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Mar. 27th, 2008


That? Was the hardest episode to review by far, especially looking at it from the relationship perspective, because on the surface it's really plot driven. It's ostensibly about Gwen, but also quietly paves the way for Fragments (and in a way Fragments is necessary to fully understand Jack's actions and motivations here) and Jack's backstory, and although most of their interaction is almost or outright hostile, it's also a Jack and Gwen episode, a follow up to Meat and Something Borrowed, exploring their relationship with each other, as well as with Rhys and Ianto.

And it's also maybe the episode I most changed my mind over while rewatching, especially after having seen Fragments, and after 1000+ words am still not really sure I got it right. But since I have to start somewhere I might just as well begin with a purely emotional reaction, because it's characteristic for the whole episode: the second viewing reaction was of course a bit different, once one knows what Jack is hiding, and why, but the first time I saw the scene where Gwen initially approaches him about his presence on the Barrage the night Jonah disappeared, and he brushes her off rather obviously (And Jack? Not the best liar in the world, probably because he doesn't do it much; when he isn't deliberately evasive he just tells the truth and trusts that no one will believe it anyway.), already half out of the door unenthusiastically asks if she wants him to look into it, and then concludes with 'Gotta run. Weevil hunting with Ianto' [*], I thought, Ouch, Jack. Harsh.


And again when Gwen confronts Jack with what she and Tosh found out about the disappearances; he concedes what he is absolutely forced to concede, dismisses everything else; and what makes the scene even more unpleasant is there's suddenly a kind of rift running through the group where it's not only Gwen against Jack, but Gwen and Toshiko against the men of the team, with Ianto immediately siding with Jack (or, as it turns out, covering up for him) and Owen not following far behind. The (implied: over-)emotional women against the rational men who can accept reality.

I's probably saying something about Jack's level of uneasiness that it's again he who runs from the situation, but that doesn't make it any less rude. And while Ianto is genuinely trying to be nice about it, his 'I'll talk to him' emphasises the divide even more and comes across as just a tad condescending and proprietary, because since when has Gwen needed Ianto, or anyone else to intercede with Jack on her behalf? Although in hindsight, since Ianto knows about the island (whether it's because Jack told him, or because he does indeed know everything about Torchwood Cardiff) he'll hardly have tried to persuade Jack to go along with Gwen's plan of further investigating the disappearances and helping the families of the missing people; he can only have tried to convince him to do the only reasonable thing, to come clean and tell her the truth, maybe even offered to do it himself, before the situation got any worse. Jack's immediate assumption that it had been Ianto who told her when Gwen does find out, and his lack of surprise, rather does suggest that Ianto had advocated doing so before. But Jack apparently emphatically refused.


And then there's the scene when Gwen walks in on Jack and Ianto. We've seen Gwen and Ianto get on well before, and again, understandable embarrassment aside, neither of them seem to have much of a problem with the situation, or each other. Gwen apologises, Ianto says it doesn't matter, and everything is fine, give or take a few images she probably won't be able to erase from her brain any time soon. In FootR I thought there was maybe just a tinge of jealousy in Gwen's 'Is that what you're calling it these days', but even then it was nothing too overt, and here she genuinely does seem to be okay with it.

The tension starts the moment Jack steps out of the office, 'Always room for one more...'

And this just not the same as Owen's 'Let's all have sex' in Sleeper, even though Owen probably mostly meant it, whereas Jack probably mostly doesn't; not with that edge of aggression, not in a sexually charged atmosphere like that, not with Jack standing there, arrogant, half-naked, trousers still open, and not when he's saying it to someone where there's a certain mutual attraction. This isn't a joke (and Gwen, whom no one can accuse of lacking a sense of humour, and who was giggling half a minute before, doesn't treat it as one, either), this is calculated to put Gwen on the defensive before she ever opens her mouth, because of course Jack knows why she's here. She was embarrassed and amused before, now she's uncomfortable. Ianto may try to go between them again and take the sting out of it, but it doesn't really work.

And when Gwen insists on pursuing the case, Jack just stares her down and then totally dismisses her, switching his attention Ianto, seduction mode, demands, just short of an order, that Ianto takes his side in this, and come back in for the interrupted sex to continue, and then simply walks away and into his office and is out of his shirt and trousers again with Gwen still standing there, never mind the glass walls.

And that, no matter which way you look at it, is a pretty appalling way to behave towards both Gwen and Ianto, insulting to Gwen, and putting Ianto in an impossible position. Two people he supposedly likes/loves/is attracted to. And if nothing else, two people he works with, and who have to work with each other; bringing a personal relationship into a conflict essentially about work and driving that kind of wedge between them is simply irresponsible and unprofessional.

(Question in parenthesis, does anyone think they actually picked up where they left off when Gwen walked in? Because I have a hard time picturing that.)

It's Ianto who doesn't let himself be turned into a pawn in Jack's power-game and by giving Gwen the GPS saves the whole situation. Who actually knows how to have a relationship with the boss in a way not to make yourself disliked by your colleagues and who behaves a lot better, and can we say more maturely, than Jack throughout the episode, being stuck in that uncomfortable place between Jack and Gwen as he is. I don't have much of problem believing that Ianto would disobey Jack here, because Ianto knows, as I think does Jack himself, when he isn't being a total dick, that Jack is simply wrong about this and is behaving impossibly, and that realistically he can't hide the dark side of Torchwood from Gwen forever, however much he may want to.

(Side-note in parenthesis, what's interesting about this episode as far as the Jack/Ianto relationship is concerned is that while it's still mostly about sex, it's also the first time where Ianto sleeping with Jack impacts not just the two of them, but Ianto's relationship with the rest of the team.)

It's also interesting to compare this scene with the dance at the end of SB; the same triangle, only now it's Ianto between Gwen and Jack and Jack being a lot more openly possessive about him than we've seen him so far. At first I thought there was an undercurrent where Jack was, a bit like Andy, frustrated about Gwen's marriage, but couldn't say anything about it; a subconscious or semi-conscious reaction to having lost her, at least a bit, and not necessarily only in the romantic sense, and that this fuelled the conflict between them and led to this kind of behaviour where he suddenly almost flaunted his and Ianto's relationship in a See what you've missed? way.

On second thoughts (& viewing), I'm not so sure now. Maybe it's the contrast -- since there weren't any real Jack and Gwen scenes in FootR, the last time we've seen them together was at her wedding with the regret and the deep gazes and the dancing, which makes the change in Jack's behaviour really marked. Maybe it's also partly a result of the fact that they're deliberately trying to make Jack look ambiguous throughout the first half of the episode.


I believe the crucial question of the episode is why it is so unthinkable for Jack to simply tell Gwen, and the likliest answer is that he was trying to protect her from the knowledge of what happened to these people, and, perhaps even more importantly, as well as more selfishly, himself from her reaction to that knowledge. I'm not sure what convinced him that being an absolute jerk was the best way to go about it, but Jack on the defensive and having to deal with an uncomfortable situation tends to be like that, and apparently in his mind this -- anything -- was preferable to her finding out the truth.


This becomes obvious from his abrupt change behaviour when they meet on the island. The anger flares up briefly one last time when Gwen tells him to open the door to Jonah's cell and he once more tries to dissuade her, but the look he gives her when he moves behind her to the door is so full of regret and resignation, as if he sees their whole relationship crumbling to dust.










It was actually there before that, but I didn't notice until I accidentally paused the video there:




This is when Gwen tells him she won't let this go, just after 'We could have used you an hour ago...' and before 'I don't know how I can be any clearer.', with the flaunting sex and the unzipped trousers and everything, and that tends to distract a bit from the tired, serious, almost haunted look on his face, and it makes me really wonder how much of what follows is a pure instinct, and how much is calculated to be as brutal as possible in a last attempt to finally stop her from persuing this.

And afterwards, on the cliffs, a very subdued Jack, almost pleading with her to understand and not to blame him for what he inherited from his predecessor. (Except that's not the whole truth, not quite. I don't think Gwen knows, and Jack doesn't tell her [**], that when he took over Torchwood he'd been there already for more than a century. He might have been powerless to change much during that time, but in Gwen's eyes that would still have made him partly responsible, even, I think, if he told her the whole ugly story about how he ended up there in the first place. And he still can't bear to tell her the full truth about what happened to these people.) Wanting absolution, wanting to be told that he'd done the right thing.

Which is my main reason for not believing that Jack and Ianto played Gwen with the GPS, although I could see how it might look like that for the first half of the episode, because Jack is devastated here. He never wanted this to happen, he never wanted Gwen to back away from him in fear, or see that look in her eyes.


But it's only after Fragments that it becomes fully clear why Jack is so adamant about not telling Gwen, and what she was to him since her first day at Torchwood: everything he wanted his new Torchwood to be, and more, because she, more than the other members of his team, brought an innocence into it that he himself had lost long before he ever came there. Gwen was the litmus test for a Torchwood the Doctor could approve of. And he wants her to see only his new and improved, shiny Torchwood, the magic she saw when she first entered the Hub; a place of wonders, not of horrors. An institution that does good, that helps people. Not the dead bodies, and those driven insane screaming in their cells. Not tainted by the past and all the ugly things he'd done or been forced to do, or watched, or tolerated in over a hundred years and feels guilty and ashamed for, nor the ugly things that he's learned the hard way were necessary.

No wonder his insistence that 'Here and now, that's what's important. The work we do, the person I am now, that's what I'm proud of,' in the first episode. And no wonder he never made a serious effort to start a relationship with Gwen, because then the skeletons would have to come out of the closet, and after a hundred years in Torchwood he'd have accumulated quite a few. It's hard to tell how Gwen would have reacted to a full disclosure, but while she may love Jack, she's always had reservations about him, and I think what she saw in Adrift did make her look at Torchwood and Jack differently, judging from the fact that she seems actually willing to give Rhys's wish for children a serious thought and that she turns to him for comfort, away from Torchwood. But there's no doubt that Jack was afraid to lose at least part of her love and respect, or maybe for her to lose her innocence and humanity that made her so special in his eyes, if she found out.

Gwen tries to tell Nikki the truth, Jack tries to hide the truth from Gwen, they both do what they think is best and end up hurting the ones they were trying to help. There is no good solution here, although Jack might at least have spared Gwen the pain of Nikki's reproach, if he had told her the truth in the beginning; no easy moral. 'Some things we can't fix' turns out to be nothing less than the truth, and maybe that, too, was a life-lesson that Jack wanted to spare Gwen.






[*] And 'weevil hunting with Ianto'? After Fragments that's almost kind of romantic. In a slightly fucked-up revisiting the first date sense, but still.)

[**] I'm not sure if Ianto knows, but Jack didn't tell him either when he asked about who sent him to investigate the Night Travellers; and after Fragments one can guess a little better at what a source of guilt and shame much of this century spent working for Torchwood must be for Jack.



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