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Review: Torchwood S2 03 To the Last Man

This episode has a very simple, almost minimalist plot, for a 50-minute time travel episode. 
A time rift is due to open in a Cardiff military hospital between 1918 and sometime in the future.  Torchwood's solution is simple -- pluck a young soldier from ground zero, cryogenically freeze him until the future is now, and send him back through the time rift with a Time Rift Repair Doohickey, using the combination of the Doohickey and his lifeline to stitch up the opening.  Helen Raynor takes that simple plot and stuffs it with as much emotion coming from as many different angles as she can without becoming bombastic.  The result is an emotionally charged but surprisingly delicate story of courage and loss.

Julie Gardenrer has said that what she wants in Whoniverse stories is poignancy. This episodes has that in spades, and coming from all directions.    There is Ianto, remembering Lisa and the dead at Canary Wharf -- the parallel between World War I soldiers dying young and Torchwood agents dying young has to be deliberate.  There are Toshiko and Tommy, dealing with his situation.  There are Jack and Ianto, slowly inching their way through a mine field of unresolved issues, including UST.  Surprisingly, the most poingnant moment belongs to Owen.  When he tells Toshiko, "I don't want you to get hurt, you know.  If he has to leave." Diane's ghost hangs heavy in the room, an unspoken and unavoidable presence that fills his face with remembered grief.  Kudos to Burn Gorman for pulling that moment off so well.

In the preceding episode, Sleeper, almost all the suffering is concentrated on Beth and her dilemma.  The story derives it's power from it's focus on her singular loss and grief.  In this story the suffering is diffuse.   While Tommy is the focal point, everyone save Gwen is shown to be hurting from current or remembered loss.  Even Jack plaintively wishes he could have breakfast with someone every morning.  The very building that housed the hospital is shown to be traumatized by it's present-day demolition.  The audience is left with the sense that everyone in the world is hurting, and the best Torchwood can do is be as compassionate as circumstances allow.

Sometimes, that's not very compassionate.

But this isn't simply a tale of woe.  It's also a tale of love and courage.  Informed by their own suffering, each sufferer finds the courage to reach out and do what a loved one needs.  Owen finds the courage to reach through his suffering over what Diane did to him to be there when Toshiko finds herself in a similar place.  Toshiko finds the courage to be inspired by Tommy's departure instead of crushed.  Out of love for each other, Tommy and Toshiko find the courage to give each other the strength and encouragement the need to do what has to be done.  Emboldened by their example, Ianto finds the courage to tell Jack he missed him and to ask Jack about Jack's life and home (and by extension, Ianto's place in Jack's life and home), Jack finds the courage to answer him honestly, and Ianto finds the courage to begin to allow Jack back into his still-healing heart.

As in the other two stories we've seen so far this series, the theme is "home".  Jack, Beth, and Tommy aren't sure where "home" is anymore.  They've moved away and experienced new things, and they aren't even sure who they are anymore.  But they are all glad they did, and willing to fight for the death to defend their new home.  Beth and Tommy are asked to make the ultimate sacrifice to defend their new homes, a sacrifice Jack can't make.  What will he be asked to sacrifice instead?


( 35 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 1st, 2008 02:45 am (UTC)
We're only three episodes in. Let's get at least three more down before we start to speculate that deeply.
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 1st, 2008 02:43 am (UTC)
We'll see.
Feb. 5th, 2008 12:53 pm (UTC)
except for the fact the GDL mentioned looking forward to a theoretical third season. Ianto's still kicking around somewhere in the last episode.
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 1st, 2008 02:45 am (UTC)
Thank you. :)
Feb. 1st, 2008 03:58 am (UTC)
I thought this was a beautiful episode, the Ianto/Jack scene and final Owen/Tosh scene especially. They were understated and subtle but still full of meaning and emotion. Ianto and Jack's conversation, like all their personal conversations so far this season, have several layers that work wonderfully. We basically saw Jack tell Ianto that he loves him and judging from that lovely kiss Iatno understood Jack. (And can we get more kisses like that pretty please) And I really like this Jack we're seeing so far this season.

It's nice to finally see Owen with some range and depth. When he tells Tosh she was strong and saved the world, I thought it was genuine and beautiful.

Tosh moved right? I'm not crazy am I, this is a new house/set? And has Ianto called Jack 'Sir' yet this season? I don't think he has.

Feb. 1st, 2008 04:53 am (UTC)
Tosh moved right?

Looks like it.

And has Ianto called Jack 'Sir' yet this season? I don't think he has.

"How are you, Ianto?"

"All the better for having you back, sir."

That's the only time so far.
Feb. 1st, 2008 07:50 pm (UTC)
I love great meta like this. *Friends you*
Feb. 1st, 2008 07:54 pm (UTC)
re: What will he be asked to sacrifice instead?
Something to do with Gray, perhaps?
Feb. 1st, 2008 09:33 pm (UTC)
Re: What will he be asked to sacrifice instead?
The "Gray" story is connected with the "home" theme, yes.
Feb. 1st, 2008 09:32 pm (UTC)
Thank you. :)
Feb. 1st, 2008 09:51 pm (UTC)
nice one :o)

Jack/Ianto snogage, pure bliss & squee!

i think i'll go watch it again ;)
Feb. 2nd, 2008 03:38 am (UTC)
Can't watch it too often. :) Have you seen the slo-mo animated gif yet? http://community.livejournal.com/jackxianto/505531.html?view=2624955
Feb. 2nd, 2008 04:49 am (UTC)
I'm really enjoying your reviews and insights; after reading them, I tend to watch the episodes again and pick up on things I missed the first time. I found this episode to be beautifully quiet and reflective--compared to all the rushing around everyone was doing in KKBB and Sleeper. That kiss between Jack and Ianto--god, I just pray we see more of that!
Feb. 2nd, 2008 05:59 am (UTC)
Gareth has hinted that we will. Gareth, it turns out, is a worse tease than John!
Feb. 3rd, 2008 07:40 pm (UTC)
A very insightful and lovely revue indeed.

As for what Jack may have to sacrifice, although I know nothing about future spoilers aside from vague rumours, I don't see Ianto dying. There will certainly be obstacles, but maybe what Jack has to give up will be something he can only manage because he will still have Ianto.

There will be pain, but still something to get through it. Maybe.

I love the teasing, the comment from JB's book about the scene in the Hub with Jack and Ianto I so want to see. He says it's an early episode, fingers crossed it's next. *g*
Feb. 5th, 2008 06:28 am (UTC)
I don't see it being Ianto either. The Whoniverse producers love to keep their cast together. They have only once ever not asked an actor back (the teenage girl from Invasion of the Bane who threw tantrums on set and upset the other actors). I don't see it happening with this cast, and quite frankly given the realities of acting jobs only Burn Gorman is likely to be offered something better than he has right here.
Feb. 6th, 2008 01:50 am (UTC)
If Naoko Mori got a sufficiently good West End gig I could see her moving on (she was the lead in Miss Saigon for many years) but otherwise, yeah.
Feb. 6th, 2008 02:11 am (UTC)
I agree, but when she got the Torchwood gig she was in the process of booking tickets to Tokyo to look for work there because she couldn't find anything in the UK. I hope she's never in that position again.
Feb. 4th, 2008 01:54 am (UTC)
Choices and consequences
Very nice to see Tosh being more than just a prop, and the few scenes involving Owen were extremely sweet.

Aside from the theme of home, another theme emerging this year is that of courage, choices and consequences. It started last year in Cyberwoman, continued in Captain Jack Harkness, and hit a high note in End of Days. Even the consequences of Jack's hasty departure are touched on (if not well developed). Each S2 episode so far has had the team forced to make a hard choice, and especially in Sleeper and TTLM realize the consequences of their choice are so great that it is the only right and proper option. Doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do is heinously difficult, and so far the writers are doing a nice job of showing that. Choices and consequences also factor heavily into KKBB...Jack makes the choice to help John in order to get him out of his life quickly, but the consequences of that choice are dire and nearly lethal on two occasions. It's a little too early to see if Jack "learnt a lesson" from that choice, although we already know that he is more than willing to do the dirty work when necessary (esp. Cyberwoman).

It was also a nice little character study between Tosh and Gwen. Tosh pleaded with Jack to see if there was anything that could be done, but once she realized that was it, she accepted the decision and displayed tremendous bravery in coaxing Tommy along. In Sleeper, Gwen begged, pleaded, and all but prostrated herself before Jack and later Beth, trying to rescue the unsaveable, even when Beth herself recognized she was good as gone. Gwen has done this before, trying to save Rhys in EoD, and with similar bad consequences. I sometimes wonder if Jack taking Gwen with him when he sacrificed himself to Abbadon was a form of punishment. Watching somebody you love (or claim to love) screaming in terror and agony because of a decision you made? Boy, I'd not be making that decision again!

Both times Tosh has been in a bad spot, first with Mary and then with Tommy, she accepts her consequences. I can't see Gwen or Owen coming up and apologizing to Tosh had one of them worn the mind-reading pendant. Tosh tried, and Gwen accepted her apology. Tosh also recognized that trying to keep Tommy in 2008 would be the death of her and all around her, not to mention folks in 1918. She let him go, then went BACK to 1918 and coaxed an injured, terrified young man to save the world. Wow. Sweet, meek Toshiko has a backbone of steel.

The Janto scene was another choice/consequence, although "softer" than the brutal choices Beth and Tosh/Tommy had to make. Would you go back to your own time? Would you give up what you have found here in order to go back there? And on a subtext level, would you choose to give up your secrets and your walls, and trust the people who love you? If you watch Jack's face when he asks Ianto, "Why, would you miss me?" and Ianto says, "Yup," his expression freezes for a second, and you can see the wheels turning in his head. Old Jack, pre-Doctor Jack, would have dodged the question or let it slide. New Jack, post-Valiant Jack, chooses to answer honestly, and the honest and sweet response was his reward. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues.
Feb. 5th, 2008 06:30 am (UTC)
Re: Choices and consequences
Apparently the "Grey" storylines are all about consequences coming home to roost.
Feb. 6th, 2008 05:03 am (UTC)
Re: Choices and consequences
Yeah, and now that Jack is a "new man," we have the fun of seeing him being tormented about his past decisions AND trying to make them right. Should be juicy. :)
Feb. 6th, 2008 03:57 am (UTC)
I really love your reviews :)

But now you have me worried for Ianto's life! :( (I said Jack the first time round and meant to say Ianto!)

Edited at 2008-02-06 03:58 am (UTC)
Feb. 6th, 2008 04:11 am (UTC)
I doubt they'd be that predictable.
Feb. 6th, 2008 04:18 am (UTC)
True, and TW has really surprised me so far this season. Its more cohesive and the quality of episodes has had me amazed. Its been smart, sensitive and funny so far. The character development has me astounded - especially with Owen.
Feb. 6th, 2008 05:02 am (UTC)
Really? I thought Owen was one of the better-developed characters from last year. The last four episodes of S1 all hinged on what Owen did and how he reacted. Combat in particular was fantastic, with him obviously being a ticking time bomb, one that didn't REALLY blow up until EoD when he shot Jack. I think that's one reason why you don't see a lot of really believable, interesting Owen fic...he's not a tabula rasa like Ianto or Tosh (who were both woefully underdeveloped in S1). His character was already well-formed.

That was one thing that really disappointed me about KKBB, is that Owen was more or less a good-looking prop in that episode. Sleeper was better, and he played a minor but extremely important (and sweet) role in TTLM.
Feb. 6th, 2008 05:11 am (UTC)
Oh yeah, I see where you are coming from... I seem to have a selective memory from season 1 LOL. I promised myself I'd rewatch every ep before season 2 started... and I think I only made it to episode 3?

I think I was more surprised in the somewhat obvious change in attitude in Owen... because of how angry he was towards the end of season 1 with the events surrounding Combat and EoD. To the more subtle in some ways and sensitive and supportive ways that he was in TTLM.
Feb. 6th, 2008 05:31 am (UTC)
Owen's personna In TtLM is an extension of the change that began in OOT.
Feb. 6th, 2008 06:52 am (UTC)
And the key moment was in EoD, where he was looking at the black death patient and realizing it was his fault.

He can be an ass, but he is not a sociopath. Only a sociopath would fail to have a massive change of heart at a moment like that.
Feb. 6th, 2008 05:29 am (UTC)
Owen saved the day in KKBB.
Feb. 6th, 2008 06:50 am (UTC)
Yeah, but in terms of the character arc going on, he was at best a bit role. Even when he was shooting John full of blood, the character action (and camera focus, and emotional blah blah blah) was all John/Jack/Gwen.
Feb. 21st, 2008 06:31 pm (UTC)
I meant to ask before, but what is UST?

In referring to what Jack and Ianto have to work through.
Feb. 21st, 2008 11:29 pm (UTC)
Unresolved Sexual Tension. They both want to jump each other's bones, but at this point they have other issues to work through first.
( 35 comments — Leave a comment )