Clearly I’m in a minority here with this opinion, since there are, what? four seasons now? We’ve recently been watching season 1 of Torchwood, and it has pretty much lost me at, about, the mid-point.
I don’t care, especially, for the soap-opera-y nature of the character stories. Misunderstandings, hurt feelings, sex with co-workers because “I just can’t talk to anyone else.” And so on.
It’s possible that could have been overcome, though, if I found the characters likable. But I don’t. Captain Jack is no fun, and the argument presented in the opening voice-over, “the 21st Century is when everything changes, and you have to be ready,” is–on its own–trite and doesn’t explain why Captain Jack is a jerk-ass with a big goofy grin, and–within the context of the Doctor Who continuity within which it’s embedded–simply misunderstands how things work, all timey-wimey and stuff.
And none of the rest of the characters are all that appealing, either. Not even Gwen, the audience’s POV. She is, to be sure, the least unappealing, but sometimes she brings a competent cop vibe to the scene, and sometimes she’s just one more emotional hot-head suckered by the demands of the plot.
And there’s the point where Torchwood actually lost me as a viewer with anything greater than a mild curiosity about how things turn out. Wikipedia is probably good enough, but actually, this place is even better. Torchwood is constantly leaving us viewers suckered by the demands of plot–so the unappealing characters are stuck into plots that just don’t hold up.
For instance: The plot of “They Keep Killing Suzie” is this monstrosity of… Look, I’m totally OK with unlikely and convoluted plots. See most of Doctor Who, for instance. But this episode presented not just a convoluted plot, but the antagonist’s plan was of such convoluted scheming and anticipating the actions of second- and third-tier characters that even Moriarty would be double-checking the figures and asking, “are you sure blowing your brains out is the best way to accomplish your goals, here?”
And worse (worse!, I can’t hardly believe it could be worse (worse!) than it is), there’s not even a particularly good explanation for the plan (that’s hedging on my part, I didn’t notice an explanation for the plan at all). Here goes: in the pilot Suzie went mad (mad! I tell you!) with the power of life and death, and especially life, and especially death, and used a device to bring people back from the dead, and also killed a lot of people. And then blew her own brains out.
But, dig this, man, blowing her brains out was part of the plan. See, before she blew her brains out, she co-opted a low-tech sort of support group who only met because of some hand-drawn fliers, the better, you see, to stay under the radar. No electronic traces in case anyone came looking. Until later, after she was dead, you see, and the Torchwood team went through her bunch of stuff, and found one of these fliers.
And what did she do to co-opt this support group? She took some Torchwood drugs, the kind that alter people’s memories. Torchwood uses them to wipe the minds of witnesses they don’t want to remember Torchwood activities, they’re called retcon. She took some (from the dispensary? don’t they lock this stuff down and keep and inventory?), kind of a lot, actually, and fed them to a big bruiser of a guy to program him as her own personal sleeper agent with the subconscious instructions that, at some point in the future, well after she was long dead, he would go on a killing spree. So that he could get caught. Specifically by Torchwood. His name is Max.
But, despite being Torchwood, and Max’s killing spree being, essentially, the stuff of every police procedural ever produced, Our Heros are unable to simply investigate the crime, and feel like the only way to find out who killed the dead people is to temporarily resurrect them and ask them. Now, I’ll admit, that’s a pretty handy tool to have in the kit. If it works. But the Torchwood team knows that the bringing-people-back-from-the-dead method of closing cases is likely to end with a team member blowing her own brains out. Despite this, they try it anyway. And worse (worse!), the idea comes from, and is pressed by, the only person on the team with actual police experience, who should be up on the techniques for investigating a string of linked murders (Gwen, as if you didn’t know).
So. Where are we? Oh, yes. The Team has resurected a couple of victims, and gotten a lead on Max, but–as I say–rather than investigating Max, they decide the only way to get the information they need is to resurrect Suzie. Except, somehow, rather than resurrecting her for, like, oh, a minute and a half or maybe two minutes or something, they accidentally resurrect her for ever. And, as it turns out, this was part of the plan.
Then Our Heroes find Max and lock him up. Meanwhile Suzie is getting less dead all the time, which isn’t good for Gwen, who was wearing the glove which brought Suzie back, because now Gwen’s life energy, through the conduit of the glove, is sustaining and healing Suzie. (“Glove?” I hear you say. “Glove?” The glove is the thing that makes people come back from the dead. It doesn’t really matter.) Suzie is getting so much better that her brains and head are on the mend. Bad news for Gwen, though. Her head is getting blown off in slow motion, painfully.
That’s when Max shuts down Torchwood, more-or-less. You see, in addition to programming Max to kill members of the support group, Suzie also programmed him to, once Torchwood had locked him up, chant a secret shut-down code she had programmed into the computers before she blew her brains out. It was part of the plan. You see, the plan was to trick Gwen into taking her to see her father who is dyng of cancer so she could rip his ventilator out and make him die. And also live for ever.
It doesn’t work because, at the very last possible second, after escaping from a cleverly reactivated Torchwood, and racing through the byways of west Wales for, presumably, hundreds of kilometers, and running to the Grey Havens, I mean Hedley Point, and shooting Suzie repeatedly and to no effect, the people still in Torchwood destroy the glove–which has been in Torchwood the whole time–and that breaks the life energy suck from Gwen to Suzie, killing Suzie for real, restoring Gwen–instantly!–to health, and, well, there you go.
To recap, the plan, in chronological order:
- Suzie gets to use the glove
- She loses her mind
- She conceives the rest of the plan
- She reprograms the computers in Torchwood to shutdown on her code word
- She figures out that after Max kills a bunch of people, Torchwood will resurect a few people for a little while and learn just enough about Max to want to resurrect her for a little while
- She figures out that, in the future, after she’s dead, Gwen will actually resurrect her for ever
- She figures out that Torchwood will manage to lock up Max, rather than kill him like we’ve seen them do pretty regularly through the series so far with other bad guys
- She reprograms Max to both kill a bunch of people and say the trigger phrase to shut down Torchwood’s computers
- She blows her own brains out
- She is resurrected some time later–somehow for ever, despite all evidence of how the glove works
- She plays on Gwen’s sympathies, and gets Gwen to take her away from Torchwood right before Max shuts down the computers
- Gwen takes her to see her father who she kills while Gwen’s head starts to fall open like a cheap paperback
- She takes Gwen to the End of the World
- Then, and only then, does Torchwood think to destroy the object at the heart of the problem–an object they had to hand at every single moment of the problem, including the whole time they were locked in, and trying to figure out how to escape from, their own offices
And here–at this point–is where the plan fails, and where Torchwood loses me as an engaged viewer.