Torchwood: Exit Wounds
As John pointed out in his scathing - but entirely accurate - review, Gray has got to be the worst Big Bad in the history of science fiction television. If you thought Adam in season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was pathetic, or Jedikiah from The Tomorrow People was a bit shit, then think again. Nothing can possibly prepare you for a sulky Matt LeBlanc-alike who conspires to blow up Cardiff because he's incapable of holding onto somebody's hand. What's next? A villain who hunts down Torchwood when they park their SUV in front of his garage? In the season finale??!!!
While I'm fairly certain that the events that Gray lived through were suitably horrific (they did make him catatonic after all), his revenge was so over the top (bombs, bombs and then some more bombs) he merely comes across as a second-tier, nuttier-than-squirrel-shit, threat-of-the-week, rather than a tortured and misdirected soul that warrants our attention and/or respect. We don't even get a glimpse of the nightmare that drove him insane (this is a post-watershed show, is it not?) which wouldn't be quite so bad if the images conjured up by Gray weren't so prosaic and delivered in an unconvincing whine. But at least Lachlan Nieboer looks and sounds a bit like John Barrowman, I'll give him that. The only major difference between the two of them is that on Nieboer's CV it'll read: I'll Do Not A Thing.
Insanity is all very well but Gray's motives are both petulant and brazenly disproportionate to the original crime (which isn't even a crime). What's even worse is that the episode presents you with what appears to be the worst motive ever ("You won't spend any time with me!") only to replace it with an an even lamer one ("You didn't hold my hand!"). But the golden rule you should always adhere to when it comes to super-villains is that you either have to understand where they're coming from (The X-Men's Magneto and Scorpius from Farscape spring to mind) or they must exude some sodding charisma.
I'm sure the events were suitably horrific - they made him catatonic after all...
You just want to slap Gray. When he's saved from a pile of rotting corpses by Captain Spike, how does he repay him? He welds a fucking bomb onto his arm! OK, he's supposed to be craaaaazy villain, but how can you possibly identify with him? Think about it: Gray must have suffered for 15 or 20 years at the most, and yet he buries his own brother alive, where he will suffer a million deaths throughout all eternity, as if that somehow makes them even. Now, I'm not Jack's biggest fan by a long chalk, but this felt a little extreme to me. God only knows what Gray would have come up with if Jack had done something really nasty to him, like shagging his mother. Maybe he'd have blown up the sun?
Perhaps Gray knew that Jack would take his punishment in his stride. How this unspeakable purgatory didn't drive Jack completely insane is difficult to fathom until you realise that he is completely insane. He just forgave his brother for hundreds of years of agony and torment! He must be mad! He doesn't even blow his brother's brains out when two of his colleagues are cruelly murdered and half of Cardiff is gutted. If an alien so much as looked at Jack a bit funny a few weeks ago he'd have happily tortured them to death on the spot. What a cop-out.
Deep breath. Calm, calm, calm.
It's not all bad news - Owen dies again. And this time it might even be for real! Not that we see his rapidly decomposing body or vivid images of his hair falling out as his shits himself to death, so anything's still possible, I suppose. At least the production team went out of their way to show us why Owen was such a heartless tosser last week. I've never seen a franchise so committed to making an audience shed a tear over a character's death: they gave us three dress rehearsals, a compelling list of reasons why we should like the guy before it's too late, and then they blend in the death of someone we really do care about just to be on the safe side. We'll be moved to tears whether we like it or not!
Owen dies again. And this time it might even be for real!
Tosh's death was as a real kick in the teeth. Anyone but her, I sobbed. OK, I admit it - I did lose it for a moment. I really liked Tosh. The fact that she didn't burden Owen with the news that she was about to drop dead herself just showed how selfless and thoroughly lovable she was. It's just a shame that she spends her final moments on earth fixing a continuity problem that's been perplexing the ming mongs ever since Aliens of London. Like that's the most important thing to address when two of your main characters are just about to croak. At least her video message from beyond the grave (Bob Monkhouse has a lot to answer for) was genuinely heartbreaking.
"I can't go on!" screams Gwen. I know how you feel, love. It's been a long, and occassionally torturous 13 weeks, and while Torchwood season 2 was a vast improvement on season 1 (hardly difficult, I know) it's still a bit of a mess. Captain Jack is more unlovable and even more invulnerable than ever before and I still can't work out if this show is supposed to be a gritty Spooks-style X-Files, a sexy Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy or a magical Buffy knock-off. Sometimes it's all of these things in the very same scene. If the rumours are true and the series reboots as a Saturday teatime replacement for Doctor Who then there's every chance it might find it's own voice and identity.
Maybe 2009 is the year everything changes.