‘Torchwood: Children of Earth,’ Day Four

It’s time to just suck it up and accept that it does not matter if I feel like the entire internet has had its say about the last two days of Torchwood: Children of Earth. I am not the entire internet! And I still have thoughts! They’re just delayed, is all.

And of course there are plenty of spoilers. Click here and read further at your own risk!

A short sum-up: Jack explains what he did in 1965. Clem freaks out and shoots him. Jack, of course, gets up again a few minutes later, causing poor Clem no end of further freakout.

A dude in a hazmat suit ventures into the 456’s pretty glass box with a camera and discovers there is a small child hooked up to the weird, still mostly unseen alien. Why?

Jack and Ianto kind of have a tiff (much more on this later). They storm off to Thames House to confront the 456. Just before this happens, the incredibly awesome Lois Habiba stands up in a room full of generals and prime ministers and the like, and explains that Torchwood are coming and if everyone would kindly get the fuck out of their way, the alien experts will do their job.

At some point, possibly just before that happens but possibly after things go horribly awry (more on that later), the seemingly harmless but apparently quite evil dark-haired woman in the group suggests that if they really have to give the 456 ten percent of the world’s children, they start with those in the poorest schools, thereby painting with a really nasty broad brush and damning all poor kids to a terrible life just for where they were born. (Can you tell I really dislike this woman?)

On the good news front, Agent Johnson and company burst in on Gwen, who greets them calmly and suggests Johnson sit down and watch this little program called “Your Government and How They Are a Bunch of Classist Fools.” Also, the 456 kills Clem using a nasty frequency of some sort. It mutters something about “the remnant” being offline. This is never satisfactorily explained.

But if you want to talk unsatisfying, let’s talk about the death of Ianto Jones.

For me, the highlight of Day Four is one conversation between Jack and Ianto. Jack’s explains the whole 1965 thing; Ianto, tentatively, suggests that that knowledge, that action, must’ve been eating him up inside.

But I don’t think it was. I think everything that follows — Jack storming out; Ianto wanting to know where he’s going; Jack suddenly bursting out with the news about his family and the fact that Frobisher has them — is Jack covering and compensating for the fact that he doesn’t feel guilty about what he did to save the world all those years ago. Jack is immortal. Jack is practical. I suspect that Jack knows some dirty, ugly truth about the brevity and relative importance of human lives, and it’s the kind of thing he a) doesn’t want humanity to know, and b) doesn’t want to dwell on too much. And poor Ianto still wants Jack to be more human, more mortal, than he is; he wants him to feel things the way Ianto, or Gwen, or Rhys, would.

Ianto still dies for a stupid reason, and a realistic reason — which is to say, for no real reason at all. (The lack of reason doesn’t actually bother me; it seems appropriate, in a story like this, that not every death is for a greater cause, in service of a tangible goal, or for any other reason than the fact that there will be casualties when your enemy is so much stronger.) He and Jack confront the 456, Jack tries to bully it into leaving, and it simply locks down Thames House and kills everyone inside. Ianto didn’t deserve that, and he didn’t deserve Jack’s inability to tell him he loved him, either. “Don’t go; don’t leave me” was heartwrenching, but it’s not the same. Still, it suggested, at least to me, that there was more to Jack’s attachment for Ianto that he let on, or at least that I’ve seen (caveat: not seen season two). Jack plays it casual and light, except when he confirmed for Ianto that yes, he’ll keep going long after Ianto’s gone. For Ianto, that was a moment of choice: to stay with Jack even knowing that.

For Jack, wasn’t it something different?

I’ve seen it (beautifully) pointed out that Ianto goes with Jack because they’re making up by going to war together, which seems very Jack and not all that Ianto to me. It’s still a frustrating scene, because when you watch two men walk into a room to set their puny selves against a strangely powerful alien being and you know one of those men can’t die, well, the odds just don’t seem good for the other guy, do they?

I could — and likely will — get back to poor Ianto later, but a few other things about Day Four before I run out of time:

• I think it’s to the show’s credit that they took the selection of the 10 percent of the nation’s children down such a bleak, nasty and believable path: By taking these kids from the poor, underachieving schools, the people in power ensure that their own kids will be safe, and then tell themselves they’re planning for the future. Their children will Do Things. Those other kids, well, they haven’t got a chance, have they? Of course they do — and as this situation makes terribly clear, it’s a chance that involves constantly fighting against the assumptions of people like this prime minister and his even nastier lackeys. Not to mention the American and UNIT general who go along with it. (Er, let me not leave out the unpleasantness of the ploy they try before realizing they can’t bargain with the 456: Offering a much smaller number of refugees instead. This is one hell of a cynical take on those in power.)

• The reversal of Agent Johnson is another highlight in Day Four, which despite its highlights suffers from being criminally over-scored, with by-the-book, button-pushing weeping/soaring strings. The utter badass, the classic orders-follower, is given more information that she’d ever be privy to — by Gwen, who takes a pretty big gamble here. It’s exactly the information the people giving Johnson orders would never want her to see. Johnson believes in the rightness of her world, but when her blinders are stripped away, she doesn’t dither or fret. She simply changes course. There’s no ego; there’s just the certainty that she was on the wrong side, fighting the wrong fight. By the end, her future might be the one I’m most curious about.

• There’s a certain amount of assumption out there in the intertubes that Ianto dies because it will send Jack down a dark enough path that he’ll be able to make the decision he makes at the end of Day Five. I’m not convinced about that. Either way, there are countless arguments (and causes, and petitions, and hopes and crushed dreams) about Ianto’s death. Brent Hartinger’s piece on AfterElton.com is definitely an interesting take, should you want more.

• I still love this series, but Day Four was when it started to slip a little. I don’t think it’s just because I was expecting it that I felt less moved by Ianto’s death than I thought I’d be; I think a lot of things, as the series moves to wind up, felt crammed in and rushed through (and did I mention criminally underserved by the score?). And then Day Five feels a bit padded, to borrow a perfect word I saw someone else use, for reasons I’ll have to figure out when I get to it.

Which had damn well better be tomorrow. ‘Cause when I get back from Portland on Sunday? I really kind of want to watch this all again.

Further reading: Eve Myles (Gwen) and Children of Earth director Euros Lyn (whom, I must mention, I haven’t praised enough: WELL DONE, LYN) interviewed at Television Without Pity.