EPISODE REVIEW: Torchwood: “Children of Earth, Day 5” (Season 3, Episode 5)

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The thing is, when you’re young you’re indestructible - or at least you think you are - and you’re also somewhat emotionally cut off. You see and hear about bad things happening around the world, and it doesn’t affect you any more than hearing about a sale at JC Pennys. Yeah, it’s awful about all those kids in Africa/Eastern Europe/South America/Southeast Asia, but it’s only theoretically awful when you’re a fat, dumb, and happy adolescent or 20-something. It almost seems historical, even though it’s happening now, and it’s as hard to get worked up over something like that as it is to get worked up about any random horrible thing that happened a hundred or a thousand years ago. You’re non-empathic and selfish at that age.

Then you fall in love - really in love - and suddenly you’re vulnerable, you have something to loose. You develop some empathy because you have no choice, you’re no longer self-contained. The melody of love is always underscored with the bassline of potential loss, and once you recognize that, you can’t help but feel. The great unifying ability of love isn’t that it makes us happy, or any stupid hippie crap like that - though of course as hippie crap goes, it’s nice - no, the great unifying ability of love is that it forces us to become aware of how our lives would fall to crap if the people we love were removed from us. It forces us to realize that life has all our asses hanging out in the wind, waiting to get shot off. You want to know why teens are surly? Because they don’t love anything but themselves, by and large, and as such they don’t realize how vulnerable they are.

Then you have kids, and the wiring in your brain shifts again. Your whole world becomes your kids, and protecting your kids, and trying to ensure a bright future for your kids. Well, it does if you’re any kind of human being at all, anyway. I’m told there are those who aren’t affected this way. In any event, it’s good and natural that people’s minds re-program when they reproduce. This is the way God and a million years of evolution want it: Any species that doesn’t protect it’s own offspring isn’t going to last long. But the unintended side-effect of all this is that you can watch a movie where something terrible does something terrible to a kid when you’re a kid, and it just rolls off you. If you watch that same exact scene again after you’ve had kids of your own, and it’s damn hard to sit through.

All of which is my longwinded way of saying that this episode of Torchwood was hard for me to watch. It was darker than hell, oppressive, hopeless actually, and the entire plot revolved around horrible things from space coming to earth to do horrible things to scores of millions of kids. And in the end, though it’s all resolved, it’s certainly not “Happily ever after,” and it comes at the cost of a brutally killed child. In the Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky asks the question, “If the Millennium comes at the cost of even a single dead child, is it worth having?” Dostoyevsky clearly thought “No,“ but we have a similar question here, where the answer is guardedly ‘yes,’ as Torchwood tells it. Despite the fact that the world gets off lucky, the cost is unbearably high for our protagonists.

PLAY BY PLAY

We start off with a high-contract camcorder shot of Gwen recording a record for…someone….whomever…in the future, so they can know how the world ended. She ruminates on why sometimes The Doctor saves the world, and sometimes he doesn’t. Now she realizes that there are some days - like today - in which The Doctor must see earth and turn away in disgust.

Still in the makeshift morgue in Thames House, Frobisher and his main, matronly secretary come to talk to Jack and Gwen. Gwen says her threat to reveal them all still stands, and Frobisher says it doesn’t matter. Civilization will likely fall over this anyway, you want to start it a few hours early, go ahead. Jack realizes Frobisher is right, and tells Gwen to stand down, so she calls Rhys and tells him to stand down as well. Rhys is shaken when he learns Ianto is dead. Rhys gives himself up. Jack then asks Frobisher for a favor - please send Gwen back to her family in Wales. “If the world is about to fall, then give us a minute of grace before it does. Send her home. I can’t stand to look at her anymore.” Frobisher agrees, and after Jack hugs them goodby, Gwen and Rhys are helicoptered back home.

Jack, meanwhile, is handcuffed and sent back to the military prison he was in before. His daughter and grandson are set free, but having no place to go, they simply stay on the base. The Commando Lady - still unnamed - befriends Jack’s daughter as an effort to try and figure out what the hell is going on, and determine where her own allegiances lie. She points out that she was raised to support the state, but she’s questioning the state’s actions, and whether the state is acting self-destructively at this point.

The Prime Minister has more or less handed over Executive Authority to the American general, amounting to a brief American military dictatorship of Great Britain. The culling program goes forward as planned, with the cover story that it’s an inoculation to prevent all that ‘talking in unison’ business. The PM calls Frobisher to his office and explains that his kids will be taken while on the news and ‘taken to be inoculated’ so the public will not suspect anything is up. In order for them to hold power after the crisis, they need to make it look like the Government had no idea what was going on, which necessitates the sacrifice of Frobisher’s daughters. Frobisher freaks out at this, but the PM makes it very clear that he’s trapped and has no choice in the matter. “I’m really busy,” The PM says and dismisses the man.

Frobisher gets something, then kisses his matronly secretary goodbye. She realizes what he’s going to do, but makes no move to stop him. What choice is there? She goes to se Lois Habiba and tells her of her love for Frobisher, how they met 30 years ago, evidently started an affair 20 years ago, and how he was - underneath it all - a good man. Then she excuses herself to go to work. Intercut with this, we see Frobisher walking happily in front of the news cameras in to his house, sending his wife and kids upstairs, loading a gun with terrified, shaking hands, and then goes upstairs and murders all of them. A moment later he kills himself. It was terribly painful to watch that, and his feeling of helpless terror was palpable. Around the country, the inoculation program is going on, but people are getting suspicious.

Gwen and Rhys end up back in Wales, and are met by the chatty cop from the first episode. Gwen tells Rhys she couldn’t bear to bring a kid in to this world, and she’s going to have an abortion. He’s very shaken by this. They drive to Ianto’s sister’s house to save his niece and nephew, and are shocked to find an impromptu daycare with thirteen kids in it. They tell her Ianto died, and warn her about the culling just as the soldiers arrive. Rhys and Gwen spirit the kids away while their dad starts a riot with the troopers. There’s nothing more gratifying than a righteously angry mob - remember that scene in Superman II? This has that kind of vibe - and though it ultimately comes to nothing, it’s rewarding when the chatty cop buy jumps in to the fray on the side of the rioters. Meanwhile, Gwen, Rhys, and the kids end up in an abandoned warehouse hiding out while Gwen tapes the introduction we’ve already seen. Rhys asks her if she was lying about getting an abortion, and she confesses that she could never do that to him. They cry, terrified.

Jack’s daughter convinces The Commando Lady that Jack is their only hope, so she frees him and drags the scientist guy from London up, along with all of his equipment to wizard up a solution. Meanwhile, someone is broadcasting a pirate signal about the culling and what’s really going on. The UNIT Colonel has been assigned to Frobisher’s job as intermediary with the 456 ambassador, and he asks them what they want the kids for. “The Kick,” says the alien. “The children release a chemical, and the chemical is good.” They’re simply drug addicts, and pushers looking to expand their trade. Through all this, the PM remains amazingly ineffectual, and Frobisher’s matronly secretary gives him a stern look. A woman tells her she can go home, but she says “It’s what Frobisher would have wanted,” and stays.

The soldiers find the warehouse in Wales and Gwen, Rhys and the kids make a mad dash for it. All are captured excepting Gwen, carrying Ianto’s niece. Meanwhile, Jack realizes that what killed McDonald was that he was in some way connected to the 456 in a way that hurt them. If he can use that signal against them, it could make them leave. He needs a transmitter for that to work, and to have a transmitter, he needs a kid. Alas, the child in the machine will die, though it might save millions in the process. Jack grabs his own grandkid and wires him in to the machine without a word, while the kid repeatedly asks what’s going on. He turns on the machine, and every child in the world screams. The aliens scream too, and the 456 ambassador evidently explodes in a bloody mess and is transported back to their ship. The crisis is past, and of course Jack’s grandson is dead by Jack’s own hand.

Jack is a shell of a man. His daughter won’t speak to him. He simply walks away. In London the PM is already trying to figure a way to spin this situation to his advantage. He decides that since the American general took over without the ratification of the UN, he can blame this whole thing on the American propensity for cowboy politics. Frobisher’s matronly secretary informs him that when she visited Lois, Lois explained how the Torchwood contact lenses work, and she’s been taping *everything* that’s happened in here in the last few hours, including his cynical, self-serving decision to blame the Americans and save his own ass. If he doesn’t take responsibility for his own actions, she’ll release the information. Meanwhile, one of the more prominent female cabinet ministers simply says that she’ll be making a lot of the decisions in the next few months and for the foreseeable future, and just like the silent coup is done. The PM is down for the count, and he knows it.

Six months later, Jack meets Gwen and Rhys atop a hill overlooking Cardiff at night. He’s spent six months wandering the world, but “This planet is too small. The whole thing is like a graveyard.” Gwen gives him his control watch, and he tells her he’s going to beam up to an alien ship on the fringes of the solar system.
“Will you ever come back?”
“Why?”
“For me,” Gwen says, “you can’t just run away like this.”
“Watch me,” Jack says, and vanishes. Theres’ a bit more dialog, but that’s the gist.

THE END. Of Torchwood. Permanently, it seems.

OBSERVATIONS

I wonder who the pirate broadcaster was. Was it just a nobody, or was it Sarah Jane?

It’s interesting that Torchwood began with the introduction of Gwen, and it ended with her being the only one left.

No doubt in my mind that The Commando Chick was inspired by The Operative from firefly, right down to the fact that she’s never given a name or rank in the show, and that she ends up changing sides for her own reasons at the end.

The ending was a bit too jiffy-pop for my liking. I don’t like ‘doubletalk treknology introduced in the last five minutes saves the day’ kind of endings. To save it from being such a deus ex machina, they really should have set the concept up better earlier on in the story, but they didn’t. As a result it feels like a cheat, and kind of rushed. It’s saved from being a complete dramatic cop out, however, by Jack’s sacrifice of his grandkid at the end, which obviously devastates him. So yeah, it’s a god in a machine, but it’s a terribly costly one, which takes some of the curse off of it.

They never explained (A) why McDonald was left behind by the aliens, or (B) why he had that super-active sense of smell. They theorized about the first one a bit, though no solid answer was given. B, however, would appear to be a dangling plot thread.

The reveal that the aliens wanted the kids for a drug was…wow. Shocking and appalling as hell. I didn’t see that coming, though I should have. Unlike the ‘transmitter’ at the end, the drug thing was set up early on. I can only say that it’s hard for me to watch shows about awful stuff happening to kids, and hence I probably was a bit to squeamish to be thinking clearly in these scenes.

Jack’s giving 12 kids to the 456 in ‘65 is compared to a sacrifice of virgins to the gods, in exchange for peace. Though they don’t overtly say so, his sacrifice of his grandson at the end is essentially a penance - a personal punishment - for his callous sacrifice of the innocents 44 years before. This is also telegraphed by Frobisher making a similar sacrifice just a half hour before, though in that case he kills his family so the ‘gods’ can’t have them, then kills himself because he can’t live with what he’s done. Jack is destroyed. There’s nothing left of him. I realize the future of the show is up in the air - this may well be the end - but if Jack does come back, he’s not going to be the same man. He’s not going to get over these experiences anytime soon, if ever. Unlike Frobisher, he can’t kill himself.

It would appear that Gwen is now in charge of Torchwood. It must still exist, since we’ve heard references to it in the far future in episodes of Dr. Who.

Though I’m happy to see the PM get hoisted on his own petard - easily the most bastardly and awful politician I’ve seen on TV - I would have liked to see him suffer a bit more. The American General kind of surprised me. I was wondering if perhaps last night’s total government-bashing episode had gone a bit too far, and so they turned it over to the US Military Dictatorship in order to backpedal a bit, but no, it was all part of the PM’s scam, and he got called on it.

The Culling started out organized, but they appeared to just be grabbing any random kids they could find towards the end of it. I couldn’t help but worry about how they were going to help all the little kids get home again afterwards, obviously the government is in disarray, and they never bothered to work that part of the plan out anyway.

There’s a couple interesting conservative aspects to this: Most notably, the whole “Abortion” discussion, where Gwen admits she couldn’t do it because of what it would do to Rhys. This is an interesting nod toward Father’s Rights, a subject that’s been all-but wholly overlooked in the popular media here. In a larger sense, the entire Culling can be regarded as a kind of retroactive abortion of the undesirable elements. I mean, an unborn kid is a person, right? A child? And yet all the authorities in this are referring to them as “units” who are inconvenient.

I don’t for a moment believe this is what the producers had in mind as a message here, but sometimes we’re more conservative than we mean to be, if only subconsciously. Whether they meant it or not, the first step in getting rid of people who you don’t like, or who are inconvenient, or who don’t match the drapes and are demanding civil rights, is to declare that they aren’t human. From that point on, they have no more legal standing than a housecat. That’s what happens informally in this story, and it’s what happens to the unborn in real life, and of course there’s the obvious parallels - noted in this miniseries - between this and the Holocaust. Make of that what you will.

Though it’s entirely possible Torchwood could continue in some version as a TV show, I think it would be a mistake to do so. They’re on top of their game, they went out in great style, give them their unhappy ending, because you’re never going to top what you did here, you can only hope to diminish it by screwing around with it, or stretching it out. Learn from the experience of that terrible and unwanted final season of Magnum, my friends.

I think I need to think about this for a few days, and then write up some kind of overall observational overview of the thing. In the mean time, it was pretty brilliant, and way the hell better than I would have expected. In the meantime, hey, all you people reading these reviews: what did you think? Please sound off in the comments!

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