‘Torchwood: Children of Earth,’ Day Three

Well, that was kind of intense. Shall we talk about it? Let’s.

“As a gift.”

Day Three is a pivot point. The 456 arrives. A pillar of flame sinks into the glass tank at the top of Thames House (without burning anything in its path, I’d like to note). Something prone to splattering green goo against the walls is inside. We never see all of it, just sense a large, lumbering presence, strange and eerie.

Both Torchwood and the government are forced to open their doors a little bit. The Americans show up, surly about being left out of the loop (but why didn’t the aliens want to talk to us, Mom?); the Prime Minister pretends to give the reins to Frobisher. It’s decided that he’ll be the point person for the 456, which is handy as he’s already made a deal with it that it not mention the 1965 visit. At Torchwood’s new/old base, Rhys is now in on things, and eventually Gwen brings in Clem, too.

But Day Three, to my mind, is mostly about secrets. It’s got some action, and some humor — Jack stalking up in the new vintage military coat Ianto’s found for him, saying, “I’m back” with incredible certainty, as if he couldn’t be himself without that damn coat — and a moment between Jack and Ianto that’s both horribly honest and amusingly frustrated. The two of them going from Jack’s admission that he always feels it when he dies to trying to get some alone time (stymied by a pot of beans!) is perfect Torchwood.

Those secrets, though. A bit more comes out about Alice, Jack’s daughter, whose attempt to escape from Johnson was admirably competent, if ultimately doomed to fail. There’s Frobisher’s deal with the 456; there’s Rhys, furious that Jack knew Gwen was pregnant before he did. The matter of what the 456 wants with the children is still unclear, but now we know how many they want: Ten percent (did anyone else yell at Frobisher when he asked the 456 to promise to not to use the children for communication anymore? Or did we all just assume he was too specific on purpose?).

But above all there’s Jack’s secret: his involvement with the last 456 visit. The first time Clem says, “That man,” it’s pretty clear who he’s talking about, but that doesn’t make Jack’s unconcerned reveal — he gave a dozen children to the 456 as a gift — any less horrible. The knife is twisted just that little bit more by his phone call to Frobisher, in which Frobisher tells Jack he’s the better man; he won’t go back to Frobisher’s house and kidnap his children, like Frobisher had done to Jack’s family.

He’s a better person now. But who was he in 1965?

A few scattered thoughts:

• Lois continues to be awesome. Her quick thinking about how to get into Thames House, her use of shorthand (Ianto knows shorthand? ANYONE knows shorthand?), her inability to stay behind, to stay quiet, when the right thing needs doing — she’s going to make a great member of Torchwood when all this is over.

• The montage of the Torchwood team (and Rhys!) learning the thieving tricks Gwen picked up in her time on the police force? Priceless. (Jack is no waiter.) But it’s also very telling, and it ties in to something I can’t believe I’ve forgotten to talk about until now: The way Torchwood’s tools are being used against them. In the first season, they make the most of CCTV cameras, public and police and government databases, all kinds of information, especially the kind some of us feel shouldn’t be out there. It shocks and horrifies Gwen, at first, and then she gets used to it; after all, it’s being used to hunt alien threats, not against the citizens of the U.K. But now, it’s Torchwood being hunted by those same cameras; those same databases are being used against their families. And thus they learn new tricks — the same things they would disapprove of under different circumstances. There’s a morally grey side to this that it’s sometimes easy to forget about, at least in less-serious season one Torchwood, and I think it’s interestingly handled.

• One of Day Three’s most interesting moments is deeply uncomfortable: The scene in which Clem, using his weird smelling ability, looks at Ianto and asks, “Who’s the queer?” It’s shocking and unexpected, and Ianto’s immediate “Oi!” of indignation is, I think, the reason this scene exists. In the first two days of Children of Earth, Ianto is still outlining his feelings about himself and his relationship with Jack, at least as far as other people are concerned. He knows he’s in love, but he’s sort of working through what that means, at least where other people (the doctor, his sister) are concerned. (Caveat: Having not seen season two, I don’t know how this plays out in the past, or if it does at all.) But the conversation he has with Jack about time — how much of it Jack has, and how little Ianto has in comparison — cements things for him. He knows, absolutely, what he’s gotten into, and what it means in the long run, and when he responds to Clem it is with the force of a man who will not have have his relationship insulted, dismissed, belittled. When Ianto follows that, quietly, with “It’s not 1965 anymore,” it’s part explanation — he’s tempering his response out of sympathy for what the last 456 visit did to Clem — and part segue, for here comes Jack, for whom it is most definitely not 1965 anymore. We hope.

• I love that the show doesn’t forget about Ianto’s family, that it goes back to show us that his brother-in-law has taken in all the neighborhood children (school’s closed) both out of the goodness of his heart and because it can turn him a profit (“Ten quid a kid!”). He and Rhi are there to represent the rest of the world, the more ordinary folks whose lives are being turned upside down too, even if it’s in a less immediate way.

• As is pointed out in the comments to yesterday’s post, Gwen has come a long way. She’s forceful and smart and beyond competent, and while she can teach the team how to become petty thieves, she’s also still the woman who goes to fetch sad, scared Clem from jail. She does all she can for him, not simply because he’s key to what’s happening, but because it’s the right thing to do for Clem. That’s been Gwen’s job since the beginning: bring Torchwood back to the human side of things. Don’t just think about the aliens.

It’s never only about the aliens.