Touch Wood: The Redemption of Man
a fannish mourning for Torchwood S3 by cupidsbow
So. In the interests of not spoiling, I will limit my commentary here to: O_O
Today's Episode: "Children of Earth: Day Five," Torchwood, Season 3.
Review: What a strange journey this season has been. How did we get here? This is not where I expected to end up... [S3 SPOILERS -- scroll down to /SPOILERS]
I called this series of posts "Touch Wood" because I've been a fan long enough to know that there are no certainties in canon. Who knows what the Powers That Be might decide to serve up? It could be anything from super-awesome, to totally disappointing. Given Torchwood's first two seasons, I was hoping for something in the middle there, but leaning slightly in the awesome direction.
AHAHAHAHAHAHA <-- A laugh of bitter irony. So much for touching wood.
How was I to ever dream that Torchwood season three would be both super-awesome and totally disappointing? I would have sworn it could not be done.
And yet here we are, ten days later, surrounded by canonical wreckage, and somehow RTD managed to pull off the unfathomable storytelling feat of being both awesome and terrible.
The final part was brilliant, mainly for the central conceit. Juxtaposing Jack's sacrifice of his own grandson with the earlier cowardice of the politicians was a gutting irony and so very powerful.
And yet, it was just too much for me. As I said in my last post, I can't bear Jack's pain any more. He is cursed, and it is unbreakable, eternal and no matter what Jack does, he can never achieve redemption. That is what I've taken away from this series. It's not at all what I was expecting from a supposedly queer-friendly show. (I discuss Jack's curse in more depth at the bottom of this post.)
As a stand-alone science fiction show, this really was fabulous television, and somehow that makes the broken Torchwood contract worse. I wanted my kooky show with its dark, sexy edge, and it was entirely reasonable for me to expect that. I didn't get that show. But I also couldn't just put away my expectations and enjoy the apocalyptic sci-fi show I was given.
It leaves me feeling drained and conflicted and rather horribly sad.
There's only one thing for it: I need to go and lick my wounds and read rather a lot of fiction.
The verdict: Brilliant science fiction television -- well-realised, complex, finely performed, with a powerful ending. Not, however, actually Torchwood. And so in the one key test, given that it is, in fact, season three of Torchwood, the series fails.
Extras: The Askverse is back! It will make you laugh! And also shine your shoes and press Pimms on you and quite possibly sexually harass you as only Captain Jack can. :)
If you still need more Torchwood, you can find my recommended reading and songvids on rec-room under the torchwood tag. Many happy stories are to be found there, including a large number starring Jack/Ianto.
Fannish Stuff: In keeping with my mixed emotions, here are today's vids:
TW Various Pairings, 'Day by Day Collision' by tearful-eye (songvid) (PG-13)
Angry dead Owen is angry. And also dead. I know just where he's coming from.
TW/WHO Jack/Ianto, Jack/Various, 'Thanks for the Memories' by clarityisback (songvid) (PG-13)
This is one of my favourite Captain Jack vids. It's the perfect mix of angst and humour, and also the title seems quite apropos today. :)
Cathy Says: I need to talk about Jack's curse.
[SPOILERS for all of Torchwood]
The thing about Jack's "curse" is that I only feel I'm really getting to grips with it now, and I can't quite decide if that is RTD's intent, or if he doesn't know what he's created. But is he really linking Jack's immortality and sexuality with a kind of smug moral condemnation? I have wondered about that trend before, in passing, but wrote it off as poor scripting.
At first, in season one of Torchwood, the immortality didn't seem like that much of a curse at all. Jack was like the Energiser bunny: he just keeps on going and going and going (and shagging and shagging and shagging). That's the first thing I noticed about him. He made great canon fodder, and was an awesome ace in the hole, and flirted while he did it.
But then, before too long, I started to see the other sides of it. After all, I've been primed by previous canon, like Highlander, so it didn't take long to pick up on the fact that he outlasts everything, including his lovers. And more importantly, it also became clear that when people found out, they either took it for granted very quickly, or reacted with revulsion. In either case, he doesn't get normal compassion -- he's "wrong". The thing that hurts about that, is that it's true. Jack was born to be mortal. He is wrong.
Amongst those few who know and don't treat it cavalierly, the response often seems to turn to cruelty -- the Doctor sacrificing him easily; the Master torturing him; the season three Assassin concreting him.
That's understandable for the humans who do it (how would they understand immortality?), but it implies a complete lack of true acknowledgement of what the curse means that you wouldn't expect from Time Lords. Jack will outlast wars, and torture and even mountains (and even Time Lords)... and then there will be a pissed off immortal, who may not be free in the perpetrator's lifetime... but what of their descendants? Why does no one ever think of that?
So many of those who twig that Jack is special see a man with a 'weakness' or a 'problem' rather than as a god who will return to wreak vengeance; and the amazing thing is, they are right to think that. Jack has his dark side, yes, but he is for the most part, remarkably unvengeful. He really does seem to be a lover, more than a fighter, if given the choice.
I think it's because he doesn't see things in the short term any more. He's lived long enough to see long term consequences of actions -- he lives the consequences himself over decades and centuries and millennia. In 1965, he was more than 2000 years younger than the Jack of 2009, and even though that was mostly spent buried, that is such a weight of time. Was he alert? Did he ever revive and then die again? Did it all pass in the dark? Who knows! Maybe he was marginally aware for a lot of it. *shivers*
Yet, after all that, when he's back in linear time he still steps in front of the metaphorical bullet; he still refrains from shooting Frobisher's family; he still, with all that hindsight, can't see a better way of dealing with 1965. He tries the other option this time around, but that doesn't work any better. Maybe it wouldn't have back then, either.
And here's the heart of the curse, the most insidious thing, because it's right there in the open, but people don't see it. Hell, I didn't really see it until this season layered so many of Jack's deaths on deaths. But it's this: Jack is actually willing to sacrifice his own life for the greater good (that's not the surprise), and that willingness to sacrifice is constantly discounted (think about that for a minute). It makes sense that it doesn't count, right? Because he has so many deaths, and they don't stick, so they don't count; not like they do for normal people who only get one go at it.
But you know, I think they count to Jack. He was born mortal, raised mortal, and knew the responsibility and weight of death before he was grown; and until he promises to remember Ianto forever, every fucking return to life hurts him. We always see the FACE OF WOE.
We all know just by looking at him that he would take his grandson's place in a heartbeat if he could; and in fact he already has a hundred times over to save the Earth. That doesn't make the ending of CoE morally right in any way, of course. But it's not because it's his grandson that he'd be willing to swap places.
So think about that for a minute: Captain Jack Harkness (not his real name). Alien. Con man. Grifter. Omnisexual.
How the fuck did Jack end up having to make those kinds of sacrifices of his own life, or that of others, no matter the personal cost, for the greater good? This over-the-top misfit, who people think is a hero until they think he's a psycho? How did he end up having to weigh this particular sacrifice (one life for the Earth) over and over and over? Who gave him that responsibility? And did he have any freedom to refuse it?
And why does it count more to everyone around him when that life is not his? Especially when it is quite clear that Jack counts those lives as more precious than his own?
We can't credit either the immortality or the Doctor's influence entirely for Jack's sacrificial streak; Jack went to war before the Doctor, to save his world; and he was ready to die with the bomb in 1941, when death would have stuck.
The way he's consistently positioned in the text, though, this drive to sacrifice for the greater good is always tainted with expedience. Over and over and over. Remember the fairies? He'd already seen what they could do, unlike the rest of the team. He already knew the cost. But that did not redeem him, merely muddied the morality of his choice.
It's a total headfuck, is what it is. At least the Doctor is recognised as a god -- the Oncoming Storm and all that. Plus he has the luxury of technology that makes for magic solutions. Most of the time, all Jack has to work with is his own blood (first, always first), and when that won't do, it's usually the blood of those he holds dearest that he must spend.
Textually, Jack is offered as a counter to the Doctor -- not in the same way as the Master, but nonetheless as a lesser hero, fallible and "wrong" and second-rate. Just a man, and a con-man at that; so easily swayed by short-sighted goals and expedient methods.
It was easy to agree with that viewpoint in both Doctor Who and seasons one and two of Torchwood, but I don't think it's actually true. Not any more, if it ever was.
He still acts like it is.
So how do you break a curse like that? I have no idea. It's completely fucking insidious.
I can't decide if that is clever of the Torchwood writers -- in that Jack clearly still thinks he's human, so in a sense that superficial understanding of his immortality and culpability is his own, and not just something implied by the text.
But here's the real kicker: he and Ianto together seemed to be starting to get to grips with it in a whole different way. Jack's issues with both the Doctor and Grey were dealt with, and Jack had made himself a home. And he had an actual honest-to-god working relationship with Ianto (and to an extent Gwen, too) who wasn't freaking out like pretty much everyone else has. (It's another reason that that truncated story arc sucks. Because, seriously, seeing Jack come to terms with his immortality and breaking the curse would have been drama with a capital D, and something that has rarely been done well in SF before.)
And after all that growth and change, he saves the world in CoE and loses everything all over again. And by the time it's his grandson that's at stake, he knows he will lose everything, and still does it.
What are we meant to make of that? Are we meant to think it's wrong of him to run away and abandon his post afterwards? Because, seriously. Are we meant to read it as a kind of pseudo-feminist questioning of the hero as saviour, and how that's clearly a flawed paradigm? Because, yeah, teamwork is shown to be so much better, as they are picked off one-by-one! Are we meant to read it as a condemnation of Jack's sexuality? How dare he be a hero and queer? Is he too much of a slut to be redeemed?
I really hate to say it, but I'm kind of leaning towards that one. The Doctor is so condescending and disapproving about sex and especially the sex Jack has. And despite the sexy times of seasons one and two of Torchwood, there's this underlying sense that Jack is a slut (all those jokes of Owen's about Ianto being a part-time shag, for instance -- yes, Owen had his own issues, but the implication is there). And now Ianto is dead, right after coming out.
Well, FUCK THAT VERY MUCH, RTD.
I thought Jack was a cool and interesting character coming into this fandom. I didn't expect to come out the other side of CoE heartbroken for him. But here we are, and I am heartbroken, and for no good reason that I can see.