Mel Gibson comes to Torchwood or, The Passion of the Jack
Throughout this painful series, I've been blaming Russell T Davies alone for the tedium, the idiocy and the sheer story-telling incompetence displayed on our television screens and computer monitors like a toddler's finger-paintings hung in the Louvre by his rich parents, rather than taped to a refrigerator door where they belong.
But unlike finger-painting, television is a collaborative medium and not even Davies' broad frame can shoulder all the blame.
At this point, one can only conclude that the unholy spawn of the marriage between the BBC and the American cable network Starz, is the mutant product of some arcane bureaucratic process and not of any actual human being.
The imagination reels before the idea that a person has vetted the scripts or even read an outline of the story in its entirety.
The alternative — that someone did knowingly approve this mess — can only be ascribed to madness, deliberate sabotage, or to the consumption by everyone involved of enough dangerous, mind-altering drugs to have stopped Hunter S. Thompson in his tracks.
Yes, things are that bad. And I say this after having acknowledged that Immortal Sins is the best episode of the series to date (see "Sins of the Show-Runner" here).
So, just for a change, let's talk about what is right about Immortal Sins. Let's talk about the good that Jane Espenson hath wrought.
(No, it won't take long.)
Jack is in love ...
Immortal Sins is told in two tracks, one set in 1927 and 1928, the other in the present. All of the good bits, such as they are, occur in the nearly-sepia-tone past (kudos to the cinematographer), where Captain Jack falls in love.
Fresh off a boat from Britain, Captain Jack chases down and tackles (while nonsensically calling "Stop that man!" a half-second before doing the job himself), then rescues from deportation, an Italian immigrant named Angelo (angel — get it?) Colasanto, who had stolen Jack's visa.
There follows a relatively subtle 15 or 20 minutes of slash fiction, as unhurried and unconcerned that time is running out on this series as every other episode so far — but quite a bit more entertaining than any of them.
Just so I'm clear, Jane Espenson writes decent smut and a relatively credible (at least for this program) transformation of lust into love. The budding relationship includes not only a fair amount of naked man-on-man action, but humour and tenderness as well. Enough so that it seems reasonable enough when Jack somehow (already, the details escape me; which reminds me that I'm grading on a curve) decides that, like the Doctor, he ought to have a companion, and that Angelo ought to be it.
The newly-minted Batman and Robin soon find themselves opening a mysterious crate in a dark basement, but things quickly go wrong.
The crate contains an alien (at last!), a mind-controlling creature (clearly from from Ceti Alpha V) that Jack deduces is meant for none other than Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In a fannish nod to The Sarah Jane Adventures), he explains that the The Trickster's Brigade is behind the plot. But, like Jack, I digress.
Jack destroys the creature and closes the crate.
"So," says Angelo, "the mission is complete."
"We just saved the world Angelo. And no one will ever know."
"Then, did I pass? Can I stay with you like The Doctor? Learn all the secrets?" An alarm sounds and Jack grins. "Here's one of the secrets: Run!"
Unlike most of the Doctor's races, though, this one ends with a bullet exiting the back of Jack's skull while Angelo watches in palpable horror. The scene the strongest since Vera was shot back in Categories of Life, but it's all downhill from here as the Idiot Plot Monster rears its ugly head.
Is it really too much to ask of Espenson that she provide a better reason for Jack to come back to life without witnesses than that the cops just leave his bleeding body in an alley — unattended?
Wait. This is Torchwood: Miracle Day. Of course it's too much to ask.
Never trust a Catholic peasant
A year later, Angelo is released from Sing Sing. Jack is waiting for him. "I came back for you," he says.
The two repair to the very same room in which they enjoyed their first tryst, but Angelo (conveniently armed with a dagger), isn't going to have sex with the Devil, not again. The guilt-ridden lapsed Catholic puts his Captain's immortality to the test by gutting him then stabbing him in the heart.
And that's only the beginning of the Passion of the Jack.
What Mel Gibson's Jews did to Christ, Espenson and Davies' Catholics to do Captain Jack.
Our hero is set upon by a basement full of slavering stereotypes, a mob of Italian Catholic peasants who cross themselves before and after they shoot and stab, slash and bludgeon, the immortal miracle man. If Jack suffers hours or days (or weeks) of torture, we viewers must endure more than two minutes, and that, frankly, is more than enough.
The peasants' blood-lust finally sated (and presumably, every one of their glass bottles filled with Jack's precious blood), Jack is sold to a mysterious triumvirate, Pink Floyd. Though (we presume) monstrously evil, they haven't yet got the hang of proper security, so a remorseful Angelo has no trouble rescuing Jack.
He explains that he was really scared but — boy! howdy! — he's really sorry for all the trouble he caused. Won't Jack please take him back? "You're lonely too ... Please, don't let me on my own."
For no apparent reason, Jack doesn't beat Angelo to a bloody pulp. Rather, he explains that he's an unkillable fixed point in time and that he doesn't want to watch Angelo age and die (why ever not Jack?).
Angelo keeps going on about being together, but Jack holds firm.
"I'm sorry Angelo, but this is the story of my life. It always ends the same way: you kill me. Men like you. You kill me."
Holy explicit Christ allusion, Batman! If we didn't get when Angelo washed the blood from Jack's feet, Mr. Davies, Ms Espenson, we surely get it now!
I mean, What the hell, Russell T Davies? What happened to story structure? What happened to foreshadowing before 70 percent of the story is told? What happened to the show-runner who so subtly wove Bad Wolf through a whole, very entertaining, series of Doctor Who?
When did you substite allusions for substance?
If last week, the stupid burned, this week it's more like an insidious poison, rotting out a pretty surface from the inside.
And yet, it gets even worse.
Never trust a mother
Back in the present, in the second thread of this week's episode, that stupid is wholly in the ascendant.
Gwen is back in California at last, but under orders from Pink Floyd (who, you'll recall, have hacked her contact lenses and are holding her family hostage) to "Bring us Jack."
She tazes him, bundles him into the back seat of her car, then sets off to deliver her Captain to the bad guys.
Last week a bad-ass motorcycle mama, this week Gwen is a broken woman, bereft of imagination or intelligence, who blames Jack for everything, and who is willing to betray not only Jack, but the entire human race on the off-chance the bad guys aren't lying and will really return her to the bosom of her family.
Once a woman becomes a mother, don't trust her with anything important, I guess is the lesson here. Thanks, Ms Espenson!
Through luck rather than guile (naturally; we know that brains are in short supply in this world), Rex and Esther manage to save the day, even locating Gwen's family and arranging for a Cardiff swat team (hi P.C. Andy! You do get around!) to go get 'em. (How they manage all that while also still being in hiding is (naturally) left unexplained.)
What's also unexplained is why the whole kidnapping took place at all.
You see, once disarmed, Nana Visitor's unnamed villain calmly explains to Jack, "You're still coming with me ... I can take you to the one man who knows how the Miracle began ... Angelo Colasanto. He's waiting for you, Jack."
Which begs the question: Why didn't Angelo just pick up the phone or send Jack a friend request via Torchwood's Facebook page? If Jack does go with Nana, what in the world have the last seven episodes been for?
That's it for this week. No Jilly Kitzinger nor — but for a mention on the radio that sounds more like a press release from Xinhua than anything American: "But Oswald Danes has released a statement in which he says that a global emergency calls for emergency measures, and he advocated a swift return to the Category Policy" — no Oswald Danes.
The best episode this series has yet to offer is one rife with logical errors, class and religious stereotypes so broad even this unmitigated atheist is appalled, and an implicit insult to women whose unconscious contempt is nearly impossible to fathom. And of course, the plot has barely moved forward at all.
Can things get any worse? Tune in next week to find out!