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Review: Torchwood S2 05 Adam

This story was lovely but strangely unsatisfying.

The plot is another classic, the Evil Mindbender story.  An Evil Mindbender has turned the Team into twisted versions of their true characters.  You don't see it that often, as you have to have an adventure series where Evil Mindbending can take place and a Team with well-defined characters at the same time.  When you do have well-defined characters and an adventure writer who loves character drama though, the result can be a masterpiece.  It's closely related to the Mirror Universe plot, where someone encounters twisted versions of themselves in an alternate reality, but this one happens right at home.  While I'm reasonably sure that Star Trek and Buffy have done their versions of the Evil Mindbender story, True Believers of my generation remember back to the 1970s when Mesmero tried it in X-Men #636 "Mind Games", including taking away all the Team Leader's confidence, turning the Nice Girl into a Tart and the Sweet Guy into a Monster.  "Mind Games" was an early entry in the groundbreaking superhero series that proved you could do character drama within a superhero action-adventure story and be a commercial success.  But I date myself.

In this episode, Mesmero -- sorry, Adam, has infiltrated the Team by altering a few basic memories.  Along the way he's undone some childhood traumas in Tosh and Owen, which result in them having personalities closer to their true potential selves.  Problem #1:  he did it on a day that Gwen had off and forgot about her.  Geez, why didn't he check the personel files?  Problem #2:  He's not Mesmero and he's not very good at Evil Mindbending.   He only jostles around isolated fragments of the complex web of human memory, and his false memories don't play well with the rest of the head.

I must admit, it's the most realistic Evil Mindbender story I've seen.   It does point out almost all the flaws modern psychology has found with the Evil Mindbender scenario.  Well, except for memory using emotions as a tagging system that is.  They didn't use that part.

The Evil Mindbending has temporarily made Gwen forget Rhys.  But it didn't make Jack forget Rhys, so he reassures her that yes, this stange man is actually for one and only.  Jack, being a gentleman, doesn't take advantage of the opportunity to take Gwen away from Rhys.  Instead he works with Rhys to help Gwen regain her memories.

Tosh's long-buried confidence and Owen's long-buried geekiness and empathy have been brought to the fore by the Evil Mindbending.  I'd be more impressed with this if my friend the licensed hypnotist hadn't told me how to do this very trick months ago.  As it is I'm impressed with the authenticity.

I'd be even more impressed if I hadn't figured out that Tosh and Owen had these very qualities before the middle of the first series.  We were hit over the head with Tosh's innate courage in Countrycide, in case we hadn't figured it out earlier.  And I knew underneath his bad-boy exterior Owen was a geek at heart long before Random Shoes put the final nail in that coffin.  Only a deeply repressed closet geek would show as much contempt for the breed as he did in the first series.  As it was I sat there thinking, "I guess this is for the new fans?"

But what really struck me was what Tosh and Owen had lost in the process.  The people we are aren't simply the product of our potential realized or unfulfilled, they're also the product of what we learn along the way.  Tosh may have gotten in touch with her innate confidence, but she lost her hard-won empathy along the way.  Owen may have gotten in touch with his innate empathy and geekiness, but he lost his hard-won confidence along the way.  I'd be mad at the show for intimating that empathy and confidence can't exist in the same person if it weren't for Jack proving otherwise.

All the Evil Mindbending has jostled loose a long-buried memory of Jack's childhood which he wishes had stayed buried thank-you-very-much.  (No he doesn't really, but....  Right.  One of those.)  All this trying-to-repress has Jack subdued, moody, and not paying enough attention to what's going on around him.

Meanwhile, Ianto gets suspicious when the paper trail doesn't match up with everyone's memories of Adam.  I love Ianto's paper diary, it reinforcess two things about him that fanon has long suspected:  his distrust of electronic records and his love of the tactile.  Adam retaliates by giving Ianto the memories of a serial killer.  This brings about Adam's downfall.

(At least fanon was wrong about Owen having father issues.  No, no, he has mother issues instead.)

Personality is the sum of all our memories and innate traits, not just a few.  If the profilers are to be believed, making a serial killer is a long, complicated process that begins in early childhood.  "Gifting" a decent man with the memories of killing three women doesn't turn him into a serial killer.  It turns him into a decent man who immediately goes looking for someone he can trust to lock him up, i.e. Jack.  Taking away Jack's confidence hasn't taken away all his experience with reading people, and he knows deep down Ianto isn't a serial killer.  And once Jack and Ianto begin comparing notes, Adam is history.

(I'm a bit irritated at Jack in those scenes, though.  I know Jack and Ianto don't like to talk about the relationship around others, but why not when they're alone and Ianto needs reassurance?  Jack, it wouldn't kill you to say more than just, "I believe in you."  There's nothing wrong with, "I've had murderers in my bed before, and you're not one of them."  Or even, "I've known murderers before and you're not one of them.")

Likewise, taking away Gwen's memory of Rhys hasn't changed her into a person who doesn't need Rhys.  She's still the same temperamental spirit who needs a down-to-earth person like Rhys to ground her.  It only takes a few hours for her to realize that, blocked memories or no.

Ultimately, Adam's downfall is caused by a combination of hard evidence and emotions.  The silly creature forgot to give anyone besides Tosh an emotional reaction to him in the implanted memories.  As Jack puts it, "If you're the one I can confide in, how come I feel nothing for you?"  Adam fell because of the Team's hard-earned trust in each other, which they did not feel for him.  Indeed, one of the virtues of this episode is that the Team did not lose their trust in each other and none of the Team members lost their individual intelligence and courage.

(This also shows that Adam knows diddly-squat about how memories actually work.  The human mind uses emotions as the card catalog of memory.  Highly emotional memories are easy to find, memories with no emotions to them tend to sink to the bottom.  This explains why it's easy to remember a favorite event and hard to learn the multiplication table.)

In an attempt to get rid of Adam Jack retcons the Team to forget him, erases the computer records and the CCTV (we're not shown this, but we're shown the results the next day), and i presume calls Rhys and tells him never to mention the past two days to Gwen or the rest of them, especially never to mention Adam.  Then he goes to confront Adam before taking his own retcon and we have a Temptation Scene.

I went, "No, Jack, no!" the entire time.  Anything Adam could offer would be too tainted to use, and it was.  Ultimately Jack turned his back on the Temptation, because personality is the sum of all a person's life, not just a few memories.  Messing about with a few memories did not change Jack from being a person prepared to do the hard things, even at great cost to himself.

A lot of fans felt sad at this episode, but I don't understand why.  Sadness implies a sense of loss, and nothing was lost.  Tosh and Owen don't lose their new personalities.  Those parts of themselves just went back into hiding until they access them later.  Gwen didn't lose her love for Rhys, she just temporarily misplaced it.  Ianto doesn't lose his innocence because Jack won't let him.  Even the memories they lose by taking the retcon aren't really lost.  We know from Everything Changes that retcon doesn't really erase memories, it just makes them difficult to reach, fiddles with the tagging system as it were.  The only one who might have lost anything is Jack.  Adam apparently took away or altered a memory he had, but it was a deeply repressed memory anyway.  It's not going to affect him in the present because he's not using it anyway.

 All in all, the story did little to advance our understanding of the characters or any overall character arcs, save for a peek into Jack's and Owen's pasts.

But enough moaning.  The script did an excellent job of highlighting what was already there, even if it was already there.  Kudos to Cathy Treganna for writing so many wonderful and revealing character moments, especially for giving Jack and Owen childhoods.  Jack's boyhood scenes were very well written, and shed a new light on his current clingyness.  We know he's clingy because of losing his memories and because of being abandoned by the Doctor, but how much is he clingy because of losing Grey and his father? 
 
The acting was incredible, though.  Burn and Gareth were especially wonderful, but all the regulars including Kai Owen did us proud.  It would be nice to see one story this series that combines stellar acting with a meaty plot, though.

Last week I started to say that the first four episodes of Series One had been the "character setup" episodes, and that after that the series really took off.  Then I remembered tha S1 05 "Small Worlds" had a bit of character setup in it to for Jack for reinforcement.  The first four episodes of Series Two appear to have been all "character setup" episodes, with S2 05 "Adam" providing a bit of reinforcement.  Could we pretty please have some character development now? 

ETA:  As for the measuring tape bit, I thought Ianto might have taken advantage of a sleeping Jack to measure something he thought Jack was overly proud of -- only to discover Jack had good reason to be proud of it.

Comments

( 45 comments — Leave a comment )
sleepyheathen
Feb. 14th, 2008 10:35 pm (UTC)
Wonderful review, I love to see a real in-depth analysis, the on the spot squee reviews are fun, but ultimately fluff and I like a bit of weight to hold the reaction to the ground. I can't wait to read what you have to say about "Reset".
crabby_lioness
Feb. 14th, 2008 10:46 pm (UTC)
*pant, pant, pant* Let me catch my breath first!
uncledark
Feb. 14th, 2008 10:51 pm (UTC)
Hm. I had thought that Jack's emotion-based suspicion of Adam was an example of how memories are emotionally tagged. But maybe that's just the psychology degree talking.
crabby_lioness
Feb. 14th, 2008 11:06 pm (UTC)
I know that, but why doesn't a creature who lives on memories know that?
(no subject) - uncledark - Feb. 14th, 2008 11:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - crabby_lioness - Feb. 14th, 2008 11:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Anonymous)
Feb. 14th, 2008 11:38 pm (UTC)
I haven't seen enough of the episode...
...but I've seen enough spoilers for a question:

It seems to me that Adam works by touch. Each time he's implanted memories in one of the team, he has been touching them (at least that's the way it looks from the CCTV tapes Jack and Ianto look at). Did he touch Rhys at all? Because it could be that if he didn't, Rhys's memories are second-hand. How would that affect him once Adam has disappeared from everyone elses' memory?
crabby_lioness
Feb. 15th, 2008 12:18 am (UTC)
Re: I haven't seen enough of the episode...
Apparently he has to touch someone at least once, and he never touches Rhys. Still, he stands right there in front of Rhys for several minutes when Adam and Jack calm down a freaking-out Gwen, and that's going to leave a primary memory of a strange guy with Jack if nothing else.
Re: I haven't seen enough of the episode... - (Anonymous) - Feb. 15th, 2008 12:41 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: I haven't seen enough of the episode... - (Anonymous) - Feb. 15th, 2008 01:17 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: I haven't seen enough of the episode... - (Anonymous) - Feb. 15th, 2008 02:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
kakareen
Feb. 15th, 2008 05:43 am (UTC)
He seems to only need to touch when he's putting in something new....and I bet the more against the grain it is, the closer he has to be, the more intimate the touch.

My hypothesis is based on the manner he touched Ianto when he was, well, raping his mind, frankly. It would even explain the kiss.

When he is 'helping' you look at long repressed memories, well, they are your own, he doesn't have to feed in a whole new story. He can apparently poke at your memory too, change it slightly, without the need for touch. Only completely new lines of bullshit require touch.

As for the sloppy, I now a lot of people in real life who don't seem to understand the effect of emotion. You cry at a movie, and they give this strange look and actually say, "You know this is all made up, don't you?" I'm thinking of a specific individual, who is not autistic or has any such excuse. He's just a dick who doesn't get it.

Adam, perhaps, just doesn't really understand emotions.
crabby_lioness
Feb. 15th, 2008 02:52 pm (UTC)
Adam, perhaps, just doesn't really understand emotions.

Perhaps, but that is a strange deficit considering the type of creature he is.

Of course, it might explain how he ended up in the Void in the first place.
(no subject) - kakareen - Feb. 15th, 2008 05:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - duikermeisie - Feb. 16th, 2008 03:53 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kakareen - Feb. 16th, 2008 05:16 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mallochai - Feb. 16th, 2008 07:27 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - crabby_lioness - Feb. 16th, 2008 04:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - duikermeisie - Feb. 17th, 2008 09:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
love_jackianto
Feb. 15th, 2008 05:50 am (UTC)
I kind of felt sorry for Adam, he was just trying to stay alive. Although I do think he got a thrill from making Ianto a serial killer.

(At least fanon was wrong about Owen having father issues. No, no, he has mother issues instead.)' *I* always thought he had mother issues.

The acting was incredible from everyone. Both Burn and Gareth did a great job, in particular. Burn because even though Geek!Owen is so different from Regular!Owen you could still see Regular!Owen underneath, and the only thing I really need to say about Gareth's performance is,'it sent shivers down my spine'. All in all, I thought it was a good character study episode, but hopefully we'll have some character development next. Ianto still doesn't have a back story; which is interesting in that, a 'common' Welshman is now more mysterious then a time-traveling man from the future.

'I love Ianto's paper diary, it reinforcess two things about him that fanon has long suspected: his distrust of electronic records and his love of the tactile. ' Yes on both counts. I loved Ianto's paper diary, not only because it was unique plot device, but also because it just 'fits' with how I see him as a character; he likes old fashioned things (stop-watches, suits).

I can't wait to see what you have to say about Reset.

(Anonymous)
Feb. 15th, 2008 12:08 pm (UTC)
Mysterious Ianto...
I've been saying for a while that Jack is mysterious to his crew but Ianto is mysterious TO US. I just hope that is actually part of the story arc, not just lazyness on the part of writers!
Re: Mysterious Ianto... - crabby_lioness - Feb. 15th, 2008 02:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Mysterious Ianto... - love_jackianto - Feb. 15th, 2008 06:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - duikermeisie - Feb. 16th, 2008 03:54 am (UTC) - Expand
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firestorm172001
Feb. 15th, 2008 06:23 am (UTC)
I love Ianto's paper diary, it reinforcess two things about him that fanon has long suspected: his distrust of electronic records and his love of the tactile. Adam retaliates by giving Ianto the memories of a serial killer. This brings about Adam's downfall.

Seriously. How hard is it to say (and back up) "Such a shame, really, the pteranodon eating your diary." Also, how deeply stupid would you have to be to enlist an obviously less than trustworthy accomplice to help you dump the clearly intact fruits of your serial killing in suspicious looking bags into trash bins when you dispose of slightly more legitimate bodies coughTorchwoodcough for a living?

crabby_lioness
Feb. 15th, 2008 02:57 pm (UTC)
Adam wasn't the brightest turnip in the patch. A smart memory theif would have kept his head down and chosen to be remembered by half a dozen people whow don't know each other and couldn't compare notes.
yami_chan
Feb. 15th, 2008 07:18 am (UTC)
Yes! I really enjoyed this episode because of all the psychology floating around. Just like I loved Countrycide because I'm into psych.

But seriously everything you said, I agreed with. Especially the stuff about the character development.
crabby_lioness
Feb. 15th, 2008 03:05 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
erinnthered
Feb. 15th, 2008 08:10 pm (UTC)
A lot of fans felt sad at this episode, but I don't understand why. Sadness implies a sense of loss, and nothing was lost. Tosh and Owen don't lose their new personalities. Those parts of themselves just went back into hiding until they access them later.

I didn't see it that way. For me, those scenes gave me a great deal of insight into four of the main characters. They were opening up in a way we hadn't seen and discussing some very tough emotional issues. I was touched by their openness. I wasn't sad because Tosh and Owen were losing those qualities. I was sad because they thought they were. Because we, as viewers, know these are aspects of their personalities, but they as characters haven't yet tapped them. It's an emotional journey, and the writers just gave us insight into the direction a few of those journeys are headed.

And even Rhys! I really think he became a "person" in this episode. I understand his POV a lot more, and he is such an amazing everyman.

I feel a greater connection, and a greater understanding of all of them now. Save Gwen. Still don't get where they are going there. Although after this episode I have to think they are going somewhere. They are doing such a great job with everyone else.

Also, not sure where the fanon idea of father issue came from in relation to Owen. Given the way he acts around women I thought the mother issues were pretty clear. Nice to hear it fleshed out too. So, so real.
crabby_lioness
Feb. 15th, 2008 08:12 pm (UTC)
Just put up the Reset review.
akeyoftime
Feb. 15th, 2008 10:33 pm (UTC)
While on some level, it's sad that Jack lost that last good memory of his father, you're right when you say that he wasn't using it. And once it's gone, you don't know that it was ever there. You can't miss it. It's also unlikely that it's the only positive memory Jack has of his father.

Commenting to say that I really enjoy your reviews. They're always well thought-out and it feels like you always try to put a positive spin on things, which is a much needed break from a lot of the other analysis.
crabby_lioness
Feb. 15th, 2008 11:17 pm (UTC)
Thank you. While I occasionally write angst, I'm a fairly positive person.
ceindreadh
Feb. 15th, 2008 11:48 pm (UTC)
(love the review!)

Meanwhile, Ianto gets suspicious when the paper trail doesn't match up with everyone's memories of Adam. I love Ianto's paper diary, it reinforcess two things about him that fanon has long suspected: his distrust of electronic records and his love of the tactile.
I wasn't really surprized that Ianto - who is responsible for deleting records on other people's computers - would prefer to keep a hard copy of his writings.

A lot of fans felt sad at this episode, but I don't understand why. Sadness implies a sense of loss, and nothing was lost.

I was saddened slightly because I loved the table scene with them all bringing up their past. I felt it was a wonderful bonding team building experience...and now they won't remember anything about it.

As for the measuring tape bit, I thought Ianto might have taken advantage of a sleeping Jack to measure something he thought Jack was overly proud of -- only to discover Jack had good reason to be proud of it.
Tape measures are clearly the new stopwatches!

duikermeisie
Feb. 16th, 2008 04:06 am (UTC)
As always thanks for a wonderful review.

My take on Tosh/Owen is that they had almost a complete role reversal. Tosh went from quiet and hiding to up-front and nearly cocky, and Owen sunk into the shadows. It was really, really nice to see both actors get a little bit more range written into the plot.

Jack didn't say anything to Ianto (either I believe in you or similar) but he all but ran over to touch him. Jack doesn't do verbal emotional intimacy well at all; he needs physical contact to show emotional contact. That is one of the reasons I loved the office date scene in KKBB...Jack was way, way, way out of his comfort zone, and that helped make the scene. When Jack wasn't touching Ianto, he kept his eyes on him, and his posture and body language was always completely tuned into Ianto.
crabby_lioness
Feb. 16th, 2008 04:15 pm (UTC)
I'd still like him to show more period. I understand the need to not show anything in front of the others that would prejudice the working environment, but they were alone.
mallochai
Feb. 16th, 2008 07:32 am (UTC)
Incredible insight, as always.

As I was watching this episode, I kept saying to myself that it certainly created a lot of potential for character dynamics, but we are halfway through the season... you're absolutely right, time to move along now!
crabby_lioness
Feb. 16th, 2008 04:16 pm (UTC)
Yep, it's time they got the show on the road.
duikermeisie
Feb. 17th, 2008 10:20 pm (UTC)
But what really struck me was what Tosh and Owen had lost in the process. The people we are aren't simply the product of our potential realized or unfulfilled, they're also the product of what we learn along the way. Tosh may have gotten in touch with her innate confidence, but she lost her hard-won empathy along the way. Owen may have gotten in touch with his innate empathy and geekiness, but he lost his hard-won confidence along the way.

That was actually my favorite bit in the whole episode...basically, the writers had Tosh and Owen do a complete character swap. Clever, clever, clever and fun. Right down to the halting motion and making Tosh sandwiches on Owen's part. Tosh picked up the confidence and the easy manner that she brushed off Owen's offer for sandwiches, with the same obliviousness (intentional or otherwise) that Owen had shown her in "Meat". I was snickering during that entire scene. (When I wasn't being annoyed at watching two good characters tied up in the same sappy clueless-love nonsense from the previous episode.)

What was a really nice touch, I thought, was right at the end when Owen said he didn't do flowers and didn't do apologies, and then apologized to Tosh with his eyes as he handed her the card. Cute and sweet.
eumenidis
Feb. 19th, 2008 08:09 pm (UTC)
Have to agree that "Adam" was well-executed but unsatisfying. As an adversary, Adam was such a putz that only the team's emotional distress (or in Tosh's case, romantic bliss-out) from their altered memories kept them from cottoning on immediately. Not only did Adam not know how human memory works, he was also useless at creating a false trail. If he was typical of his species, I can only think it's not a particularly successful one.

I also agree that "Adam" had some excellent character moments; I was particularly fond of Ianto's diary (I don't think it's that Ianto distrusts computers so much as he's not awed by them), we got to see a bit more of why Gwen so adores Rhys, & Ianto, when he thought himself a sex murderer, was disturbingly believable. However, I was less impressed with the handling of Tosh & Owen. The presentation of Tosh as the geek girl who can't get a date is beginning to wear on me, because a. she's gorgeous, & b. she may not be up on cutting-edge fashions, but she's never hidden her assets. I'm inclined to suspect that Tosh has been the target of some cruelty in the past because she is *both* beautiful *and* brilliant. As for Owen being a geek underneath the bad-boy persona: in my experience, a lot of geeks *are* bad boys, just add adrenaline & a leather jacket. & as for Owen having Mommy issues rather than Daddy issues--where was Daddy while Mommy was stomping on Owen's psyche? Owen's plaintive "Who rescues me?" during the group therapy scene certainly has echoes of a cry for help that went unanswered to me.

As for Jack's clingyness: from the snippets we know of Jack's past, he's lost quite a lot in his life, as well as suffering a lot of serious trauma, so much so that I'd say he's doing extraordinarily well to be just a bit clingy rather than sucking his thumb in a TW cell.
crabby_lioness
Feb. 19th, 2008 08:22 pm (UTC)
As for Jack's clingyness: from the snippets we know of Jack's past, he's lost quite a lot in his life, as well as suffering a lot of serious trauma, so much so that I'd say he's doing extraordinarily well to be just a bit clingy rather than sucking his thumb in a TW cell.

I agree. One of the big reasons I love Torchwood is that it's about emotionally damaged people doing the best they can to get by and take care of others. That keeps the show emotionally real for me, no matter how fantastic the science fiction elements get.
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Feb. 19th, 2008 08:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
( 45 comments — Leave a comment )