Sunday, July 05, 2009

My Review of Torchwood's 2x02: "Sleeper"

Written by James Moran
Directed by Colin Teague

Ianto: “It’s all over.”
Owen (to Toshiko/Ianto): “Let’s all have sex.”
Ianto: “And I thought the end of the world couldn’t get any worse.”

Ever since I saw the season trailer after “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to use that exchange. Thanks to this episode, I got the chance to. Last week, rogue Time Agents and now this week sleeper agents. Can’t anyone do their job correctly?

You’ve got a nice normal woman named Beth who opens the episode by having herself and her husband Mike burgled by two thugs. The funny thing is that it’s the thugs who wind up in serious trouble. One gets thrown out the window and hits the police car and the other virtually dies of fright in hospital. I know I shouldn’t but I almost feel sorry for the two of them.

So who’s to blame? Mike did try to stop them with the aid of a cricket bat but it’s a distressed Beth who gives off all the suspicious vibes and that’s even before Owen has his own crackpot theory on how she killed the burglars. Jessica Fletcher, he’s not but I’d take him more seriously than Caroline Quentin on Blue Murder if it’s any consolation.

The thing is that we all know that Beth is the culprit and if the trailer didn’t more or less confirm that, the spoilers on Digital Spy days before the episode aired certainly cleared any doubt of her innocence. So instead of a “who done it?” it’s more of a build up to the gang interrogating Beth.

Owen and Gwen both having their opposing views on the culprit is great but as soon as the second burglar freaked out, Jack certainly wasted no time in putting a bag over Beth’s head and dragging her into the hub for questioning. Jack actually seemed pretty pissed which is strange considering that Beth is not that good a liar (she doesn’t seem the convincing type).

Nikki Amuku-Bird who plays Beth is particularly great. She’s been in a few things but I only recognised her from Bad Girls. Unlike that show, she gets to play a well developed character, even if it is only for an episode. Beth protests her innocence because she actually believes she’s lying. She has no memory of the attacks that lead to the deaths of her assailants and even dismisses the accusation of being an alien.

Getting to that point is another interesting step as well. The first attempt to prove she’s not human was trying to get a blood sample. This failed when every needle Owen tried to use broke upon contact with her skin. Also the fact she mentioned never being sick was a worrying sign. Do aliens like Beth actually get sick?

It’s quite interesting to see Jack behave rather impatiently with Beth. Although I understood his need to try and find out what her motives were, he did seem a little too harsh at times too. Like I said, Beth doesn’t seem the type who can convincingly lie and you’d think that Jack would be perceptive enough to figure that out.

With a blood sample being out of the question, it’s down to the old trusted mind probe to get answers (no jokes about The Five Doctors). Both Toshiko and Ianto seem dead set against it but Jack still went ahead with it no less. Gwen gets put into her usual role of carer with Beth. It was Gwen playing good cop to Jack’s bad cop during the interrogation earlier on and it’s Gwen who practically holds Beth’s hand as she’s being violated by that machine.

Thankfully because of this, we then get to see how alien Beth really is. So far it only extended to a spiked arm and the later Intel from Jack that she’s a sleeper agent. Well with the episode title, I don’t think anyone is going to be that surprised but its interesting having an alien causing destruction on this series and them not being aware of the damage they’re doing.

It also helps that Nikki Amuku Bird is so good in the role as well. You totally buy into her anxiety as she discovers her true nature and Beth’s horror of just seeing Janet the Weevil distressed is effective. We might not choose to be who we are but we also can’t choose how we feel about it either. In short, Beth’s a killer and a danger to society but it’s not something she particularly relishes.

You can see the distress she exhibits when she learns about being an alien. Her first impulse is to question the credibility of her relationship with Mike, not to go round and decide which member of Torchwood she’d like to dismember first. I sympathise with Beth’s plight but I also understand Jack’s mistrust of her too.

The issue of dealing with Beth is the next one. Because she’s too dangerous she can’t be let back in the public, yet there’s almost no justified reason for Jack and the gang to actually kill. The issue of rewriting her biology is only briefly touched on as the focus then seems to be cryogenics.

With the amount of reefers they have in the hub, it’s not the worst idea in the world and Beth’s so desperate to not be a danger that she agrees to let Owen sedate her before she’s frozen. Of course even not so bad ideas in this series have a tendency to go the wrong way and soon enough, Beth being frozen activates a few pals.

You’ve got the boring businessman who then kills his girlfriend/mistress as well the paramedic and the chavvy young mum who lets her baby get hit by a car (that is at least implied if not seen onscreen). Sleeper agents come in pairs and destroy separately as well too. Well Jack did say that Beth’s people have a thing for gaining information before they take over places.

Beth certainly duped the gang as well because instead of freezing her, they activated her in a way. It’s nice that Beth’s first action on escape is to see Mike. The episode may emphasise a bit too hard that Beth wants to be a good person and not a killer but it doesn’t stop her attempts of saying goodbye to her boyfriend (before she inadvertently killed him) anymore compelling to watch. Still getting spiked by your girlfriend. Where’s Owen’s smart arsed comments when you need them?

Jack’s a little less interested in Beth’s personal problems and more focused on the bigger matter at hand. When the paramedic and the chavvy girl are blowing up places and entries and David visits a man named Patrick just to kill him, you don’t need it spelled out for you that the sleeper agents are planning their own little invasion of such.

Even with her alien memories beginning to take precedence, Beth still isn’t able to really help the gang as much. Jack has to push for her to locate David when Gwen isn’t laying on the sympathy and the rest of the gang are relegated to hub activity for the last fifteen minutes of the episode.

So once again the world could end and the gang wonder what to do. Well Owen, not being that deep suggests an orgy. Ianto clearly enjoying whatever romps him and Jack get up to behind closed doors is the first to decline the offer. Actually both Owen and Ianto seem to be upping the sarcastic o-meter in this episode. Owen’s always been sarcastic but Ianto gets close to outdoing him here.

For example he pokes fun at Jack’s interrogation techniques, is somewhat miffed when Beth shows more knowledge about Torchwood than him, declines Owen’s suggestion of an orgy and even goes to fun lengths to emphasise the inability of using phones when the lines are cut during an explosion. I’m not complaining – sarcastic Ianto is quite fun to watch.

Getting back to the danger, sleeper agents come to earth and use whatever information they gain to their advantage so is it really much of a shock that they would use our own nuclear warheads against us as well? Gwen might be the only person taken aback by that reveal but I kinda saw it coming.

That being said, I knew we wouldn’t get to the point where David would be inches away from achieving his goal. Jack, Gwen and Beth got there in enough time that he couldn’t activate them so before dying we got some insight. David claims to know about Torchwood and he hints of trouble heading. I like the foreboding sense of danger. Here’s hoping that it’s going to be something a lot more convincing that Abbadon though.

Also less of Jack getting stabbed please? I know he can’t die but the writers run the risk of killing that buzz when they keep having him stabbed etc. Save it for the big moments and not for small fry like David. Heck, David’s defeat didn’t even really warrant that much screen time.

Luckily though the ending with Beth did warrant screen time. Unlike David, Beth was always going to get something of a dramatic exit and by that, I meant death. I think we could all see it coming and that doesn’t make it a bad thing in my books. She’s too dangerous to live and the gang have no way of containing her so death was the inevitable outcome.

I loved how they built a conversation between herself and Gwen where the comparisons to both hurting Mike and Rhys were made. Gwen acknowledging her overall dire treatment of Rhys was long overdue and Beth coming out with the “remember me as Beth” statement before goading the gang into killing her by using Gwen as a hostage was an interesting touch.

The gang all knew what Beth’s motives were and Beth ensured that they were backed into a corner when doing it too. Jack’s end scene with Gwen felt like a repetition though. We get that he wants her to maintain her normal life but at the same time, not only should Jack be doling out that advice onscreen to Ianto, Owen and Toshiko but he should also be embracing it himself. He doesn’t need to isolate himself from society.

Also in “Sleeper”

We’re back with the gag-worthy opening monologue. There’s a few difference – namely some Season 2 scenes and statements like “fighting for the future” and “Torchwood is ready”.

Mike: “I don’t remember the doctor saying anything about resting my mouth.”
Beth: “Actually he did. He was very specific. No talking for a whole week.”
Mike: “Lies, lies, why so many lies?”

There was only one swear word in this episode. Gwen said shit and that was it really.

Captain Jack: “You don’t look scared.”
Ianto: “Oh, it passed.”

Captain Jack: “Stop wasting our time. We know you’re an alien.”
Beth: “There’s no such thing as aliens.”

The first episode and its Declassified aired two hours prior to this episode. I’ve seen no schedule for the watershed repeat or premiere of a Declassified for this episode in next week’s schedule.

Toshiko (re mind probe): “Take it easy, Jack. Stop at the first sign of trouble.”
Ianto: “Or the first sign of exploding.”

Ianto (re Beth’s people): “They know more about this place than I do. No-one knows more about this place than I do.”

Ianto looked very dapper in his pink shirt with this episode. Same one as the Season 2 cast shots?

Beth: “Have you killed other aliens?”
Gwen: “Only when we’ve had to. When as a last resort. Kill or be killed.”

Beth (to Mike): “I just have to stay away from you. If I don’t I’ll end up hurting you.”

When it comes to Beth, why didn’t Jack suggest a Chameleon arch? It rewrites biology and I’m thinking that Time Lords aren’t the only ones with access to that kind of technology.

Ianto (sarcastically to Owen): “Hello, anyone there? No, cos the phones are broken.”

Captain Jack: “No heavy weapons”
Gwen (re sleeper agents): “Exactly. They don’t need to when they can use ours against us”.

Today the Torchwood magazine from Titan towers was released for publication. By the time this review is online, I will have the first issue.

Captain Jack (to the gang): “Come on, with a dashing hero like me on the case how can we fail?”
Ianto (to Owen/Toshiko): “He is dashing. I have to give him that.”

David: “You’ll be factored into our plans.”
Captain Jack: “When?”

The only absence from the episode was Rhys, although I was bothered. I already know he’s going to play a bigger role later on in the season.

Beth: “Do you have someone at home?”
Gwen: “A fiancée.”
Beth: “Have you ever hurt them?”
Gwen: “More than once, yes.”

Chronology: None is specified between this episode and “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang”.

On a realistic note, I was expecting “Sleeper” to become a series favourite but I did expect excitement and on that note, the episode doesn’t fail. It loses points for predictability in how Beth ends up being dealt with but James Moran has a great script and I’m looking forward to his Doctor Who contribution this year.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

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