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Torchwood: “End Of The Road”

Illustration for article titled Torchwood: “End Of The Road”
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It's always strange when a show goes off the rails. Which is, admittedly, a generic observation—what I mean is, when you're watching a series and that series starts making bad choices, and then it keeps committing to those bad choices, it can be disorienting. At various points during "End of the Road," I kept getting confused trying to figure out what the show's intentions were. I understood the plot by and large, but why were we dealing with Oswald Danes' sex life? Does someone think it's great drama when a convicted rapist pedophile murderer can't quite make a go of it while romancing a prostitute? From a plot standpoint, the scene where Danes is rejected by someone who'll screw him for money, but won't talk with him for anything, exists to make Oswald angry, so that he'll snap at Jilly, attack her and then storm off. But all of this seems predicated on the idea that we give a damn about what Oswald does. Normally, I find it easy to sympathize with difficult-to-like characters; in some ways, they're better than the alternative, because they carry more dramatic potential. But Oswald is beyond the pale, and it's as though no one involved with the show actually understands this. Bill Pullman does his best, but he's never quite gelled with the role, most likely because it's impossible to play. Like many writers prone to extreme sentimentality (Frank Darabont springs to mind), Russell T. Davies is capable of incredible darkness. When that works, as in Children of the Earth, it can shocking and powerful. But when it doesn't work, when the darkness is as ungrounded and seemingly arbitrary as Oswald's criminal career (do we know anything about him?), it's as bad as the never-ending "Woo! Torchwood!" comments.

"Road" was full of this sort of misjudgment. The episode has more forward momentum than the dregs of the current series, because hey, we're almost finished with this; at some point, the pieces of the story have to start coming together. Now is when we start finding out what actually mattered in the middle of all that meandering, and so far, it looks like we need to care about the three creepy dudes who talked about buying Jack last week; Angelo dying; Jilly's career plans; and, for some reason, Esther's crazy sister. (Seriously?) A few characters go out in literal flames so we can pretend this is all terribly suspenseful, and Gwen gets deported for much the same reason. Tellingly, much of this has an arbitrary vibe. At this point in a long arc, plot-threads which have been building all season long should start coming together in meaningful, hopefully-but-not-necessarily surprising ways. While the Jilly/Oswald blow-out was a long time coming, the sudden important of Ablemarch, Consterdane and Frines (henceforth to be known as Aber, Crombie, and Fitch) is pretty left field. Sure, we knew the bland blonde guy who shoots Jilly's assistant and offers her a better job had connections since he appeared in "The Categories of Life," but that's all we knew, and pretty much all we know now.

Here's what "Road" tells us over the course of an hour. Angelo, it turns out, isn't the cause of Miracle Day. He spent his whole life trying to find the secret of immortality because of his relationship with Jack, only to finally discover it when he was too old to get any pleasure out of not dying. (If you think our heroes miss a chance to point out the irony of this multiple times, think again.) He's incredibly rich, and his granddaughter, Nana Visitor, knows that Jack is important to him, so even though he can't communicate any more, she arranged to have Jack basically kidnapped and brought to him. So Jack gets a few tender moments with Angelo while Nana unsuccessfully attempts to explain why she arranged a fairly complicated hostage situation for a relative she doesn't appear all that fond of. Her excuse is that she knows Jack has to be the root cause of everything that's happened, since the three families have been using his blood somehow—but why does she care about any of this? Nana Visitor is a fun actress, and she's the only reason her character is at all tolerable; the more you think about it, the more she's just an excuse to get Jack into the same building as Angelo. And then Wayne Knight blows her up in a van, so I guess that takes care of that.

Another baffling reveal this week: Rex has been working to draw Wayne Knight out in the open, in order to bring the full force of the CIA down on his shoulders in the form of a snappish John de Lancie. After everyone has had their chance to ooo and aah over Angelo's wasted body and his palatial estate, Knight shows up with his team of rogue agents and takes control. Only, he doesn't really have control, because Rex is wearing the Torchwood contact lenses, and everyone can see everything! Or something. Then de Lancie swarms the building with his own crack squad, arrests Knight, and then acts all contemptuous and irritated with everyone for the rest of the episode. That part is fine, really—I love de Lancie, and there's a little bit of Q in his role here, as he throws down orders and sneers at anyone stupid enough to disobey him. But the idea that Rex planned all this is ridiculous. It's a twist with no meaning, played like a moment of triumph. Who cares? Rex has never developed beyond being defined by his worst tendencies, and Knight has been absent for weeks. Hell, I don't even understand why Knight had to return at all. The only real impact he has in the episode is blowing himself up and taking Nana Visitor with him. Neither were loose ends so distracting that we needed to waste time cutting them short.

Then there's Angelo. Jack gets some alone time with the old man, and it's a fine scene, one of the few really effective moments in the episode. Then he kisses Angelo, and the guy dies. For real. It turns out he's got a special kind of alien tech under his bed, a plate that emits a null field that blocks the morphic field that creates the Miracle. Jack knows all about because the only plating he knew of on Earth should've been buried in the ruins of the old Torchwood building. This still doesn't explain what connection, if any, that Angelo had to the Miracle—we learn that Aber, Crombie and Fitch wouldn't let Angel play in their reindeer games because he was gay, so in case you were wondering if the three families were evil, there you go. But it does convince Jack that he needs to get out of the building and go do—something. After de Lancie snaps and has Gwen deported, Jack uses the null field to get Esther and Rex's help in escaping. Jack knows something that we still don't know (I think; the show's willingness to use Jack as a plot solvent can get confusing at times), and he's desperate to take care of it. Unfortunately, he's shot while trying to leave the building. Esther drives away with him in the back seat, dying slowly. It's fun that the show finally got around to using the fact that Jack could potentially die.

Apart from all this, there was Oswald and Jilly, finally falling out because Oswald was insulted by a prostitute. There was maybe a point at which Oswald could've worked, but seeing him again after a two week absence made it clear that point has past. There's no time left for building characters or deepening the world—it's the end-game, and the only way Torchwood does end-game is by going all out. I'm curious to see how that goes, but I'm not invested in it; what started as flawed but promising never found a way to rise above its problems the same way Children of Earth did. The show continues to throw out interesting ideas—the reveal of "Category 0", a category for people who have "earned" being Category One, is too narratively convenient and poorly built to, but it could've been powerful. It just doesn't have a framework in which those ideas could develop and flourish. Instead, it's just a group of idiots rushing between catastrophes, leaning on bravado to convince themselves they're getting anywhere at all.


Stray Observations:

  • Wow, Gwen is on a plane back to Wales. Really hoping this won't mean an entire episode dedicated to getting her back in the action.
  • It's funny how the show never really got much use out of the "people can't die" premise. Obviously it's the crisis that drives the story, but there's been little immediate affect on the protagonists themselves. Mostly it's just forced the writers to put in a little more effort when coming up with death traps. (And even then, they don't always before. I'm sure it was supposed to be shocking when Mr. Blonde shot Jilly's assistant, but all I could think of was, she's gonna have a mean headache when she wakes up.)
  • "Get me a girl." "How old?" "Legal age." "Seriously?" Charming.