Friday, July 03, 2009

My Review of Torchwood's 1x11: "Combat"

Written by Noel Clarke
Directed by Andy Goddard

Owen (to Gwen): “What do you want me to say? He’ll be alright in the end.”

Yeah, some very tactful and sensitive wording from a man who seems to have difficulty grasping the idea of considering other people’s feelings 90% of the time he opens up his mouth to say something. Plenty of words can be used to describe Owen this week but sweet isn’t one of them.

This episode boasts not one but two firsts. Number One of them being some real continuity from last week with plotlines being as a key element into why two characters behave the way they do this week and the second is the Weevils actually having something to do besides growl.

The sad part of these factors is that neither of them are enough to rise this episode from the mediocrity it happens to inhabit and unfortunately, this also more or less feels like a rip-off to Fight Club and the dire Angel episode “The Ring”.

Owen takes centre stage this week and if you enjoyed his sweetness and light routine in “Out Of Time”, then you probably won’t be surprised to see him behave like a total asshole for pretty much most of this episode. In fairness, I think everyone saw this coming and sadly the rest of the episode has elements of predictability written all over it as well.

Getting dumped isn’t something that Owen seems to take reasonably well. It’s probably because he usually dumps girls after sleeping with them but fell pretty hard for Diane and by her dumping him, Owen has been left with a bitter aftertaste and has no problem in venting his rage at all and sundry.

He avoids work by going to a bar and is abrasive to a barmaid who tries to cheer him. When the barmaid’s jerk of a boyfriend goes a bit too far, Owen finds it within his right to use the stupid lad as a punching bag and while the idiot deserved some kind of a smackdown Owen crossed the line between self-defence and assault and this isn’t the only that lines are crossed here this week.

When Owen’s not whaling on random idiots and avoiding Torchwood, he manages to actually answer his phone just at a point when Captain Jack seems to be losing patience with Owen trying to blow him off and to be honest Owen needs something useful to do.

Being paired with Gwen and brought up to speed on the latest assignment, Gwen telling Owen how difficult she found it telling the wife of a Weevil victim about his death pretty shows how these two actually deal with and view their jobs. Gwen still can’t bear to break bad news to people and Owen doesn’t really care.

It’s funny a little difference of opinion can actually egg an argument between Gwen and Owen because when it comes to this arc, I do side with Gwen. I’ve said it in previous reviews that Owen doesn’t need to be a basket case in order to convey a sense of sympathy to a widow but yeah; I am getting way past sick of him acting like a prick everytime Gwen gets emotional about an outsider.

Is Owen really that cut off from people? I get that Diane hurt him by leaving but for crying out loud, just deal with it mate. At least Owen and Gwen’s latest spat had them come to the sensible conclusion of ending the least interesting affair in TV history and as a viewer, I’d rather Jack/Ianto action over Gwen/Owen any day of the week.

The main arc of the episode as I pointed out earlier began to revolve around the Weevil as a Buffy style opening sequence had Jack get beaten by one, enlisting Gwen’s help and then having the pair stunned when a band of mysterious blokes snatched their Weevil in front of them. Yes, even Jack was stunned.

Being stunned though doesn’t do much to silence Jack’s curiosity and he wastes not time in roping Toshiko, Ianto and Gwen into staking out an old warehouse where some dude is found dead while a mystery man makes a feeble effort into warning Jack from getting involved. According to Jack, only one group have the right to snare Weevils and if it isn’t Torchwood, then no-one else is allowed.

Because Owen wasn’t around for the first two Weevil related incidents and because they’ve traced connections to the abductions to a company called Lynch Frost, Owen gets to become Torchwood’s own little spy and pose as a real estate agent with a desire to move to Cardiff and because Owen is in so much pain and doesn’t want to be himself right now, he doesn’t think twice about taking the task.

The guy Owen has to make nice with and find out information is an affluent bloke named Mark Lynch. Aside from homoerotic tension between the two in later scenes, Mark has about as much charismatic as a brick and while Owen is successfully able to counter all of Mark’s suspicions and challenge him over property recently acquired in the docks, you do get the nagging feeling that this task might be a bit too easy for Owen. Mark might look dense as well as being a charisma free zone but even someone like him has to have some intelligence to get where he is.

With Toshiko forging Owen’s new identity as a property businessman all that’s really left after a visit to another victim in the hospital is to wonder what exactly the Weevils are being used so even though Ianto and Toshiko are against it, Jack decides to let a Weevil loose into Cardiff with the intention of catching these abductors in the act. It’s not exactly Jack’s best idea but it works to no end as the poor dummy let loose is snared in record time.

Having managed to impress Mark with a brief meeting earlier on in the day, Owen further makes an impression when out on the tiles with his new best friend all that aggression Owen seems to be feelings is used when jerk boyfriend from the previous night sends a few pals in Owen’s direction and when he isn’t helping Owen out, Mark is noticing the anger in Mr Harper.

When they’re back at Mark’s gaff, a moment of complete HoYay between the two is underlined by how Mark talks to Owen. It’s in this scene that Mark definitely knows more than he’s revealed to Owen and while the latter dismisses the idea of anger issues or discussing his feelings, you know that even Owen is somewhat drawn to how this guy operates.

This is slightly better than Owen who manages to find a restrained Weevil and has more or less outed himself as a spy to Mark. The funny thing is that I knew Mark was playing Owen along and testing him out so the reveal isn’t much of a shock to the system and the confrontation between the two won’t win riveting conversation of the year.

Mark points out some pretty obvious things such as their being something out there in the darkness but it sounds a lot less foreboding than it should while his theory of what Weevils really are could be seen a mile off. Anger is something a lot more beneficial to Mark than his fancy apartment and he has no qualms in expressing that. Sadly though it still doesn’t make him that much interesting.

However it does transpire that the Weevils are being used as a means of releasing human aggression and instead of leaving Owen bound and gagged in his flat, Mark takes him to the docks and shows him how a bunch of bored, pathetic affluent men challenge Weevils and win money as a further reward.

For some inane reason, Owen is then forced into actually fighting one of these things and given the strength of Weevils, even someone who’s worked with them like Owen is no physical match for them and sans Captain Jack, Owen came pretty close to being a dead man. Equally inane then is Mark’s own suicide at the hands of a Weevil when he decided to end it all because, what because Owen stood up to one and nearly got killed? That’s a lame reason, even for a dullard like Mark.

Of course Owen isn’t especially grateful for having his life saved by Captain Jack and chooses to criticise Jack over thinking that he is right all the time. The guy saved your life, Owen – shut the hell up! Still though the end scene with Owen being able to scare Weevil down in the Hub’s cells is beyond cool and given that an origin story on this race was eschewed for the Fight Club rethread, it’s the only thing that really stands out as a whole.

It’s such a shame that the Owen and Weevil thing is so lame because the only really interesting thing about this week as a whole is Gwen and Rhys’ relationship and only because one of them is seriously vilified and thankfully it isn’t the bloke you’ll want to kill this week.

For the past ten episodes, I’ve had mainly three feelings about Gwen which were liking her, giving her the benefit of the doubt and being somewhat irritated by her doe-eye behaviour (see “Countrycide”) but this episode actually brought out another – pure unadulterated hatred.

Eve Myles is a good actress and while Gwen isn’t exactly Satan, her method for fixing the problems in her relationship with Rhys left a lot to be desired and commented on.

The episode began with her and Rhys coming to blows in a restaurant when Jack needed her help during a Weevil debacle and in a strop Rhys went out. Gwen decides to be honest by telling him about Owen and presumably Torchwood because, guess what – Gwen hits the ultimate low by putting Retcon in Rhys’ drink and having him pass out.

Here are the things that irritate me about this beyond horrible decision Gwen made. First off all, Gwen could’ve been honest about Owen and the nature of her work in Torchwood without revealing every bloody thing and using Retcon. The second one is that Gwen has had Retcon used on her so why would she do that to someone she loves herself. Thirdly Gwen is also aware of side effects within Retcon and she didn’t bother to check to see if something bad happened to him when he was passing out. All she did was keep asking him to forgive her. After that stunt, I wouldn’t if I were Rhys. How could she be so stupid and selfish?

Also in “Combat”

The “Previously On” bit contained some stuff from “Out Of Time”. That’s better than Jack’s way too flawed opening monologue each week.

Rhys: “Sit the fuck down.”
Gwen: “Don’t ever speak to me like that again.”

Did anyone notice that Toshiko was visibly annoyed when she was telling Gwen about Owen and Diane?

Toshiko: “I think these guys really don’t want to be found.”
Captain Jack: “I know it’s a character flaw but that makes me more determined to find out what they are up to.”

Gwen: “You can be such a wanker sometimes, you know that?”
Owen: “As a matter of fact, I do actually.”

Owen’s alias involved working for Jellied Eels with his own site and Toshiko pretending to be his secretary Jenny Loft.

Toshiko (to Captain Jack): “We would never deliberately put a human being through that but a Weevil is fair game?”

I liked Jack calling one of the Weevils “Janet”. Apparently they can also telepathically feel each others pain as well.

Mark: “Ask yourself what’s the point of your life?”
Owen: “Mark mate, I only came in for a beer.”

Gwen (re affair): “I’m sorry.”
Rhys: “You wouldn’t do that.”
Gwen: “I have.”

This episode was written by former Doctor Who actor Noel Clarke. It’s the only episode to be written by an actor from one of Russell’s shows.

Mark (re Weevils): “In a thousand years time it’s us when we’ve got nothing but our rage.”
Owen: “It’s not exactly a comforting thought.”

Captain Jack (re Owen): “You did this to him.”
Mark: “He did it to himself. He had no fear.”

Chronology: January 2007 I assume.

Owen: “I didn’t want saving.”
Captain Jack: “You want us to apologise?”

Standout music: “Assassin” by Muse.

Okay, “Combat” didn’t suck as much as I thought it would but continuing on from last week, there wasn’t a whole about the episode that was really interesting. There was something quite hollow about Owen’s behaviour and actions this week but at least the last two episodes look great.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

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