Friday, August 16, 2013

Torchwood: Combat

Noel Clarke's contribution to Torchwood isn't one of the low points of the season. He shows skill as a writer. Unfortunately, he either chose a poor topic or - more likely - was stuck with a lousy assignment. Still, this feels more like a bum episode of a good show than an average one of a lurching mess.

It definitely starts well - a solid mystery set-up, engagingly plotted. The question of who's kidnapping Weevils and why really is gripping - is it a darker rival agency to Torchwood? Or a competent Torchwood? Or something even more sinister? Clarke puts a lot of focus on Jack and Tosh. This is only the second episode to realize that when you give Tosh lines, she's a good character, and Naoko Mori is great. There's a nice bit of tension between the two characters - not romantic tension, but simply the tension between Jack's "end justifies the means" approach against Tosh's more moralistic approach.

Tosh, then, becomes largely the heart of the story, which is nominally Gwen's job. Gwen, however, is busy being awful to Rhys. These scenes are well done and - as always - extremely well-acted. And points to the show for being ballsy enough to let the supposedly likable, heroic lead descend so far. Gwen's moments alone in the Hub are quietly moving, and the moment when she struggles reaching for her comm.

She finally breaks off her affair with Owen (which has been sloppily forgotten the last few episodes). There's a powerful scene where Gwen admits her affair to Rhys right after retconning him so he'll forget. And she begs him to forgive her, but of course he's not ready in the heat of the moment for that. She's trying desperately to relieve her guilt without facing the consequences. It's a cruel act to someone she loves, but a completely human moment. And it builds ever more tension over the moment when she does have to face the consequences.

But both this involving central mystery and compelling subplot are essentially dropped when the mystery is revealed, and it turns out that the Weevils are just being kidnapped for a poorly-developed, boring fight club. Which would probably still be serviceable if it weren't for Owen.

Seriously, how does this season have three Owen episodes, but only one episode a piece for Tosh and Jack? Through no fault of Burn Gorman, who is brilliant no matter how awful his material, Owen is a repulsive, despicable human who, in this episode, takes a turn for the pathetic. He's moping to near the point of suicide over Diane, a woman he knew less than a week. He shows all the maturity of a 12-year-old. Maybe that's the point, but combined with such a boring wrap-up to the plot, it crushes any chance the episode has of actually working.

And that's too bad. For about twenty minutes, it's good stuff. Too bad Clarke didn't come back to the show in Season 2, when the pieces of the show were working better and he might have had a chance to turn out good work.


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