After a shaky start, Torchwood’s second and third episodes showed a marked improvement on the first. Each was better than the other, climbing the series high in my estimations. The trouble is, the higher it gets, the greater the potential fall; and, with episode four, the plummet is spectacular, a rollercoaster-style drop that makes me cover my eyes and scream.
I won’t hide the fact that I’m disappointed – very disappointed. As such, this review is going to reflect that. Those of a sensitive disposition or a blind love of Captain Jack and his crew should turn away now.
Episode four has ‘filler’ written all over it. What happens in an hour could have taken five or ten minutes, easy. It’s sad that after what was, in my opinion, gripping viewing last week, the best of this episode is the last five or ten minutes followed by the trailer for next week. If that preview had been poor (or if I wasn’t reviewing the show for Starburst) I would have been tempted to give up all together. Yes, I’m that disappointed.
What did work for me was the scene with Gwen and Jack being held at knifepoint by the mysterious assassin, who I assume became a damaged soul following his treatment at the hands of The Hitcher. For me, this scene had everything; tension, true jeopardy, dialogue that moved the plot forward so that I’m now intrigued by Jack’s suggested responsibility for all of this. Yet, it takes us almost fifty minutes to get there. While Rex arrives to save the day (more on that later) I did find it hard to believe that he shot the assassin in the throat just as he was about to make the Big Reveal; surely the body is a better target when your comrades are in dire straits? Anyway, that convolution serves to keep the true nature of the villains (thus far, they are only a spinning triangle on a screen) away from us until – hopefully – next week.
The Torchwood team have relocated to LA this week, where it’s all sun, sea and primary colours. Before they go, though, Esther decides to visit her sister. Despite being on the run from all the authorities, despite being told it’s not safe to do so, she turns up at a relative’s house. And guess what? There’s a mysterious black car parked close by, one she doesn’t even notice. Sorry Esther, but you’re an idiot; Agent Scully would never have done anything so stupid.
You’ll never believe it, but Esther is tracked to LA, where our mysterious assassin takes photos of Gwen while she is on the phone to Rhys. Don’t the Torchwood team know that mobile phones can be tracked and hacked? The family thing is continued when Rex visits his father (he lives in LA, how handy) for a brief moment of conflict that isn’t particularly dramatic. I’m not sure how Rex’s father or Esther’s sister will fit into the plot, other than to give them something to cry about; at least Gwen’s family situation drives her.
Torchwood set up their new base in another grubby location and get their laptops fired up. While Esther tells them it’ll take days to sift through Jilly Kitzinger’s files, it’s only moments later when she finds something. A plan is formed; Torchwood will infiltrate PhiCorp HQ and swap a server with one they’ve bought on Amazon or somewhere. Trouble is, to get access to the server room, they’ll need the fingerprints, voice and retina pattern of Professor Frumpkin, a man who doesn’t look like his surname suggests (come on, we’re grown-ups, did he have to have an ‘all-American’ name? ). They get all three – in a chuckle-worthy scene from a comedy version of Spooks – but our mysterious assassin does too, although his methods are predictably gruesome.
Next, it’s access time. Spooks again, with Rex and Esther mentoring events in a van parked outside. Esther tells Rex that everything is on-line – despite the huge monitor at her side with OFFLINE written in great big letters. Esther’s upset, though, as her sister’s kids have been taken into care. I’m not sure what she expected to happen, but I’m sure this is meant to be a heart-wrenching moment. Instead, Rex gets annoyed with her, much as I already have. Anyway, thanks to phone-tapping (oh, they have heard of it) and lacklustre security in the deliveries area, Jack and Gwen get in, swap the server and get into trouble, captured by the assassin (he’s had enough screen time to lose his mystery).
It’s now up to Rex to save the day, which he does. Although he’s surprised he can’t use the lifts while the fire alarms are going off (didn’t CIA HQ have any procedures), he climbs 33 floors of stairs (that’s 66 flights, Esther handily points out) and, although knackered, is able to shoot a man in the throat. Good job, sir.
So, what’s everyone else doing while Torchwood’s version of Mission: Impossible is going on? Well, Dr Juarez’s conversion from medic to glamour model appears to be almost complete; her relationship with Rex appears to be agreeing with her. I like it too. Juarez is involved in a ‘ship the sick to abandoned hospitals and hide them away’ scheme, cleverly wandering around the place in high-heels and a mask she quickly gives away. The people cry out for hope, but who is there to deliver it?
Oswald Danes, that’s who. As his TV coverage has been reduced thanks to the Dead Is Dead movement (don’t worry, Oswald; they’ll be introduced at the beginning of this episode and be disposed of by the end, ensuring they’re only a brief blip on the radar to fill up some time and provide a ‘comedy non-death’ moment), Danes decides to venture into the hospital. There, he speaks of his change, how he has been offered redemption and promises the same for these poor people. He picks up a baby and even extends his arms out, crucifixion style, after talking to a patient with flowing hair and a beard…
Still, Pullman’s performance remains solid this episode, Danes remaining as creepy as ever. He’s becoming a real presence whenever he’s on screen. As is Lauren Ambrose, who imbues Jilly Katzinger’s apparent ditziness with a slightly sinister edge; there’s got to be more to her than meets the eye, how else is she always in the right place at the right time? Their scene in the hotel room reminds us of Danes’s vile crimes; even Jilly is wary of him, unable to look at his hands without thinking what they’ve done.
It’s not entirely bad, then, although I expect so much more. This is an adult drama; while the themes and underlying concept are very mature, the deliverance lacks consistency. For example, we’re not even shown The Soulless, who were apparently everywhere a week ago. Last week, I’d have recommended Torchwood to anyone. This week, the tone has shifted so much that even I don’t know what to make of it anymore. Next week, we’re promised much by the preview, and I hope that what we’ve seen isn’t simply the last few minutes.
On a final note, can someone please do something about the music? It’s driving me to distraction, especially considering how good I know Murray Gold can be. Possibly it’s just too loud, set at high volume to let us know what emotion we should be feeling, but good script and acting should do that, with music in the background rather than being hammered into our ears.