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It's the End of the World As We Know It on "Torchwood"

I've really, really enjoyed the first season of Torchwood, the Doctor Who spinoff which has finally wrapped here in the States after far too long a delay.

I've already waxed philosophical about Torchwood's complex characters--more flawed than their typical American counterparts--and its stunningly casual take on sexuality several times since the series debuted a few months ago. Chances are that you've either already fallen under its warped spell or, if deeply disturbed individuals trying to save the world while getting it on with each other isn't your bag, you haven't. (If you didn't catch the first season, which ended this past Saturday, or don't get BBC America, fret not: the DVD will be released on January 22nd.)

Yes, this is a far darker tale of time-travel, rift-based aliens, and adult action than the generally more family-oriented Doctor Who, but Torchwood has proven, over the course of its freshman season, to pose some difficult questions about morality, mortality, and responsibility. In other words: the big stuff. This is Angel territory: a group of strangers thrown together with the weight of the world on their shoulders as they try to keep up their end of their burden and find their place in a world that doesn't understand them.

In the season finale ("End of Days"), the team--provoked by the ghostly visions of their loved ones--turn on their leader, Captain Jack Harkness. To their credit, their loved ones are telling them to open the rift in the fabric of time and space which lies under the city of Cardiff to correct a series of global supernatural phenomena (plague-ridden residents of the 14th century turning up at the hospital, Roman soldiers appearing and stabbing police officers, etc.) that threaten humanity's existence. Plus, they've recently learned that Jack isn't quite who or what he presented himself to be. For one thing, his name isn't Captain Jack Harkness. His namesake was an American volunteer in WWII stationed in Cardiff who was killed on a military exercise; our Jack, a rogue Time Agent from the future, stole his identity when he arrived in the 20th century. And, oh, our Jack can't be killed, thanks to a little adventure with the Doctor.

The emotionally splintered gang at Torchwood--that is, Gwen, Owen, Tosh, and Ianto--betray Jack in order to open the rift to save their loved ones. It's interesting that, like Angel, these characters are totally, completely, existentially alone in the world, even when they're hooking up with one another like rabbits.

Gwen is forced into action by the murder of her boyfriend Rhys, whom she had been cheating on with Owen and whom she drugged after confessing this to him only recently. Rhys was killed by a time-traveler named Billis, an incredibly scary SOB who has the power to move himself between eras. The plot to open the rift, set into motion last week when Billis stranded Jack and Tosh in WWII Cardiff (and pushed Jack face to face with his namesake), was in fact a doomsday plan by Billis to bring forth Abbadon, a world destroyer trapped in the rift who can kill with his shadow.

While the episode moved at a breakneck speed and had more twists and turns than your standard Hollywood potboiler, I do wish the writers would have been given a bit more clear with Billis' motivation. Yes, I get that he's into chaos, wishes to bring about the end of the world like any other megalomaniacal villain, etc. but I wished for a little more. Just who is Billis? Where does he come from? How can he travel between eras with little more than a blink of his eyes?

I'll forgive the writers these errors of omission if Billis does turn out to be a major villain for the team in Season Two. After all, he appeared to have escaped unscathed from the battle between Abbadon and Jack (who manages to defeat the life-eating Abbadon by dint of his curse of immortality).

But I am still not entirely sure why they resurrected Rhys post-battle. His death, shocking and unexpected in its brutality (Billis literally twists the knife right into his gut not once, but twice), was a surprising and exciting twist, though it does let Gwen off of the hook for her guilt over her affair with Owen. But do we still need the thick-as-two-short-planks Rhys yelling at our Gwen Cooper all the time? Or is it far more interesting to keep him in play while forcing Gwen to deal with her unhappiness, her transgressions, and her betrayal? You decide.

Torchwood returns January 26th with Season Two on BBC America.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: How I Met Your Mother/The Big Bang Theory (CBS); Chuck (NBC); Everybody Hates Chris/Aliens in America (CW); Charlie Brown Christmas (ABC); House (FOX)

9 pm: Two and a Half Men/Rules of Engagement (CBS); Heroes (NBC); Girlfriends/The Game (CW); Samantha Who/Notes from the Underbelly (ABC); K-Ville (FOX)

10 pm: CSI: Miami (CBS); Life (NBC); October Road (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: Chuck.

On tonight's episode ("Chuck Versus the Crown Vic"), Chuck realizes that Sarah still has feelings for Bryce and reluctantly poses as her husband in order to foil a counterfeiter; meanwhile, their involvement in the case puts Morgan and Anna in jeopardy. Man, do I love this series.


Excellent finale although I also wished that the Billis storyline had a little more to it. But maybe he will show up in Season Two, which would be cool since he is super creepy.
Anonymous said…
Loved the finale. Wasn't too sure that I'd like this when I started watching at first but glad that I stuck with it thru the end.
Anonymous said…
Was dumbstruck by Torchwood's finale. At first, I thought the 'monster' was a bit much but I accepted it. And the 'fight' at the end was great.

I agree with you,though. Let's leave Rhys dead and see how Gwen deals with it in Season 2. I would like to see Gwen with Jack - they claim he's bisexual, right?

Cannot wait for Season 2 and the DVD for Season 1!

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