Torchwood: Children of Earth – “Day Two”

TorchwoodTitle

“Day Two”

July 21st, 2009

If I were a regular Torchwood viewer, I may have found “Day Two” to be particularly strange. Considering that Captain Jack Harkness, who seems to be the leader of Torchwood, is almost entirely absent due to the fallout from last night’s cliffhanger, this may not have been your traditional episode of Torchwood. However, in actual fact, the episode is far more successful for Captain Jack’s absence, as in the aftermath of the explosion at the docks both Gwen and Ianto are able to take matters into their own hands.

In the show’s accelerated and almost 24-esque pacing, “Day Two” manages to do two of the most important things in serialized drama: it presents a legitimate and credible threat to the progress of our heroes, here in the form of a crafty anti-terrorist squad and a whole lot of explosive, and it creates a mysterious suspense surrounding the big picture. Some shows may have been content to do one of the two, but at this blistering speed of Torchwood things need to happen simultaneously. At the rate the show is going at, I wouldn’t be surprised if “Day Five” ends up post-apocalyptic, the world ending in the span of “Day Four.” For now, though, this is one rollercoaster ride that I’m enjoying a whole lot.

I don’t want to drive the 24 comparison home too much since, well, this is far more inspired than anything 24′s delivered since its first season, but I think it’s an intriguing parallel. There are elements here that mirror 24, especially the idea of various different storylines (the view into the Home Secretary’s Office through Lois, Frobisher’s view into the upper echelon of politics and the preparations for the 4-5-6, the scattered elements of Torchwood) being serviced in a single story. There’s even signs that, like 24, it can’t handle everything in every episode: Clement MacDonald is wandering around without much direction here, basically traveling from Point A to Point B and stopping along the way to stand in place and spout gibberish. However, unlike 24, the pace of Torchwood and its ability to ignore stupid one-hour episodes gives it the ability to bring people together sooner: we knew Lois would eventually make contact with Torchwood, but for it to happen so quickly (if not fully) towards the end of “Day Two” is far more efficient and enjoyable, at least in my books.

I thought this one did a very good job of balancing humour and action considering that Gwen and Ianto’s lives were continually in danger and Captain Jack was slowly reconstituting himself in a body bag in a military facility. Gwen’s husband being along for the ride could have been a disaster if the show wasn’t capable of balancing things well, and I thought he was both useful (playing the undertaker, finding a plan to get them to London) and quite entertaining (his defensiveness over his now pregnant wife was both charming and quite funny). Iorta, meanwhile, has a more seriously set of storylines here, but his brother-in-law’s naked insistence that Iorta couldn’t possibly be in his bed since he’s a married man was particularly funny, and seeing them realize that they are the only family he has was legitimately touching.

And then, at the same time of course, there was a considerable amount of action here: the evacuation of Captain Jack was one of those sequences that operated far better than it should have. No scene with what was effectively a slow-speed chase should be that exciting, but a fiery gas tanker and a giant concrete block being dropped hundreds of feet into a quarry are the kinds of things that really work when connected to something emotional. While Gwen’s plan was quite good if Jack had been in his cell normally, Ianto had gone to the stage where his emotional feelings for Jack drove him to think outside the box. That gave the sequence, as oddly staged as it was in some ways, a real pop, and really brought things home. The result is a reunited Torchwood with still not much of an understanding of what’s going on, but in far better shape to be able to assess the situation and consider their options.

As for what is precisely going on, I thought this was a fine example of mythology building. I thought the entire sequence where we first see the “Ambassadorial Suite” of sorts was legitimately chilling, as the glass-enclosed room fills with poison and we start to understand that the 4-5-6 mean business. The political side of this is all about building anticipation, and we’re starting to realize that there was some sort of deal made years ago, and that the chances of the 4-5-6 contacting other nations is slim (although the show raises the point in a way that leaves the door open for future episodes to reveal a worldwide event of sorts). The absolute lack of clarity in the motivations for the verbal assimilation of the world’s children is definitely not clear, but it’s clear that it’s going to cost Frobisher something fierce.

What I like about Frobisher is that he clearly wants nothing to do with this: he didn’t want to order Harkness dead, nor does he want to have to worry about his children, but he didn’t have a choice as whatever it is that happened all those years ago is something Jack (in his old age) will remember and that is apparently too big to avoid covering up. I enjoy, though, how he struggles with his family’s inability to take it seriously, and to understand what he’s having to go through. His daughters aping the voice to profess their desire for a pony was a really clever bit of writing because while it’s funny for us, it’s the exact opposite of funny for Frobisher. I don’t pity the guy who ordered our “hero” dead and killed people who seem to be fairly innocent, but I do feel like he’s caught between a rock and a hard place.

And that’s really what a show like 24 (when at its best) is always most successful at doing, presenting complicated situations and asking the audience to consider the human response to those threats. Here, it drives Gwen, Ianto, Lois and Frobisher to make decisions that could put their lives and the lives of others at risk, but that’s what happens when all the rules go out the window. It results in another ripping hour, and a 2-0 record for Children of Earth thus far.

Cultural Observations

  • “We are coming back tomorrow” puts a definitive timeline on “Day Three” being the arrival of the 4-5-6, so let my rampant speculation begin!
  • I’ll be interested to see whether or not Lois is actually part of Torchwood by the time this ends: she was certainly far too prepared for espionage if you ask me, so her time at the Home Secretary’s will be short-lived if she takes up Gwen’s offer. However, this implies that she survives the series: considering that she’s apparently a quasi-replacement for another cast member who wasn’t available for the project, she could go the way of the dinosaur by the end of the week.
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4 Comments

Filed under Torchwood

4 responses to “Torchwood: Children of Earth – “Day Two”

  1. j.ann

    Cough “Ianto.” Spell check is not kind to Welsh names.

    I watched this when it aired in the UK and still am digesting its awesome to watch the airing in North America this week. Still, it’s a lot of fun watching it day-to-day from a different set of eyes, especially now that I get to look at it as a whole. The part where you said the show succeeds a lot in Jack’s absence made me laugh at first, but it’s true. It feels like there’s a lot more at stake when they don’t have their dashing immortal watching over them.

    • Thanks for the correction – I had actually had it completely wrong before, and then just mixed up my As and Os on the edit. Le sigh. Ianto. Ianto. Ianto. I’ll remember it for tomorrow.

  2. Pingback: Torchwood: “Children of Earth, Day Two” « The Rebel Prince TV Blog

  3. Good review,
    Forbishers reluctance also occured to me on first viewing, and the beauracratic efficiency he applies to the expendability of Jack and his team is chilling, along with the fearful yet heartless indifference the Prime Minister shows to the entire affair, leaving it all in Forbisher’s lap.

    What is so interesting about to the tale, and it applies to your 24 comparisions, which I also considered, is how the aliens coming to earth bit is actually sidelined by all the political maneuvering as small minded men make immediate and cruel decisions in the face of something bigger than themselves. It really impresses me how well they are juggling all these different mysteries and suspense, particularly when you consider how poorly the show was executed in the past. I really feel like they stepped up to the plate to deliver adult entertainment this season.

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