After a fantastic season opener, the second episode of the season is generally a bit of a letdown and I honestly do feel that way a bit about “Sleeper,” though it does open up the potential for a larger story arc later in the season. This episode also is the start of one of my favorite things about Season 2: the introduction of Ianto as the King of One-Liners and Snark.
It’s a quiet night in the suburbs where Mike and Beth Halloran are sleeping soundly, until they are both awakened by a noise downstairs. Mike grabs a cricket bat and goes to investigate, while Beth calls the police. Two burglars are casing the house and throwing Mike around. Beth is terrified and throws the phone under the bed, where the operator can still be heard. Suddenly, we hear the burglars pleading and screaming for mercy as something else attacks them all.
Given, the strange events, Torchwood is called in. One of the burglars is dead from a long, narrow knife wound and the other is in critical condition after being tossed from the upstairs window. The police suspect the husband, but Tosh doesn’t think either the husband or wife could have done this kind of damage. At the hospital, Owen and Gwen are interviewing the Hallorans, who claim to know nothing of what happened. Owen and Gwen disagree about who could be responsible. Owen blames Beth though he has no real evidence; neither of them had blood on their hands. Gwen suspects the husband, but as Owen points out, it would have to happen under a ridiculous set of circumstances. Jack calls stating one of them had to have done it, they just need to figure out which one and tells Owen to stay with the surviving burglar all night if they have to. Owen promptly delegates to Gwen, but says he’ll get her coffee if she pays for it and as he’s leaving, the lights begin to flicker.
Gwen’s dozing by the surviving thief’s bedside when he awakens suddenly in a panic. He begs Gwen to keep Beth away from him and is clearly terrified. Before Gwen can get any more information, the man’s heartbeat flatlines and he’s dead. Jack brings Beth into Torchwood for interrogation where she persists in saying she knows nothing. Jack keeps pressing and Beth is visibly upset. The lights flicker like they did in the hospital and Gwen takes over, speaking more calmly and gently, trying to earn Beth’s trust, but she still insists on her innocence. Outside, Ianto insinuates that he found Jack’s interrogation technique very hot and Jack turns to Tosh for any kind of analysis. She found that there was an electromagnetic build up around Beth, but doesn’t know what caused it.
Ianto: Just us. In this room. As long as it takes. Terrifying.
Ianto: Absolutely. Shivers down my spine.
Jack: You don’t look scared.
Ianto: Oh, it passed.
Owen is going to run some medical tests on Beth and as Gwen leads her into the hub, she’s overwhelmed by the place, like she’s just stepped through the looking glass. So here’s where things gets a little weird. Needles break as Owen tries to draw blood and even a scalpel snaps in half. Beth can never recall being sick or having to go to a hospital. Jack cuts in and asks what planet Beth is from and she responds that she’s from Earth and there is no such thing as aliens. As some kind of twisted test, Jack introduces Beth to Torchwood’s pet Weevil, Janet. As Beth continues to plead she’s not an alien, Janet takes one sniff of her and begins to back away as if she’s scared of Beth. That’s enough for Jack to insist on a mind probe, despite Ianto’s objections (apparently last time they used it, there were exploding heads involved) and Gwen’s (whose reasons are a bit more compassionate). Jack comments he’ll stop at the first sign of trouble (or the first sign of exploding, quips Ianto).
Beth is fitted with the mind probe and assured by Jack that it will hurt. Beth comments that his bedside manner is awful. Apparently so are his manners in bed, which Gwen guesses at and Ianto confirms. As they start the probe, Beth screams in agony, still denying she’s an alien, Jack insists they go deeper into her subconscious as the electromagnetic field builds again. Suddenly, Beth stills and her right arm transforms into some kind of device. There was a buried compartment in Beth’s mind she couldn’t know about. Jack begins his questioning again and Beth responds in an alien language, repeating the same phrases. Jack confirms she’s basically giving her name, rank and serial number and he’s figured out what she is and why she’s here. Owen removes the probe and Beth is back to normal with no memory of what just happened.
Ianto: We don’t sniff the semi-thermic resonator!
In a meeting, Jack tells the team that Beth is a sleeper agent from a race only known as Cell 114. Not much is known about them except that they infiltrate planets, gather intelligence and then conquer from within. Beth’s been given false memories to blend in and if they’re lucky, then she’s the first. The inner alien must have awakened briefly during the robbery for self-preservation. Tosh has found that the implant creates a force field around Beth and has gathered information on Torchwood, much to Ianto’s consternation. Jack decides to tell Beth the truth.
Even after being shown video of her transformation, Beth still insists she’s human and Gwen agrees, posing the question, “What makes us human, our minds or our bodies?” Beth asks if she can be fixed and Jack tells her no; that one day, the implant will send the information and trigger the invasion. Beth rightly wonders if they’ll kill her. Despite Gwen’s reassurances they won’t unless it’s their last resort, Jack insists they won’t have a choice (great bedside manner indeed).
Tosh comes up with an ingenious idea of using cryogenic freezing until they can find a way to stop Beth’s memories from returning. Tosh can effectively jam the implant so her people will never suspect anything. Beth would have to disappear completely, leaving her husband behind. As they lead Beth to the cryogenic chamber, she remembers the burglary and has visions of worldwide destruction. Jack realizes the implant is activating and they rush to get her frozen. Beth wants Gwen to promise that if they can’t deactivate her, they kill her. Gwen won’t make that promise, but she looks to Jack, knowing he’ll do it and promises that he will if it come to it. Tosh shorts out the implant and force field and Owen injects her with the freezing agent.
As this is taking place, a businessman named David is telling his wife a funny story when an implant is revealed in his arm. He goes into a trance and walks out as his wife is questioning him. Almost as a second thought, he turns around and snaps her neck. The same implant appears on the arm of a paramedic and he leaves his patient lying on the ground and a mother abandons her child’s stroller to be run over by a car.
Beth is placed in the vaults by Ianto as Gwen looks on (there’s this great little moment as they walk away where Ianto offers Gwen his arm), but unfortunately, her implant is activated and she’s thawing out. The power goes out in the hub as the team realizes something is very wrong. They discover Beth escaped through the tunnels and though she had the power turned off, she didn’t lock the place down or blow it up. She’s been projecting false vital signs the entire time, letting the team see what they wanted. She’s off the network so she must have some other agenda in mind.
Ianto: Time to change the locks again.
Beth goes to Mike’s hospital room. She tells Mike she loves him, but has to go away for awhile. Mike, like any good husband, wonders what she’s going on about when Beth’s implant activates. Her arm turns into a kind of organic sword (I kept repeating, “The CLAW” in my head as I watched this) and she stabs Mike through the chest. Jack and Gwen arrive and whisk her out as doctors and nurses converge on the scene.
David arrives at Patrick Grainer’s residence and proceeds to kill him and as his family watches. At the same time, the paramedic from earlier has hijacked an oil tanker and detached some kind of device from his arm and attached it to the tanker. Jack and Gwen are leaving the hospital with Beth when the tanker explodes. It’s taken out an emergency pipeline for the military and they discover Patrick Grainer was the city coordinator and in charge of emergencies. The young mom blows up the communications building, causing more chaos. Jack realizes the invasion has begun. He urges Beth to tell him how to stop it, but she says she’s cut off from the cell and doesn’t know their plan. At Gwen and Jack’s urging she accesses the implant and discovers she can track the last remaining cell member, David. Using good old fashioned CB radios, they figure out David is heading towards an abandoned farm. It’s been sealed off since the ’40s when the army buried ten nuclear warheads. They’ve figuratively left the key under the mat for the aliens. Jack reassures them all that he is playing the role of the dashing hero on the case and can’t fail, but even Jack has doubts.
Ianto: He is dashing, you have to give him that.
Owen: What if they can’t stop it?
Ianto: Then it’s all over.
Owen: Let’s all have sex.
Ianto: And I thought the end of the world couldn’t get any worse.
David arrives at the farm and he’s impervious to the army’s bullets (very Hulk-like here) but he’s run over by the van. Jack tries to get answers out of him, but is rewarded by a stab through the chest. Gwen is able to disable the implant long enough to lower the force field so Jack can shoot him. As he dies, he tells Jack that Cell 114 know all about him and Torchwood. When Jack asks when the others are coming, the alien tells him, “They’re already here.” He then self-destructs.
The team go ahead with the plan to freeze Beth, though Beth can feel the implant pushing her out and wonders if they can stop her. She insists she’s too dangerous, despite Gwen’s reassurances of the contrary. She asks Gwen about her life and if she’s ever hurt her loved ones. Take that guilt and multiply it and that’s how Beth feels. She asks Gwen to remember her how she is now. Her arm transforms to the blade and she takes Gwen hostage. Gwen realizes this is essentially suicide by cop and urges the others not to shoot, but Jack and the others see no other choice and kill her. Jack knows she knew how this would all eventually end and wanted to make it easier for them to end her.
Jack and Gwen talk in his office as Jack examines the arm blade. Gwen, almost as if she’s reassuring herself, thinks they can stop the coming invasion with the element of surprise. Jack changes the subject to Gwen’s upcoming nuptials before dismissing her for the night, not looking reassured at all by Gwen’s observations.