July 23rd, 2009
Earlier today, I tweeted that one of the scenes in “Day Four” of the five-day miniseries event that is Torchwood: Children of Earth was one of the most legitimately disturbing sequences I’ve seen on television in quite some time. For those who have now seen that episode, I’m curious to know whether any of you can quite easily pick it out.
Without knowing my threshold for disturbing, it’s really not easy: we get our first good look at the 4-5-6 in this episode, and that glimpse is legitimately terrifying and well-handled. However, like the previous three episodes, the best parts of Children of Earth are those which are the most human, as we see the political response to this event spiral into a place that no one would ever want it to go. It is in those scenes, ultimately, that my skin began to crawl, and ethical dilemma were raised that made me wish this was a full-on season of the show so that we could get more sequences like this one as we barrel towards our conclusion tomorrow evening.
And if I have one complaint about “Day Four,” it’s that things really are moving at a very quick speed, and something tells me that an hour isn’t going to be enough time for all of this to sink in.
I’ve been drawing comparisons between Children of Earth and 24 for a while now, but I think that one of the things that always helps 24 is that there’s usually the ability to really highlight deaths which happen in the context of the show. When someone dies on 24, the show sort of stops all around them, and it’s very rare that someone’s death goes entirely unnoticed. Of course, on 24, the show must go on, so a few episodes later it’s like the death hasn’t even happened. It’s a double-edged sword, really, and one that the show has on a few occasions triumphed with and in other instances failed miserably. How a serialized show deals with death is all about balancing buildup and fallout, and that’s not a particularly easy thing to do.
As such, Ianto feels like he’s been at least a little bit short-changed to be killed in the context of this madness. In an ideal world, we’d have an episode to be able to breathe before rushing towards a conclusion, to consider his death and its impact. He got the usual buildup: final phone call to his family, a final moment with Captain Jack, some legitimate tension between the two men ahead of his death so as to make Jack feel guilty about it, all of it was there. However, the show has so much plot to handle in its final hour that I don’t know if the fallout is really going to be what it needs to be, or at the very least what it could be. While Eve and Jack’s emotional response to his death was certainly powerful even for me who just started watching this show, Ianto’s death seems smaller than it should in the context of the events at hand.
This was the first point for me where it really seemed as if things were happening a bit too quickly. I think the pacing has been great to this point, but the speed with which Torchwood took over, stimied the planned turnover of children, and led the 4-5-6 to gas Themes House was too brisk for any of it to feel particularly logical. It isn’t entirely clear why Jack and Ianto would think that the hard line would have better results, and while their plan (from Lois’ speech to Rhys off with the computer ready to hit send) was well organized it moved far too quickly for me. I wanted to be able to spend more time on things like our leather-clad Terrorist Squad leader coming to terms with her government’s decision making process, amongst other things that didn’t feel like they got enough time.
It seemed like everything was rushing in the interest of shifting from a perspective of “What Next?” to “What now?” Realistically, this had to be done, but I think they were doing so well with pacing up to this point that it makes me sad to see it rushed. I thought the 4-5-6’s reveal of the children being used as some sort of sick power source wherein the children remain children but hooked up to some sort of mask was definitely disturbing, and their use of children to call out all of the numbers was compelling, but the “War or Surrender” setup seemed too rushed compared to the more passive interactions that were legitimately creepy as opposed to being legitimately threatening.
I guess I was just preferring a setup where the real threat was within the government itself, which it was up until the conclusion of this week’s episode. The most disturbing sequence by far for me was when the panel of government officials slowly went from agreeing that a randomized process was the only way to fairly select the 10% of the nation’s children to be given to the 4-5-6 to the point of using standardized test scores to decide who would die. It was an amazingly written sequence, because it ultimately flowed by logic: they talk about their desire to have their own children protected, and point out that if they’re willing to take that off the table then they’re not really doing a random selection at all. It leads them down the rabbithole into a dangerous ethical territory, one which values objective (but really, subjective) forms of analysis as a way of indicating who lives and who dies. The stupidest 10% would be given over to aliens, while the smartest 90% get to live on as if nothing was wrong.
That’s the most terrifying thing to me, that any situation could lead a government to make that decision, and to have to think so pragmatically. I wasn’t really that affected by the idea that this could be sold as population control, a theory that’s equally as morbid but driven by a Public Relations rather than an internal logic perspective. The woman at the heart of this case was suggesting that this was the only barometer they had, and that’s legitimately terrifying. I’ve been talking about the level to which Frobisher is culpable in these events, and in this case you can see the horror on his face: he doesn’t want to go through with this, but with Torchwood’s failure he is facing the very real scenario of rounding up children for a face innoculation and blaming the aliens when everything goes wrong.
I like where it’s situated everyone, but it seemed like that last ten minutes was asked to handle what could have been an entire episode quite easily, and that tomorrow’s conclusion has a lot of work to do and not much time to do it. I’m looking forward to seeing how it finishes, though, as even with my quibbles this was another very enjoyable hour of television.
- One thing I really liked about Ianto’s final moments is his insistence to the person listening in on his phone call with his sister that they, too, should protect their children – it was a small little moment, but it lets you realize that even the mercenaries kidnapping/hunting down our ostensible heroes are not quite aware of the level to which their government is about to sink to.
- The camera work in the “Dude goes into the 4-5-6 cage to spot the creepy child” sequence was both really impressive and really good at hiding what isn’t the world’s biggest special effects budget. It was a bit of a hokey setup, in the end, in order to get the atmospheric shots that they were clearly looking for, but I think it was worth it in the end.
- The one unanswered question we don’t have is why, precisely, that noise emitted from the 4-5-6 was able to kill Clement MacDonald – he was a key to understanding this thing, I believe, and not just an excuse to evoke Jack’s complicated role in the previous event. With him dead, I’m curious to see how this all wraps up.