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Russian class was boring. I'm aware people have busier lives than mine, with their Dienstreisen and bank jobs and computer specialist jobs and lawyer jobs and did I ever feel like a total loser when we were talking about our professions a few lessons ago, lives that aren't spent between mind-numbingly boring work and writing endless Torchwood meta, but I still wish they'd study a bit more, especially those who'd already missed one lesson before Easter break, so that we wouldn't have had to repeat everything all over again today, but could have (gasp, horror) actually moved on . ::grumbles::

And speaking of Torchwood meta... I've been browsing through reactions and reviews for Fragments on torchwood_three and couldn't quite help noticing that apparently no one else saw the implications for Jack's arc that I saw... Which kind of begs the question, am I a bit delusional? Over interpreting? Over-identifying? Have I gone the way of the crazier kind of Harmonians? Should I find something else (and probably more useful... perhaps I'd already be fluently speaking Russian?) to occupy my (apparently) brain-in-overdrive with?

I'd say I've been imagining things, except that I pretty much don't even have an imagination, much less an over-active one. Yet for me this was the episode where for Jack everything clicked into place like that, Adrift, his whole psychology, and if I had any kind of imagination or writerly talent I'd be writing fic by now instead of more metaish stuff. The Jack/Ianto part of yesterday's post I had to think about more, the part about Jack was just there.

I think we're meant to see that Jack's time at Torchwood wasn't a particularly happy one. There's a reason there's not a single positive moment or memory shown between Jack's recruitment to Torchwood and him standing there with Alex's blood on his face, just a sequence of updated files. There's plenty of bleakness and desperation in Jack even in S1, and by then he at least had some control over his life, TW Cardiff on his own terms and his own (mostly) hand-picked team -- which he still left without a backward look or a good-bye note at the first sound of the TARDIS.

IMO Jack didn't have a plan, not when he joined Torchwood, and not for the next hundred years or so. When they recruited him, he'd only found out about his immortality six months ago (left/lost his wife, too?), travelled to Cardiff from the US (in Utopia he says he was shot on Ellis Island) in the tenuous hope that the Doctor might turn up there eventually and fix him, and meanwhile got drunk, got into fights, and got killed about twice a month. Jack is not at his finest and most heroic there, and I think we're supposed to see that. The one time he actually does stand up to the two TW ladies is almost immediately invalidated when he comes back before they even have to make good on their threats. The man who says 'What will I do in the meantime', as if more than a hundred years only counted as an impediment between now and then, with such a blank, desperate look is not someone with a plan to subvert Torchwood. If anything, he was planning to use them for his own purpose (And how's that for a Ianto parallel?), to find the Doctor, but in that case the implication that the price was going to be having to do or at the very least witness a lot of unsavory things is a given, I think, after the scene with the blowfish alien. But Jack probably didn't give a shit about much of anything right then, or for a while afterwards.

It's hard to say if that was his lowest point, because we still know too little about his life before he met the Doctor, but it's a long fall from his heroism on Satellite 5. He'll have picked himself up eventually, because I think there's a natural tendency in Jack that makes him bounce back at least to a certain extent from whatever happens, but there is no evidence whatsoever that he changed anything in Torchwood at all, before it, along with the dead bodies of the latest team [*], was bequeathed to him by someone who'd seen into the future, or thought he had, and couldn't bear it. And if Alex hadn't done what he did it'd probably still have been 'field agent Captain Jack Harkness' by the time the Doctor finally turned up in Cardiff. No grand Macciavellian plan for a take-over there. What he did indeed do was use its resources to find the Doctor ('was once again to be found operating...'), but as far as we know that's about it. Maybe by the end enough of a silent or even outspoken opposition made Alex believe Jack would turn Torchwood into something different, but even that heavily implies that until then there hadn't been any changes at all.

And when he does take over Torchwood Cardiff he erases his past completely. None of the new recruits knew about Jack's immortality or past at Torchwood, and while they subsequently find out about the former, he takes great care to keep the latter well hidden. A complete new start, tabula rasa. Which is only too logical when the past came with all kinds of unpleasant memories and a lingering sense of guilt and shame. He'd worked for a longer time than he'd lived before he joined them for an organisations whose goals and methods he disapproved of, and (perhaps just as importantly, if not more so) he knew the Doctor would disapprove of; I think guilt is pretty much a given. Jack the time agent maybe wouldn't have felt it as strongly, but the Jack who'd met the Doctor and Rose could hardly have escaped it.

[*] And this adds a rather gruesome note to the closing scene of TKKS and Jack's remark about running out of space; not only must he have know almost everyone in there, he probably put the bodies of those whose deaths only made him the leader of Torchwood Cardiff there himself.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 31st, 2008 11:16 pm (UTC)
I completely agree with you! I haven't read much other meta, but that's exactly the way I saw Jack: killing time, pretty much, for a whole century where he knew only two things with absolute certainty - his own inability to die, and the fcat that at no point in that hundred years, guaranteed, would he be able to meet the Doctor again and have any kind of answers to why he was the way he is now.

I think he didn't do anything especially heroic or worthy, in his own eyes, in his times working for or with Torchwood. We know he went to war at least three times, and seems ambivalent about that too, as well he might: he'd be able to influence the survival of a handful of troops around him, while always knowing the ultimate outcome of any battle overall, never being able to substantively save lives or stop the carnage, for fear of adulterating the timeline - and the need to see the Doctor again on Earth would be a huge disincentive to risking that.

For most of that time, Torchwood would have been Torchwood One, with Three just the humdrum provincial office. Jack's loathing of Torchwood One is pretty complete and I think, like you, there's no reason to suppose he has fond memories of his involvement. And I don't think he was biding his time with a cunning plan back then, either. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that it's Alex's actions which actually spur Jack into dropping the willingness to just cruise along - it's a terrible wake-up call to him, underlining how utterly ill-equipped this planet is going to be to face what's coming in the new century.

Alex sees that, I think - sees that Jack is someone who has the knowledge and capacity to maybe take a lead and make a difference. He forces Jack into that role, and it's only then, as the century turns again, that Jack starts to truly act like a man with any profound responsibility to people other than himself. Which is why this new team, the people he sought out and chose one by one (or who chose him!) turn out, in the end, to matter more than any of the people he's worked with and lived with in the preceding decades.
Mar. 31st, 2008 11:48 pm (UTC)
I'd go as far as to say that it's Alex's actions which actually spur Jack into dropping the willingness to just cruise along


(And I'm sorry, I'll be back with more of a reply tomorrow; my brain has kind of given up working for tonight...)
Apr. 1st, 2008 05:02 pm (UTC)
he'd be able to influence the survival of a handful of troops around him, while always knowing the ultimate outcome of any battle overall, never being able to substantively save lives or stop the carnage, for fear of adulterating the timeline

I must admit I hadn't considered that at all, and that really makes it look rather bleak. (Although it'd depend a bit on how thoroughly he read into WW2 history for his self-cleaning cons and how long a time he'd spent on Earth before. He'd probably know the general outcome, namely that the good guys would win, and he'd have heard about the major battles before 1941, but I'm not sure that back then he'd been all that interested in anything beyond the London Blitz and where the bomb he'd place his piece of space-junk under would fall.) Still, in CJH he's probably the happiest we've seen him the whole season, and never even particularly worried about getting back, so on the whole that time must carry more positive than negative memories for him.

He forces Jack into that role, and it's only then, as the century turns again, that Jack starts to truly act like a man with any profound responsibility to people other than himself.

I absolutely agree. And the turn of the century was maybe enough of a reminder by itself - it might have been another 90something years before the Doctor's return, but Jack was surely hoping it would be sooner rather than later, and he might have wanted something to show for all those years, something he could actually be proud of.

I think the problem is how Jack is still mostly referred to as a hero, which he certainly was on Satellite 5, but ever since, and especially during this season in my opinion, they've been deconstructing the heroic image, at least if you're talking about the traditional definition of a hero. To begin with, heroism isn't only about doing things, but doing them at a risk to yourself, and like Jack himself said, for him the stakes just aren't the same. (Incidentally, there's an episode in S5 Smallville where Clark totally fails to recognise that it's a different thing when Lex steps in front of a bullet for Lana than when he saves her.) For all his immortality, or maybe because of it, Jack's struggle is much more mundane in a way -- to find meaning and joy in life from day to day, to keep going in face of all the darkness that is out there, to ceep caring, and not to let the fact that almost everything could be seen as meaningless in the universal scheme of things overwhelm you.

I am nothing like Jack, but writing this, it occurred to me that this is maybe why I... 'identify' is taking things to far, but maybe am drawn to him most of all the TW characters. And I actually do like Jack better this season, now that he's become more three-dimensionally human...
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Apr. 2nd, 2008 06:50 pm (UTC)
Torchwood tends to be a bit too bleak for my taste too, sometimes, although I think S2 has improved a lot in this respect. I'll wait for the finale, but on the whole the message I got from this season so far is that life may be meaningless if you're looking at it from a universal perspective, but that you can, and have to, make it mean something for yourself, and the people around you, or it really is wasted, and you become like Captain John.

I've always been somewhat drawn to Jack, but I never really figured out why until I wrote my reply to rivier's comment above. I'm still trying to put it into words, and maybe this is really crossing the border into over-identifying, but if you've experienced depression, when basically everything becomes meaningless... Jack kind of personifies the struggle against the meaninglessness, because if you know you're going to be around for a very, very long time it's probably only too easy to slip into a state of mind where nothing matters at all. Especially once you've stood at the end of the universe beneath a sky without stars anymore and realised you might well be there to see this a second time. And there's a lot of despair in Jack, especially in S1 as long as he struggled with his immortality, but there's also this intense love for life, the ability to care that he never quite loses -- not until the end, if we're looking at his death. And I guess the struggle between these two sides, and the fact that they can co-exist within him and that he does pick himself up again and find meaning and joy in life is what makes the character appealing to me, even if he can be an asshole sometimes.

I'm not sure if that makes any sense at all to you at all.

Jack is still a bit elusive, but interestingly enough at this point Ianto is the one that I think I've got even less of a grip on than him, maybe because we've never even seen him outside TW at all - there was this tiny bit about camping with Lisa in S1, and his love for Welsh history in FOOTR, but we haven't even seen his apartment (which I assume he does have...).
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 3rd, 2008 10:05 pm (UTC)
I think an important moment, and maybe the one that had the greatest emotional impact on me in S2 was the final scene in A Day In The Death with Owen and the woman on the roof. Because that's what it's about for me most of the time, although it's been getting easier over the last years, finding something to make it worth it to go on. And admittedly that's not very positive as far as positive messages go, but for Torchwood saying unequivocally that this is possible is certainly better than anything we got last season. And granted, Owen in many ways got it worse than Jack, but I think that's what Jack's arc is about, too. First when he takes over Torchwood and tries to actually turn it into something good and useful, and especially when he choses to come back there.

And I wrote a long paragraph about making one's life mean something in the face of an infitite (and as likely as not indifferent) universe, but then deleted it because by the end I wasn't sure any longer if I made any sense at all, even to me, and thought that perhaps I should know more about philosophy before discussing this, and that maybe we didn't even disagree all that much, but I can't really put it into words at the moment. But I'll go on thinking about it.

I can understand that one can struggle with one's own life to the point of despair, but at the same time still mostly retain the basic conviction that life, or the world, is essentially something wonderful and worthwhile, even if one can't see it at the moment oneself. I never really thought life was worthless - just my life. I actually tried to argue other people who said the same aobut their lives out of it. For Owen what he went through tainted the rest of the world for him. I don't think it was ever really like that for Jack. I'm sorry, but I can't really explain it better than that.

And thanks for the insight into Ianto; I really don't know why I have such a hard time connecting to his character; I tend to blame it on my general unimaginativeness...

Edited at 2008-04-03 10:06 pm (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 3rd, 2008 07:20 pm (UTC)
Thanks for your ruminations on Torchwood. You put into words what I am thinking much of the time. Brilliant :)

Apr. 3rd, 2008 10:11 pm (UTC)
You're welcome! :) Glad you enjoyed it!
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )


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