Stupid Things About Torchwood: Week 5

This week Torchwood continued its race to the bottom with such a high quantity of utter nonsense but I'm forced to cut this preamble short just to be able to fit all of it in this post.

1 - Are they wanted criminals, or aren't they?

After ridiculous introductory sequence in which Gwen and Rhys meet in an airport and have a jolly old time joking about how she had to fly under an assumed name, (what with the Phicor Corporation and many of their government associates wanting her dead) Gwen travels to the concentration camp where her father is being held, identifies him by name, and then yells to everyone within earshot that she is his daughter.

Now, were you part of an evil conspiracy with far-reaching, nearly limitless powers, and you needed very desperately to find someone, wouldn't keeping an eye on their next of kin be a good idea? Yet in the hours after Gwen shows up trying to spring her father from the concentration camp, absolutely no one shows up looking for her. Because the conspirators are just as bad at their jobs as Torchwood is, apparently.

2 - Things are no better in America, it seems.

Over on the other side of the pond, the rest of the Torchwood team also wants to get a look inside their own the local overflow camp. Their plan to do this? Given that Rex is the kind of critically injured person they're putting into these camps they'll send him in, then have Esther go undercover and make sure he's classified as a full-on dead person, so they can find what's going on in the secret pods.

Proving, once again, that absolutely no one in the evil conspiracy is on top of their game, Esther goes in not undercover, but under her own name. Here she is giving the order to have Rex reassigned:

Rex, the other most wanted man in America, is also there under his own name, BTW.

So flying from LA to Cardiff requires a web of lies about who you are, but to get a job at the evil base of your enemies, you just plug your name in and no one will notice.

3 - Let's take a second to consider this plan.

So, as I understand it, they needed to find out what was going on inside the overflow camps. Did they surveil from a distance? Did they try to sneak in under cover of darkness and have a look around? Did they break into the system's computers and look for evidence of what was going on? Nope – they just sent three of their members in completely publicly, acting under their own names. Because what could go wrong with that?

Oh right, one of them got murdered.

4 - RIP Doctor Bland

That's right, Torchwood lost a team member this week. And it wasn't the one we were hoping for, Rex – although that would've made more narrative sense, given that he's tossed into a crematorium halfway through the episode, albeit one with a surprisingly useful doorknob on the inside of it.

Which I'm sure is standard construction for crematoriums.

Anyhoo, the Doctor goes into the overflow camp as a federal government observer, inspecting the facility to make sure it's being well run. She has a twofold goal here, find out as much as she can about the goings-on there, and help Rex remain undiscovered. Both of these goals, you'd think, would be helped by being diplomatic with the guy who's running the camp. Yes, he's a stupid, fame hungry racist, sexist, asshole, but it's only by playing up to him and that you're going to find out what he knows.

Rather than doing this, or remembering that she's in the middle of an evil base, the doctor antagonizes the camp administrator as much as she possibly can, calling him a monster screaming at him, and announcing very publicly her plan is to make sure he goes to jail.

If any of this seems counterproductive, it's because it is. I honestly have no idea what the doctor hopes to accomplish by any of this, other than getting yourself killed, and if she didn't have a plan of any kind, but was reacting entirely based on instinct and emotional response, then what the hell was she doing joining a covert agency trying to save the world?

5 - How did he get hired?

At the beginning, when the woefully incompetent camp directors revealed, we're supposed to take his ineptitude as a slide jab at government incompetence, perhaps even a nod to brownie's tenure as the director of FEMA. The director goes so far as to say that he's barely qualified for the job, since he was managing property just a week ago.

If the character were simply a bureaucrat in over his head, it would almost be plausible that when the doctor starts accusing him of monstrous acts of threatening him with jail, he might overreacted do something crazy. Warehousing people isn't his only job, though. He's also in charge of throwing the comatose into crematoriums and burning them alive. This isn't public knowledge yet, but he knows what he's doing – and that's the key. How could he possibly take the doctor's threats of public prosecutions seriously, when he knows that the government has entrusted him with the role of being a mass murderer? How could he seriously think that a court is going to prosecute him for having people lying in awful conditions when he's been afforded a license to kill?

That's the central problem with this character – when it seems that the camps are a benign, if misguided, endeavor, you could almost believe that a moron was put in charge of them, because that's theoretically how government operates – through patronage and poor oversight. If, however, the heads of the camps are being asked to murder hundreds of people a day, why would some a-hole get the job? Why on earth wouldn't the military be in charge of this? Not only would they be better at following orders and not randomly going nuts and killing people, they'd be better prepared for the psychological toll that the mass executions would take on them.

I hate to make a Holocaust analogy, but since the show's doing it, I'm not sure how it can be avoided – but in Nazi Germany I'm relatively sure that the government didn't just randomly pick a guy who managed a post office in Bremen and said "hey you, you're now the guy who pulls the switch in the gas chambers".

6 – You know you're a soldier, right?

Speaking of soldiers, what was going on with this guy?

He lets the moron take his gun away from him and shoot a federal government observer. Then he passively lets some random moron tell him what to do. He can't give you orders – he's not your superior officer. Instead of passively letting him cover up a murder, why aren't you helping the doctor and putting that guy under arrest?

7 -Didn't they have a van last week?

At this point you may be wondering just how everything goes so terribly wrong with their infiltration of the overflow camp. Yes, partially it's due to the fact that they had a terrible plan, but the other main problem is that no one is watching their backs during any of this, so they don't know that Rex or the doctor is in trouble.

Which brings me to my question – didn't they have a van last week? I'm fairly sure that last week's plot involved*racks sitting in a high-tech surveillance van listening to and watching broadcasts from inside the Phicorp building. Since the overflow camp is deemed too dangerous for Jack to go into this week, why wasn't he parked outside in the van, keeping track of everyone and coordinating with Esther?

Speaking of, why was Rex using a video camera to record everything, which easily could have been found and taken off of him always being moved, and not the high-tech, undetectable, contact lens camps? I know Gwen told him they were by biometrically coded to her, but that was a lie – and isn't getting the best possible information here more important than continuing to lie to your partner for no reason?

8 - Rex: Action Hero

At the end of the episode, Rex discovers that his girlfriend is trapped in a crematorium. How does he respond? By videotaping her agonizing demise.

While I'm sure this videotape will help them indict the corrupt regime next week, when the testimony of a federal employee who was shot by camp director and then almost burned alive in a mass crematorium been better evidence?

Racks, being a profoundly stupid man, doesn't seem to understand this – so when he notices that his girlfriend is locked inside the crematorium, all he does is smack against it with his hands, as if that's going to shift a big metal door.

Here's the thing about crematoriums – they're not microwaves, they're not even close to instantaneous. Some flames turn on:

Then the chamber is heated until things catch on fire and are gradually reduced cinders. This is an incredibly time-consuming process when dealing with a single corpse in a tiny of. This is 100 corpses in a large room – they're going to be burning for a while. There will, of course,, point at which the doctor is irreparably damaged by the flames and there won't be enough left of her to do anything but suffering mute agony. But that's not the happen for between five and ten minutes. Does Rex take this opportunity to go and look for the controls to the crematorium, to see if he can turn them off? To try and sabotage the pipes spewing gas into the crematorium? Do find the person who turned to the crematoriums on, and force him to stop it?

No, of course not. He's a terrible, ineffectual character. How can he be expected to do anything useful?

You know the crazy thing is? Had they set aside the whole ridiculous ending to the doctor storyline, and just had Rex be burned alive, this beaded the end of the episode would've both made sense and been genuinely affecting. We would've been demonstrated the stakes in stark terms, got rid of a character who's in the opening credits, which is surprising, and shown that there can be terrible consequences to running into dangerous situations without a plan of any kind.

9 - Really? That's your twist ending?

I've been mentioning the whole crematorium aspect pretty cavalierly over the course of this post, which would suggest that it's an open secret in the episode – that's not the case. The reveal that we're dealing with ovens designed to reduce the comatose to dust is treated as if it's a huge twist. Except just one week into this frigging thing, anyone with a tiny bit of sense would see that the only possible way to deal with this situation a long run would be to convene one of Sarah Palin's death panels, judge who should be dead, and then get rid of them. My personal idea was that they'd be dumped in the ocean where the fish could eat their corpses, allowing them to remain part of the food chain, but this works fine too.

10 - Still checked out

Just wanted to remind everyone that, until the events of it start reflecting any aspect of the human experience ever, I won't be covering the Bill Pullman storyline.

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