Friday, July 03, 2009

My Review of Torchwood's 1x05: "Small Worlds"

Written by Peter J. Hammond
Directed by Alice Troughton

Estelle (to her class): “Fairies are shy but I know in my heart that they are loving creatures.”

Um, in a case of lamest premise ever for an episode, this would rank incredibly. Seriously I would expect this kind of storyline on Charmed, so I’m actually a bit impressed than an episode centring on fairies in Torchwood isn’t as bad as I would expect it to be.

Similar in one way to the Doctor Who episode “Fear Her”, we have a dangerous creature with a disturbing interest in a socially withdrawn girl who shows no interest in communicating with anyone outside of herself. However that’s where the comparison ends as the outcome in this episode is far from positive.

When a young girl named Jasmine is saved from being abducted by a paedophile, you get drawn into a false sense of security and believe that the fairies who are interested in Jasmine are good. After all, anything that protects a child from such a horrible monster of a person has to be a good thing and without sounding heartless, I will admit to being somewhat delighted when Jasmine’s would be attacker got his own just desserts.

Paedophilia isn’t exactly a topic ever explored on a fantasy series as such and Torchwood’s foray into a dark subject matter is certainly appropriate to the overall nature of “Small Worlds”. The attacker in question pursued Jasmine until he got her in a secluded area and tried to snatch her. It’s not made clear at this point in this episode whether Jasmine summoned the fairies to save her or if they cold just sense that someone was out to hurt her and came to her rescue. Either way, you have to appreciate these creatures for that.

The attacker himself Mark Goodman is definitely a creepy bastard, so watching him suffer in the same way he would have done to Jasmine is pretty poetic. Going up against this young girl meant Mark paid the price by vomiting up rose petals, squirming in severe pain and causing enough of a disturbance to get himself arrested. Well he did look like he was going to attack the female officer at first and again; I have no compassion for a man like Mark.

Of course Mark’s pain didn’t end there as being driven around the bend by fairies also got him to insist to the police to lock him, a statement I more than agree with. I hate the idea of guys like this being allowed to roam the streets but even a spell in prison doesn’t stop Mark from getting his comeuppance when he chokes to death. In some ways it’s ironic that a man notorious for attacking children in such a cruel manner is then killed by creatures that in most children’s books are harmless. It’s also poetic as even in death, I can’t sympathise with Mark.

It’s Mark’s mysterious death in his cells though that really raises the alarm with Captain Jack about the fairies when Torchwood can’t recognise how he suffocated without any force applied to him and it’s not like the police are of any actual use themselves either. In some ways this episode also hits us with the “fairies are evil” mantra as only one person seems to benefit from their existence. I can run down a list of who doesn’t but I’ll stick with saying the lucky person is Jasmine.

Jasmine is the only who fairs off well with these creatures but she isn’t the only one who thinks that they are good intentioned. We meet an old lady friend of Captain Jack’s named Estelle, who has spending her older years photographing the fairies and exhibiting her findings to a willing audience in a local hall, to which Captain Jack and Gwen pay a visit.

I could already see why Estelle and Captain Jack would differ on the nature of fairies. Estelle likes to share her findings to the public while Jack, due to running Torchwood is more keen to hide such findings but there’s also another good reason why these two have a conflict of interest as while Estelle so far has had positive experiences with the fairies, Jack’s encounters have been more negative.

So far this season, Captain Jack’s past has only been alluded to in some ways, such as his experiences with The Doctor, Gwen finding something about a Captain Jack Harkness who has been missing since 1941 and Owen’s commentary on Jack’s clothing. All of these raise some suspicion; none have been really answered, so it’s more than great that we are given some information on Captain Jack.

A somewhat over talky narration has Captain Jack telling Gwen that in the 1900’s he was responsible for a troop of men who were all killed by the fairies with the obvious exception of him. All the men had rose petals coming out of their mouths and some of them were responsible for killing a child, who was the chosen one by the fairies.

Jack’s reunion is pretty sweet and affecting as he poses as the son of the lover she once had al those years ago and asks her to keep him posted on any more fairy sightings. Sadly as Estelle does update him, she is attacked a drowned by the malicious creatures, even though Toshiko and Ianto know the weather wasn’t supposed to be raining at the time of her death. Jack’s grief for Estelle and subsequent opening up with Gwen is done effectively, giving John Barrowman a nice chance to flex a more emotive performance.

So Jack and Estelle were old sweethearts? Doesn’t that slightly kill the love them, leave them approach you would expect from the bisexual conman? Maybe but it’s nice to see Jack’s more human side, which once again Gwen mainly sees and even as an immortal, it’s also nice to see Jack scared. I get a feeling he’s had more encounters with these creatures than he lets on. This story certainly isn’t frothy but I appreciate the darker tone and well as some relationship dynamics.

Okay, I have to admit that I would’ve liked bigger roles from Ianto, Owen and Toshiko this week but I did enjoy Jack and Gwen bickering over the latter’s use of police work during the investigation, especially when Jack points out that the fairies are literally undetectable. The hell with anyone else, no wonder Jack is scared. He can’t even really see his enemies and has to wait for them to make a move.

These fairies also don’t seem keen on Captain Jack as not only as they content with murdering poor old Estelle, the also take great pleasure in trashing Gwen and Rhys’ place. I understand where Gwen was coming when lecturing Jack about the home invasion but also though for crying out loud, at least they haven’t tried to kill you. Getting your house trashed by the malevolent creatures’ sucks but Jasmine’s family suffered a lot more than you did, Gwen.

Being a socially withdrawn child like Jasmine definitely has its drawbacks. Every day, Jasmine has to go through attending a school where none of the other kids want to talk to her while others delight in bullying her and with an insensitive prick like Roy for a step dad; you can almost see why she would find solace with the fairies. So far they’ve saved her from a child molester and even warded off two girls picking on her by causing enough of a commotion at school that all the kids (Jasmine included) are sent home for the day.

Even the only person who does seem to love Jasmine, her mother Lynn can’t get through to her and during a family BBQ when Roy announces her mother’s pregnancy and Jasmine learns he’s boarded up the way for Jasmine to get to her forest and talk to her friends, Jasmine doesn’t just throw a childish strop but she even goes as far as to bite Roy and when he backhands her in the face, those malicious friends of her finish the destruction they’ve started.

Scaring away the guests at the BBQ is an easy enough feat but even a Jackass like Roy doesn’t deserve to die in the manner he’s inflicted to. Sure, I wouldn’t want him as a parental figure either but I did feel somewhat bad for Lynn.

Amazingly enough, Torchwood are pretty useless in actually stopping any of the chaos as they can’t physically see, fight or even restrain any of the fairies and in the end, Captain Jack is forced into making a hard choice when he allows the fairies to take a more than willing Jasmine much to the horror of both Jack’s crew and Lynn, who has lost both a lover and a child in less than ten minutes.

The episode then ends on a pretty creepy note with Gwen looking at some of Estelle pictures and seeing Jasmine staring back, all cold and vacant in one of them. Although sad for poor Lynn, I had to admit that Jack’s defeat was an interesting outcome for this episode.

Also in “Small Worlds”

For a more serious episode, we got no actual snogging action this week, although the sight of a topless Captain Jack in bed made up for it.

Captain Jack: “You shouldn’t be here.”
Ianto: “Either should you.”

So Captain Jack does sleep after all. I take it he was being sarcastic in “Ghost Machine”, then?

Estelle (re the fairies): “I only ever saw the good. Jack has only ever seen the bad.”
Captain Jack: “They’re all bad.”
Did anyone find the rose petal thing a little on the American Beauty side of things? Also those fairies looked a little too much like Gollum from Lord Of The Rings.

Gwen: “This is you.”
Captain Jack: “No sorry that’s my dad.”

Ianto: “I blame it on magic mushrooms.”
Captain Jack: “What you do in private is your own business.”

Owen mentioned that Roundstone forest was very old. My TV was playing up during that scene and when Gwen branded Houdini a fake.

Gwen: “It’s what police work is all about.”
Captain Jack: “It’s not police work.”
Gwen: “Alright, science then.”

Jack’s fairy knowledge included these creature being mixed in reality, myth and the spirit world and that they could only be half seen. He also mentioned something about Mara and Nightmares too.

Gwen (to Captain Jack): “It wasn’t your dad in love with her all those years, it was you.”

Jack/Estelle history had them meeting in London a few weeks prior to Christmas when the latter was 17. They parted due to Jack being transferred and Estelle working on the land.

Roy: “Who are you waving at?”
Jasmine: “Just friends.”

It’s interesting that not much is mentioned about last week’s fiasco. No tension between Gwen/Owen over their kiss and no real tension between Ianto and everyone else over Lisa beside an early scene with him and Jack.

Lynn: “It must have been scary at school today.”
Jasmine: “It was fun.”

Chronology – I’m not sure how much time has passed since “Cyberwoman”. I do however think that this episode was supposed to air earlier than it did.

Jasmine (re fairies): “They don’t like parties.”
Lynn: “I’m not surprised if they live in trees.”

Do the writers plan to do anything with Rhys this season? His appearance in the last two episodes has been more or less pointless. Give the man something to do.

Gwen (re Jasmine): “You can’t let her go.”
Captain Jack: “What else could I do?”

Standout music: “Better Do Better” by Hard-Fi.

“Small Worlds” is certainly an acquired taste of an hour. On one hand it’s very creepy, deals with a real life set of problems, tackles a lame concept in an interesting manner and also gives some background information on Captain Jack’s colourful past as well as an excellent performance from John Barrowman but at the same time it doesn’t gel as wonderful as previous episodes.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

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