Monday, April 21, 2008

Torchwood, "Exit Wounds": A very long dirt nap

Spoilers for "Exit Wounds," the "Torchwood" season two finale, coming up just as soon as I tell important people in my life that I love them...

Oh my God, they killed Owen! Um, again. And they killed Tosh! For the first and, presumably, only time.

As I mentioned in Friday's column, "Torchwood" season one was uneven but trended towards awful, while season two was uneven but trended towards pretty good. The finale -- with the return of Spike/Capt. John, explosions and Weevils causing massive property damage and loss of life throughout Cardiff, Capt. Jack spending two millennium underground, and, in the end, Torchwood losing 40 percent of its active roster -- was one of this year's highlights. It was epic in a way that last year's giant monster attack tried and failed to be, because all of the events spun out of character and not CGI monsters, and because this year I actually gave a toss about the characters. Had Owen or Tosh suffered these fates last season, I would have shrugged, and it's a credit to the "Torchwood" writers that they realized they had to start writing their heroes with more consistency and sympathy.

If I have a problem with "Exit Wounds," it's that it once again plays up John Barrowman's limitations. I complained a lot last season about the writers turning Captain Jack into a brooding mope because it missed the appeal of the character, but also because Barrowman just isn't very good at it. You need somebody to save the universe with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face? Get Barrowman. You need somebody to howl in rage about the cruel hand of fate? It's just not his bag. And so the moment when Jack emerges from 1900 years of nothing but dying and resurrecting under 30 feet of earth -- a brilliant punishment for someone with Jack's gift/curse -- wasn't remotely as devastating as it could have been with another actor coming out of the hole. (James Marsters, for instance, would have killed it.)

(Also, as Jack's brother Gray, Lachlan Nieboer sounded so much like Barrowman that what initially seemed like brilliant casting eventually became distracting. I spent half his scenes trying to figure out if Barrowman had dubbed in his dialogue.)

But if Jack escaping his fate worse than death was a missed opportunity, the rest of the episode didn't miss a beat. Tosh and Owen's final conversation was the highlight -- and I loved the choice to have Tosh not tell Owen she was dying -- but I also liked Captain John's anguish throughout, Rhys and Andy having to work together, Gwen's speech to the troops, Gwen and Ianto's grief over the deaths of their friends and, especially, the pounding sound from the morgue that turned out to be Jack waking up.

As others have noted, it's unfortunate that lead writer Chris Chibnall finally figured out how to make "Torchwood" work at the exact moment he's leaving to run "Law & Order: London." No idea whether "Torchwood" itself will continue (with replacements for Tosh and Owen), but if the show can be as good as it was for the last few episodes of this season, I'd like to see more of it.

What did everybody else think?

Credit to The House Next Door for the screen capture at the top.


Nicole said...

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that Owen and Tosh were killed, because they already had one immortal-ish guy on the show and Tosh had been in love with every possible alien and yet still was kinda pathetic. Maybe the writers figure to cut their losses on the least interesting characters and start fresh? Killing Owen also makes me wonder how much more Martha will be used in the next series.

I do like that Spike wasn't actually a baddie, and the reveal on that was well done. However, the whole brother arc seemed a bit last minute in this series, and perhaps a bit contrary to what we learned about Captain Jack in DW?

Luckily the writers gave Tosh good material for her death scene, and her life ended on a strong note.

A better season than last year, but it just doesn't pull me in like DW does, and but for Captain Jack, I probably wouldn't watch this at all.

Anonymous said...

Oh, well. I gave up on Torchwood a few weeks ago after it became nothing but "Supernatural CSI: Cardiff." I can't see myself returning to it unless Tennant does a cameo, and hopefully, he won't. Sounds like they need to fire Torchwood though if there was so much havoc in Cardiff; was it the team's fault as per usual?

Anonymous said...

(Also, as Jack's brother Gray, Lachlan Nieboer sounded so much like Barrowman that what initially seemed like brilliant casting eventually became distracting. I spent half his scenes trying to figure out if Barrowman had dubbed in his dialogue.)

I had the exact same thought. I kept checking to see if Gray's lips matched the words. It was uncanny.

I was surprised they killed off Tosh, but not about Owen. They had written him into a corner with the whole living dead thing (even though I briefly wondered if the nuclear fallout might somehow bring him back to life). Nonetheless, their last scenes were so touching, I still bawled my eyes out.

Alan Sepinwall said...

was it the team's fault as per usual?

It was in the sense that all the death and destruction was caused by Jack's insane kid brother Gray, trying to get revenge on Jack by blowing up the city where he lived. But in terms of present-day, in-Cardiff activity, the team did nothing wrong, and in fact saved the day in multiple ways (Gwen taking charge of the Cardiff police force after Weevils killed all the top brass, Tosh talking Owen through a plan to prevent the local nuclear plant from melting down, etc.)

The CineManiac said...

Did no one else have a problem with Jack not being crazy after being buried alive and dying and coming back to life for 1800 years?

Alan Sepinwall said...

That was my chief problem with Barrowman's performance. Either he wasn't good enough to play it and the writers cut that material out, or it was in there and he just failed to pull it off.

Matt said...

Wikipedia states:

"Executive producer Russell T. Davies has confirmed that a third series is in planning and pre-production stages, all but officially commissioned, pending the ratings of the second series. In an interview with Digital Spy, James Marsters hinted he would be back filming for Torchwood."

Given that in the UK, ratings were very good (double the first season's), I expect it'll be back. Depending on how Series 4 of Doctor Who shakes out, wouldn't be shocked to see Martha Jones as the team's new medic.

Anonymous said...

Why is Martha Jones no longer a character on Dr. Who? How did that happen?

Grunt said...

It's not really the right place for it but Martha decided she didn't want to spend her life mooning over a man (The Doctor) who would never love her back. Martha is now a member of UNIT the United Nations something something having to do with ET life or something. She showed up for three episodes on Torchwood and, as I understand it, she'll be on 5 episodes of The Doctor series 4. In my opinion she was better on Torchwood.

Anonymous said...

Jack's going back in time and then spending thousands of years buried underground reminded me of when Bender did the same thing of "Futurama." Unfortunately, Jack didn't seem any more the worse for wear afterward, either.

I thought having Gray be the real baddie was a clever twist, but then it went nowhere. What a big coincidence that two members of the same family ended up immortal time travelers, but through different methods! Still, Gray seemed awfully spiteful about something that happened lifetimes ago when they both were kids... but I guess that's just the way villains are sometimes.

I agree that it was nice to see the Torchwood crew respond to a crisis relatively competently this time around, without being all caught up in their personal problems. At this point, Owen really did either have to come back to life or go for good -- and it was time for Tosh to either get a spine or go as well.

Anonymous said...

I was kind of glad to see Owen and Tosh go. Owen has always seemed really creepy and I've had difficulty seeing him as the object of any woman's desire, let alone multiple women's. And Tosh has always seemed overly sad and pathetic. But she went out well and I really enjoyed her backstory in the previous episode.

I am super happy that Ianto's character has evolved over the second season. His role was pretty minor in the first season.

The whole being buried alive thing actually reminded me of Angel - when Angel was boxed up and dropped to the bottom of the ocean to spend the rest of his immortal days. He was only down there for a couple of months and he went a little crazy...

K J Gillenwater said...

I would agree that Owen has always been creepy to me, too. He appear like a skull with skin stretched over it. He has an odd appearance that I don't really find attractive. Thus my problem whenever he played the lothario. I didn't believe it. I also really didn't believe the love he had for the fiance.

The only role I liked him in? As a street-wise guy in the BBC version of "Bleak House." That role fit his looks and voice perfectly.

Here's to hoping they bring in a couple interesting characters next season as replacements.

Ianto is also a blank slate, as far as I am concerned. I barely even notice the guy's around.

However, I, too bawled my eyes out when Tosh was killed. I liked her so much. Her shy introverted ways. And her back story the weekend before was very intriguing. She was much more complicated then I had imagined.

I don't think there was enough time in the episode to give John Barrowman a chance to play tortured man. I mean, he had to get up and go so quickly, there wasn't really time for him to reflect on his long burial. But I suppose they could have made him appear a little more psycho.

Mo Ryan said...

In my opinion she was better on Torchwood.

I'm sort of agreed. I liked Martha on DW quite a bit, but I also think they did the right thing to take her off that show, rather than have her have some unrequited crush, a la Cameron-House, for years. That gets old.

I thought the Tosh-Owen stuff was really good. I liked how the writers allowed them to move toward real friendship and affection once Owen was dead -- I would have liked them to build on that a bit more before blowing them away, but whaddayagonna do.

I think they way overwrote Tosh as a pathetic person full of self hatred for both seasons. Not that all those qualities don't work in that context on that show, but they sort of overloaded her with that. I hope if they have a smart female mathlete/scientist replacement, she isn't made out to be pitiable in just about every social/personal dimension.

Still, fine work all around, and the Gray voice thing didn't bother me. I also don't have much of a problem with Barrowman's acting (if anything, he's a bit to broad and stagey for me at times, but he's toned that down a good bit this season). I don't have a problem with him not nailing or finding the post-dead-in-a-box stuff, necessarily. I guess I kind of feel like that's bonus stuff -- nice to get it, don't mind if I don't if the rest of the story is firing on all cylinders.

In other words, I'm so blinded by Marsters and Barrowman quipping at each other, plus the other good emotional elements and the plot momentum -- I can overlook a few missed acting opportunities.

And maybe Jack's just not the sort to lose it after a few centuries six feet under...

Matthew said...

I was glad they killed off Owen - even in the limited number of episodes since he died the first time, they seemed to forget that he can't recover from injuries (look at Fragments, where he was pinned down under heavy blocks but made it out unscathed). To try and maintain that idea any longer would have just been absurd.

I liked that they finally explained why Tosh was a doctor on Doctor Who, but suddenly a computer person in Torchwood - it has been bothering me for the entire run, and knowing that she was covering for a hungover Owen just seems about right for Torchwood's usual way of operating. (Still doesn't explain why Torchwood Cardiff were in London looking at the space pig when surely Torchwood London would have made more sense, but oh well.)

My main problem with the finale was that it just came out of nowhere. Yes, they set up that Captain John had found Gray in the first episode, and we had the episode with the flashback to discover how Jack lost Gray, but still, to suddenly say "Here's Jack's brother and he's evil" seemed to come out of nowhere.

Mo Ryan said...

sorry for the rambling. I pleadd three days of stomach flu.

Nicole said...

I agree with the EVOL BROTHER coming out of nowhere. Jack didn't mean to lose you, get over it. It wasn't anything that serious to create such bitterness.

I was annoyed that Jack got more pissed off at Ten in Utopia for leaving him stuck in the past for hundreds of years, than being trapped in dirt for thousands of years. Those inconsistencies tainted the really good moments, like Tosh's sudden death.

Martha was good on Torchwood and her presence seemed to kick up the acting a notch. She is needed for the third season

Toby O'B said...

Jack had to cling to the outside of the TARDIS for a trillion years or so as it raced through the vortex. Two thousand years and change - even if he was buried underground and dying and coming back to life over and over - would probably be a snap for him after that.

Anonymous said...

If season two of "Torchwood" accomplished anything over season one (aside for not entirely sucking), it's that it managed to make me care about Owen and Tosh. Just not very much.

After an enjoyable penultimate episode, I felt the finale was back to the same old crap. I'll grant that the deaths were handled well, but the rest lacked credibility.

For starters, there was the weak performance by not-Barrowman as Gray, coupled with the most pathetic motivation for a Big Bad ever: he blew up half of Cardiff, killed two of Jack's friends and buried him in a hole for 19 centuries because Jack let go of his hand? But it's okay, because Jack forgives him.

Heck, Jack's even willing to serve 1900 years of "penance," dying with a lungful of dirt hundreds of thousands of times. But even that's okay, because he emerges from the ground with neither he nor his coat any worse for wear.

Then there was Marsters, who I normally like, being rather unconvincing as Jack's lover. And someone needs to tell him that he looks like a tool in that jacket.

Again, Jack is all too willing to forgive John for his part in blowing up Cardiff, as well as attempting to kill his entire team in the previous episode. Also riddling Jack with bullets and following that up with some light torture. But we're supposed to give him a pass because Gray would've killed him if he hadn't? Not buying it, and I don't believe that Jack would either.

Even if they hadn't already done the bomb-attached-to John's-wrist thing once this season, we've been led to believe that John is more-or-less Jack's equal. If Jack had been in a similar situation (leaving aside his immortality for the moment), would he have simply gone along with Gray's dastardly plan rather than thinking up something clever? Gray didn't seem that difficult to outsmart,

(Also, and I'll admit that I'm unsure about this, but does John have time travel technology? Once he ditched the wrist bomb, why not travel back to 109 A.D. and dig up his buddy?)

Ultimately, the thing that strikes me most about season two of "Torchwood" is that it showed us glimpses of two previous incarnations of the team (Victorian and World War I), and either of them looked like they'd be more fun to watch than this lot.

Dani In NC said...

I thought I was the only one who noticed the similarity between Jack and Gray's voices. Right after I watched the episode, I searched online for any evidence that Barrowman had dubbed the lines. Glad to know I wasn't the only one who heard it.

Anonymous said...