Friday, July 03, 2009

My Review of Torchwood's 1x06: "Countrycide"

Written by Chris Chibnall
Directed by Andy Goddard

Helen: “This is our village.”
Gwen: “The villagers are dead.”

Last week we got a pretty hit and miss account of fairies and Captain Jack’s past which could’ve been much better. This week for the third script by the reliable Chris Chibnall, it’s time for a more out and out horror episode and when it comes to the gore and scare factor, “Countrycide” can’t be accused of living up to its promise.

Beginning at night in a true horror movie style, a young woman by the name of Ellie Johnson is driving along a country lane when mysterious figure lies dead in the road and the signal in her phone is gone. So far, so standard horror cliché! While watching this particular scene to unfold, you keep wonderful whether we’re getting an alien hook man like Urban Legend to happen.

Ellie gets out of her car to see if the unconscious person is still alive, even though you feel like repeatedly screaming “get away from there”. She soon realises that the body is a fake (the wonders of a raincoat, a pair of gloves and a football, huh?) but as soon as she gets in her car, the fast moving, masked figure we’ve seen watching her every move manages to snatch her in no time. That’ll teach you to leave your car unattended.

Ellie’s disappearance is enough encouragement to get the usually Cardiff located Torchwood Team a chance to go down and explore the scenic Brecon Beacons, much to city lover Owen’s disgust. In the car when Gwen simply explains the smell that is bothering him happens to be grass, Owen remains to be an unimpressed kid and the thought of camping doesn’t fill him with much excitement either. To be honest I don’t really blame Owen, I wouldn’t want to be camping during this time of year and especially not in a place as creepy as the Brecon Beacons either.

Upon arriving there, there are a few neat theories in regards to Ellie’s disappearance. Seeing as she’s in a long line of people to have vanished in this area, Toshiko is quick to assume something alien is at large and the rest look like they agree. Owen on the other hand thinks Ellie may have topped herself and makes a half-insensitive/half-funny quip about wanting to do the same himself if he had to live in the country. Still though, at least it’s better than Toshiko’s off putting story in regards to burgers which Ianto makes the blunder in offering her something to eat. I definitely wouldn’t go to a fast food restaurant with her then.

Gwen attempts to lighten the somewhat sour mood that country air and dodgy meat permeates by getting everyone to reveal who they snogged, which is a coy response from Jack and Toshiko but brings up bad memories for Ianto and has Owen and Gwen coming to blows when he takes pleasure in telling the group of the kiss in “Cyberwoman”, much to Gwen and even Toshiko’s annoyance.

Toshiko’s discomfort upon hearing this revelation is interesting. Her comment about Gwen getting her feet under the table was snarky of the highest order. Does she have a thing for Owen? If so, this pretty much kills my gay theory in regards to the lovely Dr Sato.

Gwen was rightly pissed off with Owen’s slip of the tongue and in the woods the two of them proceeded to argue. Usually their barbs are friendly enough but there was an element of viciousness with Gwen. Granted the girl doesn’t want her personal life being office or camping gossip but as nasty as Owen’s analysis of her and Rhys’ sex life was, he did ram home things that it doesn’t take a genius to spot a mile off.

Gwen loves Rhys and an audience, it’s been pretty easy to like him too but even before joining Torchwood, you could get the vibe that Gwen is type who often sees the grass as being greener on the other side. You might not like Owen and Gwen as a couple or in any kind of sexual/romantic circumstance but you have to admit that both Eve Myles and Burn Gorman do have a certain amount of chemistry that’s intriguing to watch. They got very close to actually fornicating in the woods an if it hadn’t been for the interruption of that fast mover/masked guy, chances are that Owen would’ve made it his business to rumble Gwen up in every way he assumes Rhys can’t.

Our fast moving assailant left a little souvenir for the occupying Torchwood as Jack and company found a corpse with all of its skin ripped off. Gee, I wonder what horror movie/TV series this can be compared to? The Silence Of The Lambs, The Hills Have Eyes or even Buffy the Vampire Slayer? There are others but those three were the first to spring to my mind.

It also get worse for Captain Jack and everyone else when Owen stupidly leaves the keys in the SUV and someone makes off with it and in an effort to find out what’s going on, the group separate into two pairs with dire results ahead for them. However it’s a good move for the storytelling and dramatic perspective, especially as our first group is the always used Captain Jack, Gwen and Owen who explore an old pub and more mutilated corpses which at one point nearly cause the squeamish Gwen to heave.

On a more trivial note, another thing this excursion does is get Gwen to once again question why the hell she’s working for Torchwood. Encountering corpses in conditions as bad as the ones she is seeing has her yet again asking Jack if he ever gets scared of things.

As much as I like Gwen and I really do, I will admit I am finding listening to her asking the same bloody questions somewhat annoying. Six episodes in and she’s dangerously becoming close to sounding like a broken record. Wasn’t she paying attention during the whole Jasmine/fairy debacle last week? How did she not notice that Jack is capable of being scared? He wasn’t able to stop a bunch of fairies for crying out loud and that freaked him out. He’s also more or less told Gwen a few weeks ago about being unnerved by being unable to die.

As for the Torchwood thing, this isn’t the first time Gwen has been presented with negatives in regards to her job. In the space of six episodes she had Jack drug her, Suzie attempted to kill her, an alien girl was going to use her as a means of survival, she inadvertently killed a man, nearly got turned into a Cyberman and saw her boss forced in giving a little girl up to a malicious bunch of fairies. In other words, Gwen we get it – your job comes with a shit load of cons. You don’t need to keep repeating it to us.

Thankfully though things get a lot more interesting with this group when a frantic boy named Kieran accidentally shoots Gwen and her and Owen share a moment where he gets the bullet out and she asks him about being a doctor. It’s also good because it’s from here on in that things speed up and Kieran tells them that the only way they can protect themselves from their attackers is to barricade the door.

It’s a good idea, except for the fact that Jack still doesn’t know what he’s up against, argues with Gwen, is insensitive in regards to Toshiko and Ianto’s safety and also forgets to check the cellar, which proves his undoing when Kieran gets snatched from him and Gwen and Owen leave Jack to his own devices to find the lad.

I wonder if being on his own managed to turn Jack around because he becomes somewhat more effective on his lonesome than he was for most of the episode. In a pretty scene, Jack finds the mystery masked assailant who turns out to be human and threatens him with torture if he doesn’t find the clueless Time Agent in on what’s going on in this village of the damned. Okay so Jack ain’t no Sayid Jarrah or Jack Bauer but he was threatening enough to get the masked moron to divulge information, so points to that.

Jack’s efforts definitely rank higher than Gwen and Owen, who not only fail to find the grabbed Kieran but also attract the law with a smarmy police officer named Huw, who seems to be one of the few villagers around the Brecon Beacons and also tells the duo that there’s a village meeting on and no, it’s not one you would want to attend.

With the breaks from the other three, poor Toshiko and Ianto get the shit end of the deal this week. Not only does anyone want to talk about Lisa’s death but a sparring Toshiko and Ianto also managed to get captured pretty easily as well. One moment Toshiko disappears and then Ianto is knocked to the ground. This lot work pretty fast!

Being in a holding cell though however gives two of the most underused characters of the series some really brilliant character moments as Tosh and Ianto share different view regarding Torchwood. While Toshiko sees the good her job can and sometimes does, Ianto openly ponders how much the risk is worth and if losing people you love the price you have to pay. I love the continuity from “Cyberwoman” and I love Gareth David Lloyd and Naoko Mori playing off each other so well.

Both Ianto and Toshiko raise valid points regarding Torchwood but the moral problems of their workplace is the least of their problems when their captors are revealed to be not alien but human and even way worse for them, cannibals. Husband and wife tag team Evan and Helen are a creepy duo who along with the few actual villagers remaining snack on the poor unfortunate sods to happen to come to Brecon Beacons. It explains the flayed bodies and the meat bags hanging up and it’s also fucking creepy to boot.

Casting Owen Teale as the psychotic and relentless Evan should definitely go down as one of the series’ best casting bits ever. This guy literally exudes pure scariness and nastiness and you totally feel scared for both Toshiko and Ianto and witless Kieran upon being hostages for this particular couple. Ianto provides some genius by head butting Evan, giving Toshiko an opportunity for escape. Pity it doesn’t do the gorgeous butler any favours though.

Running in the woods, Toshiko barely escapes the creepy Evan and when Gwen, Owen and Huw pop up, you do hope the poor girl is saved. Sadly she’s not as Huw is revealed to Evan’s nephew and in on the whole cannibal saga as well, which means the villages meals have gone from three to five within less than hour. Now that’s a case seriously fucked up progress.

Back at the creepy human butcher shop house of hell, Gwen is shocked to learn that the whole village is involved in eating and killing the missing people, while Owen makes another anti-country quip. I kinda wish Owen had shot Evan when he had the chance, because let’s be honest if there’s one person who’s death would be deserved, it’s definitely Evan and the rest of these sick freaks.

Being held hostage sucks for everyone this week, especially with captors that literally view you as food and a bound and gagged Ianto has gotten a couple of bruises for his efforts to help Toshiko as well as a knife happy Evan dangling a butcher’s knife at his throat. The poor lad looked shit scared and it’s lucky for us that Jack comes to the rescue in a tractor and manages to shoot every single cannibal village without sadly killing them or giving any of them a chance to attack him. It’s the coolest action sequence John Barrowman has been given so far and he does it with gusto.

With Jack saving the day and coming close to ending Evan’s life, Gwen stops him because she wants to know why someone like Evan and his village to take to eating human flesh and when Evan simply (and quite sickly) tells her that it made him happy, Gwen is horrified beyond belief. What did she think he was going to say? They didn’t need to eat people for survival purposes, of course it was going to be something more perverted.

The episode ends then with Evan and company getting arrested, Ianto and Jack looking on at the sick band of freak while Gwen does a voice over explaining how being in Torchwood has changed her and not for the good, as we’re treated to a post sex scene with her and Owen. To be honest this last bit is probably the most predictable part in an otherwise surprising episode. While the Gwen/Owen thing doesn’t annoy me too much, I do feel bad for Rhys.

Also in “Countrycide”

I noticed that this episode marks two firsts. It’s first we’ve seen Ianto in casual clothing and the first episode where we weren’t inside the Torchwood building.

Owen: “What’s that smell?”
Gwen: “That would be grass.”
Owen: “It’s disgusting.”

17 people have gone missing in the Brecon Beacons for the last five months and it’s only now Torchwood are investigating this?

Toshiko: “Need a hand getting it up?”
Owen: “If I did, I wouldn’t ask you.”

Gwen: “I’m sorry.”
Ianto (re Lisa): “Sorry she’s dead or sorry you mentioned her?”

Toshiko mentioned having a friend who got Hepatitis from a burger, while mentioning a Christmas Eve between her and Owen. I liked that we got little things on the girl here. She also has friends outside of work, which is good.

Owen: “Do you want to hear a quip about feeling a small prick?”
Gwen: “No but thanks for the offer.”

Gwen: “Do you miss being a doctor?”
Owen: “Excuse me, I still am a doctor. I just don’t deal with patients any more.”

I mentioned it before but that quip seriously makes me want to see an origin episode of how everyone (dead Suzie included) got into Torchwood.

Toshiko: “You worried?”
Ianto: “A little.”

This episode threw in more allusions to the rift and the Weevils, which we haven’t seen since “Day One”. I take we’ll be getting more stuff on both of these things sooner than later, then?

Toshiko (re working for Torchwood): “It’s worth the risk to protect the people you love.”
Ianto: “Who will protect us?”

Captain Jack: “You’re wounded.”
Gwen: “Do you think that’s gonna stop me?”

This is the second episode in a row which ends with Gwen, only this time she was accompanied by Owen.

Toshiko: “What are you gonna do? Put us on meat hooks?”
Evan: “Not yet, see the meat has to be tenderised.”

No proper chronology for “Small Worlds”, though I have a feeling we’re nearing Christmas in the series.

Gwen (re shooting Evan): “Don’t do it.”
Captain Jack: “These people don’t deserve warning.”

Did anyone think the masked assailant Jack threatened to torture look like a reject from the Robin Hood series on BBC1?
Gwen: “Why did you do it? Come on, make me understand.”
Evan: “Why would you care?”

Standout music: “Monster” by The Automatic.

Well this was beyond creepy! “Countrycide” gave us Torchwood’s first real full on horror episode and you know what, clichés aside, this worked to perfection. Spending a weekend in the country has never been scarier and writer Chris Chibnall deserves a pat on the back for an episode that not delivers on the scares and gore but was actually character driven too.

Rating: 10 out of 10.

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