...a blog by Richard Flowers

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Day 2160: TORCHWOOD: They Keep Killing Suzie


Look! I have found an EXCITING piece of ALIEN TECHNOLOGY!

I had better keep quiet about it, or Captain Jack will turn up to steal it. Assuming he is still alive – things have been getting decidedly DEADLY in Cardiff. Daddy is enjoying it lots more, though.

Here is what he thinks of the next instalment!

I said before that Torchwood hadn't decided what it was about yet. In this episode, I think it has. Torchwood is about Life after Death.

There are different views on what may be after. Torchwood looks to be presenting several of them: the theme of Life after Death can also be seen in "Everything Changes", "Ghost Machine" and "Cyberwoman", and in its own way in "Small Worlds", and will occur again in the subsequent episode "Random Shoes", which is almost a rebuttal of this episode. The smallness of our lives is also a key theme of "Greeks Bearing Gifts".

And from one point of view the entire series is Jack's afterlife.

This episode is a look into the most nihilistic view: there is nothing after death, nothing at all.

Russell T Davies (genius at work) speaking in the Torchwood Declassified late in the night on Sunday said that what this episode was about was two women driving in a car at night. And of course he is right. That is Suzie's view of the world: driving through the dark from birth to death and when you reach the end of the journey… nothing.

With that darkness at its heart, this would be a powerful and gripping episode of any drama, and for Torchwood is the first time that the series has really caught fire. In fact the episode grips from the very beginning with the word "Torchwood" scrawled in blood, and with a constant drip drip of surprise revelations.

Using Torchwood continuity instead of Doctor Who continuity in a big way for the first time we are jolted by reminders of the opening episode "Everything Changes" each time with a twist: retcon, the in-jokingly titled memory drug is found in the blood of the murderer and suddenly it's not such a joke if it might be sending people into psychosis; we know that Suzie was put on ice, her body in the Torchwood freezer, but now we learn her entire life was frozen, tidied away into those Torchwood-logo-ed boxes; we saw that Suzie's knife was put away with the Resurrection Glove, but now it is revealed that the knife was just as special as the glove.

It's not like the story isn't as twisty-turny as any Film Noir anyway, with Suzie as the ultimate femme fatal, the wicked lady under whose spell the hero (or in this case heroine) falls.

The episode is very Gwen-centric, concentrating on her goodness and how Suzie is able to use that goodness as a weapon against her. Suzie saves Gwen's life early on – Max almost kills her in the club – and Gwen thinks this makes a connection between them. Of course, with hindsight we know there is already a connection between them, and Suzie is in reality just protecting her life-support.

Little remarks take on greater and darker significance on rewatching. "You've got a bit more colour in you," remarks Gwen chirpily in the car. "It's all down to you," Suzie replies, no irony.

The big reveal, the major twist, two-thirds of the way in, that in fact Suzie has had this planned from the beginning, from before the beginning, from before she was dead, is as audacious as it is shocking.

So in fact we have to totally rethink "Everything Changes" – Suzie's plan is complicated and requires quite some time of preparation: infiltrating the Pilgrim group; hypnotising Max. It is clear that she must have understood the Glove – and its relationship with the knife – a great deal better than she let on in "Everything Changes". It is implicit that she has seen further into the darkness, seen it before she died the first time – probably just from using the glove, seeing out into the darkness, reaching out into the darkness. And maybe sensing something reaching back.

In some ways, Suzie is absolutely right. If life is all that there is, then absolutely do anything you can to hang on to it for every precious millisecond. But she has also become totally callous to the right of others to that same precious life.

There's an implication that the Glove drains something from the user – perhaps their "soul" – and this has made Suzie less than what she was.

Suzie remarks herself several times how Gwen is so much more than she was. Indeed, the story goes out of its way to emphasise the similarities between Gwen and Suzie – though of course that is often Suzie playing on Gwen's sympathies to manipulate her. Does this mean that Gwen still possesses the soul that Suzie has lost?

Whether it does or no, it's clear to see that Gwen and Suzie have a relationship not dissimilar to Frodo Baggins and Gollum: one possessed of the object of power, the other ruined by and desirous of it.

Further marking their similarity, Suzie and Gwen also have Owen in common. (Interestingly, Gwen is sleeping alone in the subsequent episode, "Random Shoes", and you wonder if Suzie's revelations have had an impact on the relationship.)

Suzie knows – and clearly thinks that Jack knows – that Gwen is something special.

Perhaps this is a clue. When Gwen mentions her child-like view of a heaven where her Gran is waiting that is remarkably similar to the view of heaven held by similarly-named Cardiff scullery maid Gwyneth in Doctor Who's "The Unquiet Dead" (obviously played by the same actress). Gwen's apparent facility with the Glove, and indeed with the Ghost Machine in the third Torchwood episode, suggest the possibility that they might be related. Gwyneth, it should be remembered, had psychic powers – second sight – from growing up near to the time-rift.

Whatever it is, Suzie thinks that it is important to Jack. Suzie was Jack's second in command, but when it comes to the climactic confrontation she makes no effort to play on what he might think of her, but thinks that possessing even a fraction of Gwen might protect her from Jack's vengeance. (It doesn't.)

What is also interesting to note is the sheer ferocity with which Jack pursues saving Gwen. Suzie is right: Gwen is important to him.

Many people seem to be unnaturally upset about the implied possibility of a burgeoning relationship between Captain Jack and Ianto. Not least because they have no idea what the clumsy innuendo about the stopwatch could mean. (Or possibly because they have all too good an idea what it could mean!)

Personally, I think that – as I remarked about last week's episode – it helps to make the story more about Gwen's world and Jack's world. Ianto is planted firmly in Jack's world. For good or bad. We know that Ianto is very loyal to those he loves, even excessively so. This could mean trouble for Jack, if Ianto is still harbouring his feelings about the death of Lisa, or it could mean trouble for anyone (by which I mean Gwen) who might end up going against Jack.

There are more hints to the nature of their relationship, and possibly an indication that Jack is learning to pay more attention to his team, in a text message exchange to be found on the Torchwood website.

What is most astonishing is that this brilliant, brilliant episode seems to arise so naturally out of "Everything Changes" and yet was completely unplanned. Either that or the astonishing thing is Russell's modesty. He claims that the writers of "They Keep Killing Suzie" just saw all of the pieces there in "Everything Changes" and ran with them. Brilliant.

This is so far beyond ordinary science fiction it is practically inventing a new genre: Theology Noir.

I said of Robin Hood that "Tattoo? What Tattoo?" was the episode that made it worth a second series. Well that is just as true, a hundred times as true for this episode of Torchwood. Which is why it is terrific to hear that there will be a second series of Torchwood, promoted to BBC2.

Something's coming…

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