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And only two weeks late. /sarcasm. By now there's probably nothing in there that hasn't been said hundreds of times all over the internet. Also, more harshing than squee, be warned.





The good:

Owen and Toshiko's death scenes are still moving and fantastically done; it's incredibly sad that after all they went thorough this should have been all they got, but on the other hand -- Owen has hurt her so often (and often deliberately) that it makes it so touching to see him calm down immediately, even with his life at stake, because she asks him to, because she tells him he's hurting her, and because at least in the end he cares enough to not to do that any more. And he does do apologies, after all, and mean them. Heartbreak. I'm going to miss them, but that was perfect closure to both their arcs. Toshiko's good-bye message still makes me sniff a little.

I also really liked Rhys and Andy, and I think making Rhys a more important character was one of the best decisions of S2, because TW really profits from bringing in people who are not part of the team on a more regular basis. It adds colour, humanity, realism and perspective and keeps it from becoming this closed-off, rather incestuous thing.


The rest:

Difficult. The first time I saw the episode my reaction was mostly wow, and OMG!!! and a lingering sense of too much, too fast, too intense.

On reviewing (twice, because I was having kind of a bad day the first time) I think this episode is built too much on the revelations about Gray and the shock value of what happens to Jack, and once that is gone, the plot holes and weaknesses of the action-driven part become rather too apparent. In my opinion the episode really improves (and becomes much more rewatchable) once Jack gets out fo the freezer, the pace slows down a little and they all get to do what they're best at, the emotional part.

For one thing there's what everyone already said - if things had gone as Gray intended them to go, there is (unless the TARDIS also changed something fundamental about Jack's brain) not a chance Jack would have been even remotely sane when TW dug him up 1874 years later, much less that he'd remember what he was supposed to be doing after barely enough time to wipe the dirt from his face and spit out the earth and assorted insect life. It's not only the suffocating and reviving, dying how many times a day, an hour?; it's also what crawls into your ears and nose and mouth, and starts eating you from the inside and breeding there, and almost two millennia of total sensory deprivation except for that. With nothing to hold on to except that fact that you believe you're doing it for penance (which I could see working for a few hours, or days, but starting to lose meaning pretty fast after that, and it wasn't as if Jack was supposed to have time to think), and that an old lover cared enough to mark your grave and that your new lover and your friends will -- eventually -- do their damnest to find you. Maybe the unlikely hope that someone will happen to dig a very deep hole in this very spot in the meantime. Or that John would manage to come back in time and dig him out. But of course none of this happened. That's suffering (and laying on the angst) beyond what is possible to realistically imagine and to the point where it ceases to have meaning; it doesn't help that they don't even start to convey the meaning with Jack coming out of it without ever showing an even remotely adequate reaction.

What I've always liked about TW is that it doesn't shy away from the consequences of what happens to characters. Which makes it doubly irritating that the show that had two episodes of Owen dealing with his state of (un)deadness, showed Jack struggling with his immortality for the whole first season and gave us episodes like Cyberwoman, Out of Time and Adrift, suddenly neglects this in favour of clever plot-twists. Would it be entirely unfair to say that this might be because Chris Chibnall leaves and won't be the one who'll have to pick up the pieces?

The only logical solution and possible fix for this plot-hole seems to be that things didn't really happen that way, that maybe Jack's body shut down, or that he learned to control the resurrection process and chose to remain dead for longer stretches of time. Except then his body would have started to rot, wouldn't it? Not a pleasant thought either. I'd really like to see that addressed in the next season.

And then... 'I forgive you'. I'm not exactly saying that this line would have been more meaningful here if it hadn't been used before, but it'd at least have been more effective. It worked beautifully with Owen in the S1 finale, and in Last of the Time Lords it summed up a rather interesting mixture of Christian themes and a completely fucked-up love/hate/need/loneliness relationship, and was, even considering the situation, appropriate because of who and what they were, but recycled a third time right away in the next season finale within the same universe it starts to smack a little of unoriginality. That it's essentially about Jack's need to be forgiven doesn't make that much of a difference either. And the basic similarities to the DW S3 finale don't stop there - Jack, like the Doctor, is powerless, partly or mostly by his own choice, and it's up to those who love him to save the day (even if it's only Cardiff, rather than the whole universe), the brother driven insane, the past coming back to haunt him, Jack, like the Doctor, a bit of a messianic figure ... It's not quite the same of course, the themes are reworked on a more personal and less epic scale, but for me it's still a bit too close for comfort.

The thing is, what I liked about this season is that it made Jack a more of a three-dimensional human character with weaknesses, guilt, a past, a childhood, aimlessly drifting for a hundred years waiting to find the Doctor again. Normal stuff. And living through what happened to him in this episode and surviving with his sanity intact, and being instantly willing to forgive the person who did this to him, is beyond human. I'd imagine even the Doctor would have been a bit more pissed off and rather less gracious if he'd been buried alive for two millennia instead of kept in a cage for a year. And for what? A child's mistake in a panic? Because John is right about one thing, it wasn't Jack's fault, at least not to the extent he was blaming himself, and if he has to learn one thing it's to forgive himself. I know it's supposed to be about the consequences of small actions, and the fact that life often is horrible like that, but it just seemed out of proportion somehow -- not that Gray would do what he did, maybe not even that Jack would think he actually deserved it, because apparently he has tortured himself over this for much of his life and I could kind of see him having an incredibly ill-timed What Would The Doctor Do? moment, but... somehow it didn't convince me. Maybe it always comes down to the lack of consequences and reactions.

The finale felt as if they were not only making Jack (wanting to) atone for a mistake he made as a child, but, from the writer's perspective, erase every instance where he came off as less than shiny and heroic over the season, and from KKBB and Sleeper to Adrift and Fragments there were quite a few of those moments.


Then there's Jack's past and Gray's story. I already thought that the glimpses we got in Adam were a little... bland, maybe, but there JB managed to convince me of what they mean to Jack. In this episode, however, the lack of convincingly fleshed out back-story really made itself felt, IMO.

On the whole I think the finale could probably have been a lot better if it had been a two-parter with more time given to Gray, Jack and John's history. Personally, I'd have scrapped Sleeper (Not so much because I have issues with it, but because unless those aliens are going to turn up in the current DW season it added nothing to the series as a whole plot-wise, except maybe to establish that TW really does protect humanity from time to time, nor does it specifically advance the relationships between any of the characters. [*]) and pushed everything back one episode, which would have given them enough time to really explore what happened to Gray in the finale and actually make the viewer care about him. A vague 'those creatures' or 'the worst creatures imaginable' might have been enough in CJH and Adam, but when we're actually dealing with the consequences of what they did, it'd be useful to get a name or faces, a history and a general sense of what they want besides torture and kill, or why they do it. As far as I'm concerned neither James Marsters not the actor who played Gray managed to give an adequate impression of the horror of what happened, and the whole thing fell a little flat. Even Lovecraft's nameless and unspeakable monsters get to show the occasional tentacle.

I don't know if it was a money or time issue not to shoot any scenes of Gray's history, but if you choose to simply tell the story, then (sorry, TW) it needs to be done better and more convincingly. And I agree with what everyone already said about the casting choice for Gray -- did they just pick the next best actor roughly John Barrowman's size? Not to be extra bitchy, but if you have a character who is not just one dimensionally evil, but in many ways a child stuck in an adult's body, mentally destroyed, emotionally dead to everything except hate, you need to pick an actor who can actually play that and make you feel the tragedy of it, as well as some sympathy. I can't get all this just from Jack's reaction, and it's putting too much of a burden on JB. I've never come close to agreeing with that particular subset of the It's-crap-and-I'm-only-watching-it-for-the-boykissing crowd that constantly claims that JB can't act, because IMO he's done some pretty amazing things over both TW seasons as well as on DW, but in this episode I think he's been given a nearly impossible task with this story line, and the lack of support he got from the actor who played Gray. How do you convincingly say 'I forgive you' from out of drawer? Not that most of it isn't still good, all things considered, especially the scene after he gets out of the morgue ['Oh, and by the way, I'll need a cloth drenched with chloroform when I wake up, thank you very much'? Hm.], when Jack with perfect sincerity acknowledges that it's all his fault, even when his brother can't hear him any more.



Relationship-wise...

I know the episode was already rather crammed, but at the risk of becoming annoyingly repetitive, I'd really have liked something more of a Jack/Ianto scene, emphasis on Jack, because once again it was pretty clear what Ianto felt, storming in ready to shoot John and not stopping for reasons not to.

On the other hand, I rather did like what they did with John, making him a bit more of a three dimensional character; still a hedonist, still not nice, and I tend to think part of him wanted for Jack to get hurt. Just not that much. And he'd have preferred to do it himself, rather than be forced to do it for someone else's agenda. And there's always murder rehab and the fact that Jack, who refused to believe Ianto's story about having killed those girls even in the face of what very much looked like proof, never even hesitated to believe that John would do this, even when John tried to tell him it wasn't him. Regardless, it was nice to see him capable of some basic loyalty, not the least because considering that Jack wasn't quite indifferent in KKBB it throws a better light on him, too. He's not a hero, but even if it's true that he does love Jack, and I rather tend to believe it is, as far as he's capable of feeling anything like that, Jack hasn't given him all that much reason to let himself be killed to protect him.

What's kind of worrying is that Ianto's 'There's always a choice' implies that he'd have died in an instant rather than let himself used against Jack like this.



And a final minor quibble -

'What the hell are you doing here?' (Owen to the power station employee.) Shouldn't the question rather be why is there only one woman dealing with the imminent melt-down of a nuclear power station in/near a city with more than 300.000 inhabitants? And yay for Owen being heroic, and obviously it had to be done to set up the dramatic death scene, but how bloody irresponsible is to send away the one person who actually knows what she's doing? Toshiko is brilliant, but anything could have happened at any moment to the communication lines, or to her - and did, in fact happen, and if Gray hadn't either had a bad aim, or (more likely) was going for a drawn-out, painful death, Owen would have been screwed and Cardiff Chernobyl II. I'm not usually so nit-picky about logic & details, but this stood out rather glaringly.




[*] The alternative would have been FootR, but while it's certainly not the best episode of the season, it is necessary in terms of the Jack/ianto relationship.



In conclusion, favourite S2 episodes, although that might change after I've rewatched the whole show, which I'm totally going to do in the next two (free! yay!) weeks.

Fantastic, fantastic, fantastic: A Day in the Death

Very close, in no particular order: To the Last Man, Meat, Adam, Something Borrowed, Adrift

Almost there: Fragments

Hm: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Not that it wasn't good, not that I disliked it, but it just doesn't generate the same warm fuzzy fanish feeling. Dead Man Walking, which has some absolutely brilliant parts, and some that I don't like as much.

So-so: Reset, From Out of the Rain, Exit Wounds

Disliked: Sleeper, for unacknowledged iffy ethical issues made even worse by Fragments and Toshiko's story, not because it's such a bad episode.

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