‘Torchwood: Children of Earth,’ Day Two

It’s a little funny that I was just discussing Torchwood‘s “adult” content levels, given that Day Two gives us entirely naked Jack. (And to think I just read a quote from John Barrowman about eventually getting his kit off.) It’s not quite as hot as it might sound, though. Mostly, it’s rather unpleasant. But let me tuck this all behind a spoiler cut. (For an introduction to Torchwood and my thoughts on Day One, look here.)

“I’m a PA. It’s what I do.”

Day Two begins not with a bang, but with the fallout from one; Gwen’s stumbling around, half deafened by the explosion that destroyed the Hub and could’ve killed Ianto, for all she knows. Eve Myles tears the opening scenes to bits; her horror and shock is palpable, only ebbing when she questions an ambulance driver whose behavior doesn’t make any sense to her. He works for the government, he says. “We’re on the same side?” Gwen asks, boggled.

If Day One set Torchwood against the government, Day Two mostly works to reinforce the total shift in loyalties that has occurred with the appearance of the alien 456 signal. The episode is packed full of information, but little of it has to do with why the Torchwood team is such a threat to a government that’s communicating with aliens. At least, not on the surface. Those who’ve been watching Torchwood since the beginning know that Jack Harkness is absolutely unflinching when it comes to destroying alien threats; he’s killed more than one creature his teammates might’ve gotten attached to. This government is compromised, and it knows Jack won’t stand for that.

But Jack isn’t presently standing. Jack is barely existing. He’s just “a bag of bits” being carted off by Johnson (Liz May Brice), the woman leading the team charged with hunting down Torchwood. It’s harrowing watching government agents pick through the destroyed Hub; it’s more harrowing watching as Jack comes back to life, growing from a few bits to a skeleton, and then to a human without skin. It’s gross and scary and horrifying, and convincingly painful; it’s no less awful and scary when Johnson, having realized she really, really can’t kill Jack, decides to confine him. In concrete. In which I imagine he would suffocate, wake up, and suffocate again, repeatedly.

Jack spends most of Day Two regrowing or imprisoned, leaving us to follow Gwen, Ianto and the curious, smart new government employee Lois Habiba (Cush Jumbo), who’s certainly picked an interesting time to start working for John Frobisher (the quietly effective Peter Capaldi).

Day Two’s real strength is in the way it works flashes of everyday life, the love and frustration of family and partners, into a tense, violent story about two people on the run. Ianto, cleverly, slips a note into his sister’s paper; it reads, “Where Dad broke my leg, at noon.” Rhiannon (Katy Wix) addresses this only briefly, when she arrives; “He didn’t mean to,” she says. Ianto says their father always pushed too hard; Rhi says Ianto should have held on tighter. It’s not played for drama, just for closeness, and it speaks volumes about the way Ianto, guarded and wary, carries himself, and the way he fits into the Torchwood family.

Gwen quickly realizes that the sketchy government agents will be after Rhys (Kai Owen), and the scene in which she hustles him out of the house, narrowly escaping the ferocious Johnson, is a beautiful moment of domesticity under unnatural stress; the things she nags at him for are ordinary complaints, ratcheted up to incredible levels of importance. Plus, this escape gives us a bit of PC Andy (Tom Price), an old colleague of Gwen’s who sweetly refuses to believe she might be a terrorist; the moment when Gwen stands down the police van, precisely shooting out all its tires; and Rhys as Gwen’s shaken but competent partner, a man who offers to carry her bag so she can keep her trigger free and whose knowledge of trucking schedules gives them a getaway atop a bed of potatoes. Not the most romantic place for Gwen to tell him she’s pregnant, but when the moment arises, she never even has to say the words; these two communicate in easily read smiles.

All that, and there’s so much more. The children announce that the aliens are coming tomorrow. Lois meets Rhys and Gwen in a chip shop and proves herself beyond measure; not only has she quickly pieced together that the government agencies she work for are working against what appear to be their own interests, but she’s also a thoughtful woman who’s quick to pass the salt. (The scene in which Lois attempts to nudge her bosses into thinking about what they’re doing and is shut down with a reminder to speak when she’s spoken to is a wonder of compact character development; Frobisher and his secretary have chosen their parts, and they expect competent, smart Lois to do the same. They’ve no curiosity and no sense of rightness. Government ass-kissers do not do well in this series.)

And Jack still needs rescuing.

Enter Ianto the hero. There’s such satisfaction in seeing the former coffee-fetcher burst in to rescue his boyfriend — and his teammate and her husband. I’ve never seen such a touching, silly getaway. The Torchwood-plus-Rhys reunion is brief and unsentimental, more showcase for John Barrowman’s bare ass than anything. Conveniently, being dropped from hundreds of feet into a quarry breaks the concrete around him, but not his shackles. How will the poor fellow put on the coat Gwen hands him? He won’t. This is still Torchwood.

But enough heroic rescues. Day Two ends on a creepy, ominous note; the government stooges have built the structure the aliens require, and it’s filled with a gaseous mixture that’s poison to humans. What is it to the aliens? Not even creepy Dekker, who translated the 456 signal, can say.