"the 21st century is when everything changes, and you've gotta be ready."
and how! those are the last lines of the intro to the BBC sci-fi show torchwood, one of russell t. davies's doctor who spinoffs. writers make up stories in part b/c they feel that the world needs more of something: i.e., whatever it is they'd like to put in a story. and one thing davies thinks the world needs more of, apparently, is boys kissing. after all, there's been so very much of it in torchwood (the first season of which ended last night on BBC america).
i'm certainly not complaining. after all, what's not to enjoy when the boy doing so much of said kissing is captain jack harkness? this mysterious immortal, played by the aggressively charismatic john barrowman (who OMG is also an interpreter of pop songs!), is leader of the cardiff branch of torchwood, a secret institution dedicated to appropriating alien technology for human defense purposes. torchwood has a checkered history, to say the least, but jack, to honor the doctor, has reinvented it and is determined to make it work for the good. while snogging every sweet-faced lad who turns his head.
and, yeah, that whole bit about the 21st century being when everything changes isn't about boys kissing ... but i can't help thinking that, at least in its context here in america, one of the show's main contributions is its way of gleefully flouting the heteronormative -- especially in how it shows sexual attraction and relations between men. i mean ... sexual frisson is certainly a key factor, if not the show's raison d'etre, and it runs every which way between men and women and aliens. but it's the boys kissing that stays with me, b/c in the long history of television we've seen girl/girl love and alien/human love and of course girl/boy love. but, while it has happened, rarely do we see boy/boy love, especially treated as just another point on the romantic continuum -- and especially portrayed with the passion of romance, with the full-on mouth and body contact of, say, a sexy straight-couple exchange. torchwood has its flaws, some of them having to do with just WTF is jack doing sometimes, but there's nothing wrong with its gleeful resistance to the heteronorm.
the second-to-last episode, titled "captain jack harkness," infused into the show's joyous flirtation with pansexuality an especially powerful emotionality. in it, jack travels back in time to 1941, and he meets the real captain jack, the man whose identity he appropriated, an air squadron commander who is going to die in battle the next day. arguably, the ep was fraught with problems, and it felt very self-indulgent, in that it seemed like davies (who didn't write it but is after all the visionary here) knew mostly that what he wanted to happen was the moment represented by the kiss shown above (and the dance that comes before it). at least, a lot of the rest felt peripheral, almost bothersome to deal with -- and thus, sloppily executed. yet in that literally shining moment, jack (at left) comes alive. he's at once impish and pitiable, as the sort of encounter that is so often just another lark for him becomes a soul-searing instance of each man discovering himself in the other.
captain jack is a charismatic soul who charms most anything, just by saying "hello." but his status as a man who cannot die makes him a lonely figure, and as the season progressed his loneliness became more pronounced. he likes to toss off casual lascivious remarks and apparently enjoys boffing his subordinates. i think he does really revel in sex -- it seems equally tired to conclude that his preoccupation with pleasure is "covering up his deeper pain." and yet still it feels like the more he makes that physical connection with others, the more he comes up short: nobody really knows him, no one can understand what he's been through, and even if he wanted a deeper relationship, he couldn't have it. and i sort of think he does want one.
in a previous obsessive post about doctor who, i noted the parallels between jack and the doctor. (another one that springs to mind right now is that both of them love humans; jack, however, is a lot more hands-on about it.) and how the doctor said to jack in the DW episode "utopia" that maybe jack would meet himself out in the universe someday. and that jack would be the only man for jack. funnily enough, by the time the doctor says that, it has already happened.
anyway. i salute this episode in which jack collides with jack, for the subversive rarity of the absolutely passionate, desperate, i-must-put-all-of-my-true-self-into-this-one-moment liplock pictured above. we just don't get too many boy kisses like that on TV. most of the time boys kissing is someone's idea of a joke, of putting characters in one of those time-honored "awkward comical situations," and it always ends up mired in homophobia. (see this year's super bowl and the ew!-our-mouths-touched snickers commercial ... and 50 million other examples in everything from advertising to sitcoms.) jack-kissing-jack was in many ways totally over-the-top, but it was also insanely romantic. very poignant. and really rather beautiful.