Saturday, February 02, 2008

Torchwood, "Sleeper": A farewell to arms

I'm coming down with some kind of flu bug, so this review is going to be pretty short. (Ditto tomorrow night's "Breaking Bad," unfortunately; at least I wrote my "Wire" post before I started coughing.) Brief spoilers for "Torchwood" coming up just as soon as I explain the "Jessica Fletcher" joke to the young people in the audience...

After being so jazzed by the lighter, more confident tone of last week's "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang," I felt very frustrated with the first 10 minutes or so of "Sleeper," which seemed to be backsliding to all the things I didn't like about last year: plots with minimal logic (in retrospect, Torchwood was right to look into this case, but at the time I had no idea why they were there), everyone yelling all the time, Jack reinserting the stick up his butt, etc. Who, I wondered, thought that doing a Guantanamo allegory was a good fit for this show?

But then we discovered what Beth really was, and the episode began to click. When I described the basic plot of the episode in my column last week, someone said it sounded similar to Boomer in "Battlestar Galactica" season one. And while there are parallels, "Sleeper" went more into the visceral horror of finding out you're not who you think you are, particularly those moments where Beth's body began operating independently from her mind. The scene in the hospital where she killed her husband without realizing it sent chills down my spine, as did throwaway moments with the other sleeper agents, like the woman who let the baby carriage roll into traffic.

I'm not sure I completely followed the rest of the story -- Why would some of the other sleeper agents be willing to blow themselves up? How is that even possible with such a bad-ass forcefield? -- but the episode moved quickly and there were enough moments of sheer terror to engage me as it went along.

I still prefer the Jack of last week (or of "Doctor Who"), but this wasn't bad at all.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

Alan, I believe AMC is rerunning the Breaking Bad pilot tomorrow night, since there's apparently something else on tomorrow night that everybody will be watching. Hope that lightens your load a bit.

Harriet said...

I thought the sleepers other than Beth really didn't have much control over their actions, maybe because they hadn't been activated artificially. I was very impressed with the woman playing Beth, by the way. The "mind probe" scene was disturbing, although at least she sort of agreed to it. Even though we saw the return of shouty Jack, there were some nice moments of levity as well, especially from Ianto.

Anyway, I'm really glad you're blogging about Torchwood this season, so thanks for your efforts, especially when you're under the weather!

afoglia said...

I caught both this and the rerun of last week's tonight because of your good your review last week. I'm still not enjoying it. It has improved, but merely from Lexx-like suckitude to Stargate-Atlantis mediocrity. The first episode still felt written by a horny teenage boy. The second had a better idea, but I just didn't care for it. Seemed like a good idea, but not executed well enough for me to come back next week. (An entire alien invasion force is four individuals in Cardiff? And how did she stab her boyfriend where she did? Did she grow a new arm joint?)

But I did have one thought, maybe I judge it harshly because it's shot on video. That just makes it look cheap and fake to my eyes. Why do the Brits not use film? Is it just cost, or is it now simply convention?

Anonymous said...

I thought it was smart for them to bring in a "big bad" -- which I assume will reappear over the course of the season -- to counterbalance the usual alien-of-the-week plots. And as usual with this show, while the general idea (of alien invaders who look just like us, and don't even know they're aliens) has been done many times before, "Torchwood" gave it an emotional truth we don't usually see.

The one thing that bothers me is the lack of professionalism among the Torchwood agents, who still seem to find a new way to screw up in every episode. Although this wasn't entirely clear, it seemed as if they actually triggered the local phase of the invasion themselves, by accidentally "activating" Beth. If they hadn't been able to stop the (surprisingly small number of) aliens in time, the destruction that resulted would have been their own fault. (And this was during one of the periods when they weren't all having sex with each other or mooning over their personal lives.)

Nicole said...

This episode wasn't bad, but except for the moments when Beth was realizing the horror not really knowing who or what she was (which was like a Boomer redux moment), I wasn't really feeling it.

Without getting into details, I think those disappointed by this week should at least stick around to watch next week's episode. I liked it a lot better and felt it had more heart.

Anna said...

First, the "entire alien invasion force" was actually not just those four individuals; they were just one cell. There are other cells all over, which is why when Jack asked the guy when the other aliens were coming, the guy said they're already here. And while it technically is Torchwood's fault that this particular cell activated when it did, in all fairness, they would've activated eventually anyway, but at least now Torchwood knows to be prepared for it in the future. So I don't think the way they handled the situation was stupid or unprofessional.

Second, I can see why people have a problem with the Guantanamo aspect of this episode, but the writers have never painted Torchwood as a particularly moral or ethical organization that we should always agree with no matter what they do. And I do believe Ianto's role in the mind-probe sequence was to actually draw attention to that fact. (I also found it funny when Ianto poked fun at shouty Jack with his "Terrifying... Oh, it passed." haha, Again with the tongue-in-cheekage!)

I agree that everyone should at least stick around for next week's episode. It's not exactly "Out of Time" or "Captain Jack Harkness" calibre, but I'd say it's definitely second-tier good. (And speaking of those two brilliant episodes, episodes 2.04 and 2.05 were both written by that same screenwriter, Catherine Tregenna, so I'd advise sticking around for them too.)

Shawn Anderson said...

Alan, I hope you're feeling better...

Ditto what Ed said... no new Breaking Bad this week -- however there's new Wire, House and Simpsons following SB XLII.

Speaking of the game, check out this funny McSweeney's list of famous author's Super Bowl XLII predictions. Fictional participants include Jack Kerouac, Cormac McCarthy, Ayn Rand, Raymond Carver, James Joyce, and of course Jane Austen:

In the shade of the gray branches, she put pen to paper. "I love you, Tom Brady," it began. "Though others call you wicked."

Prediction: Handsome Tom 46, Stern Aunt Louisa 9

Karen said...

Hmmm. I couldn't help being distracted by my wondering how Beth, with her impervious skin managed to get her ears pierced.

I was the one who compared the plot last week to Boomer on BSG; I agree that what they did with the notion of Beth not knowing, but slowly discovering, that she's an alien was unlike BSG, but I still maintain that the premise is similar. Boomer's horror when she saw the message on her mirror was increased by knowing WHAT the Cylons were; Beth's was affected by NOT knowing. But they both realized that they'd killed or tried to kill (I'm trying to remember what Boomer actually did when she messed with Galactica's water supply), and they both had to come to terms with thinking they were human, having a lifetime's worth of memories, and learning it was all a lie.

I suppose even Boomer's story wasn't entirely original, but I still felt this episode smelled very strongly of that story.

K J Gillenwater said...

If Beth is merely projecting her human self, then she could project pierced ears...I suppose.

I liked this episode. I think because the actress who played Beth did a very good job of portraying her horror and disbelief of what she really was.

However, the quick cell activation and destruction thing was kind of silly. How did an alien have a human baby? Why did would killing a man in charge of emergency procedures do much of anything? Why were these alien invaders blowing up things and themselves if all they really needed to do was walk into the nuclear facility like a Terminator and make the bombs blow up?

This show is rather inconsistent for me, but I still enjoy it. Half the time they get it right, the other half, I can be pretty forgiving because I like some of the characters quite a bit.

Anonymous said...

After hating Ianto last season for being pompous, pretentious, insufferable, and downright stupid, I'm so happy to see his character turn around into both a moral center (more centered than Gwen, who leans way too much to sympathy for the devils) and the guy who gets the best punch lines.

Also, big cheers to the woman who played Beth, who brought a lot of nuance to a character that could easily have been a bundle of cliches.

Danny said...

I felt really underwhelmed by this episode but that probably has more to do with the fact that the Torchwood website's one-page for this episode depicted Beth fully transformed, taking the punch out of the slow reveal as to what was actually going on with her. I thought the most interesting angle was that the audience knew it was Beth who had killed the robbers (thanks to the Jessica Fletcher scene) but they didn't know how and the most chilling scene was definitely the reveal of the murder weapon.

Anonymous said...

On the earring front, perhaps they were clipons. Or maybe the force field inactivates itself for things that are not a threat. As for the alien with a baby, perhaps it was a nanny or a sitter, not a mother that let her baby roll into traffic.

I've loved this show since the first episode, and I've never watched a Dr. Who or BSG in my life. (Maybe that's why I'm able to enjoy it so much?)

It's not the technically best made show ever, but it is a great bit of fun with a few amazing dramatic bits thrown in as well.

Not knowing the Captain Jack from Dr. Who perhaps allows me to perceive Jack in a different way - as a man who's seen too much and knows too much and is desperately trying to hold on to the humanity he has through his friends. A bit Buffyesque, which to me is a good thing.

K J Gillenwater said...

Anonymous, I haven't watched Dr. Who either. So there's no prejudice there. I've liked Jack from the beginning, although I'm still confused about him sexually. What is that all about?

Also, it seems now like he and Gwen have had some kind of sexual that maybe from an episode I missed? And if so, why does she stay engaged while on the side sleeps with these men? She doesn't seem to feel a lot of guilt from this.

I don't know. Gwen's my favorite of the bunch, but I'd rather not have her engaged. It just sort of drags down the story when there is supposed to sexual tension between her and Jack or her and the doc.