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# As a sort of addendum to the post about the radio plays... It's funny, really. I thought I was over CoE. I never had as bad a reaction to Ianto's death as many others, I've rewatched the whole story several times since without tears or trauma, and I thought that with the The World is Always Ending meta at the latest I'd made my peace with it. Apparently not quite though, because somewhat belatedly it occurred to me that such a strong, and in the end probably disproportionately negative, over(?)-emotional reaction to HotD, two years after CoE, wasn't exactly the response of someone who's over it. I actually find that a bit frightening. It's a strange thing how your own brain can catch you by surprise.

# TW 4.06 The Middle Men

I wasn't very enthusiastic about it yesterday, but oddly enough liked it considerably better on rewatching, which might partly be due to the fact that I hate those storylines where people walk unaware into situations that as a viewer you know are potentially fatal, and pretty much the entire episode consisted of that. Rex, Esther, Rhys, even Gwen, although she seems pretty safe at least at this point of the story... The episode is a lot more bearable to watch once you know that everyone survives at least for now.

Another problem, I guess, were my own expectations. After last week's revelation, Oswald's speech about humanity having evolved into angels, the burning of Vera and the 'category 1' patients, I expected more of a follow up on that, and in many ways the episode seemed frustratingly slow the first time I watched it. It delivers a very few hints — the sequence before the opening credits, Mr. Owens mentioning the 'blessing' —, but it barely moves the plot forward at all, and what it mainly does is once again show what it is not about. Phicorp isn't controlling the miracle, only profiting from it. Someone else is manipulating the system, with different aims. As Rex sees it, and I think he's right about that, it isn't about the sick as such; the miracle serves as a means to rebuild society, to get rid of whoever is deemed 'undesirable' and discipline the rest.

In a way it's an intentionally anticlimactic episode, and even though I liked it better the second time, I'm not sure if the script is good enough to pull that off successfully. The whole thing still felt rather clumsy and too heavy handed at times, spending too much time on exposition. And there's something else. Although I could rationalise my way around it if I had to, I thought it was borderline OOC for Jack not to realise that the tied-up Gwen was a trap in 4.04, and I had the same problem here. How could Rex think that Maloney, as the director of the facility wouldn't know? He already knows the truth of what is happening, he saw Vera burn, and yet he makes the same mistake she did, and that's almost criminally stupid and naive. Put it down to shock, but still. Maloney practically radiates creepiness and Rex picks up on that way too late, which IMO diminishes what might otherwise been a strong scene. Even when Maloney is sticking his pen into Rex's wounds, Rex still insists that he can't die, so Maloney can't kill him. Who does he think burned Vera? That man is supposed to be a trained CIA agent, and he wasn't just sitting at his desk doing research like Esther, either. Even she should have suspected something. At the very least she should have known Maloney might not be terminally dead.

I still think that MD has finally departed from the path CoE set, though. If one compares John Frobisher to the 'middle man' in this story, Frobisher was helpless by the end, true, and that was his tragedy and his punishment, but for a long time he was a devastating study of what kind of a power a 'middle man', or maybe more generally speaking, a single human being in the right place at the right time, could have, if only they realised it. Frobisher might have made all the difference, if he'd proposed to work with Torchwood, rather than to eliminate Jack in order to cover up what happened in 1965. But Frobisher's primary goal was to keep the machine running, until the machine finally swallowed him too. In MD with its global scenario the middle man are shown to be effectively powerless. Whether they're murdering, misogynist, badminton loving psychopaths completely out of their depths, but quickly adapting to the new world order and eager to use the limited authority and power it grants them like Collin Maloney, or polite, intelligent, educated, upper class business men like Stuart Owens with his wife and mistress, who even has a personal interest in finding out what happened — they are effectively powerless. So powerless that Zheng Yibao, who apparently did find out at least part of what the miracle really was about, responded to this discovery by throwing himself off a building.

Jack has to learn that it isn't as easy and clear-cut as he thought it was or wished it to be. Rex's nearly fatal mistake is that he believes that this isn't systematic, that he can convince people, first the soldiers, than Malloney. That they'd stand up if only they saw what was happening, or at least fear the consequences they might have to face. And like Jack, who offered Oswald the chance to be a hero in the last episode, he fails. Gwen believes she can beat the system, but even her big statement of saying no and blowing up the Module falls rather flat. They get the information out, which they never did in CoE, but the reaction isn't what they expected it to be. There might be a bit of outrage, but there is no general uprising.

There are minor acts of kindness in this episode, like the cleaning woman who opens the door for Gwen, but going by the message Gwen received in the end, unless they're bluffing, which I doubt they are, because Gwen will to demand proof that they have her family, her father is already dead.

Effectively, Ralph is the only one who makes a real difference in this story.

In MD the emphasis is definitely on the powerlessness in face of the system, which might result in an interesting discussion about what kind of power the individual does or doesn't have in the wider process of history, but at this point I'm sceptical, because it looks at least a bit like it'll come down to some Big, probably alien, Bad pulling the strings in the background, and Team Torchwood/Jack in the end heroically saving the day, which simplifies things too much. It's more complicated than that; it's not either/or, it's both, to varying degrees. Somehow I wonder if this story works better for people who are only superficially, if at all, familiar with the history of National Socialism. 'How can you be part of it and not know what's going on', seems a bit of a naive question, especially coming from someone like Jack, who supposedly has lived for thousands of years.

And there's another thing. I think the problem might turn out to be that humanity can't psychologically deal with the absence of death. There will be no general uprising, because on some level people are profoundly uncomfortable with the post-miracle situation. We already saw the Dead is Dead movement. CoE was different, because it went against most people's instincts. Whether it's biological or social, under normal circumstances people are conditioned to protect their children. On the other hand, however much collectively we may want to avoid death, a world without it goes against tens of thousand years of evolution of the human brain, against the entire history of conscious human thought, religion and philosophy, and the longer this goes on, the more the consequences will become apparent, the more people will welcome burning as a solution and the knowledge that there is still an escape from life. Just look at the 45 club.

I guess my main problem with MD is that while I find the story interesting in how it compares to the rest of RTD's work, I'm not sure yet how well it stands on its own. Mostly I'm fascinated by the use of religious themes. We've had 'revelation' as a keyword, Oswald was comparing the new humans to angels, not there's the 'blessing'. Why is the religious terminology so important? I still have hopes for the denouement, because RTD hasn't written a story yet that in the end didn't push all my buttons, but right now for me it's more about the end of the journey, so to speak, whereas I find the process of getting there a bit lacklustre. Sometimes I wonder if I've simply become too analytical...

Minor points:

— It's strange, because she's a rather unlikely character for me to be so fond of, but my love for Esther continues. I really liked the fight with Maloney, her reaction to it, and the scene between her and Rex in the car afterwards. She shows a mixture of strength and weakness that strikes me as very realistic.

— On the other hand, I thought both Maloney and Ralph were too much like caricatures, or maybe slightly exaggerated portrayals of a certain type of person and how they'd react to the new situation, rather than real, three dimensional human beings.

— Rex is finally beginning to see himself as Torchwood, disillusioned with CIA and the government, but at the same time there is still too little bonding and interaction between the old and the new characters, IMO. I thought Gwen being back in Cardiff would give Jack the opportunity to connect to Esther and Rex, but everyone went their separate way in this episode, so no chance of that. Although on the other hand at least Rex and Esther fixed their issues...

— The cliffhanger was interesting, and at least finally makes good use of the two seasons of tension between Jack and Gwen. And now it's going to get interesting for Jack too, because he's no longer 'safe' and it's rather doubtful that whoever is behind this wants him because they fancy his coat.

— I was almost surprised that they actually addressed the concentration camp parallel; it's logical, because it's really way too obvious for no one to remark on it, but somehow I still thought it'd remain implicit.

— The question of suicide has already been brought up in the second episode, and again in this one. Is this a reminder because it'll become important at the end of Jack's arc, or was that it?

— The feeling wasn't as strong when I rewatched the episode, but yesterday for the first time I also felt I was watching an entirely new show, and ironically the moment where I felt this most strongly was when Gwen did that action movie thing with the motorcycle before blowing up half the camp, when there has been absolutely no indication so far that she even knew how to drive one. I think Jane Espenson has a better feeling for old school TW and character continuity.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 14th, 2011 12:44 pm (UTC)
It's funny, really. I thought I was over CoE.
It's funny, because I knew I wasn't. And then HotD came along and fixed it. It was like magic. Two years worth of heartache, where I couldn't really make myself watch the show or... anything, because it hurt too much, and out of the blue - closure. (Initial reaction here, and meta here, if you're curious.) I even went and hunted down my favourite Janto vid ever, and I could watch it and it didn't kill me.

Just to give you a completely different viewpoint! *g*

(Ignoring the main part of the post since I've not watched ep 6 yet, although I'm curious: Does the show finally do something with Jack?)
Aug. 14th, 2011 05:03 pm (UTC)
I had the same reaction, even though intellectually I knew it was a bit OOC and totally over OTT, it suddenly FIXED a load of stuff that had been bugging me and keeping me from posting and doing picspams and all sorts of stuff. It still didn't pique my ineterst in MD, but it got me back into loving old school TW again in a way I hadn't been able to for two years.
Aug. 14th, 2011 08:05 pm (UTC)
Does the show finally do something with Jack?

Not really, but if the cliffhanger is any indication, they will in the next episode.
I may be wrong, but I think Jack's story will be tied to the eventual revelation, so they took the time and established the new characters first, as well as the continuity from CoE. I know it doesn't look like much if you're already familiar with the character, but considering they also have to take a new audience into consideration, I actually think they've done a fairly decent job laying the groundwork...

As for House of the Dead — I'm absolutely happy for everyone who got closure from it, but for reasons I don't really understand myself, it had the complete opposite effect on me. I know I'm the exception here, but I can't even begin to explain how wrong the whole thing felt to me.
Aug. 15th, 2011 07:04 am (UTC)
Maybe ultimately, it's because the radio play was mostly fan service, having Jack do something that he'd never do in tv canon - be over-emotional about Ianto. TPTB need the Jack/Gwen relationship to be the most pivital in tv canon but with a partially-canon radio play, they could appeal to Jack/Ianto fandom in a more direct way. I mean, I did go WTF during Submission, when it was implied that Ianto worried about whether Jack loved Gwen more than him.
Aug. 14th, 2011 03:46 pm (UTC)
Each episode of MD swings from boring me to captivating me.

I found the first two-thirds of episode 6 a little slow and dull(but with important plot-development taking place) and then the final 15 minutes had me captivated again. I felt the same way about episode 5. I loved the moment Esther tried to save Rex after that cringe-inducing moment with a pen and there's a few little character moments that I really enjoyed too, like Jack getting back a spark of flirty humour and Gwen's desperation to get her father out of the death camp thing. I both liked and didn't like Gwen's motorbike moment - it was cool but not really in keeping with Torchwood as a show.

MD is an interesting story in itself but like you say, if you pick it apart too much, you can clearly see problems with the long-winded nature of this series. And Jack still doesn't feel like the show's leading man to me, at least not at the side of Rex. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that episode 7 is Jack-heavy but all I can say is - it's about time....

The end of episode 6 hasn't done anything to stop me from thinking that Rhys might be leaving at the end of the series. Is Gwen's love for her family going to be a real problem for Jack in the next episode?
Aug. 14th, 2011 08:26 pm (UTC)
MD is an interesting story in itself but like you say, if you pick it apart too much, you can clearly see problems with the long-winded nature of this series.

I keep thinking that CoE had speed working in its favour. It was a lot conciser, you simply didn't have the time to stop and think.

Re. Jack — part of the reason he's a bit in the background might also be that they don't want to immediately put him in the position again where people die because of him. He didn't send Vera in there, so at least her death, tragic as it is, isn't on his conscience. We've seen in ep. 3 that this is a burden for him, so if the first team (well, sort of) death had been his fault, or happened because of his command, they'd have to deal with all the resulting angst.

Is Gwen's love for her family going to be a real problem for Jack in the next episode?

On second thoughts there's also the possibility that Jack will jump at the chance to heroically sacrifice himself to atone for Steven's death (a child for a child), and Gwen will have to convince him not to do it, at least not right away... After all the immortality angst, after all the people who died because of Torchwood, he can hardly decline now, when things get dangerous for him personally for once.

There's also the question of what these people want from Jack, and why. The killer in ep. 4 could have shot Jack, but didn't, so apparently they have other plans with him. It's probably because he's connected to the miracle, but how?
Aug. 16th, 2011 07:16 pm (UTC)
I was never invested in Jack/Ianto, so the loose ends with Ianto's death in CoE never bothered me. (Please don't hate me for it.) For me, Ianto's death was very much about Jack's hubris. So Steven's death was IMHO Jack's penance for that.

I think the problem might turn out to be that humanity can't psychologically deal with the absence of death.

I'm just musing here... Isn't Homo sapiens the only species on Earth that's aware of its own mortality? If so, then perhaps, philosophically, humanity is ultimately defined by its struggle against death. (Definitely within RTD's worldview.) If the very conflict humanity's fought for eons is suddenly removed, then humanity must define itself in some other way. E.g., most religions promise some form of life for the soul after the body dies. If the concept of a soul makes sense only in the context of death, then without death, logically one might be 'soulless' (hence the Soulless cult). Or, one who's invested in (Christian) theology might see humanity as angels having 'ascended' into Heaven--the "World Without End, Amen."

Vera pointed out earlier that humans weren't ready for immortality. And IMHO that's correct. Humanity would need to move beyond its baser instincts. MD shows that won't happen anytime soon. I think that's a fascinating juxtaposition.
Aug. 17th, 2011 08:48 pm (UTC)
(Please don't hate me for it.)

God, I hope I don't come across like that?! Not a problem! I've been essentially okay with CoE and Ianto's part in it since almost right after I watched it. Part of me still wishes he didn't have to die right after they finally sorted out their issues (well, some of them), but i can absolutely recognise that his death makes dramatic sense on more than one level. What bothered me about HotD was that it felt way too much like digging up Ianto's corpse to me.

I'm just musing here... Isn't Homo sapiens the only species on Earth that's aware of its own mortality?

I'm certain I read that somewhere, but I can't recall the context. I've been thinking about this, and I wonder if it's even possible to determine how much our awareness of our mortality has shaped human, well, everything. Death rituals, burials, grave goods... these things go back almost to the beginning of the development of humanity. And religions don't just promise an afterlife, they often promise protection from illness, death, etc. at least for a while. This is embedded in our consciousness so deeply that I don't think we can even truly imagine a life without death. The reaction to the change, maybe, which is what MD does, but in the long run? It's completely beyond our experience.
Aug. 19th, 2011 12:20 am (UTC)
Oh no no no, you're not coming across like that at all! It's just that much of fandom seems to think, if you're not invested in Jack/Ianto, you're not a "real" fan. Sorry about that. I haven't listened to HotD yet, and I don't know if I will. I wasn't unduly upset, so it probably won't make a difference for me. Though I'm glad it provided closure for many fans upset by CoE.

I wonder if it's even possible to determine how much our awareness of our mortality has shaped human, well, everything.

I think it underpins all human endeavor--perhaps the idea of something of us outliving our mortal bodies is what ultimately drives our creativity. Sometimes I'll listen to the news about "finding the cure for cancer!" and think, even if we do cure cancer, it's simply one less way to die. Some other illness will take its place as the #1 or #2 killer. Even when science talks of life extension, it only delays the inevitable. Remove death, and what else is there to fight?
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )


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