They Keep Killing Suzie
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Ianto: What about “risen mitten”?
This week the Torchwood team are confronted with a serial killer, which leads them to resurrect an old friend.
The “normal” Torchwood episode tone that I described in my review of the previous episode Greeks Bearing Gifts (“a Cardiff of gritty urban streets and style-bars, with ‘alien tech’ to the fore”) is maintained with this episode – the same tone for at least two episodes in a row helps with the Worldbuilding (if different tones from this “normal” tone are used, using them sparingly is better for the Worldbuilding.)
At the beginning (after the very first ever “previously-on-Torchwood”) we see the Torchwood team doing a bit of a “power walk” (e.g. striding as a group looking cool in slo-mo towards the camera.) Some of the shine of this glowing confidence is removed by the visit to the crime scene and Detective Swanson moaning about their arrogance, telling them that the crime is their fault.
(The logic of the interaction between Torchwood and the police is as ill-defined as ever but I will let it slide for this review.)
What seemed to be a wink to fandom in the first episode – Jack explaining Gwen’s memory erasure involving “a dash of Retcon” – is expanded here into a main plot point.
If you are reading this you probably know what the term retcon means, in the context of stories and Worldbuilding. (Retroactive Continuity. Where a story is presented that throws a different light on the plots of earlier stories by filling in the gaps, or sometimes even altering the facts established by earlier stories – hence the word being used for this chemical.)
One of the most famous retcons is Arthur Conan Doyle bringing Sherlock Holmes back to life in a story after seemingly killing him off at the Reichenbach Falls. With the Doctor Who story The Tenth Planet, the writers retconned the idea of William Hartnell portraying the Doctor into the idea of William Hartnell portraying just one version of someone called the Doctor, resurrecting him as Patrick Troughton. So retcons and resurrections have a long history together, appropriately enough for this episode. Whether the makers of Torchwood are really retconning the events of the previous Glove episode is debatable as both these episodes form part of one fully-planned season of Torchwood.
After Gwen suggests they bring the Resurrection Glove back into action (ironically for the very purpose that they seemed to be doing but weren’t that I highlighted in my review of Everything Changes) there is an intriguing remark from Captain Jack.
He explains that compassion and empathy help the wearer of the glove and we see that he struggles and does not get it to work. The viewer who has been watching all the episodes so far can infer the possible reasons: his undeath and his lack-of-mercy. Are they connected? Each time Jack “dies”, does he become more and more of a heartless bastard?
(Actually, the others apparently can’t get it work either but they ARE slightly self-centered as we have seen from previous episodes.)
The team deduce that they have to bring Suzie back to continue the investigation. As they visit the lock-up to go through Suzie’s things, the recurring theme from Countrycide of Gwen-in-too-deep-no-turning-back is reinforced. She ponders her future.
There is a nice sequence of images as Suzie is jerked back to life: the gasp; the spinning overhead camera shot. Subtly done, especially in comparison with the frenetic camerawork of the previous episode.
The recurring theme of who-do-you-speak-to-about-the-horrors-of-Torchwood appears again, after Ianto releasing his pent-up-fury in Cyberwoman; Gwen finding solace in Owen’s bed in Countrycide; and Toshiko opening her heart to Mary in Greeks Bearing Gifts . This time we learn of Suzie’s solution to the problem, as she explains how she would tell Max everything every week, then erase his memory with Retcon.
Her character is sketched out quite nicely with the feelings of her guilt over messing things up portrayed convincingly by Indira Varma.
Now we come to part of this episode that is flawed, for me at least. As Gwen takes Suzie away from the Hub she worries about Jack catching them. “You never know, we might get lucky.” Okay, Suzie knows no luck is involved, as she knows Max is chanting Emily Dickinson poems as they speak.
How does Max begin chanting at just the right moment? As it is, the episode is less brilliant than it could be as an unexplained plot hole like this distracts from the excellent images and characterization.
Jack and the rest are trapped and realise from Max’s chants that he is a “Trojan horse”. (Hmm, two in two weeks.)
There is speculation over just how much was re-written of the initial script by Russell T Davies. There are certainly some of his hallmarks present, especially philosophical discussion on religion, and the well-drawn characters. The performance of the episode definitely goes to Indira Varma who ranges from petulant self-pity to cold menace to wild-eyed madness. The scene on the pier is great. Maybe Suzie remembers a more merciful Jack, but once again his ruthlessness is on display.
The ballad that plays at the end was slightly bewildering, as it looked like the episode transmission had been replaced by a “Gwen/Jack” “shipping” music video from Youtube! The bewilderment continued with the Jack/Ianto stopwatch moment.
Mainly because of the great characterful scenes between Suzie and Gwen, this was a very good episode that could have been brilliant if the plot mechanics had been tighter. If perhaps there had been a scene where Suzie said to Gwen “Before we go, I just want to apologize to Max as you wheel me by” (and thus activate the chanting from Max) then I would be more relaxed.
Maybe an explanation can be written in to a future episode: as a retcon?
Despite the plot holes, this is actually even better than the previous episode, so now this episode (not that episode) is the best episode of the season so far.