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So, I just watched the first episode of Torchwood: Children of Earth. Normally, I'd keep this in my fangirl filter, but since a bunch of my friends are suddenly coming out of the closet as Torchwood fans, I thought I'd make it more widely available.

Mostly what I have to say is: be careful what you wish for.

In general, I think I like Children of Earth (such as it is, thus far) better than the previous two seasons. At least, in some ways. I don't like the fact that I no longer get to drool over Naoko Mori on a regular basis. And generally, I think this episode suffered from a distinct lack of Tosh. =) (Lois, while she fills out that orange shirt quite nicely, doesn't compel me as a character, but she has the rest of the week to win me over.) But this struck me as a much tighter, better thought-out, more consistent episode than anything we've seen before. And for all that it hinges on creepy children-- a favorite of the horror genre-- it doesn't seem to descend into cliché as firmly as earlier episodes did. (Alien sex gas, anybody? How's about Weevil Fight Club?) I feel like Torchwood is finally starting to find its own identity as a show, rather than being a bizarre British regurgitation of all the conventions of American sci-fi, plus the occasional bout of same-sex hanky-panky.

Gwen, in particular, has suddenly become a much more compelling character. She's finally stopped being "the one who cares" (but who actually tramples all over Rhys and is annoyingly selfish while being highly self-righteous about it), and has stopped compassioning everybody in the face. She seems much less one-dimensional, wittier, much more likeable in Children of Earth than she was in the previous two seasons. I love that scene where she's bantering with Rhys while driving to England. It's funny and sweet. And much better dialogue than we've ever seen in Torchwood before!

That said, I am not digging on the Jack/Ianto interactions. Which makes me sad. It has, to this point, annoyed me that their relationship is primarily subtextual-- it seemed cowardly, and closeted, and calculated to draw fangirls in. So I was looking forward to getting a better glimpse of their relationship during Children of Earth. And this is where the "be careful what you wish for" comes in. Bringing Jack and Ianto's relationship out into the open doesn't read to me as bringing a same-sex relationship out of the closet (albeit one with a glass door). It reads like just another fangirl marketing ploy. And in the process, I think it flattens out Jack, and requires Ianto to act out of character.

Bear with me. The following analysis may reveal more about me than it does about Torchwood, and the ways in which I project myself into the TV shows I watch, and/or how I try to see myself in the characters I connect with. And I'll admit that my participation in fandom has always been connected to the ways I try to understand my queer identity-- it's been that way since I joined my first fandom (Sailor Moon; I know, I 'm embarrassed too) at 17, trying to figure out whether I was a lesbian. But I think my points here are not totally narcissistic, and have some merit.

Here's the thing: I fell in love with Captain Jack Harkness because I think he's the first queer character I've ever seen on TV. Not gay, mind you; not bi; queer. Ever since the Ninth Doctor introduced him to Rose as "a typical 51st century guy," I've been compelled by Jack, not just because he romances the ladies and the gentlemen, but because, as a typical 51st century guy, I think he's the first character to introduce mainstream audiences to the idea that what we think we know about sexuality is actually very culturally and historically specific. We live in a culture where we make several assumptions about the nature of love and identity: that romantic love with a sexual component is the most important kind of love we can find; that finding one (and only one) person with whom to share that love is one of the most important (and necessary) things we can do as adults; that if we don't find such a love, we are single and therefore alone; that of all the traits you can look for in a potential love, their sex relative to yours is the most important trait; that the sex(es) of the people you seek out for romantic and sexual liaisons say something fundamental about who you are as a person. What Jack offers, at least for me, is the possibility of exploding all those assumptions, and offering new ways to understand love-- romantic, sexual, or otherwise.

But I don't think all the Jack/Ianto "are we a couple?" angst really does Jack's reluctance to call himself part of a couple justice. Between this episode and the radio play, "The Dead Line," that aired last week, I think the writers of Torchwood are reducing Jack's inhibitions simply to his angst over being immortal. But I would argue that it's more than that. I think Jack has issues with being asked to love in a way that doesn't make intuitive sense to him given his background, and that seems incredibly narrow and stingy to him. I think he has trouble functioning in 21st century monogamous couplehood for an extended period of time because it demands more, and offers less, than makes sense to him. I think part of his angst is that, being stuck in linear time, he can't quite be loved in the way he feels he needs to be.

It's clear to me that he tries to build specific teams of people at Torchwood in order to try and form those love connections he so deeply craves. He needs to be close to, and love, several people at a time-- and not all of them have to be sexual, romantic loves. I don't think he ever loved, or will love, Ianto more than the other team members-- just differently. In the first two seasons, he needed, and relied on, the more platonic, at times almost parental, love he felt for Tosh and Owen as much as he craved the sexual and possibly romantic comfort Ianto offered him. I think his jealousy at Gwen getting married was not him wishing that he had been able to tap that first (though I don't doubt that if he ever had a chance with Gwen, he would tap that), but rather his feeling that she was pushing him, and the Torchwood team, away as a family in order to make a family with Rhys. He's seeking complex, fluid love with many people at once-- and I think at least part of his revulsion at the world "couple" is his feeling that that love, and that need, is being invalidated.

But in this episode, we really only see the couple question from Ianto's perspective. And what little we do see from Jack's perspective-- namely, his converation with his daughter-- seems to suggest that his only inhibitions have to do with his immortality-- something that seems at odds with the Jack we meet in Doctor Who, and in the first two seasons of Torchwood. Additionally, Ianto's fishing for Jack to admit they're a couple seems really out of character. Ianto doesn't fish for answers. He either shuts up and takes it (while silently shooting you in the face with his sad, soulful blue eyes), or uses his snark to inform you that you fail.

That said, there's a lot here I love. I really love the domestic scenes of Jack with his daughter, and Ianto with his sister. They're interesting, and give more depth to both characters. I'm really glad that the new doctor got shot-- he was nice-looking (I won't deny that I had nice fantasies of Jack and Ianto taking him home to play), but kinda flat. Although I suspect that everyone will seem kinda flat after Owen. Poor Owen-- he annoyed the shit out of me during his run, and I still maintain that Burn Gorman is the funniest-looking duck-faced man I have ever seen-- but at least he kept the principals on his toes. And the evil hitwoman all in leather at the end of the episode gave me pleasant feelings in my ladybits.

Right then. Until next time!
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Revolution nrrrd style now!

May 2010

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