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Aug. 12th, 2011

So, the radio plays. Maybe I should say upfront that part of the reason why I kept putting off listening to them for so long was that I was extremely wary. It felt just weird — bordering on the morbid, actually — to go back to a time where Ianto was still alive two years after CoE, and after everything that happened I wasn't so sure I trusted any writer to write Jack/Ianto and focus on the story itself rather than the fan reaction. And to be perfectly honest, having finally listened to them I can't say my feelings have changed on either account.

The Devil and Miss Carew and Submission

At this point, halfway through MD, the most interesting aspect for me was how the radio plays connect old and new canon. Before CoE, Asylum once again showed Torchwood's moral ambiguity, even though CoE immediately returned to the evil alien cliché and the moral ambiguity of the story turned out to be of a different kind. Golden Age again dealt with the moral corruption of an ex-Torchwood employee, introduced us to 'I was just following orders' Jack, and once again brought up the issue of time/mortality/immortality in Jack's relationships. The Dead Line followed up on that and addressed Ianto's issues with Jack's immortality and what it meant for their relationship.

This time the acceptance of death is a major leitmotif in all three radio plays, as well as loneliness and isolation and their consequences, and what I thought stood out is how even the first two are effectively written around Jack, holding a mirror up to him. Not that this is a completely new thing, they've been doing that since S1, but usually with more subtlety. TDaMC is a more general — and at this point frankly a little repetitive and redundant — warning to accept death ('What was I doing, Miss Cooper, trying to fight death. That's a battle no one ever wins. I've been a fool.'), but already Miss Carew's, 'I don't have any friends, they're all dead. It's one of the disadvantages of living so long. I have colleagues. That's not the same thing', foreshadows Jack's, 'They were my friends', in 4.03, when Rex accused him of getting his staff killed. And there's Fitzroy, 'a single entity, born of nothing, of no one', without a home, endlessly travelling among the stars, who wants to live among humans, as a human being: 'And it feels so good to finally find a home.' There is no overt identification or recognition yet when Jack, who since S2 has essentially been attempting to do much the same thing, rejects Fitzroy’s plans out of hand, but the scene with Jack and Ianto searching through the objects collected by Fitzroy's followers, lost in a playful moment of nostalgia, again hints at the 'out of time' theme of their relationship that will necessarily leave Jack alone in the end.

Submission is even more blatant in its comparison between Jack and the alien who's been hiding guilt-ridden at the bottom of the sea for a hundred and fifty million years, looking for fresh memories to replace and rewrite his own, too painful ones: 'I'm still trapped there, like I never left. I need new memories to escape that one.' Regardless, the last ten minutes are quite impressive, even if the rest suffers from too much techno babble and a bad case of stating the obvious (Ianto and Jack's relationship is different because of Jack's immortality, and, no, Ianto is not worried about Jack's possible feelings for Gwen).

'You and I, we're the last of our kind, Jack. Who's going to forgive us for what we've done?'

(And that line is effectively lifted from LotTL; because, this, right there, is the Doctor forgiving the Master, because he himself needed someone to forgive him the killing of the Time Lords, and there wasn't anyone else left, either.)

'Maybe we never get forgiven and we have to spend all these long years getting used to that fact. Cause I realised a long time ago, that's the price of immortality, no final act, no redemption, no absolution. You are the lucky one. You get to die.'

A great line, and very Jack. Perhaps not actually surprising as such, but I do like Jack's more introspective moments. And there's a direct connection to MD, Jack projecting his issues on Oswald, realising that Oswald is lying about his regret, because forgiveness doesn't work like that. He's offering Oswald a chance at redemption and death, even tries to tempt him with it, badly misjudging the other man’s character and motivations; is he already planning this 'final act' for himself, now that it has once again become a possibility? Because if Submission is canon, or at least canon compatible, it’s impossible that Jack isn’t keenly aware of the possibilities his sudden mortality offers again.

'Who are you?''I am the face you see when you die.'

And that could be the worst kind of cliché, but delivered like that, with the knowledge of the events of CoE, and coming from a character like Jack, it’s also a fantastic line.

'The guilty heart needs confession. At least we gave him that. A final act.' — 'Is that what you're looking for, Jack?' — 'I suppose. But to get that, I'd have to become mortal. But that's never gonna happen, so I'm never gonna know.'

Except this isn't true any longer now, and I'm absolutely thrilled to see how this storyline will play out. It's also interesting how Jack moves from initially instinctively distancing himself from the alien and emphasising the differences between them to admitting the similarities.

On the whole both radio plays, Submission especially, seem to serve as a sort of warning for Jack; a lot of it seems to be about the dangers of loneliness, the egoism of suffering. Fitzroy wants to finally find a home and in order to do this he is prepared to change the fate of the human race. Miss Carew might have acted differently if she hadn’t been so alone. There’s another line in Submission that I really love, Jack telling the alien, 'Yeah, well, I've lived a very long life, just like you. But I've lived it in the light', meaning, I think, not just the sunlight, but the fact that he's been living it, been part of it, facing again and again the inevitable loss, but also the joy, rather than sitting at the bottom of the ocean consumed by grief and guilt, and consuming other people's memories, a third-hand life, if you can call it a life at all, a solitary and essentially egoistic existence, using others to alleviate his own guilt and suffering.

And a couple of minor points:

'It'll take you thousands of years to go through my memories'. Where do the thousands of years come from? When Ianto said it in The Dead Line, I thought that was the erroneous conclusions he’d drawn from Jack's time travelling anecdotes, especially since in CoE he suddenly seemed to have got it right when he told the 456 to go back a hundred and fifty years to find out who they’re dealing with, but if Jack is saying it now, I guess I'll have to start accepting it as canon? Still, though, how can RTD do this without completely retconning what Jack said in Utopia, because the timeline is pretty clear there. More than that, I always read Jack as someone who was still very much in the process of getting used to it all. With him everything felt still much too raw, he never even remotely conveyed the jadedness of thousands of years. There are of course the two thousand years he spent buried beneath Cardiff, but one can hardly call that life, and other than that? Where? When?

— The pact with the devil theme, selling one's soul. Is there a connection to the 'soulless' in MD? Gwen laughed at the notion that 'everlasting life has robbed mankind of their souls', but given the strong humanity = mortality equation in DW, I wonder. Not the soul as something separate from the body, but the soul as a shorthand for what defines humanity. Did someone make a pact to enable the miracle? Does Miss Carew's horror of being old helpless, echoed by Gwen in the end, foreshadow the fact that people don't die, but still age after the miracle?

'Life will be simple again. we can discover what it really means to be a human being.' A complete throwaway line, or somehow relevant?

— I hope all the talk about Gwen's 'mate' dying doesn't foreshadow Rhys's death?

I didn't think I'd ever have to put a warning on anything meta-ish, but in this case it might actually be in order: if House of the Dead made you happy, you probably won't want to read this.

House of the Dead

I reacted so badly to it the first time that I had absolutely no intention of putting myself through this again, but then I did it anyway, since I didn't want to write a review based on an angry, overemotional first reaction, and, hey, I might actually like it better the second time. I still hated it. It took me half an hour to get through the last ten minutes, not because I was having any brilliant ideas, but because knowing what was coming, it took a mental effort to hit ‘play’ again each time I stopped. It's torture. I spent two years and I don't know how many thousand words coming to terms with CoE; I'm not sure I'd have written any of the meta I've written about either TW or DW since then without it. I can't go back now, not like this. This is a travesty, a morbid farce. Complete Leichenfledderei, to borrow a German expression. And redundant to boot. The part where 'Ianto' accuses Jack of having him dragged back just to say good-bye, and how it's all about Jack sounds like they dug up and recycled the original DMW script with undead!Ianto. (And more than that, then it would have rung true. Now, not so much.)

Plot-wise, the whole thing is a mess, too. The premise I can buy, if I must. I can see Jack being in such a state of mind where he might think that even seeing and talking to a Ianto that he knows perfectly well is nothing but a vision created by a malevolent alien to manipulate him is better than nothing, believing he can handle this only to find out that he can't. Possible. An exercise in self-torture, but that's Jack for you. However, I have major issues with the execution.

The in my opinion main problem is that it never becomes quite clear what exactly this 'Ianto' is. Jack seems to be aware that this is not actually Ianto almost until the end, when he finally gets helplessly entangled in his emotions. ('She's sending people visions to trap them.' 'Syreath uses the dead against us. We can't say no to them.') Even in his attempt to explain his pain and bewilderment to ‘Ianto’ he still tries to hold on to this, in fact it adds to the problem: 'I thought it'd just look like you. I could have coped with that. I didn't dream it would actually be you.' The Jack who only in Submission insisted once more that there's nothing after death, no reunion beyond the grave, would know that this isn't the Ianto who died in his arms. Syreath 'reaches back in time' to create these 'ghosts', but what does that mean?

The first possibility is that 'Syreath used my grief and she reached into time, she recreated you' means that 'Ianto' is essentially created from Jack's memories. Jack would effectively be talking to himself throughout. The 'Ianto' who accused Jack, the 'Ianto' who tempted Jack to leave with him and let someone else deal with the problem for once, and the 'Ianto' who did his duty and saved the world, that would all be Jack. Jack's guilt, Jack's wishes, and Jack's memories, because Jack knew Ianto, and Ianto in the end would always have picked saving the world over Jack. That part is painfully in character. It would be Jack who needed to say, 'I love you', but Ianto still wouldn't hear it because Ianto has been dead for six months. Nothing changes, nothing has changed. On that level it would all make a tragic kind of sense, and I find the idea that in this scenario Jack's knowledge of Ianto would in the end override Jack's own wishes and effectively save Jack from himself quite compelling. I might actually have liked that version.

But the problem here is that 'Ianto' from the start has too much of a life of his own. The play even starts with him. Syreath creating all this from Jack’s memories would explain the presence of Ianto’s father, since Jack knew about him and the conflict between him and Ianto (although the master tailor story apparently left a lasting impression, too), as it would explain the emphasis on the ‘betrayal’, since in CW Jack certainly felt massively betrayed (whereas Ianto never even apologised to him for that; I don’t think he ever saw his actions as a betrayal of Jack, rather than keeping faith with Lisa), but it doesn’t explain 'Ianto' talking to his father, or to Gwen.

The second possibility is that it's Syreath throughout speaking through 'Ianto' ('She will use the ghosts of the dead against us.'), like she was speaking through the other dead people, guilt tripping Jack to the point where he wouldn't be able to think clearly any longer and then tempt him with the offer of possibly getting Ianto back, making him forget his mission and walk out. That would explain why 'Ianto' seemed to have more autonomy than the other dead, why, unlike 'Helen', he never showed any awareness of being dead, because he'd have to be as real and convincing as possible. At one point Syreath says, 'You are in the house of the dead. Nothing is what it appears to be.' Why would 'Ianto' be the exception? But in that scenario it makes no sense that 'Ianto' would suddenly develop a life of his own and stay behind to trigger the bomb. Or why Syreath would use Gwen's voice to manipulate 'Ianto' into not trusting Jack and use Ianto's father to make 'Ianto' convince Jack to leave and let the dead come back. Then again, she's been trapped underneath the rift since before time. Anyone would have started to talk to themselves a long time ago.

Neither version offers a completely satisfying explanation, and despite the fact that throughout most of the play Jack seems to be perfectly aware that what he's doing is dangerous and potentially unhealthy ('The dead were in this room. Doesn't that tell you that this is wrong?!'), in the end one is still somehow left with the impression that this is the genuine article, so to speak, some sort of actual afterlife!Ianto interacting with Jack, that this is a real good-bye of sorts. True love overcomes everything, they're still saving the world beyond the grave, Jack even gets to say 'I love you'. And, just, no. No. My willingness to suspend my disbelief ends there. Life doesn't work like that. If you missed your chance, you missed it. If someone dies, they're dead (or at least they were before the 'miracle').

My other issue is the blatant fanservice. HotD pushes the OTP-ness to the point where at least in my opinion it starts to mess with characterisation established by the show itself. It's the Captain's Blog all over again. At the end of CoE I had absolutely no problem believing that Jack did love Ianto, but the way Ianto is presented as Jack’s one true love here doesn’t ring true to me. 'Ianto, don't you understand? All the people I've lost, the only one I wanted to see was you.' Again, sorry, but no. I’d maybe — maybe — accept this from a Jack who is going on two hundred, although even then it doesn’t sound quite right, but I'm certainly not buying it from a Jack who has supposedly lived for thousands of years. CoE was more complicated than that; Ianto was part of it, but what I think haunts and burdens Jack more is Steven's death. He's lost lovers before, lots of them, if you go with the 'thousands of years'. On the other hand it's highly unlikely that he's ever been forced to make the decision to kill his grandson while his daughter was looking on. Ianto told Jack it wasn't his fault; if there was something to forgive, he forgave him. Jack would remember that sooner or later. While Ianto had a choice, Steven never did, and I don't think Alice will ever forgive Jack, even if she might at one point recognise the necessity of what he'd done. She certainly hasn't so far. Ignoring this aspect entirely and have Jack become effectively suicidal over Ianto's death rubs me the wrong way. MD is handling this a lot better.

What I think ties the three radio plays together is the question of how to react to loss, guilt, and loneliness. How far are you prepared to go to make the pain go away?

In TDaMC Fitzroy is willing to change the entire planet just to be able to settle there, to find a home and live as a human among humans, to put an end to his loneliness. In Submission the alien asks Gwen, 'Imagine, if your own mate was dying, you'd do anything to say him', to which Gwen replies, 'I would never kill innocent people to save him.' Finally in HotD, Ms. Wintergreen asks Jack whether he hasn't ever lost anyone, and when he replies, yes, she says, 'Then you know that people will do anything just to see them once more.'

And in the end Jack is prepared to let Syreath get through, never mind the cost in human lives, to get Ianto back. (Or so he chose to believe. Seeing as this was never Ianto to begin with, I presume getting him back was never actually an option.) This reflects Jack's willingness to bargain with the 456 to get Ianto back, and even at the time I thought that while it might have been gratifying for Ianto to hear this, he'd never have accepted such a trade if it meant that someone else would have to die because of his survival. In EoD 'Lisa' didn't even try to tempt Ianto with a promise of getting her back, she just told him lots of people would die unless he opened the rift.

When Ianto tells Carlie about his relationship with Jack in Submission he says something that is equally accurate and poignant and shows Ianto's insight into Jack's character: 'He's become an expert at letting people go'. Carlie tells Ianto that he isn't an easy person to let go of, but the thing is... Ianto is right and Jack really has no choice in this. He can try to remember them, but he also has to let go to an extent, or he'll find himself in the same position as that alien eventually, metaphorically stuck at the bottom of the sea, alone and obsessing over his grief and an imagined guilt Ianto forgave him long ago.

HotD is a first step in this direction, when Jack turns away from life, from, quite literally, the light, towards the darkness of the seance, towards the memories, trying to breathe life into them, and in the end is willing to lose himself in a place between worlds forever. Looking at HotD in connection with the other radio plays, especially Submission, this isn't some sort of quasi-romantic ending, this isn't closure, this is a low point.

TDaMC ends with Gwen and Rhys together (Rhys: 'Don't mind. As long I get to go through it with you, I'll take on anything.'), and, implications aside, Jack and Ianto's relationship isn't touched by the awareness of death there. In Submission death is already more present with Callie telling Ianto that at least he won't be alone (and he wasn't), already implying Jack's eventual loneliness. HotD is Jack's story, the story of loneliness and what it does to you. Because we know what happens afterwards. Nothing changed. Earth was still unbearable. Jack still left it behind to find a new life and new memories, but to his credit at least it was going to be his own life, not someone else's. The house of the dead isn't just that haunted pub, ready to be converted into apartments, it's also inside Jack's head, as he's trying to remember them all.

I do wonder whether MD might not turn out to be the story of Jack coming back from that, finding his way back into life, starting to connect to people again almost in spite of himself, perhaps even while he's planning his grand heroic exit. Mortality gave Jack a choice, and eventually he's going to have to make it.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 12th, 2011 10:20 pm (UTC)
Regarding HotD, I understand where you're coming from totally and a part of me actually agrees with you. But on the other hand, a more selfish part of me welcomed all the emotion Jack showed over Ianto in that play - even if 'ghost Ianto' wasn't real. When you look at the Jack/Ianto relationship from start to finish as a strong Ianto fan - rather than as a Jack fan or a Torchwood fan in general - Jack inability to be over-emotional about Ianto when he could be over-emotional about Gwen (especially in series 2) did sting from time to time.

I agree that most of the Jack/Ianto stuff in the radio plays were pure fan service though, especially the part about Ianto worrying whether Jack loved Gwen more than him in Submission - hence why they were done in the partially canon radio plays, rather than the totally canon tv series. I do wonder though whether RTD and Co regretted not having Jack tell Ianto that he loved him in the end - if only for one moment?

I've got this feeling that we might be saying goodbye to Rhys at the end of MD. I don't know a single thing about how MD ends but considering how much death we've seen in Torchwood, there's not much left that would shock and upset fans of the show.
Aug. 13th, 2011 03:18 pm (UTC)
It's ironic, because I spent most of S2 wishing Jack would get more emotional over Ianto. But two years after CoE I guess HotD just breaks the fourth wall too much for me in all kinds of ways to be still happy about that, or to be able to see it as canon.

I do wonder though whether RTD and Co regretted not having Jack tell Ianto that he loved him in the end - if only for one moment?

IIRC, Jack was originally supposed to say it in CoE, but they found it didn't really work. Or at least that's what I remember reading at the time; don't ask me to quote the source, though. Maybe someone told the story at a con somewhere?

I've got this feeling that we might be saying goodbye to Rhys at the end of MD.

I can't put my finger on it, but I've had a bad feeling about Rhys since the last episode, when he tells Gwen about how he transported the bodies to the burn centre. He's getting too involved. And Gwen has been spared for too long.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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