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Friday, February 22, 2008
Torchwood: Meat and Adam
It seems almost inevitable that, after the high level of expectations set by the first few episodes, Torchwood would produce a few episodes that seem somewhat disappointing in comparison. It's not that either of these episodes are bad, but the best that can be said of them is that they're only of average quality. They each have the feel of being something of a place-holder episode, a story whose premise doesn't quite warrant elevating it into a major piece. The stories in question are neither particularly character focused nor very complicated plot-wise. To a certain degree, the actual stories of the episodes seem to have been a secondary concern to filling some of the middle period of the season with events that advance the overall story-line of the second series.
Of the two, Meat, by Catherine Tregenna, is probably the strongest, in part because of the simpler plot. The thrust of the episode is Gwen's fiance Rhys discovering the truth about Gwen and Torchwood. Gwen's secrecy and treatment of Rhys in the first season was, to be blunt, horrific, and made her downright unlikeable and extremely unsympathetic in certain episodes. Getting that needless complication out of the way once and for all eliminates the potential of the over-used "character has a secret that will jeopardize a relationship" trope. Rhys knows, it's dealt with, we all move on. After that, the actual story of a group of thugs who exploit an alien as a source of cheap meat just fills up the rest of the fifty minute run time. The villains are nothing special, one-note thugs with no imagination and no personality, and the alien, well...let's be generous and assume that the production team meant it to look like a shapeless gray blob for dramatic reasons. The only cringe-worthy false note in the episode is the forcing of some kind of pseudo-sexual/romantic tension between Gwen and Jack. It just doesn't work with these two characters, and the continual introduction of that dynamic into the series is just maddening. It's an annoying television cliche that the show can do without replicating.
Adam, also by Catherine Tregenna, is the kind of story I find I want to like more than I do, but in the end there isn't very much to it. The set-up is that a new member of the team is in the Hub, but his presence provides hints that something is going wrong. People are forgetting important things, things vital to their sense of self. People are acting wildly out of character. Blatantly, obviously, of course the new arrival is tied directly into all of it. But the villain of the piece is never really credibly explained or motivated. He's just...there. And then he's not, via a method that is even more frustratingly vague than the villain and suggests a cop-out. It's a story with zero consequences, as the "reset" button is hit at the end.
And again, secondary concerns of plot and character advancement seem to be the real point of the story. We get a few moments of insight into Gwen and Ianto's relationships with Jack and Toshiko's and Owen's senses of self. Burn Gorman in particular does an exceptional job in this episode, saddled as he is with a bit of a Duane Dibbley persona for this story, and the hint of back-story we are given does more to justify and explain the frequent odiousness of Owen's personality than anything else we've seen in the show so far. But the main draw is the fleshing out of Jack's back-story, particularly the explanation of who Gray is, why he's important to Jack, and what Jack's child-hood in the Boeshane Peninsula was like. Especially how the traumas of Jack's childhood shaped him into the man he was when we first met him in Doctor Who. It's important character development, and it significantly advances the meta-plot for this season, but it just doesn't happen in a very compelling episode.