This episode tells the harrowing story of a woman who is forced to come to terms with the fact that her missing son has aged 40 years in seven months. And if that bombshell wasn't distressing enough, he now looks like Gully Foyle from Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination and lives in a decrepit lighthouse where he screams a lot. There won't be a dry eye in the house!
There's only one tiny problem. The people who cast the guy who played her son before he went missing decided to plump for someone who looked like they were in their early 30s. This made the opening scene appear very bizarre and a little bit kinky to me. I thought their texts were part of some weird sex game (this isTorchwood after all) and he was simply late for his weekly shag. But no, she apparently had a child when she was 12. Maybe this was subtly preparing me for the episode's shocking denouement?
But I'm nitpicking. As much as it surprises me to say this: Chris Chibnall delivered a solid episode. A little bit spooky. A little bit sad. It deployed some interesting twists and turns and the performances were, Barrowman chewing the scenery aside, very powerful. Hey, I was impressed.
I thought their texts were part of some weird sex game...
The mystery at the heart of the episode was handled particularly well. It was all too easy to assume that Captain Jack was being his usual bastard self, torturing poor defenseless Rift victims in a cross between Bedlam and the Dharma Initiative from Lost. But no! Jack was being a nice guy who was locking up poor defenseless Rift victims in a scary lighthouse instead. So that's alright, then.
At first this struck me as being bonkers beyond belief, not to mention a little cruel (couldn't the staff brighten the place up just a little bit? slap up some pretty wallpaper? pipe in some soothing music?) but as the episode progressed, and we saw the full extent of Jonah's injuries, it quickly became apparent that there were no easy answers to this situation. Where's Owen's magic fridge when you need it? I'm just surprised that Jack didn't just put them all out of their misery; it wouldn't have been the first time. However, his decision not to warn Gwen that Jonah was only compus mentus for a few hours a day was incredibly insensitive. Or maybe he was just trying to teach the nosey cow a lesson?
But what really saves Adrift from being a saccharine mess are the
tour de force performances from Ruth Jones and Robert Pugh as the time-shifted mother and son. This, coupled with the
decision to end with a wholly realistic and haunting ending, gave the episode some much needed balls. You could argue
that Nikki is better off knowing the truth (whether she likes it or not) but you have to wonder why they didn't just
retcon the hell out of her. What makes her so special? And why not retcon Jonah while they're at it? Maybe retcon pills don't work when the show is going for pathos. Which would be fine if they didn't rely on them every other bloody week.
Where's Owen's magic fridge when you need it?
Anyway, it's pretty grim stuff. And I'm welling up just thinking about it. So let's lighten the mood with the coda we all wanted to see but were, alas, cruelly denied - Andy's interview for a job in Torchwood:
Jack: So, Andy, why do you want to join Torchwood?
Andy: Well, boyo, I want to get involved in all these Spooky Doos. Gwen makes it sound like a right laugh.
Jack: Right. Well, I have a list of questions that will gauge your suitability to join a top secret, beyond the government, slightly askance to the police, organisation...
Jack: Question 1: have you ever displayed any bisexual tendencies?
Andy: Erm, no...
Jack: Okaaaaay. Would you be willing to display any bisexual tendencies?
Andy: What? No! Aren't you going to ask me about my detecting skills or my ability to fire off witty, sarcastic comments in the face of danger? Look! All my fingers work properly and I've been practicing waving a gun around in the air!
Jack: Sit down, Andy. So, not even David Beckham. Just a tiny, tiny bit?
Andy: Is this a wind-up? Jack: Forget it. Next!
Poor Andy. Give this guy his own series immediately. Get him out of his uniform and make him a 21st century Shoestring. We could do with a laugh.
When I looked closer I saw negative rift spike Residual rift flares
Nice to see Chibnall combining the haiku and the tongue-twister. Always experimental.
I'm sure Gwen means well, but let's face it she's the kiss of death. She has spent all of her time in Torchwood
extending the metaphor of breaking the photocopier to the point that when
she comes to stay the mice are throwing themselves on the traps. Adrift
was another example of her good intentions gone awry, but she wasn't
entirely to blame. This time that snake-in-the-grass PC "Spooky" Andy
was responsible for tempting her back into the life of blighting other
lives. I've never trusted him - he has the look of a man who'd happily
watch Torchwood if
it wasn't already a fictional construct of which he is a part. So
once tempted back to her interfering worst by PC Andy she is then
encouraged along the path by the most incompetent wanker on the planet
aka Captain Jack. I've lost patience with myself going on about this,
but no wonder Torchwood fucks up so much when they are led by a man who
has taken the mushroom management of his staff (shit on them and keep
them in the dark) to a new art form. Except most managers like this
might bankrupt a company or two at worst, whereas this clown causes a
legion of pointless deaths per episode while sexual harassment lawsuits
go through the roof. And what's worse his antics are televised. I
didn't think Jack could sink any lower than his Benny Hill bum-pinching
in Meat, but he
managed it here. His inexplicable behaviour in withholding the
whereabouts of the rift victims from trusted colleagues was bad enough,
but the sound of him off-screen roaring "Ianto" like some sex-crazed
Jack Nicholson impersonator was enough to put the teenagers off their
Give Nikki her hope back - it's a piece of piss.
However, if you could ignore the Scottish American long enough there
were signs of a real drama trying to get out. I've been
meaning for a while to give due credit to Kai Owen's work on this
series, but I think he's one of the best things about it. All the
scenes between Rhys and Gwen were excellent and actually sounded like
real people arguing. Admittedly you had to forget about the pregnancy
talk coming hot on the heels of Something Borrowed,
but Rhys's "Sometimes I fucking hate you" speech was great. In
addition to this there were powerful performances from Ruth Jones and
Robert Pugh, the latter an actor I've always had time for since his
monumental performance in In a Land of Plenty.
Mind you I wasn't expecting him to turn up looking like Uncle Fester
after a night on the tiles. But as ever, so much of the good stuff was
undermined by nonsensical plotting and motivations. Doesn't Jack think
to mention to Gwen that Jonah is stark, staring mad most of the time
and that therefore getting his mum to visit might not be a great idea?
"These people are sick in ways you can't imagine". Well if you told
her she wouldn't have to imagine. And after flinging retcon pills
around like Smarties in every other episode in the series, no-one even
thinks about retconning Nikki Bevan, the one person who categorically should
be helped to forget, and this omission is seemingly for the sole reason of contriving a situation that makes Gwen feel
sad and responsible. Give Nikki her hope back - it's a piece of piss.
Has he never thought through this stuff
The hospital was also bizarre. Jack sets it up on Kirrin Island and
tells the staff that "These were experiments that went wrong" as a
cover story. How desperate were the people at the Job Centre that
day? What were the interviews like? "That brings us to the end of the
interview. Do you have any questions of your own?" "Er...what experiments?
And what's the soundproofing like in the staffroom?". And when it
comes to the crunch and Gwen wants to bring Nikki to visit it takes her
approximately thirty seconds to convince Jack that he's morally wrong
to keep the inmates a secret. Has he never thought through this stuff
at all? Or does he have the concentration of a fucking goldfish?
Maybe everytime he dies another part of his cerebral cortex is nixed.
The brain damage would explain years later why he can only say "You are
not alone" as opposed to "The Master's at the end of the universe, do
all you can to avoid that scenario.". He'd just forgotten.
Those girls really researched hard
But all of this is just putting me into the downswing. Back in the
upswing, I was particularly enamoured of the montage scene where Tosh
and Gwen researched the negative rift spikes via a flashy edit that did for
research what Flashdance did for dancing. Those girls really researched hard. They had more red sticky dots on their maps than Sergeant Benton in Invasion of the Dinosaurs,
and they had bespoke rift spike stationery! With barcodes! Which they
stamped with bingo markers! For the sheer glamour of research, this
was probably my favourite scene in the series so far. But to my
surprise, it was swiftly overtaken by Gwen and Rhys's
reconciliation at the end of the episode. Because in spite of all the
nonsense that came before, the characters were convincing and moving.
Who would have thought it?
And before anyone says it - yes I know Jack has issues concerning a missing member of his family. It's no fucking excuse.
PC Andy for me symbolises why I still don't hold Torchwood, despite the general upswing in quality this series, with quite the same affection as other genre series (and yet here I am reviewing it week in and out. I'm strange). I've been really ill this week and cheered myself up rewatching Firefly for the umpteenth time. It just lacks the sense of fun a figure like this police officer can bring. PC Andy and his double act with Gwen was one of the very best things about the very first episode of the series (insert CSI quote about kebabs here).
Noticing the appreciation of viewers, other programmes would have capitalised on the character and developed him, taking as many opportunities as possible to bring him into stories, a much needed injection of local humour and real world cynicism as the Torchwood team po-facedly saved the world. Instead, we're at episode ten of the second series and he's only just made an appearance, and I can't think of a preceding story which wouldn't have been improved immeasurably with his presence.
As expected he largely steals the episode. If the fat jokes were an attempt to make the character less appealing it didn't really work; Tom Price is too light an actor and his chemistry with Eve Myles to potent for us to hate him too much. Watching the two of them together, I can't help but wonder if a more entertaining series wouldn't have been just these two knocking around Cardiff investigating spooky goings on, Hot Fuzz meets The X-Files. The scene in which Andy was left on the quay holding the teas was possibly the saddest of the series.
I can't help but wonder if a more entertaining series wouldn't have
been just these two knocking around Cardiff investigating spooky goings
But this was also a very sad episode. Writer Chris Chibnall should be applauded for creating a story which could only have worked within the Torchwood universe, and the idea of the rift causing a statistical bloat of missing persons in Cardiff was a good one. The problem the series often has is working through the stock plots which every genre series does (expect body swaps and the Groundhog Day one next year) but this was uniquely of the series, right down to the message that the so-called real world and spooky-dos can't mix. A sense of mystery was quite well built, as was the general sense of paranoia inherent in Gwen discovering that she still doesn't know everything about her employers (although quite why the island didn't crop up as a problem whilst Jack was away isn't clear).
The episode didn't quite work thematically though. The idea that seemed to be that people whose loved one has gone missing are better off not knowing what happened to them, wallowing instead in the their hopes and memories. Jonah's Mum says as much at the conclusion before she's shown dumping her son's possessions. But I can't imagine that if you asked people in the real world the same question that they don't dream every day, even if they've come to the conclusion that indeed their relative or friend has died, of having some kind of closure so that they can move on. Granted, for fantastical reasons, this was slightly different, and more horrific, but it seems to be a more realistic final speech would have had Nikki being thankful for the opportunity.
The other problem was that sometimes the storytelling wasn't quite as surprising as it could have been -- as though Chibnall had certain images or ideas plotted in his head then had to fill in the gaps but couldn't quite come up a really innovative way of doing it. Example: when Gwen and Andy turn up for the missing persons group meeting, its no surprise at all that hundreds of people turned up because in theory there isn't a story otherwise. Wouldn't it have been more impressive if no one really had shown up but the writer had managed to construct a reason for Gwen to investigate the missing persons anyway? Similarly, the only reason Gwen visited the island was because Ianto had slipped her a clue again because the story would have stopped otherwise. A far more potent approach would have been to make Gwen proactive, perhaps using her Torchwood clearances to steal the information.
Still, Adrift was well acted, particularly by Ruth Jones and Robert Pugh as mother and son and directed by Mark Everest, particularly during the Hub scenes in which Gwen suddenly seemed distanced from her workplace. The facility on Flat Holm (redolent of similar establishments from the Pertwee era of Doctor Who) was realistically designed and keyed in with the rather used look of the rest of Torchwood Cardiff - anything cleaner and more well equipped would have attracted the interest of the authorities. It's just a pity that more couldn't have been found for the ensemble to do but I suspect this double banked with next week's Gwen-lite episode were everyone else gets something to do. And I can't really hate any episode that manages to reference Field of Dreams, the baseball movie it's ok to love. Other than Major League. And The Natural. And Eight Men Out. Oh forget it.
Next week: It's Firefly's Out of Gas. Or Friends's The One With The Flashback.