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Aug. 17th, 2009

*hides face in hands* 5000something words. *questions own sanity*

Torchwood: Children of Earth - Ethics, narrative structure, and why I don't think that Ianto's death was meaningless, or homophobic; still not touching that debate, though. Well, mostly. Also some thoughts about Jack that just kinda happened. Um.

Many thanks go to alex_beecroft, who took the time to discuss this with me and helped me clarify and verbalise my own thoughts.

The plot, then, is the first principle, and, as it were, the soul of a tragedy; Character holds the second place.
A perfect tragedy should, as we have seen, be arranged not on the simple but on the complex plan. It should, moreover, imitate actions which excite pity and fear, this being the distinctive mark of tragic imitation. It follows plainly, in the first place, that the change of fortune presented must not be the spectacle of a virtuous man brought from prosperity to adversity: for this moves neither pity nor fear; it merely shocks us. Nor, again, that of a bad man passing from adversity to prosperity: for nothing can be more alien to the spirit of Tragedy; it possesses no single tragic quality; it neither satisfies the moral sense nor calls forth pity or fear. Nor, again, should the downfall of the utter villain be exhibited. A plot of this kind would, doubtless, satisfy the moral sense, but it would inspire neither pity nor fear; for pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves. Such an event, therefore, will be neither pitiful nor terrible. There remains, then, the character between these two extremes- that of a man who is not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty.
- Aristotle, Poetics -

Part 1: Complication

There has been a lot of talk about how CoE changed the tone of TW, but to me the maybe most important difference between S3 and the earlier series seems to be that the plot of CoE has a much stronger and clearer ethical framework, and in this respect is closer to RTD's DW episodes. in S1 Everything Changes set the tone for TW with Jack's question to the man Suzie murdered and brought back to life, and the answer he gets - 'Nothing': this life is all you get, make the most of it. (Random Shoes, They Keep Killing Suzie, Captain Jack Harkness) The leitmotif of S1 was the necessity to find (positive) meaning in life even if it doesn't have any ulterior, absolute meaning and is often painful and ugly (Ghost Machine, Small Worlds, Countrycide, Greeks Bearing Gifts, Out of Time, Combat), to the point of admitting that sometimes it doesn't work out like that (Out of Time, Combat; to an extent Jack's whole arc culminating in his semi-suicidal sacrifice in End of Days.) S2 was a little more positive as Jack started coming to terms with his immortality ('These people. This planet. All the beauty you could never see. That's what I come back for.'), but the theme is picked up again with Owen's Dead Man Walking/A Day in the Death arc and to an extent in Adam especially with Ianto's 'Coming here gave me meaning again.'

On the other hand, ethical questions have more often than not (deliberately?) been left open: There are a few relatively clear-cut easy good vs. evil episodes (Ghost Machine, Countrycide, Meat, Reset), but often enough there are literally no answers to the moral dilemmas. (Cyberwoman, Small Worlds, They Keep Killing Suzie, Sleeper, To the Last Man, Adrift; maybe to acertain extent Jack's story in Fragments)

Now it's not as if TW suddenly embraced an easy black and white moralism with CoE, because there certainly still are plenty of awful moral dilemmas there. Even the original question (twelve children against the possibility of millions of dead people) is not that simple. But I think it's important to note that CoE is the first time that it's unambiguously canonically acknowledged that something that Jack did or had helped doing, handing over these children in 1965, was wrong.

alex_beecroft didn't agree, but for me that was really the worst thing we've seen Jack do so far. Before that, every time Jack's nastier side came out, whoever got hurt or killed was - or at least turned out to be, although I'm very much not a fan of this kind of justification after the event - an actual threat. Even Beth, much as I still hate the episode and James Moran's argument that apparently it wasn't so bad because she volunteered. On the other hand Tommy in To the Last Man made his own decision in the end, however much Torchwood essentially used him and Jack more or less shoved him into place; knowing the consequences for himself, which I think was a crucial element of the story. Even the girl in Small Worlds chose to go with the fairies.

These twelve children never had a chance to do that. They were picked because they were alone, wouldn't be missed and no one would defend them or protect them, they were lied to, they were completely helpless and had no idea what was going to happen to them. I think as far as authorial intent is concerned (interpretation is of course open to everything) the moral here is that there are some compromises you don't make, some lines you don't cross; that the price of appeasement policy sometimes is too high. ('You yielded in the past. You will do so again.') That even with the threat of not getting the anti-virus and all the deaths possibly resulting from that, this wasn't just another of Torchwood's 'hard', but in the end essentially justifiable decisions.

But even so it would have been possible to make Jack look better in that scene. It would have been easy to take the route that JB took in at least an interview I've seen, saying that Jack would do anything to protect Earth. But- 'Actually we need someone who doesn't care'? What kind of a reputation did Jack have that he wasn't only the first pick for that job, but was it because he wouldn't care about handing over twelve children for aliens to do God knows what with them? My immediate thought at the time was that the torture reference in Countrycide must really have been Torchwood related, it fit just too well. They clearly didn't even expect him to say 'no', either. And that's what makes this so awful - no resistance, no visible struggle, no conscience, no awareness of right or wrong; just cold, detached calculation. 'Just twelve. Sounds like a good deal.' Perhaps, duty, although that already seems to be pushing it. And it's, in a sense, this apathy, this moral vacuum, that Jack indulged in for too long that forty years later kills Ianto and Steven.

It didn't come wholly unexpected, though. There were hints about Jack's dubious past in Torchwood all over S2, starting with his flat-out refusal to discuss his past with Gwen in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang ('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 context of the episode that could be understood to refer to Captain John and the Time Agency, but Jack keeps acting like someone with a few skeletons in his closet when it comes to Torchwood. Refusing to answer Ianto's question about who sent him to investigate the Night Travellers. His behaviour towards Gwen in Adrift, where it really wasn't even his fault, or a situation he could - barring a layer of paint and maybe nicer accomodations - fix, so there was no actual reason to act this guiltily. His defensiveness towards the Doctor and his almost frantic effort to distance himself from the 'old regime', neglecting to mention that he'd served them for a century.

The sense that Jack was feeling both guilty and ashamed about much of his time in Torchwood ('the person I am now, that's what I'm proud of' emphatically implying the opposite about an unqualified amount of time before 'now') I felt was cemented by Jack's story in Fragments. Although it was never explicitly addressed in canon, if this is an organisation that will torture and kill innocent people, and you leave in moral outrage but then come crawling back anyway, albeit with a bit of an attitude - not because you suddenly believe in what they're doing, not because they actually made good on their threats and put some real pressure on you, but because you couldn't care less how you spend the next century, and they suited your needs, and actually go on working for them for the next hundred years, that compromises you. There wasn't much time to consider the implications because Fragments was immediately followed by Exit Wounds, which left little room to think about anything else, and I thought I was maybe overreacting or over-interpreting, because I'll be the first person to admit that I do have the tendency to take things too seriously, but the potential was definitely there. And the audio plays were preparing the ground just a bit - Asylum, where the ending clearly implied that even Jack's new and improved Torchwood wasn't handling things as well as he thought he was, or Jack defending his actions in Golden Age claiming he'd just been following orders. Ianto's 'Since when have you obeyed orders?' already hints at the fact that there is indeed a much less heroic Jack he doesn't know at all. 'I've lived a long time, I've done a lot of things.'

Exit Wounds never really worked for me at least partly because cause and effect seemed so completely and unfairly out of proportion for a child's mistake in a panic. (Life of course is horribly unfair; but the laws of fiction work a bit differently.) If Tosh and Owen's deaths were, in a way, a consequence of what the child Jack did, or happened to him, this was nothing he's actually to blame for, beyond the fact that he recruited them. Tragic, but not his fault, as Captain John points out. The moral... emptiness of his century in Torchwood is something Jack is much more directly responsible for.

But at the same time, and that's what makes Jack's story tragic rather than just unpleasant, much of this is a result of Jack having to find a way of dealing with his unasked-for immortality, left behind by the Doctor to struggle with the results on his own; making him, too, in a way the victim of a force he had no control over. Frobisher's option of blowing his own brains out after killing his family was never a way out of despair or simply too much pain for Jack, not that, judging from what he said in Golden Age, he didn't try. No lasting solution, the questions just keep coming, with no way out, ever. None of us asks to be born, but we all at least have the option of quitting.

Finally there's RTD in that AfterElton interview: 'So it [Ianto's dying] was maximum damage to Jack. And it had to be Jack who was damaged because he’s the sort of moral player here. He’s the one that gave away 12 children back in 1965 to these alien gods. So actually he paid the price to damage him, to make this a tale of retribution and perhaps redemption all come around to him, you have to kill his lover.' Now either my English reading comprehension isn't as good as I thought it was or the transcription/interpunctuation seems a bit weird in the last sentence, but I think he's pretty unequivocally stating that handing over the children was wrong, and that Jack has to deal with the consequences.

Part 2: Reversal

So if the fact that Jack made a bad mistake back in 1965 is a given, that makes Ianto's '[You should have] stood up to them,' something of a moral absolute in this story. There is no moral dilemma here for Ianto, no uncertainty or hesitation; he doesn't need time to think about his answer. 'The Jack I know would have stood up to them.' This isn't up for debate either: 'This must have been eating away at you' (implication: it better had, or I really don't know any longer who the man I'm in love with is, and we're going to have a problem). Ianto can forgive it, but only under the (unquestioned) assumption that Jack has changed and does recognise his mistake. He is not for a moment even trying to excuse it.

And Jack's denial that they had no choice is just a bit reminiscent of his defence that he hadn't known that his harmless piece of space junk had the capacity to transform the whole of Earth's population into scary gas-mask wearing kids asking for their mummy.

And then they try to fix it.

And maybe it wasn't cautious, or a very thought-through plan, but let's be honest here, that was never exactly a trademark of Torchwood, or Jack, and they were under extreme pressure and simply had neither the time nor (with everyone working against them, intent on eliminating Jack in an effort to cover their asses instead of asking Torchwood for help) the resources to come up with something better. And considering that storming in and hoping for the best had worked for them (not to mention the Doctor) before, it's really not outstanding stupidity. After all, this is Jack Making-it-up-as-I-go-along-that's-what-I-do-best Harkness we're talking about, not Tyr Anasazi.

And maybe the sheer idealism of it, hearing it presented in such simple terms at a time of such hopelessness when he could see no way out, seduced Jack against his better sense and made him believe that might actually work, especially combined with the guilty knowledge that what Ianto said was perfectly true in 1965 and probably quite a few other times where Jack should have stood up to them but didn't. Jack has these moments where he completely throws logic out of the window to do the right thing. In End of Days he channelled his latent death wish when he thought that being able to sacrifice himself now was why he'd been brought back to life, and in Exit Wounds he thought that allowing himself to be buried alive for a couple of millennia was adequate punishment. This time it isn't supposed to be a suicide mission though, or he'd never have brought Ianto into it, that much is clear. Jack really believes they can win. He's riding this high where he thinks he's finally setting this right, setting everything right, he's going to be the hero his lover sees in him. Platonic ideal and all that, if you want to take it that far. This is the Jack who tried to fight an army of Daleks with a bare handful of people on Satellite 5.

And am I alone in thinking that the two of them walking in there, as a couple, standing in front of the 456's glass cage and telling them to fuck off was actually an incredibly powerful image, tragic outcome notwithstanding?

That it didn't work out like planned, that it's Ianto's idealism that kills him as much as Jack's sins from the past, is tragic irony, but that doesn't invalidate the intentions or the rightness of it. Ianto died trying to prevent millions (even if the children didn't actually, physically, die) of deaths, and he knew he was risking his life when he walked into the the MI5 building with Jack. He didn't want to die, but he was willing to take the risk, because for him it was worth it. If one remembers Ianto at the end of From Out of the Rain I don't think there can be any doubt about that. That's what Torchwood was about for him, and that's what, at least partly, his relationship with Jack was about to him, or it wouldn't have bothered him what Jack did to those children in 1965. I don't know by what definition of the word his death could be called anything other than heroic, even if he failed. Frankly, the whole discussion baffles me. Like Gwen says to Ianto's sister when she's trying to save the children - 'That's why Ianto died, he was trying to stop that'.

In the cosmic scheme of things maybe every death (and every life) is meaningless. As far as TW canon goes, there are worse things to die for, and much more stupid and meaningless deaths - like Owen's random (first) death that would have been Ianto's last season. If Toshiko had died before she finished talking Owen through shutting down the nuclear plant, would that have made either of their deaths less tragic? Less heroic? Any more or less 'meaningful'? (And while we're talking what-ifs, what would that have made Owen, who thought it was a good idea to send home the one person who actually could have helped him?)

I think when it comes right down to it, with TW the emotional and philosophical elements have always worked much better than the SF elements. The best stories were always the ones where that part rang true, never mind the technobabble. And in the end - tragedy is always more about emotions and where they lead us, right or wrong, than common sense; in a sense tragedy is about the irrational, the part of the human psyche we don't understand. I suspect most classic tragedies would suddenly disappear into thin air if someone had only acted more logically and reasonable. Come to that, the world would be in a vastly better state, too.

I'm far from certain about this, but I think there might be another angle to it, too. The way we're seeing this suddenly through their eyes, Ianto's death, Jack's grief, their reaction, the Prime Minister ('I was a young boy in 1965') the same generation as not-so-gay-friendly Clem, I think there could be an undertone there in the sense of, he just died to save your and everyone's kids while you were sitting there, safe, protecting yourselves and your careers, ordering assassinations instead of trying to find a solution. Don't you dare judge him because he also happens to be (simplifying things a bit) gay. And I think this might have been part of the reason why the fact that sexual orientation still isn't a complete non-issue outside the protective shell of Torchwood was addressed more explicitly in CoE, to drive home that point.

Which brings me to the whole homophobia debate that I really wasn't going to touch. I already talked about how I feel I don't have any real standing here and I don't want to speak for anyone now (and, on the off-chance that someone who cares is actually reading this far, will listen to everyone who's telling me I'm messing up here), but I think it's a bit naive to assume that RTD didn't know perfectly well in what general direction he was inadvertently going killing Ianto. Now I'm not a writer any more than I'm gay, less maybe, but watching and rewatching CoE even I can just maybe begin to imagine how frustrating it must be to have a story like that in your head and then having to think about whether you're 'allowed' to tell it because as a gay man you supposedly have some special responsibility not to kill the gay character.

And from a narrative POV the whole story would really fall apart without Ianto's death. It doesn't only serve to damage Jack badly enough to be able to go through with killing Steven: going in there, guns blazing, trying to fix his earlier mistake, fighting the whole system that has learned nothing, puts Jack for this pivotal moment firmly on the side of the good guys, doing the right thing, which in view of what is going to happen afterwards is crucial, because no one would care about or feel pity for someone who goes from doing a wrong thing to doing a pretty much unspeakable thing. If Ianto can forgive Jack giving the twelve children to the 456, maybe the viewer can, too. And Jack needs to be seen not only as a (sort of; considering the stakes aren't the same for him as they are for Ianto, not like that) hero, he needs to be seen as a human being who is capable of love and grief and suffering, or the horror of Day Five would never have hit like this and Jack, as a character wouldn't have survived this story. And at least in my opinion it's a more complex and interesting story than JW randomly killing Tara just push Willow over the edge to have her (and the world) saved by Xander. And while Ianto's arc is undoubtedly secondary to Jack's, because the tragedy of CoE is Jack's, arguably for the first time what Ianto says and does at least has a visible impact on Jack's arc, whereas throughout S1 and even most of S2 it always felt like it was Gwen who really changed Jack, and that the whole tone of the show would have been different without her, whereas you had to piece together Jack and Ianto's relationship from hints and implications.

So if the gay character had to die, it was at least going to matter. Make it as tragically heroic as possible, as much about love as possible, with proper grief and everything. It was good. No regrets. Subverting at least all the other ugly clichés. And killing a whole building full of people along with Ianto, for good measure. Now clearly that didn't work for everyone as intended, but I think it might have gone something like that.

Part 3: Unravelling.

Day Five is still harder to watch for me than Day Four. Gut reaction, because that is the easiest to describe - the first time I realised that Jack would actually go through with it, I thought that even if Ianto wasn't actually dead and they'd bring him back in the last minutes (clinging to straws, I know) that would kill their relationship. How do you go on sleeping with someone who is capable of something like that, never mind it's for all the right reasons? At this point I was almost glad that he was already dead. On second thoughts, I'm not so sure. Ianto, like Jack, is one of the people who can forgive a lot for love. If he could forgive what happened to Lisa and still fall/remain in love with Jack, maybe he would have been able to recognise the necessity and forgive that, too. Third thoughts, I'm not so sure about that either. Lisa was a threat at this point, only half-human at best, and had killed two people already. Steven was an innocent child. Jack's grandson. Fourth thoughts, but he could forgive Jack the twelve children in 1965, provided Jack saw how wrong that had been. Sixth thoughts, but that was forty years ago and in many ways less viscerally shocking. I could probably go on. I really have no idea if or how that would have worked out, but of course it's a moot point anyway.

Even with Ianto's death, even with the reasoning that he has to follow through now, that he'd helped to bring this situation about in the first place, that he has an obligation and a responsibility (whereas in 1965 he had a choice), that Ianto shouldn't have died in vein, that this is his punishment, even with all that it's still a terrible thing to do. Wrong and right and necessary and still monstrous; and no consolation, no one else to take the responsibility off his shoulders. There was no paradise for the children in 1965, as Jack very well knew, and there is no God now to demand or prevent this sacrifice.

But what once again somewhat... 'redeems' is maybe already too strong and positive a word, considering the situation, but in a way saves Jack as a fictional character and makes this tragic rather than only horrifying, is that this time it's at an enormous cost to himself, with the knowledge that once again there would be no easy way out for him and he'd have - somehow - to go on living with that; the opposite of 'someone who doesn't care' - and the opposite of what all those government officials had been doing, attaching value to lives, offering up first refugee children and then the under-privileged, socially disadvantaged, 'useless' children.

I certainly wouldn't go as far as to say that it makes Jack a 'better human being than anybody' (JB in that ComicCon interview), because 'better' is an almost impossible qualification to make under these circumstances, but I do understand what he's trying to say, and I don't envy him having to defend and try to explain this, because I suspect that's the kind of moral dilemma that would take philosophers or theologians a while to untangle. Is it the more moral choice? What if another child had been available? Does morality even come into it, or has it crawled away into a corner, whimpering, at this point? In AtS Angel makes the conventional, not to say biblical, choice, sacrificing everything and giving up Connor in order to make it possible for him to have a normal happy life. It doesn't make the memory-wipe right, but I think everyone watching could understand why he was doing it and sympathise. Which I think highlights just how impossible the situation is here.

At this point of the story, no one is right any more. Frobisher, who was part of it in the past and now is authorising murders, covering up and obeying orders again, ending up killing his family that he was trying to protect; who is perfectly aware that he isn't a 'good man'. Johnson, who tried to kill Jack, Gwen and Ianto, shot doctor Patanjali, helps Alice to protect her son and at the same time matter-of-factly agrees that getting rid of the 'useless' children is actually a good thing. Denise Riley, who helps Bridget Spears depose the Prime Minster in the end, but was the one who came up with the division between 'good' and 'useless' children in the first place, so one isn't exactly cheering her.

What makes this story so terrible is that in all its ugliness it essentially rings true. I suspect if something like this were to happen here, it would go down exactly like that. Refugee children. 'Problematic' schools where the children 'can't even speak German'. Pick the girls who wear headscarves. The children of mothers who wear headscarves - and good riddance. Too many of them anyway. And it goes further than that - just so that no one gets too judgemental and comfortable in their own morality: 'Based on the human infant mortality rate a child dies every 3 seconds…the human response to this is to accept and adapt.’ Which I think is one of the most chilling lines, because there is simply no arguing the truth of that, and in a way it makes us all monsters.

'Six months later' was necessary to gain some emotional distance from that, and it was probably also the time necessary for Jack and Gwen to be able to have this conversation. For Jack to forgive Gwen that she's the one left alive, and still happy, because while he did send her back to Cardiff to save Ianto's niece and nephew, he meant every bit of 'I can't look at her anymore'; it's still in his eyes when he looks at Gwen and Rhys in the end, even if he's a better person than to actually take it out on her. After his happiness about how they were going to have a Torchwood baby it's heartbreaking that in a way he lost Gwen right along with Ianto. Necessary also for (pregnant) Gwen to rationalise the reasons why Jack did it, and repress the knowledge that under different circumstances at a different time it could have been her child, and still be able to feel friendship and love for Jack.

When I saw CoE the first time the end felt like... an end. Capital E End. I still have a hard time imagining how a fourth season might look like, if Jack's going to be in it, because it still feels very much like an end for him, or at the very least some kind of crossroads.

At the end of Exit Wounds when Captain John tells Jack that it wasn't his fault, I think everyone would agree, and even Jack at least doesn't outright deny it. When Jack says that it's all his fault in CoE and Ianto says it isn't - of course it was Ianto's choice to come along, and in a way it was his idealism that precipitated the disaster, but there's no denying the truth of it, because Jack was there when it all started, and helped. And that's even more true in the end when Gwen tell him that same thing, because it was Jack who killed Steven and the question of whose fault it was in this complex chain of cause and effect pales beside that fact. Jack's denial isn't just a reflex either, pro forma guilt, it's bare truth and painful honesty. It's a reflection on the man he's been ever since he came back from death, what went wrong and what he could have done better. 'Got a lot of dirt to shake off my shoes,' with the emphasis on the word dirt may refer to the 'the whole world is a graveyard', but I think more likely makes it a bit of a moral question. If he's running away to another life, which is certainly understandable at this point, at least he takes some insight and self-knowledge with him, which somewhat reconciles me even to the possibility that he might never come back.

And as a bit of an afterthought to this - what I liked about CoE is that it once again brought Jack's characterisation into clearer focus, because in TW that tended to be a bit all over the place with fragments and hints that never quite fit together except with a lot of guesswork, half of which I still suspect is entirely happening in my head. In a way it brings him once again closer to the Jack of S1 DW, although in a more adult story with graver consequences.

And Jack was a 'moral player' there, because on some level he has always embodied the sum of human potential and possibilities, ever since he stepped into DW with two years of his life missing that made him unsure about what kind of man he really was, but proceeding to define himself, going from con man to hero. The symbolic level is emphasised even further with Jack's immortality, turning his story into an analogy for the never ending human struggle to find meaning, to do the right thing, to survive in the face of pain and loss. Jack, in a way, personifies the existentialist leitmotif of TW, creating and recreating himself over and over again over the millennia.

'Tell me what it means to be human in the 21st century.'

It always comes back to that question that Gwen raised in Day One when she accused Jack of having lost what it means to be human, which in some ways was also echoed by Ianto's 'Haven't you ever loved anyone?' in Cyberwoman. Gwen tends to get ridiculed a bit for her 'humanity', but of course there always was a deeper truth in that, because Jack really did lose an essential piece of his humanity when he lost his mortality. I think even CoE brings that out, because killing Steven, being able to weigh it like this, is something very nearly un-human. Even as utterly despicable as the actions of those sitting around that table were, sorting children according to value and bartering away lives, at least their instinctive desire to do everything to protect their own children also makes them, in a way, more human. And I think this is what drives Jack away in the end, in search of a new life; that he was able to do that.

It never occurred to me at the time, but the question Beth was confronted with in Sleeper is to an extent the same question Jack faces all the time - how can you be human, if you aren't any longer? Jack isn't the Doctor, even if he has to struggle with similar problems; and he doesn't have the Doctor's detachment, at least not yet. He was human and in essential parts will continue to be so, and he is forced to keep on defining his humanity through the changing times, because what would the alternative be?

And I think this is why, despite all the pain they bring, and all the complications, his relationships are so important to Jack, why he keeps trying again and again, even if it hurts; Ianto, Gwen all the people before them. They make him care, they keep him connected and stop him from getting lost. I think Jack isn't by nature someone with a lot of abstract principles or moral code; instead he's very much influenced by the people he loves, and at least on a subconscious level he knows that, and picks them accordingly.

And wherever his journey may lead him until then, of course Jack does end up a moral player again in the end, sacrificing himself.

This is the CoE I saw. This is why I don't hate it, even with the crying at 3 am and whatnot. It took me a while to actually put my feelings into thoughts and words and then kept adding & editing especially once I rewatched it, and clearly I'm completely insane, but my brain refused to let go and maybe writing is my way of dealing but essentially this is what I saw the first time. It never felt alien, un-TW-like, to me me, and still doesn't. A bit more New Who-esque maybe with the sheer scope of the story, and as far as TW continuity is concerned I wish it hadn't come right after the S2 finale, because in many ways it feels almost like a (extended and vastly improved) rewrite with more inner logic and better balance, pacing and casting. But in the end it's simply a too good a story to hate.


( 70 comments — Leave a comment )
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Aug. 17th, 2009 11:53 am (UTC)
This is an incredible article.
It's far too long and complex for me to adequately comment upon, but the way you frame the tragedy and character arc is really good and well thought out.

This makes a very enjoyable and important piece of Meta... I'll probably be reccing just so you know :)
Aug. 17th, 2009 08:08 pm (UTC)
*huge sigh of relief*

Thank you, I'm glad you like it. :) Whenever I write something like that by the end (especially once I've hit 'post'...) I always wonder if I've got too wrapped up in my own thoughts and if it even makes sense to anybody else, so that's always good to hear.
(no subject) - eumelia - Aug. 17th, 2009 08:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - solitary_summer - Aug. 17th, 2009 08:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - eumelia - Aug. 17th, 2009 08:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 17th, 2009 12:13 pm (UTC)
The DVDs I ordered still haven't arrived, I fear they may have gotten lost on the way *sigh*. Anyway, I'll bookmark this and read as soon as I've seen the thing.
Aug. 17th, 2009 07:58 pm (UTC)
I was even considering to put in a warning note for you, because it's *very* spoilery, and I *really* don't want to tell you how you should watch it.

Enjoy La Drova! :)
Aug. 18th, 2009 09:43 pm (UTC)

It's like you reached into my brain and made my thoughts articulate. I hadn't realised that it was the first time that Ianto's influenced Jack, but you're right. It is.

Jack's heroism does slip, though. When Ianto is threatened directly and Jack tries to backtrack on himself (and that's sort of heartbreaking, that Ianto talked him into it but Jack's not willing to give up Ianto for it.)
Aug. 19th, 2009 05:42 pm (UTC)
Glad you liked it! :)

Jack's heroism has always been been problematic on TW. I don't know if you've watched the extras on the S1 DVDs, but there's a cut scene between Jack and the original Captain Jack, and there's this bit of dialogue *quick copypaste*:

J: Do you have any regrets?
CJ: Hell, no. Okay, I could croak up there, but without death in the balance, there'd be no valour, no honour. All I can pray is I make it through this and die an old war hero.
J: You are a hero. To me.

That path, straight-forward heroism, is forever barred to Jack; for him it's always only someone else's life in the balance, except 'only' is the worst choice of words, because that part is the most painful and hardest to bear. But can you be heroic with/about someone else's life? A different kind of heroism maybe, living with that.

Ianto talked him into it, Jack is not willing to give him up for it, and Ianto would never have allowed his life to be bought at such a price, especially since I don't think he's forgotten that he's more or less responsible for two deaths already. That's part of what I love about TW, that it raises those really interesting questions...
(no subject) - caladria - Aug. 19th, 2009 09:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Aug. 19th, 2009 12:25 am (UTC)
I really, really enjoyed reading this. I've thought about CoE in terms of Greek tragedy, but you actually went to the trouble of writing an essay that makes sense and is thought-provoking. And you filled my inner Aristotle fangirl with glee. I am so reccing this, btw. You write a mean analysis. :D
Aug. 19th, 2009 06:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you! :)

I studied archaeology, so the Greek tragedy approach came naturally to me, but it fits really well here. In fact it's hard to think about this story in other terms...

Oh, and I was being creepily stalkerish and went over & looked at your journal - would you mind if I friended you?
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Aug. 19th, 2009 12:53 am (UTC)
I agree a 100%. I loved CoE and thought it was absolutely brillant. And then you took every argment the fandom had against it and destroyed them. Great job.

I can just maybe begin to imagine how frustrating it must be to have a story like that in your head and then having to think about whether you're 'allowed' to tell it because as a gay man you supposedly have some special responsibility not to kill the gay character.
I think you are absolutely right. If one truly wants a world of equality, then gay characters should be up for grabs just like any other character. If not, then only white men would be allowed to die. Otherwise, it would be sexism/racism/homophobia/etc.
Aug. 19th, 2009 06:29 pm (UTC)
Thank you. :) I admit I got a bit frustrated with some of the fandom reaction. I understand being hurt, because my first (and second) reaction was nowhere this distanced and analytical, but all the negativity and hatred really got to me and were a lot harder to deal with than the depressing aspects of the story itself.

As for the homophobia debate, I think that's one of those cases where it's a legitimate discussion within the gay community, but when it's straight people telling a gay man what he's supposed to be allowed to write or not when it comes to gay issues... ouch. Not okay.
Aug. 19th, 2009 10:12 am (UTC)
I had a much longer answer, would have been two posts actually, then LJ ate the original.

but I think he's pretty unequivocally stating that handing over the children was wrong, and that Jack has to deal with the consequences.

But the thing is Jack wasn't the one who ordered the original 12 children to be given to the 456, it doesn't have to be Jack that handed them over. Jack just happens to be the one to do it and he's also end up dealing with the consequences of it. It could easily have been someone else that give the original 12 away.

So if the gay character had to die, it was at least going to matter.

Story wise it didn't matter, only the fans cared Ianto died. To look at homophobia in any story, we have to look at society or more specifically our media. Telling the audience Ianto is gay then killing him off is no difference than telling the audience a character is about to retire/have a wife back home then killing them. The new audience doesn't care or seen it coming a mile away, they don't care, so the death did not matter. Now I've read that having Gwen there with Jack she would have died, if she did, the death still wouldn't have mattered, though perhaps the audience would have felt something for the dead pregnant lady.

And just don't go there with RTD being gay so it's not homophobia, it's the message CoE sends.

And killing a whole building full of people along with Ianto, for good measure

Dood, alien in the building, what are all those non-essential personnel doing in there?

What makes this story so terrible is that in all its ugliness it essentially rings true. I suspect if something like this were to happen here, it would go down exactly like that.

The whole CoE happened because the Prime Minister, after reading the report on the 456 from 40 years ago thought "yes, I can give away 12 children for something in return." Then tried to bury the fact that he knows, because there are no reasons to believe the aliens did not come back for more children.

Ianto was the one who wanted to save the children, Gwen was going fail saving the children if Jack hadn't pulled the deux ex machina from nothing in the last half hour, the sequence of Jack going "lets defeat the 456" to "the 456 exploded and CGI back into space" was 15 minutes screen time, adding the other scenes cut into it.

In the end? Jack sacrificed Steven to save the adults from the bad decision of giving away more children. That inoculate the children story wasn't going to spin, because the characters and the audience knows completely different things. What the characters knows is aliens arrived on earth, but before that they used their children as mouth pieces. The government claimed they can inoculate the children against the aliens, the government gathered their children together and say the aliens did it.

'Based on the human infant mortality rate a child dies every 3 seconds…the human response to this is to accept and adapt.’ Which I think is one of the most chilling lines, because there is simply no arguing the truth of that, and in a way it makes us all monsters.

I still have trouble with that line, mostly because it's false. If we take the CIA Factbook the infant mortality rate are high for countries who were in political upheaval or are still poor. I haven't calculated if the every 3 secs is true, but the second part is false. With medical advances and groups like Doctors Without Boarders, humanity are trying to help and painting us with a broad brush is just audience manipulation, I should be glad RTD didn't open the can of worms with abortion.

I'm pretty sure I had more, but I'm glad you liked CoE, for me while I can see some of the things RTD was trying to say, but with all the plot devices, plot holes and things that just doesn't make any sense, the whole thing fell apart and left me with a feeling of "he had five hours to tell the story, why isn't it better?" It also left me the feeling of wanting to throw a few criminal psychology text at RTD, but I think it's just me.
Aug. 19th, 2009 08:01 pm (UTC)
But the thing is Jack wasn't the one who ordered the original 12 children to be given to the 456, it doesn't have to be Jack that handed them over.

But it was Jack. Arguing that the fact that someone else might (or might not, which is also a possibility) have done the same absolves him from personal responsibility leads towards a very slippery slope. If you apply this logic to real life situations, where do you draw the line? When is someone responsible for their own actions? Speaking as someone from Austria, if you really follow through with this, it leads to the kind of situation where the only one to be really held accountable in 1945 would have been Hitler's charred corpse, because everyone else could have claimed that someone else might have done the same in their stead.

Story wise it didn't matter, only the fans cared Ianto died.

Well, Jack clearly also cared. Ianto's family did. Gwen. Not to be rude here, but did you actually read my post? Because I explained at length why I thought it mattered from a narrative POV. I think we'll just have to agree to disagree on that.

The new audience doesn't care or seen it coming a mile away, they don't care, so the death did not matter.

Do you really think non-Jack/Ianto fans didn't care, as in, watched this and were completely unmoved? I have of course no statistic evidence to back this up (do you, though?), but I highly doubt it.

And just don't go there with RTD being gay so it's not homophobia, it's the message CoE sends.

I recommend reading this and this post by eumelia; she is looking at this from a queer perspective has some very interesting and intelligent thoughts on this.

And sorry, yes, I still am going there. I think this is one of those cases where it's a legitimate discussion within the gay community, but when it's straight people telling a gay man what he's supposed to be allowed to write or not when it comes to gay issues... ouch. Not okay. On that note, if you tell me you're gay I'll shut up about this.

Dood, alien in the building, what are all those non-essential personnel doing in there?

It was still the MI5 headquarters; which I assume couldn't be relocated that quickly with all its infrastructure and resources? And after all they were the people who dealt with the 456 before, judging from the fact that they had the old recordings in their basement.

I haven't calculated if the every 3 secs is true, but the second part is false.

Sadly, no, it isn't. There are undoubtedly good people who will fight for justice and their ideals, but given the right (or wrong, if you will) circumstances the majority in almost every situation will adapt and accept, or at least close their eyes to what they don't want to see if it threatens to shake their personal comfort. What RTD is saying here isn't so very different from what Joseph Stiglitz and others are saying about the injustice of globalisation as it is happening today.

I think we'll just have to agree to disagree on this. It made sense to me; I'm not going to apologise for this, and I'm not going to make a mental effort to hate something that I like.

Edited at 2009-08-19 08:03 pm (UTC)
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Aug. 19th, 2009 10:20 pm (UTC)
As to the homophobia: I think we don’t have a wide enough vocabulary.

Was it a problem to constantly point out that Ianto was gay and then kill him off? Your he just died… argument is the most believable positive spin as to why it might not be. Good work.

It’s still a problem for me, but I am not making a charge of homophobia. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone talk about what bothers me. I'd like to throw it out there, though, even if your reply is just "you're nuts!" Here it is:

SciFi has long been a way of taking on social issues. Star Trek did it for race, the Vietnam War, interracial marriage, etc. Taking race as an example, it was good for people at the time to see a white male (Kirk) perfectly comfortable working beside and completely trusting an “other” who looks different (species as a stand-in for race) with his ship, his crew, and his life. It was a way to say, “See, this is what it would look like to do this good thing – to take that leap of acceptance.”

I saw Torchwood as doing similar things for accepting couples of the same sex. It was saying, “See, this is what it would look like to do this good thing – to take that leap of acceptance” in the context of knowing that these two guys were involved with each other but not making the fact that they’re both guys an issue.

Just like it was good, back in the day, for people to see the Kirk/Spock/no-issue-with-human-vulcan dynamic in Star Trek, I thought it was good for people to see the Jack/Ianto/no-issue-with-the-m-m dynamic on Torchwood. So I was very sad when that got blown away. I mean, I understand Star Trek didn't, and Torchwood won't, solve these social issues, but that doesn't mean they aren't a force for good.

And note: I don’t mean blown away by Ianto dying, because Captain Jack can always find a new boyfriend, but I mean blown away because all of a sudden the m/m nature of the relationship mattered to so many people in Torchwood’s world. Unlike Star Trek, Torchwood can't fly away from the problematic planet at the end of the show, so I think Torchwood lost something important. RTD said, “…I think Torchwood possibly has television's first bisexual male hero, with a very fluid sexuality for the rest of the cast as well. We're a beacon in the darkness.” He still has a bisexual male hero, but is the beacon sputtering?
Aug. 20th, 2009 07:34 pm (UTC)
even if your reply is just "you're nuts!"

*g* No, I totally understand what you're saying, and I don't have a problems with any of that. What I thought was problematic was people calling Ianto's death meaningless, somehow weak, and almost dirty, and straight people outright or implicitly accusing a gay writer of being homophobic. The rest is debatable, and I do see your point. It's not as if I wanted Ianto to die; I wanted them to be happy. Somewhere I wrote that I wanted them to have some kind of stupid romantic moment not overshadowed by TW angst, but I should have known this was too much to ask for.

In the end I guess it comes down to story-telling vs. politics, and what is more important to a writer in a certain situation...

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Aug. 20th, 2009 07:34 pm (UTC)
I can't begin to thank you for writing this. This - exactly - are my thoughts, my take on CoE and Jack, that I've just not been able to put down. (If I had it would have been run-away meta like this - I, too, just write and write...)

I wish I had anything intelligent to add, but I'm all overwhelmed. I have an essay on Jack and heroism brewing, and post-CoE fic, and this has definitely helped clarify things for me. So thank you again. I might come back later, once I've thought things through.

ETA: Re. hommophobia etc. I always loved Torchwood's omni-sexual bubble, where everyone might end up with anyone, but I actually *liked* that they took the characters out of the Hub and had them deal with the 'real world', where people are still wary of same-sex couples and Jack's charisma doesn't magically wow everyone into happy acceptance.

Edited at 2009-08-20 07:41 pm (UTC)
Aug. 20th, 2009 07:41 pm (UTC)
Thanks a lot, I'm glad you liked it! :)

I don't know if you've read it, but caladria says some interesting things about Jack and his heroism in this comment.
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Aug. 20th, 2009 09:06 pm (UTC)
Here via selenak. With you all the way - I think you've managed to articulate what I've been thinking and have failed to put into words. I do think Ianto's death was narratively necessary - but it moved me and saddened me. The two are not incompatible. CoE was a remarkable piece of television; in a way I reckon it's a pity that in fandom at least the reaction to Ianto's death (and the feeling that, for some at least, it was in some way a "betrayal") has overshadowed the way TW went from being a BBC3 DW spinoff to a six-million viewer BB1 phenomenon.
Aug. 20th, 2009 09:43 pm (UTC)
Thank you! (Which I know at this point might sound a bit repetitive, but I really do mean it.)

but it moved me and saddened me. The two are not incompatible.

Tell me about it. I didn't start with several thousand words of meta.*wry smile* I watched it all in a row because after the end of Day Three I just couldn't stop, was disbelieving and in shock after Day Four (somehow, after Toshiko and Owen I mistakenly believed that Ianto would be safe for at least another season; I really should have known better) and couldn't stop crying for an hour after the end of Day Five.
Aug. 21st, 2009 01:16 am (UTC)
Here via selenak
A fascinating piece of meta, it really clarifies what I thought about after watching CoE and started reading all the discussions about it on LJ. I never really watched TW, didn't get into it at all until CoE; my experiences with Jack were purely those from his appearances on DW, so I came to CoE with no idea about all the relationships and the characters' histories with Jack. I watched CoE and found it felt like a Greek tragedy to me, with ordinary people caught in horrible, morally ambiguous situations, and all that. I wasn't invested in Ianto and Jack's relationship in any way, but I think you are absolutely correct that Ianto was doomed to die because nothing less would make Jack's sacrifice of Steven believable, and tragic.
I can't imagine where they could take TW from here, but based on CoE, I think I'd give it a look.
Thank you for a fascinating piece of meta!
Aug. 21st, 2009 06:44 pm (UTC)
You're welcome; I'm glad you liked it. :)

I watched CoE and found it felt like a Greek tragedy to me, with ordinary people caught in horrible, morally ambiguous situations, and all that.

That always struck me as the best frame of reference for CoE, and I can't really think of any other tv show where that comparison fits so well...

Aug. 21st, 2009 11:01 am (UTC)
Thank you so much for this. I agree with every word.
Aug. 21st, 2009 06:33 pm (UTC)
You're welcome, glad you liked it! :)
Aug. 21st, 2009 04:03 pm (UTC)
I had a read through this and through the comments - brief response? You've got lots of people telling you how good it was. Here's a gay person, since you seem to reserve critique of RTD's position on gay relationships to other gay people, telling you how strongly I disagree with you. I think you're attributing a lot more thought and careful planning to the story arc than was really there. Doesn't work for me because the story, in CoE and over the whole series, just isn't that well constructed IMO. So many inconsistencies, so many plotholes have to be brushed over in order to make your argument. Series 1, for example, in my view hangs together much more as a version of the Jesus myth, from gathering the disciples to temptation, death, resurrection and ascension.

The message I get from CoE, beyond the clichés that politicians are self-serving scum and only the working-class can be trusted, is that gay relationships fundamentally aren't worth as much as straight relationships, that gay men in particular shouldn't be allowed around children, and that RTD gets off on torturing his heroes. Do I think RTD himself holds these beliefs? No,though I will say he doesn't have a great track record of writing healthy gay relationships. I see CoE as a deliberate and successful effort to make TW more "mainstream" which means among other things heteronormative, and overall to get rid of the sex in favour of violence and political intrigue. Certainly many of the people who didn't like TW before and liked CoE have been quite clear in saying that's why it's better. They see CoE not as a continuation or fulfillment of the first 2 series, but as an apology for and repair of those series.

Well, this was going to be a brief response but it isn't. The question of where Captain Jack and TW go from here remains open, officially. Any future appearance in Doctor Who, we're told, will make no reference to CoE, and we've had no official word as to whether TW will continue or in what form. I experienced CoE as "burning down the show", destroying quite literally the cast and set and premise of TW either so that it couldn't continue or so that something completely different and much less innovative but more commercial could be built in its place.

Lastly - the "Still my hero" icon - was originally made for me, and I continue to be surprised by how far it's spread.
Aug. 21st, 2009 06:30 pm (UTC)
Thank you for commenting; the thing is, I can't even really argue with you, because I can see why you'd look at it that way. For me it's a bit like those optical illusions where you see either an old woman or a young girl depending on how your brain processes the picture. Of course in that case both images are meant to be there, so I'm not saying the argument makes a lot of sense.

I don't see it this negatively, I simply can't (and to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure I want to make an effort), because for me on a emotional, dramaturgical level the story simply works, but I do recognise the possibility for this interpretation.

that gay relationships fundamentally aren't worth as much as straight relationships
Serious question - was CoE better or worse in this respect than S2 with all its Jack/Gwen subtext in your opinion?

that gay men in particular shouldn't be allowed around children
Can I say as a mostly straight person that this thought never occurred to me, watching CoE?

and that RTD gets off on torturing his heroes
But compared to Joss Whedon he at least does it in more interesting and dramatically satisfying ways, and, generally speaking, is more on the humanist/existentialist side than on the existentialist/nihilist?

to get rid of the sex in favour of violence and political intrigue
The thing is, for me TW even during S1&2 was never all that much about sex (exempting, perhaps Day One, which kind of lived up to what everyone said that TW was about) and CoE wasn't primarily about political intrigue; I see the same motives running through all three seasons. On the whole I think it was the new format that influenced the plot of CoE more than anything else, because it demanded something big and dramatic.

I experienced CoE as "burning down the show",
Can't really argue with that either, because I also had this kind of feeling the first time I watched it; that this was the end of TW, full stop. But since apparently it (probably/possibly) isn't, I'll reserve speculation and judgement on how S4 will look like until I see it. So far characterisation has, on the whole, developed in ways that felt inherently logical to me, rather than surprising, so I think I'll take my chances until then.

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Aug. 22nd, 2009 05:23 am (UTC)
This is a very interesting article. Thank you for working on and posting your thoughts. I think you have helped me see some of the show in a different light, clarify a few things that I kind of thought, and poked me to think about other aspects of the whole thing - so thank you.
Aug. 23rd, 2009 07:38 pm (UTC)
You're welcome - and thank you for commenting and letting me know!

That's a really lovely icon, btw.
Aug. 22nd, 2009 07:17 am (UTC)
You've expressed a lot of good points in this article and it's a great bit of writing. :)

I'm definately in two minds about COE. On the one hand I can genuinely see how great COE was, the beauty of Ianto's death and the affect that it had on Jack. As a single piece of drama, COE was very good.

On the other hand, seeing Jack get a new love interest in series 4 (if he gets a new love interest) is going to be difficult for many fans. I'm not going to lie about how torn I'd feel watching Jack possibly express his love for the new person in a way that he never did with Ianto because they were both still closed off to a certain extent. Like RTD has said, part of the tragedy of Ianto dying is that the Jack/Ianto relationship was never able to reach its full potential, we're left wanting more.
Aug. 23rd, 2009 07:35 pm (UTC)
Thank you - and trust me, my first reaction was nowhere this calm and analytical.

On the other hand, seeing Jack get a new love interest in series 4 (if he gets a new love interest) is going to be difficult for many fans.

I can't imagine it either, and I doubt there'll be someone else at least for the next season (assuming there is one), much like with Martha and Donna after the Doctor lost Rose. I simply can't see it work; and that's not even touching the problematic question of whether it's going to be a man or a woman.
Aug. 22nd, 2009 09:23 am (UTC)
I wrote a comment on another post, which ended up following one of yours, so I thought I ought to come on here and say it face to face, kind of thing. I have tried to use S1 and S2 to understand the characterisation of CoE, but I can't see it. I have tried, but I can't find the connections you seem able to see. I honestly think RTD took the characters names and then wrote an independent story. A good story in it's own right, but not Torchwood for me.

I think with Steven's death, the fact that Jack ignores him, doesn't look at him, doesn't try to comfort him and doesn't hold him, is the worst part, but as he'd done all that in ep 4, they couldn't have a repeat of it in ep 5. Do you and RTD believe that Jack needed Ianto's death or Ianto's death-scene to make Jack do what he did? The two deaths could have been handled so much better for the story, but sadly I'm on the side that thinks they were also written to manipulate the fans. He can't have it both ways.
Aug. 23rd, 2009 07:21 pm (UTC)
I have tried, but I can't find the connections you seem able to see.

It's the same for me, only the other way round. After having read so many comments, I tend to think it's really a case of what elements and patterns one's brain focuses on during watching.

I think with Steven's death, the fact that Jack ignores him, doesn't look at him, doesn't try to comfort him and doesn't hold him, is the worst part, but as he'd done all that in ep 4, they couldn't have a repeat of it in ep 5.

IMO, if he'd done any of that he wouldn't have been able to go through with it. It's the same with Tommy in TtLM - the Jack who was still angry after something like 90 years that they shot shell shocked soldiers for cowardice shows no emotion or compassion at all towards Tommy himself, and can hardly look at him most of the time.
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