From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Unbreakable Habits: Torchwood’s Second Season — Better Than The First, But Still No Buffy

Torchwood’s second season is now over in both the US and Britain, and, after the disappointing season finale, some viewers are wondering whether they’ll want to return for season three. On the other hand, season two was significantly stronger than the season before it. And if season three continues with that trend, Torchwood might turn into a show people watch because it’s good, not just because it’s like crack.

(Warning: Spoilers for seasons one and two below.)

The creators behind Torchwood may have some funny ideas about what constitutes “plot,” but they know their audience. The show feels like it was created expressly for fan service. And thus, like some fan written works, it’s forgiven for many of its shortcomings because the characters are engaging in activities and relationships not often found in mainstream shows. An episode with a less than stellar story is redeemed, even praised, because one scene included a hot kiss between Jack and Ianto. And really, what more do you need?

Torchwoo - Jack and Ianto Kiss

Well, maybe I do need some plot that makes sense. Sometimes.

The season’s strongest episodes, “Reset”, “Adrift”, and “Fragments” stand out mostly because they have stories that work from beginning to end. Most of the episodes in this season start with a strong plot then somehow manage to fall down flat in the last 5 – 10 minutes. “To the Last Man” was great until Tommy went back to his own time and promptly lost his memory for no good reason; “Adam” did beautifully until the scene where Jack hypnotized everyone out of remembering the titular character; even “Dead Man Walking” had some good things going for it until Owen went toe to toe with a really horrendously CGIed Death Monster and then, frustratingly, still did not die!

Once again the season finale, with seeds leading all the way back to the first episode of the season, failed to deliver in a big way. It was a big idea, ambitious even. Perhaps a better writer should have tackled it. Or the producers should have learned their lesson from last season. Chris Chibnall was also responsible for the hoary CGI monster from the Rift, while Catherine Tregenna was responsible for the Hugo-nominated “Captain Jack Harkness”. Think about it.

The characters on Torchwood, both regulars and guests, were just as often a source of disappointment and anger as a reason to squee. The previously mentioned Jack/Ianto relationship just got better and better, though it wasn’t particularly deep. But really, any time Jack kisses a hot guy, I’m pleased. (I’m not alone in this, I think.) James Marsters managed to flick that switch and still turn in a great performance in his guest roles. Unfortunately for him, the episodes themselves–“Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” and “Exit Wounds”–were, respectively, meh and devastatingly horrible.

Owen’s continued existence angered me with every episode, particularly after he died the first time. From the very first episode of this series–when he used some alien cologne to coerce people to have sex with him–I’ve considered Owen one of the most annoying and useless characters I’ve had the displeasure to see on my television. Season two did nothing to disabuse me of this notion, and the extremely lame handwave in the direction of he and Tosh finally getting together made it worse, not better. I’m not sure where the creators were trying to go with Owen. Maybe they were just turning convention on its head by having the ugly asshole guy always getting laid while the handsome, decent guys only get laid in innuendo (or have girlfriends secretly locked in a basement). I’m not a fan of this tactic.

The only silver lining here is that Owen is well and truly dead now and we no longer have to suffer his presence or yet another round of Owen-centric episodes.

As for the show’s two female regulars, I must say: the wrong one is dead.

Toshiko was an awesome character, though many of the writers didn’t seem to think so. Helen Raynor seemed to get her best this season and Catherine Tregenna gave the actress a few good bits to chew on. But overall, Tosh was underutilized and her character was only saved by the awesomeness of the actress. When she died a pointless, meaningless death at the end of the season it made me want to never watch the show again.

We still have Gwen, though that isn’t much of a consolation. Whereas in season one Gwen was interesting and watchable enough, season two made me go from feeling indifferent to actively hating her. I decided in the middle of the season that Gwen is actually all right when we’re not seeing her in relation to a man who fancies/loves her. In the first season, her interactions with Jack were fine, but when they introduced the incredibly stupid (and not at all bourne out by continuity) sexual tension between the two of them, every scene with this subtext became torture. Almost every scene with Rhys is torture. Thank goodness she wasn’t sleeping with Owen anymore, else she wouldn’t have any respite from the suck. And I’m eternally thankful that Gwen/Tosh never found its way into cannon. It’s frustrating because Gwen has moments of being a really great character. And I like that she’s (mostly) competent and strong without being a StrongWoman(tm). It’s like the writers couldn’t figure out how to have an amazing female lead without giving her relationship angst or sexual tension with a co-worker.

Despite all of this, this season was more successful, overall, than the previous one. That gives me some small hope for season three. And, as with fanfiction, people will watch, even if it’s not particularly well-written because where else are they going to get their Jack/Ianto fix? And we can always hope for some Jack/Ianto/Martha if the rumors of Freema Agyeman joining the cast are true.

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