If you watch no other episodes than these, I suggest you pull up a chair or set the recorder. (Of course, Adrift will certainly be among the important episodes in this season as well, particularly if you are interested in the fleshing out of Gwen and Jack’s characters now that she is married and that 5 seconds of campy naughty. If you watch for the later, Adrift definitely has more for you than Fragments, though some is there. For the rest of us, Fragments pt. 1 and 2 aka Exit Wounds are the place to be.) Torchwood’s two part season finale ties up all kinds of lose ends both things internal and external. There are two questionable moments in part one for the keen observer one with regards to female sexuality and the other to race. They are both mere seconds in an otherwise flawless episode and will most likely be missed by most.
Though some are calling Fragments pt. 1 “the flashback episode” it is not one in the traditional sense. We do go back in time to see how each member of the team is recruited or volunteers to be in Torchwood. Yet these are all new scenes. What connects them to previous episodes (ie flashes us back to scenes of old) is the way they reveal the character’s internal workings and explain some major conflicts explored throughout the series run. We finally find out why Owen still harbors resentment toward Jack and is always so quick to choose lethal means to express it, how Ianto’s relationship with Jack came to be (the complexity of which requires that you have seen Cyberwoman), and even why Toshiko seems perpetually apologetic. Another interesting twist in this episode, is that despite Owen’s constant belittling of Ianto, it turns out he is more qualified than most to be a member of the team.
The episode also brings back characters and reference points like UNIT. As I’ve said before, these references are important to the continued presence of Martha Jones in both Dr. Who and Torchwood. The fishman’s “return” (it’s a different fishman) acts as a narrative bookend returning us to episode 1 of this season and reminding us what the major point of this season has been: to explore the characters internal motivations and struggles. It also serves to remind us how far Jack has come from a moment when, like Gwen, he reviled killing as a solution to a time when he shoots first or hands over children willingly. Even the infamous line “the 21st century is when it all changes” makes an appearance as does Jack’s brother & John (yes, still dressed as Adam Ant). The only lapse is when the Weevils get out in pt. 2 Exit Wounds. There is no attempt to tie in the fact that Owen has bested the Weevils and is recognized as such by them. That is literally the only reference missing in the whole array available. Not too shabby.
Exit Wounds takes us out of the internal somewhat and returns to the action oriented finales that tend to typify the genre. It is a painful episode to watch on multiple levels, as we finally see why so much time was spent with Owen and Toshiko. Neither one survives the finale and both give their lives heroically saving Cardiff from nuclear disaster. Torchwood writers seem to have taken a very important lesson from Dr. Who, though they too have a double goodbye in store for Toshiko, neither one concedes her valiant efforts or import to the show in favor of a sappy “why don’t you love me” moment with Owen. Not only that, but he finally apologizes for his behavior and admits that he took too long to “figure it out;” it, being his own feelings. Both stay true to their characters and both deaths appear permanent enough that there will be no return, especially not for Owen.
You will never guess who the villain is in this episode, and if I have one complaint it is that they give it away too soon. Not only do they tell us, but the back story they provide is two sentences and repeated throughout the episode. It is unfortunate because there was so much we could have gotten had their been more time spent on flashbacks or dialog between them (Jack and “the villian”). Yet, I hope that the absence of such storytelling and the fact he ends up in the Torchwood freezer, means that we will get more information in time.
And speaking of time, this episode also has the important concept of bending time and trying to rectify the future through the present and the past that is essential to all of the really great episodes. They get wiser and deeper about these questions and issues every time.
It is hard to say who shined most here. Even Rhys had a major part (for him) in the finale. This was one of the best performances from Naoko Mori (Tosh) and Burn Gorman (Owen) for the entire series to date. I actually welled up watching them and not b/c of the mushy stuff. Barrowman’s performance was also stellar, but the time episodes are really when he does his best work so that should surprise no one. And yes, there are some great comedic moments but not from Ianto, rather they come from Captain John. I found myself wondering how much time the writers spend on youtube given the “we don’t have a song and if we did, it would not be that” joke. What would the song be? When John/Marsters says “I really love you” and then empties two machine gun rounds into Jack, I thought “enough with the violence passing as love already!” but he does love Jack, deeply, and he saves his life.
Marsters is also signed on to guest on season/series 3. And there has been some very quiet buzz about others we all want to see better utilized than they were this season. I hope that when they repopulate the team they do as well in embracing diversity casting as they have so far.
For me, the jury was still out on this season until seeing Exit Wounds. I think the writing and acting did nothing but improve and the characters all seem more fleshed out. While I thought entirely too much time was spent on Owen and his issues, I see now that without that time we would never have gotten to where we did in the show’s finale. I guess it goes to show that sometimes you have to trust that we are going somewhere and not just hold out for the immediate gratification.
This season, like the last one, raised some serious issues for academics who study identity and the media. When I write that analysis of the series I promised, it will most likely begin with the Ianto walking away in Fragments and end with Martha’s failed kiss in A Day in the Death.