV I've ever seen, barring maybe Skins at certain points.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Aishwarya Raibop_radar on July 13th, 2009 10:41 am (UTC)
Yes, it was up there! I was really impressed by the plotting as well.
Nickyobsessive24 on July 13th, 2009 10:46 am (UTC)
I was never really that enamoured of TW series 1 or 2 (though it had its moments) but this was... something else entirely. I don't think I'm removed from it enough to comment on the technical aspects yet; it's still just spinning as a huge black hole of horrible interlocking concepts. All I know is that it's been 3 days and I can't stop thinking about it, which is driving me slightly insane. I think that must mean it was fucking brilliant as far as effective storytelling goes.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Aishwarya Raibop_radar on July 13th, 2009 10:54 am (UTC)
Hee! Yes, I think it must! I was quite euphoric after seeing it, on a sort of weird high, which sounds horrible because it was so dark. It wasn't that I was happy about the events portrayed, but I was happy that someone had written something like it, if that makes sense. I think the high came from watching the bravery of it--it created real suspense where my expectations were overturned and each part built on the one before--they just got better and better. It was certainly greater than anything in the first two series of Torchwood--I didn't know Russell had that in reserve!
Nickyobsessive24 on July 13th, 2009 11:02 am (UTC)
I see how the balls-of-steel audacity of it would lead you onto a weird high and that would be me too, I think, if I wasn't at the same time so shattered by what happened to my people, my ship and their world at large. Still, I don't really see how people could get angry over it. To me, it was clearly the best story that could have been told in these circumstances. It's one of the few occasions of TV where I honestly felt that it became great art and said something that was so solidly worth saying. The existential crisis is just the icing.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Batgirlbop_radar on July 13th, 2009 11:16 am (UTC)
Yeah, I totally agree! It seemed to take a relatively ordinary television show and use it to say something so much greater and make it something more than it even needed to be to be successful. I can see that it's totally devastating, but I would have thought it was devastating in a way that was staggeringly impressive, one that caused grief but not a sense of being robbed or disappointed. But I also understand that people project a lot of their own desires onto TV shows. In this case I think Russell decided to do something brilliant with his show but if you'd been looking for a happy ending, then this wasn't it. I'm glad there are some Torchwood fans who can see past that because their show just produced some of the best TV of the year.
Parul: TW | Gwennakhrewali on July 13th, 2009 10:31 am (UTC)
great review! I was sad at the fate of certain characters but overall impressed at the new Torchwood!
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Retro girlbop_radar on July 13th, 2009 10:38 am (UTC)
I can only begin to imagine how powerful it would have been had I been emotionally attached to the characters already. I was surprised how quickly I was able to engage with the show, given that I've not enjoyed it in the past.
Parul: Merlin | M&Anakhrewali on July 13th, 2009 11:46 am (UTC)
Before this TW was my have fun with this guilty pleasure show, but this season I'm encouraging friends who haven't seen any of the previous seasons before as well simply because it stands on its own and is just so brilliant. In the context of the show it was a bit of a surprise since there were so many other avenues left to explore which can't be now but I can't begrudge the writers because what we did get totally blew my mind by how thought provoking it was. It feels weird to say so but I enjoyed watching something so bleak, something that made me think what would I have done and not know the answer, something where I *know* that what the characters did was justified but I still feel this slight repulsion that they were able to di it. Man I love this season.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Ericabop_radar on July 13th, 2009 11:12 pm (UTC)
Yup, definitely encourage others to watch! I think it stands alone as a piece of great scifi, something that's really rare these days. And yes--that's so true about the material being genuinely personally challenging. I don't think I could have done what Jack did in his position, but that means I would have condemned thousands to death... *shudders* I really like that a show demonstrated that sometimes heroic acts are the darkest acts of all. So few shows ever allow the writing to go there.
(Deleted comment)
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Ameliebop_radar on July 13th, 2009 11:13 pm (UTC)
It was!
mystical van of doom: [tw] theymatchvoldything on July 13th, 2009 01:52 pm (UTC)
What I loved more than anything (and I've got a lot more on the 'love' list) was that this showed that what makes Jack 'special', more than anything, is his ability to do unthinkably awful things for the greater good.

Yes! The killing of the grandson we never knew about before didn't bother me because that's the kind of thing he DOES and SHOULD do, being Jack.


I was never a fan of Gwen, she's a bit way too mary-suesque for me but I think she rocked the arc without changing a bit of her personality. I don't think I'm explaining myself- I liked her because she was completely herself, even though I didn't like her before? Yeah idek.

I also really liked Ianto's very ordinary sister and her revelation that Ianto was a bit of a trickster himself

Ianto's sister was WONDERFUL. I loved her immediately! And I won't comment at all on Ianto's death because he's my favourite and I will only start whining.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Aishwarya Raibop_radar on July 13th, 2009 11:17 pm (UTC)
I hear you on Gwen being the same but more likeable here. I feel the same way--but maybe about all the characters? Like they were all so fully just who they were, and that was shown within a context so much larger and darker than them that it was easier to feel compassion for them. And I think positioning Torchwood as the underdog was a very effective move from a narrative point. They are far more compelling as underdogs!

Ianto was my favourite too (in relative terms!). He always seemed to be the only competent one. I think his death massively 'upped' the emotional stakes of the whole arc, but I can see why people would be very sad over it. Commiserations!
Jayne L.: dwalleyserrico on July 13th, 2009 07:07 pm (UTC)
AGREED. Everything you said here, I've said myself in various RL conversations over the weekend. Instead of writing up my own thoughts in my LJ, I think I'm just gonna link yours and say, "YES, THIS." :)

To my mind, this mini-season is the "adult DW" show they promised us at the beginning. And if we don't get a fourth season, I'll be perfectly happy with this as its end point and (dark, soul-crushing, horrific ;) crowning achievement.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: The Fallbop_radar on July 13th, 2009 11:08 pm (UTC)
Yes, it's totally the adult DW in this arc!! I couldn't believe they 'went there' with so many of the elements: the sacrifice of Jack's grandson, the kids-as-drugs, the self-protective-to-the-point-where-it-becomes-evil government officials... it was amazing to see all this in the Who verse and totally justified Torchwood as a show.
(Anonymous) on July 13th, 2009 08:38 pm (UTC)
sick
i thought they got it all wrong. infact i thought it was quite sick. to many deaths, rubbish baddies that you couldnt see. and the main point is, to use children as the main focus of the viewers focus was just wrong. no one would let there child be taken for any reason, i would fight to the death for mine. and to have jack kill his own kid at the end i thought was uncompationate and quite disturbing, and took something away from the character. it seems to me they ran out of ideas at the end, infact let a bad idea run away with themselves. i bet many a bereaved parent was switching off to parents letting their kids be taken away in the army trucks, and gave some harrowing images of what it must of been like during the houlacoust. i think the directors could have taken a different direction, rather than using young children being murdered or abducted as a story line. sorry about the spelling. and i hope the new series of doctor who is far better than this quite nasty piece of work.

dwp
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Ameliebop_radar on July 14th, 2009 10:01 am (UTC)
Re: sick
It wasn't feelgood TV, that's for sure. Personally I find feelgood TV boring, but each to their own.
kiki_miserychickiki_miserychic on July 14th, 2009 01:15 am (UTC)
I like Jack the best when he's being a selfish jerk that runs away from things. He's been around a long time and he's different than the other characters in that way. I don't think Jack was ever meant to be the Big Damn Hero, at least not when he started in Doctor Who.

When Jack went to Torchwood (the show) he became the leader, which meant he couldn't really be the same Jack he was in Doctor Who. In Torchwood, he was the billow-y coat BDH. COE let more of his previous self come through I think.

Frobisher was downright enthralling as a story arc and character. That actor was stellar. Pretty much all of the governmental characters were chilling.

I liked that Ianto lied about his family. The others really didn't know much about him. To me, it was like that moment when he was cleaning up and Tosh heard his thoughts. There's the Ianto he portrayed and let people see and then there was the actual Ianto. I love facade-having Ianto. That's probably why I relate to him so much.
K, Bop or Boppy--take your pick!: Empire Records leanbop_radar on July 14th, 2009 10:00 am (UTC)
Yes, I like Jack best when he's the selfish jerk too--he's certainly far more interesting that way! And as you say, that's how he was introduced on Who. I found Torchwood's Jack very boring in comparison until now. I've always been bored by straightforward heroes.

Frobisher was amazing. I've always liked that actor and this was a terrific role for him.

And yes--Ianto lying makes Ianto a far more interesting character too.