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Review: Torchwood S2 08 A Day in the Death

That was a lovely meditation on death from a humanist perspective.  Owen's dead.  What happens next? Owen wonders that too.   

We begin with Owen and an unknown woman sitting on a rooftop, contemplating jumping.  As they think about it, Owen tells her his recent past. He's been murdered and zombified.  Worse, in his opinion, the very person who zombified hm has relieved him of duty and signed him up for a series of tests.

Owen thinks Jack is being cruel, but he isn't.  Not only does Jack need to asses Owen's health and state of mind, but equally importantly Owen needs time for what has happened to him to sink in mentally and emotionally.  Now Owen has as much inclination towards introspection as a whale does toward tap-dancing.  The only way to get him to do it is to leave him no other choice.  I was reminded of an account I once read of a woman attending a week-long Festival in the woods who broke her thumb on the second day.  After the nurse set it, the woman tried to jump right up and go back to the fun.  The nurse ordered her to sit there with a cup of mint tea until further notice.  Grumbling, the woman complied.  But as she sat there, it occurred to her that with her thumb broken she couldn't do this, she would need to recruit help to do that, she would have to factor in much more time to set up her presentation than usual, and so on.  When the nurse returned she found a much more somber  and realistic woman than the one who came in with the broken thumb.  That's what Jack is doing for Owen. 

The problem is, Owen has to get bored and frustrated before he'll look at his own problems.  Male super-geniuses don't tend to handle boredom and frustration very well.  I've been married to one for almost 20 years, and he would have been far worse than Owen in that circumstance.

Meanwhile, the rest of Torchwood deals with the inevitable tantrums with an impressive calmness.  Ianto simply chides Owen when Owen lashes out at him by asking Owen is he's going to let this thing "beat him".  I thought he showed impressive restraint in not reminding Owen of the times Ianto's world has crumbled to pieces around his ears.  Jack doesn't react at all when Owen lashes out at him, although he does get Owen back for one of his swipes at Ianto with the Tintin shirt.  Gwen for once shows the good sense to simply keep out of his way and Martha treats him with professional courtesy while pointing out some home truths.  Toshiko tries to be there for him and gets abused the worst, but she shows her strength by not lashing back at him during a time when Owen obviously isn't thinking clearly.  Later, when Owen starts to come to grips with his condition, it's Toshiko he turns to for support.

But that is later.  At first Owen throws a pity party.  No one can possibly understand his position as far as he's concerned.  He whines that Ianto and Jack have each other, Gwen has Rhys, "even Tosh had Tommy", and he's got nobody.  Awww.  I'd feel really sorry for him except that, as he later points out, he could have had Tosh any day in the past three years if he'd only said the word.  The person who's messed up all his relationships, save with Dian, has been himself.  That's one of a long list of things he's been denying about himself that it's time to face.

Meanwhile, a plot has surfaced regarding a rich, elderly alien-artifact collector who has a Mysterious Device that's flaring up with an awful lot of power, and they decide they must sneak into his mansion.  Why they simply don't ring him up and send Tosh over in a short skirt is beyond me.  Apparently all the alien-artifact collectors know at least something about Torchwood; we saw that in Greeks Bearing Gifts and Random Shoes.  But no, they have to break-and-enter the place, and due to it's heat-sensitive security system only Owen can do that.

Owen breaks into the mansion and into the dying collector's own one-man pity party, which sounded so much like his own pity party it threw Owen's earlier words back in his face.  The collector thinks the Mysterious Device is keeping him alive, but Owen deduces that it's merely keeping him entertained.  The collector has a heart attack and Owen tries to save him but fails, because while he may be able to take in enough air to talk with a great big hole in his lung, he can't hold enough air to force someone else's lungs to re-inflate.  And that death, more than anything else, finally convinces Owen to take his condition seriously.

And it's that lesson he tries to impart to the girl jumper, Maggie, on the roof.  Peer therapy is the only form of grief counseling that works -- been there, done that, wore out the t-shirt.  But before that can happen you first have to recognize that the other person truly is a peer.  That's what Owen refused to do back in Captain Jack Harkness, and that's the great breakthrough he makes in this episode.

All in all Joe Lidster has penned and Ashley Way has directed a lovely story around the humanist view of death.  If death is darkness and isolation, all that we can do is be there for each other while we can. For all the science fiction and horror trappings of this episode, it felt like I was listening to a service at my Unitarian Universalist church

That said, I don't see how they can do much with Zombie!Owen before he starts to fall apart, and I can't see how they'll unzombify him without killing him.  Burn says he'll be in Series 3, but in what state?


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 2nd, 2008 12:39 pm (UTC)
Considering how much alien tech they have, surely they'll find something that at least adequately patches tissue back together (rater than just stimulating regrowth)? Hmmm I wonder if there are any more Chula ambulances around... I do hope he stays undead, though.
Mar. 2nd, 2008 03:05 pm (UTC)
For the story's sake I hope he stays undead, but for the character and the actor I hope he doesn't.
Mar. 3rd, 2008 09:39 am (UTC)
Maybe we can have both? Undead for two or three seasons, and then getting brought back to life by alien tech á la The Empty Child/TDD? Would be interesting to see him having to re-adjust all over again, possibly feeling he's forever lost something that was useful.
Mar. 2nd, 2008 04:44 pm (UTC)
I am so glad you pointed out...
that Jack's behavior is not callous or cruel (seen many whines about that in several places). Being all schmoopy, poor-little-Owen would only let Owen to continue to wallow in self-pity indefinitely, which, considering Owen's character, is probably the worst thing he could do.

I also loved the quiet friendship developing between him and Martha -- at the end, when they hug, it's really healing, you can see it in his face.

I loved the ending, when he's showing the girl the alien toy and in the voice over he says "My name is Owen Harper and this is my life". First time he *naturally* omits the "doctor"; and his acceptance that it is a life, however limited is so clear in the way he says the words.

God, that man is a great actor.

Mar. 2nd, 2008 05:37 pm (UTC)
Re: I am so glad you pointed out...
I am so glad you pointed out that Jack's behavior is not callous or cruel (seen many whines about that in several places).

Give them another decade or so and see what they think.
Mar. 3rd, 2008 01:12 am (UTC)
Re: I am so glad you pointed out...
True! You are to be commended-- 20 years with one of those maddening supergeniuses may have its perks :-) but... they can be bloody difficult and sometimes it's better to leave them to their own devices!
Mar. 3rd, 2008 03:10 am (UTC)
Re: I am so glad you pointed out...
Oh, honey. "Bloody difficult" doesn't even begin to cover it!

And he honestly wonders why I've become more sarcastic in my old age.... ;)
Mar. 2nd, 2008 10:02 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you pointed out that it's an episode about therapy and self soul searching. I'm actually very found of the narrative view they choose to use. Just like the random shoes, it's a change for audience's point of view, and the characters' difference from what we used to were nicely adjusted. (I don't care how many people were complaining about Jack's OOC, that's exactly how Jack should be... in Owen's mind.)

Oh, how I love the coffee machine incident between Ianto and Owen. Any chance, you might want to write a bit more about that? Oh, how I love your analysis...
Mar. 3rd, 2008 12:15 am (UTC)
I could praise Ianto's maturity more. He really is the "adult" in that conversation.
Mar. 2nd, 2008 11:25 pm (UTC)
"The collector has a heart attack and Owen tries to save him but fails, because while he may be able to take in enough air to talk with a great big hole in his lung, he can't hold enough air to force someone else's lungs to rei-nflate."

Someone else noticed! Grrr... things like that annoy me...
Mar. 3rd, 2008 12:16 am (UTC)
Poor science education? That works as an excuse.
Mar. 3rd, 2008 12:47 am (UTC)
Aahhh, sweet sweet sanity instead of "that mean ole' Jack..."

I can't tell you how much I enjoy reading your reviews. Keep them coming!
Mar. 3rd, 2008 03:12 am (UTC)
Thank you. I honestly just had someone tell me that Jack shouldn't "treat Owen like a sulky child." I'm like, you remember the second half of the first series?
Mar. 3rd, 2008 05:48 am (UTC)
ROFL. Hee!
Mar. 3rd, 2008 02:40 pm (UTC)
That said, I don't see how they can do much with Zombie!Owen before he starts to fall apart, and I can't see how they'll unzombify him without killing him. Burn says he'll be in Series 3, but in what state?

Yeah. I mean, he's already got a slice through his hand that isn't going to heal (and did we really need to see the stitching in that much detail?), a broken finger and the hole from the bullet; the guy could literally fall apart. You have to wonder exactly how far ahead the writers were thinking when they came up with this little story arc because while it works in the short term from a story perspective, you go down the line and consider the rest of the season - Owen has to always be wearing the brace, can never perform CPR, can't really go out on "dangerous" missions, etc. - it poses a lot of problems and continuity issues. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

And I have to say, it was nice to hear Ianto say that "it's not like that" between him and Jack. Now if we could perhaps see just a teensy bit of it, that'd be nice.
Mar. 4th, 2008 06:36 am (UTC)
We are seeing a teensy bit. I'm eagerly waiting the "more than a teensy bit".
Mar. 3rd, 2008 06:37 pm (UTC)
Great review!

Why they simply don't ring him up and send Tosh over in a short skirt is beyond me. I wondered that too! It seemed a ridiculously over-elaborate set up for an old guy who probably would have been delighted to have them round to tea if they'd only asked.
Mar. 4th, 2008 06:37 am (UTC)
One of these days Torchwood is going to wise up and treat the artefact collectors like allies instead of enemies. They'll never be truly efficient until they do.
Mar. 4th, 2008 09:21 pm (UTC)
Jack and Ianto dance at Gwen's wedding - ep 9
From a TWOP poster:

"Well, I think this episode (Something Borrowed) will be what they call a “fan favourite” because it's basically filmed fanfic. Personally I thought it a bit laboured (pun intended) and silly, though there are some very funny parts.
Teasers: “Speak now or forever hold your peace ...” “Stop!”
“That's for calling my mother an ugly bitch!”
“The hero always gets the girl.”
Tosh: still pathetic. Gets chatted up by Rhys' best man, Banana, then stuck with him in a giant spiders web thing.
Owen: still dead. Cheered up a bit. Shoots Jack, again. A lot.
Ianto: shops for Gwen's wedding dress. Had a dad who was a tailor, discusses inside leg measurements with Jack.
Rhys: has a huge cock, apparently, and that's canon.
Gwen's friends: shrieking hen night girlies. Gwen's parents: very nice. Rhys' mother: Nerys Hughes - cue Half Man Half Biscuit's song I Hate Nerys Hughes (From The Heart) and I'm probably the only one here who'll get that reference but BIZARRELY the lyrics are actually quite relevant: "The dead got up and everything became one big cacophony (Owen) ... and all the necrophiliacs are walking round in misery (Tosh) ... careering down the aisles like some big psychopathic carnivore (the shapeshifter)" That is really weird!

So, Jack and Gwen. The kiss shown is actually him as a shapeshifter. However, there seems to be a sort of sense that whoever wrote this episode believes that in series one, Gwen wanted a relationship with Jack but he couldn't commit, or something. I know that is not at all what we saw, but she says, for instance, “Rhys isn't afraid to tell me he loves me” as if in rebuke. On the one hand Gwen has many statements about her love for Rhys, but all the Jack/Gwen scenes are again framed & blocked as romantic. “I never thought I'd meet a man like you.” They dance ridiculously closely in public and gaze into each other' eyes. “Will you miss me [while on honeymoon]?” “Always.” “What will you do while I'm gone?” “Pizza. Ianto. Save the world a few times.”

Ianto cuts in, but it seems as if Jack's attention is elsewhere.

JB is playing it as “bittersweet yearning,” I think. But ehhh. Whatever. As noted, the characterisation on this show is all over the place. Next week he could be playing something else.

It seems that Jack has a box of photographs of, presumably, former lovers. They are all men apart from one at the end which shows him getting married in, I think, Edwardian dress. So I presume that will come up again sometime."

The poster clarifies something a bit later:

"Fair enough - it's true that the Gwen/Jack storyline annoys me (though I don't know why really since I don't care much about Ianto and I actually like Gwen, it might be because it kind of came out of nowhere this year) so perhaps I'm seeing more than is there. The tone that line is said in is certainly smiley. Father/Daughter dance is an interesting idea, maybe ... Ianto is cutting in to dance with Jack, yes."
Mar. 4th, 2008 09:25 pm (UTC)
Something Borrowed - ep 9

Please feel free to post the above spoilers on Torchwood Institute. I don't have an account so can't.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )