Sunday, July 19, 2009

tick tick boom

the 21st century is when everything changes, and torchwood is ready.

and torchwood fans are ready too -- ready for series 3 of this hit doctor who spin-off to begin, after well more than a year's gone by since the heartbreaking end of series 2. the new season consists of only five episodes, already shown july 6-10 in the UK and debuting tomorrow night on BBC america. torchwood: children of earth will usher in the new BBCA HD channel and be aired from 9 to 10:15 pm ET/PT -- thus, without the usual slash-and-burn edits required to make most british series fit US tv length standards.

i'll post daily review/recaps of each episode, so here's the first one. but first, the obligatory spoiler warning. YES, THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR EPISODE 1 OF TORCHWOOD: CHILDREN OF EARTH. DON'T READ ON IF YOU DON'T WANNA KNOW. 'K? THX.

this installment plunges in with a creepy flashback, followed by a string of spooky incidents and surprising reveals that jet-propel us to the mind-blowing cliffhanger. creator/writer/exec producer russell t. davies sketches in backstory along the way, which is great for anyone new to torchwood. but longtime fans might be disappointed that we only get a passing nod to dearly departed team members tosh and owen, who died horribly last season. they sacrificed themselves in the line of duty -- something that happens a lot with the titular secret alien-fighting organization. which didn't make the pair's departure any easier for me to take, but clearly, surviving leader captain jack harkness (john barrowman) and his team, gwen cooper (eve myles) and ianto jones (gareth david-lloyd) -- all pictured above -- have moved on.

a brief prologue in 1965 scotland shows adorable children getting off a bus in the middle of the night ... and getting swallowed up by a blinding light. then it's just another morning in present-day cardiff, where the underground torchwood base is hidden by the bay. gwen's at an ATM, wearing a cool leather jacket with yet another awesome bag slung over her shoulder. a mom bustles about her kitchen, reassuring her kids that that bully won't bother them again. a dad with a briefcase dashes past his daughters at breakfast, promising to text his wife later. another mom warns her son not to let the cats in. and gwen's hubby, rhys williams (kai owen), drives his delivery truck through a neighborhood.

all around these adults, children are all just stopped dead in their tracks. it's a reliably creepy sci-fi trope that builds up unease as it recurs and expands throughout the episode ... turns out it's happening everywhere in the world. at first the frustrated adults think it's some kind of a put-on. but ALL those kids in the crosswalk, frozen in place? not. normal.

not normal is par for the course on torchwood, usually bullet-pointed as the darker, sexier, more morally complex offspring of british sci-fi institution doctor who (which was revived in 2005 by UK tv guru davies). yet, while entertaining and at times thought-provoking, the show has been pretty uneven, not always as challenging or emotionally affecting as who has been. TW is an echo, with captain jack himself serving as RTD's own version of the doctor, a time lord with multiple lifespans and seemingly endless knowledge of the universe, who has a knack for showing up to avert a crisis or at least lessen the damage.

thanks to a cosmic accident of sorts, jack, originally an ex-time agent and con man from the 51st century (uhm ... probably), can't die. he's lived for ages and really isn't quite human anymore, so he's kind of like a time lord, except he has sex. the doctor inspired jack to do better, and eventually he decided to remake torchwood, previously a lethally reactionary government organization, in the doctor's honor. jack's crew has faced some bad, ugly, menacing stuff, but usually they're only defending some people or cardiff or the UK ... not the entire world (with exceptions). children of earth ups the ante with a sweeping tale that pits torchwood against not only a relentless global alien menace but also the horrors of bureaucracy and plausible deniability (shudder).

director euros lyn balances the epic and the intimate in RTD's rumination on secrets, lies, and conspiracies. gorgeous panoramas of such settings as cardiff and london and pell-mell action sequences complement the tight two-shots, close-ups on small gestures, and subtle, slowly revealed connections among the characters. there are so many parallels here b/w individual and collective lying, and the lengths to which the characters will go to maintain their lies. just like we all tell lies to ourselves and others, whether big or small, whether just to coworkers and loved ones or the whole world. here the fabrications, designed to conceal everything from innocuous facts to horrifying truths, may be an integral part of who certain characters are ... which is never the whole picture, of course. maybe we don't see some of these supporting players at their best, but the lies the main characters tell begin to alter some fundamental perceptions about themselves. even jack, who we know is a bloody born liar.

but this ain't a philosophy lecture; it's torchwood, with all the rapid-fire sniping, snarky quips, unabashed boy love, and full-tilt running you'd expect. still, episode 1 is a romp compared to the the devastation awaiting us down the line -- much of which revolves around how sometimes what we lie about can be incredibly destructive, in ways we never intended and could not have foreseen.

what kind of stuff could jack be hiding from his peeps? where do i start? OK, he has a daughter. (only one?)

that's her, above. her name's alice (lucy cohu, totally awesome), and we saw her before, telling her young son, steven, not to let the cats in. jack lies that he wants to take the kid out, but alice says no way. she knows what he's up to -- she's his daughter, after all, even though she keeps away from him b/c he doesn't age and she does, and that's freaky. steven doesn't even know that "uncle jack" is really grandpa.

turns out ianto has family too -- his sister, rhiannon (the charming katy wix), who we also saw before, talking to her kids about the bully. and no, ianto cannot take them out today. besides, they need to talk. by which she means, is he gay or what? a friend spotted him and jack having dinner. ianto first, you guessed it, lies, saying that's his boss. but rhiannon guilt-trips him about not being around since their dad died, so he confesses. moony-eyed ianto says it's not men, it's just him. only him. and he's definitely not lying now. sigh. then his beefy bro-in-law comes in, looking like a giant hobbit, and brays, "i hear you're taking it up the ass!" great. BTW, says bro-in-law, your car's been nicked. triple-deadlocked or not, the torchwood SUV is gone baby gone.

earlier, at a hospital, jack and ianto banter about whether they're a "couple" while conning dr. rupesh patanjali (rik makarem) into letting them see a dead man ... from whom they extract an alien entity. rupesh catches them -- he's heard about torchwood (like half of cardiff, despite its alleged secret status) and seems interested in joining. but i say let rhys join instead, since he's the one who figures the weird kid thing is timed to a british schedule -- right before school, and then at break, for example.

yes, well. the government is way ahead of rhys. earlier, in london, briefcase dad -- aka home office bureaucrat john frobisher (peter capaldi, above) -- fakes a pleasant chat with a colonel from global alien-defense task force UNIT when a young woman arrives with the tea. the colonel is actually filling frobisher in on the weird kid thing, but mustn't discusss such formidable things around the new assistant.

her name's lois habiba (cush jumbo), and she answers to someone far more formidable than UNIT: frobisher's right-hand woman, bridget spears (susan brown):

rupesh is hanging around outside the hub, so gwen goes to chat with him while jack and ianto argue more about the couple thing. both agree they hate that word ... and both are totally, yes, lying. gwen gets in some exposition for those who've never seen TW before. rupesh earnestly blathers about how some people can't deal with knowing aliens exist now ... like the christian lady, his first case, who killed herself b/c this revelation made her feel insignificant. "it's like science has won," he quotes her as saying. haha, RTD, you naughty atheist, you!

but this is no time for reflection, b/c the kids are going off again. they stop. and then they start screaming!

that noise ceases, and then they chant, "we we we we we we we we are we are we are we are coming. we are coming. we are coming. we are coming. we are coming." OMG, says gwen, while ianto videos it all. cut to a mental hospital, where an older man is doing the same thing. the staff is mystified. they also video.

when it stops, the kids are normal again. but the man falls to his knees and cries, "they've found me!"

frobisher's office is inundated with calls ... including one from jack. but lois doesn't know him or torchwood ("how do you spell it?" hee!). however, resourceful and curious lois (as plucky and nosy as another lois, superman's main squeeze ms. lane) does some research on the down-low. meanwhile, mr. dekker (ian gelder) comes to tell frobisher that, as dekker warned, the 456 are back -- referring, it seems, to whatever's going on with the children. frobisher looks scared.

cut to frobisher's car going around a big-ass traffic circle. now, THAT'S scary!

frobisher is going to tell the prime minister (nicholas farrell, all supercilious) the 456 are back. dekker scoffs that elected officials come and go, but the 456 were there before him and will be there long after ... as will they, the civil service. "the cockroaches of government," dekker declares. later, the PM, who knows about the 456, tells frobisher to erase the historical record ... but the PM doesn't know anything about it, capish? time to issue a blank page -- a nice little euphemism for deleting said historical event. and anyone associated with it.

which includes, we learn after lois snoops some more, three people to off ... plus captain jack! whoa. so maybe jack, despite his protests to the contrary, has seen this sort of thing before.

gwen visits the man in the asylum, timothy white (paul copley):

she learns he had a scottish accent when he first entered care, as a child. she talks to him about "we are coming." he looks scared but denies aliens exist. then he sniffs her and says she's smelling, i mean telling, the truth, so he talks. (psychic sense of smell? ahaha!) he was one of the kids on that bus in 1965. a light took his friends, but he ran. occasionally, tim stutters something over his shoulder, as though talking to someone who isn't there. he says there were people too, but he can't remember. and, he says, they're coming back.

before gwen leaves, tim tells her his original name: clement mcdonald. he adds, almost casually, that she's pregnant. congratulations! whoa.

jack goes to the hospital to sweet-talk a kid out of rupesh. but the doc is no eager-beaver potential new recruit after all. he's a lying bastard, in fact, who shoots jack and lets in some black-clad commando types with guns, along with their boss, the hardass johnson (liz may brice).

she orders her minions to bring in timothy white and shoots jack when he revives, then tells rupesh they think jack's immortality is connected to the torchwood hub (wrong!), which makes it a target (uh-oh!). then they rummage about in jack's abdomen. gross.

at the asylum, clem smells trouble. he splits mere moments before the fake cops come to take him away. at the hub, ianto has the deets on clem gwen wanted, but she's not listening -- she's staring at a high-tech scanner image confirming she's preggers.

jack pelts in: he woke up with rupesh dead beside him (shot by johnson). then he sees the scan. gwen's stunned, but happy. so is jack: "ianto, we're having a baby!" he rests his hand on the scanner, and an alarm goes off. there's a bomb inside him OMG! jack shoves his team toward the exit, over their horrified protests.

above ground, the "we are coming" starts again, and everyone freaks out. at the hub, jack drags ianto away from his post. "there'll be nothing left of you," ianto cries plaintively. "i can survive anything," jack blusters. really? the red emergency lights flash, the music swells, and OMG nooooo! jack kisses his boy, maybe for the last time, before ianto takes the water tower lift to outta there. "i'll come back," jack says. "i always do." it's not all that convincing. jack has died a lot of ways, but never by gut bomb. he watches the countdown's final seconds and closes his eyes. outside, gwen runs along the dock.

BOOOOOOOOOM!!!! she falls, as flames blaze around her.

and the children say, "we are coming ... back."

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