Retro Recap: Torchwood, Children of Earth, “Day Four”

This is the episode I’ve been dreading. It’s the reason that I haven’t re-watched the series since it first aired. By the end of this episode, I couldn’t comprehend that we had one episode left and things could get worse. This time around I armed myself with tea, chocolate and a pillow to hold onto. If you’re also watching this miniseries for a second (or first) time, prepare yourselves according to your comforts.

After the reveal that Jack was the mysterious man in Clement’s memories at the end of Episode 3 (fantastic recap by Selena), we are transported back to 1965 where Jack has been summoned to handle a situation involving the 456. The mysterious alien race wants 12 children in exchange for the antivirus for the Indonesian flu, which will kill millions on a greater scale than the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, which was also apparently the work of the 456. It’s the ultimate protection racket on an extra-terrestrial scale. Jack, ever the pragmatist, thinks it’s a good deal, but wonders why he was chosen to handle the situation. It wasn’t because he can’t die, it’s because he doesn’t care. The theme of Jack’s immortality and its emotional consequences are a theme that runs throughout the episode.

Clement is of course freaked out by the man who basically ruined his life and sent 11 children into the unknown appearing back into his life and not having aged a day. A couple of close-ups of Ianto reveal that he’s having a hard time coming to grips with his boyfriend’s loooong and sordid past. Actually, let me just state for the record that the the performances during this entire episode from all the actors were just stunning. Anyway, Clement is able to grab a gun and shoot Jack (it’s so convenient as a plot device to have a character that cannot die, ever). Once Jack gasps back to life, the team continues to watch the plot unfold at Thames House.

The majority of the action in this episode is split between Thames House and Torchwood’s makeshift headquarters, but there’s one piece of action that happens separately and sets up plot points for the final episode. We see Alice trying desperately to get ahold of Jack, which brings her and Steven to Johnson’s attention. The pair are captured and detained, but not before Alice gives a dire warning to Johnson:

A man who can’t die has nothing to fear.

Back at Thames House, Frobisher is dealing with the news that the 456 want millions of Earth’s children. The 456, for their part, keep questioning who is watching them, referring to a “remnant” several times. Clement assumes they’re referring to him as he’s watching them through the crazy contacts Lois is wearing. It’s also worth noting that the theory of why Clement was left behind is due to the fact that he was on the cusp of adolescence and therefore no longer qualified. It’s probably the only time prepubescent hormones have been a good thing. Frobisher assumes the 456 are referring to the camera providing a live feed to the PM and assorted guests. He finally gets around to the question on everyone’s mind: what do the 456 want with 10% of Earth’s children? The 456 invite him to come inside their glass chamber and see for himself in what I would describe as an almost cheery tone. It’s creepy.

They dress up a guy in an environmental suit and give him a handheld camera. This bit is brilliant because the viewer never gets a clear look at the 456. We just see a creature vaguely resembling something from Aliens, but the writer and director followed the first rule of horror by not totally revealing the monster. The tension ratchets up when Dekker tells them that there are THREE distinct heartbeats inside the chamber. It’s then that the camera focuses on the true terror in there, a child taken in 1965 in stasis hooked up to the 456. It looks as if he hasn’t aged a day. The look of horror on everyone’s faces says it all. The 456 reassures everyone that the children will not be harmed and they feel no pain, like that makes it better. Oh and if the 10% are not delivered within 24 hours, the 456 will wipe out the entire human race. As if that wasn’t enough, the 456 begin playing back Frobisher’s conversation with them from earlier, with the U.S. general watching, and the full extent of the British government’s coverup is revealed. The 456 are a race well-versed in the arts of intimidation and political intrigue. The fact that the characters and the viewer know so little about them (there’s no spaceship, no indication of where they’re from) makes them a truly terrifying Big Bad.

As Torchwood and everyone in Thames House process these new developments, Ianto confronts Jack about his role in the whole mess and the revelation that he’s only “scratched the surface” of who Jack is. It breaks the heart a bit because you can see how much he cares for Jack, knows he can be a good man, and it upsets him to see the darkness in his partner. I’ve spent most of Torchwood‘s entire run just wanting to hug Ianto and stroke his hair. The astute viewer can tell that Ianto believes he cares more for Jack than the man does for him.

Jack leaves a devastated Ianto to call Frobisher who tells Jack that his daughter and grandson won’t be harmed if Jack keeps Britain’s previous involvement with the 456 under wraps, with Jack insisting he be able to speak to the 456. The Cabinet meets to come up with a solution to lessen the worldwide impact and they decide to make the 456 a counteroffer, one child for every million people on Earth. It’s a camouflage-able solution where “units,” as the children are now called can be taken without the general population knowing. It’s never explicitly stated, but the one can infer that the “units” would be obtained from the orphanages, the streets, the slums where children go missing everyday.

The offer is taken to the 456 who summarily reject the offer and to drive home their point, the children of different countries begin chanting different numbers, which equal 10% of the population of that respective nation. It’s getting harder and harder for the British government to hide the true intention of the 456 and now they face the task of how to get the requisite number of “units” to the 456 without outright rebellion. The meeting of Cabinet calls to mind the meetings among the Nazi leadership to formulate the “Final Solution.” Which portion of the population is expendable? A lottery is suggested then dismissed since it would put the Cabinet members’ children at risk. A woman, Denise Riley, who I’ve internally designated as the Adolph Eichmann of the group, offers up perfectly logical solutions for the problem of roundup. What is honestly so terrifying about all this is the logic and the knowledge that meetings like this have happened and may still happen in real life. The crux of the plan is to use Britain’s school league tables, gathering the “units” from the lowest performing schools and sparing the children in the more elite schools since they are more likely to make sizable contributions to society (and who incidentally are the children and relatives of the assembled Cabinet members).

It looks like an agreement has been reached when Lois raises her hand like a shy schoolgirl wanting to ask a question. She’s been a passive character in this episode; the contacts she’s wearing doing all the work for her, but now she delivers a message from Torchwood. They’ve been recording the entire meeting and are prepared to release the footage to the world unless Torchwood is given access to the 456 so they can stop them. Jack and Ianto, meanwhile, prepare to head to Thames House with Ianto calling his sister to warn her about officials coming to take the children (a working-class Cardiff neighborhood is a prime target). He lets the people listening in know that they too need to protect their children. Ianto makes one last call to Gwen, giving Johnson and her crew the location of the warehouse so they can move in. Now all the chess pieces are in place. Jack and Ianto burst into Thames House like the badasses they are and Johnson finds Gwen watching the monitors in the warehouse. She calmly invites Johnson to watch the action unfold and oh, if she kills Gwen, Rhys will release the recorded footage they’ve recorded to the whole world. Instead, Johnson can take her to Alice and Steven. Seriously, I’ve never been prouder of the team.

Jack and Ianto confront the 456, declaring war on behalf of the human race and telling the aliens that they’re not getting Earth’s children. The 456 are confused by this; they’ve yielded in the past. Why is sacrificing 10% of the children of Earth worthy of war when the infant mortality rate is 29,000 per day? No war has been declared over those numbers. Once again, logic is a terrifying thing. The 456 seem to grow weary of all this talk, declaring that if they want war, they’ll have it. Then the 456 play their final trump card, they release a virus into the building. As the virus spreads, the building is locked down and the people trapped begin dropping. A high-pitched noise sounds with the 456 saying,”The remnant will be disconnected.” Back at the warehouse, Clem goes into a seizure and dies in Gwen’s arms. Jack can survive the virus, but Ianto can’t and it’s too late.

Ianto collapses into Jack’s arms and this is the point during my initial viewing that I started screaming at the TV. I have to admire the writers. The general rule of TV series is to spare the most beloved characters. Torchwood breaks that rule for a second time and I both love and hate the writers for honoring the story by doing what is brutally necessary and killing off arguably the most loved character of the entire series. John Barrowman and Gareth David-Lloyd are heartbreaking in this scene. Ianto declares his love for Jack and fear that Jack will forget him in time. Jack swears that he never will and I believe him. I think Jack feels every single loss over his long life and this one is especially hard to bear. The pair succumb to the virus, but we know one will survive while the other doesn’t.

Things wrap up quickly. The Cabinet members go ahead with the plans to gather up Britain’s children, using the guise of an inoculation against an alien virus as cover. Dekker survives the release of the virus by donning an environmental suit (the slimy ones always survive). Gwen is escorted into a warehouse where the bodies of Jack and Ianto are laid out. She uncovers the shroud covering Jack before turning to Ianto’s body. She’s on the floor grieving when Jack awakens. This is the moment that broke me. Jack wakes up, relief in his eyes that he’s once again alive before you see the change as he remembers that his lover is now dead. I wept as Jack and Gwen mourned. I’m still not over it.

So next week, Selena is going to wrap up the miniseries for us. I mean, how much worse can it get?

Answer: Much, much worse.

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Stephens

Florida girl, would-be world traveler and semi-permanent expat. Her main strategy of life is to throw out the nets and hope something useful comes back, but many times it's just an old shoe. She also really, really hates winter and people who are consistently late.

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