Torchwood has never shied away from the fact that Jack Harkness isn't a very nice guy. Oh sure, he seems nice; he's all smiles and good-looks and "Hey, let's have sex!" whenever he meets someone new, but the charm only goes so far. Before Miracle Day hit, Jack Harkness was immortal and unkillable, and which means for him, most everybody is a walking fatality. There's that line from Fight Club—"On a long enough timeline, everyone's survival rate goes down to zero." Captain Jack lives on this timeline, and while he'll fall in love or friendship easily enough, he's also gotten very, very good at saying goodbye. We all have our egos, but very few of us live in a universe where those egos are so thoroughly reinforced by circumstance. Jack always comes back. He's jumped around time, been across the galaxy, and survived being blown to bits (among other things). At what point do you think, under those circumstances, would having an ego become something more than just arrogance? At what point would you start to think of yourself a god?
"Immortal Sins" doesn't go that far, but the episode does spend more time focusing on Jack, and his often catastrophic affect on the people around him, than the show has done all season. The results are much, much better than last week, and maybe every week so far but the first one. Esther and Rex are sidelined for most of the running time, Jack and Gwen get to spar back and forth, and we get a flashback story that has actual emotional weight to it, weight that's more complex than "Oh no, someone is going to die!" It's not a perfect hour. This is still Torchwood, so the emotions aren't subtle; the show continues to apply excess sentiment and cynicism in equal amounts. As well, "Sins" jettisons Oswald and Jilly for yet another week, and it's hard not to start questioning just how much of the previous six episodes have been filler to get us to this point. But at least the show isn't repeating itself quite so blatantly anymore, and by bringing attention back to Jack, who is far more interesting than Rex will ever be, we're at least back in the land of watchable television.
Two plots dominate the hour. In the present, Gwen comes back to the American Torchwood H.Q., grabs Jack, tasers him, and then brings him to a rendezvous point to exchange him for her family. Gwen's determination is consistent with her character—really, her bullheaded need to commit as completely as possible to whatever she decides is her "only" choice is her distinguishing mark at this point—and while she borders on unlikable here, it's the right sort of unlikable, in that it underlines potential flaws in her personality without undermining her completely. And it gets really interesting when she uses her current dilemma as symbolic of her basic Torchwood problem. It may not be the most dramatically well-founded confession, but the idea that Gwen keeps endangering herself and her family to work with Jack because she gets off on it makes a lot of sense. I especially liked her comment about how she reacted to the deaths of her co-workers; she mourns them, sure, but the fact that she lives while they don't also gives her a way to reinforce her faith in her own specialness. It's like Jack's ego on a smaller scale. If she's still alive after so many others have perished doing the same basic job, that has to say something good about her, right? It's a bracing, honest moment from Gwen, from a show that too often mistakes "honesty" for "sappy emotionalism," and while I'm not sure it's hugely relevant to the current story, it's still a good scene.
Jack doesn't give quite as good as he gets in the car, but his attempts to talk himself out of the kidnapping are an excellent reminder of how he convincingly he can lie when the situation demands it. Gwen does a fair bit of lecturing on his sins, motivated in no small part by her own guilt, and for a long time, it seems like Jack sinning is going to be the main focus of the episode's other plot, a flashback set in New York in the late 1920s. It's not immediately obvious why we're flashing back: Jack arrives in New York, tackles a guy who tries to steal his (fake) passport, and then the two end up hooking up together because hey, that's what Jack does. The other guy, Angelo, seems nice enough, and that's not a good sign: Jack's "nice enough" love interests tend to come with expiration dates. They have some hot steamy sex (hey, it's a taboo-busting dude-on-dude love scene that also happens to be story relevant! We can have nice things), and Angelo, being from a small town and not having much in the way of prospects, is quickly drawn into Jack's world. That means Torchwood, and Torchwood means bad news.
It's funny, though. "Sins" doesn't explicitly state the connection between the flashback and events in the present day until the very end, but it's not that difficult to guess where all this is going. Everyone in the present keeps talking about someone being responsible for the Miracle, and whoever's responsible also has more than a passing interest in Harkness. Once Angelo survived his first few scenes, it was obvious he was an important character, too important for us to be spending all this time getting to know him without having him be relevant in the main storyline. So I assumed that at some point, Jack was going to do something horrible to him, and that all of his would part of some twisted sort of revenge. That would explain why the Miracle made Jack mortal, and it would explain why whoever's sending messages to Gwen via her contact lenses doesn't seem to have the highest opinion of the captain. ("He always lies.") But while Jack isn't the biggest sweetheart in the world to Angelo, he's as much sinned against as sinning.
Sure, he's not perfect. Jack intentionally gets the attention of the mob in order to get his hands on a brain worm that could've been used to drive FDR crazy and change the course of World War II. (I'm not up on current Doctor Who continuity—is this connected to anything?) Then he gets shot in the head by the police, leaving Angelo to take the rap, although Angelo doesn't spend too much time in prison. None of this is exactly nice, as Jack's callow, risky attitude towards life isn't really healthy for anyone who can't regenerate from any injury, but he's obviously fond of Angelo, and he'd not trying to cause him harm. That's nothing compared to Angelo's decision to stab Jack in the side, then essentially give him over to a mob for repeated torture and bloodletting. Sure, Angelo is a superstitious peasant who thought Jack was a demon, and sure, he eventually helps Jack to escape, but when Jack finally decides to leave Angelo for good, it's impossible to blame him. There are other men (and women) in the world, and there's no real betrayal in telling someone "I love you, but I don't think I'll be able to forgive you for all the stabbing."
Maybe that's the point. Maybe for all Gwen's talk about how awful Jack really is, "Sins" isn't about a foolish man being punished, but something more complicated than that. We'll have to wait and see next week, when, presumably, Angelo arrives on the scene and tells us the end game. This episode doesn't redeem Torchwood's sins. In fact, it seems to highlight the sloppiness of much of the rest of this season, since so little of what's gone before has anything to do with the revelations here. The writing is more acceptable than brilliant, and man, some of the music cues (at least on the screener) are just flat out horrid, tinny and over-emphasizing the already obvious. But "Sins" tells a complete story, and it does so in a way that makes me interested in what happens next, which is becoming something of a rarity for "Miracle Day." I'm nowhere near as enthusiastic about the show as I was at the start of this, but I'm not dreading it. Here's hoping the trend continues.
- So, what're the odds that Angelo is working with the Trio of Creeps who tried to "buy" Jack while he was being held captive?
- Only three episodes left, and yet in a lot of ways, "Sins" feels like we're starting over from scratch. That works for the episode, but it's not a good sign for the season as a whole.
- I enjoyed how Rex, even with minimal screentime, still managed to get a "Torchwood clowns" line in.
- Nana Visitor from Deep Space Nine (among other things) is Angelo's "middle man." Hopefully she'll get more to do next week. Maybe she and Ernie Hudson can swap comicon horror stories.