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Retro Recap: Torchwood, Episode 2.08, “A Day in the Death”

This may be one of the most compelling episodes of the entire series. The arc focusing on the life of the dead Owen Harper comes to a close in this episode and it’s heartbreaking and beautiful all at the same time. Burn Gorman was able to inject humanity into a somewhat unlikable character and turn him into a sympathetic hero. The cinematography and camera work are also brilliant here and highlight Owen’s isolation from both his teammates and the rest of the world. The episode tackles big questions about death, grief, hope and how we are all facing the darkness, both alone and together.

The episode starts off with a monologue and montage, telling us how full and great Owen’s life had been up till now. Now, he is living death incarnate. The world moves on and he’s still stuck; the food in his fridge going uneaten, no longer needing to shave and trying to drown himself and yet still living. The subtext loudly proclaiming that this  is a frightfully lonely experience. We flash back to Owen sitting on a roof with a young woman, asking her if she’s ready to jump.

The young woman tells Owen to piss off, she’s going to jump and turns to face him, only to be confronted by his open chest wound (which she then promptly pokes) and rightly doesn’t believe him when he tells her he’s dead. But somehow she suddenly comes to the conclusion he’s telling the truth. Owen explains he was shot, then brought back to life; like Jesus, but without the beard. The girl, Maggie Hopley, wonders why he’s on the roof; he can’t die twice.

Maggie looks at Owen. She looks a bit frightened or disturbed.
For being such a sharp girl, she believed Owen pretty quickly when he told her he was dead.

Owen: Sorry, are you an expert?

Maggie: Sorry, are you an idiot?

I like this girl; she’s got sass. She of course asks the question that everyone wants to know: what’s death like? Darkness, nothing, you know, the usual. When Maggie asks why he’s there, we flashback to the hub where Jack is relieving Owen of his position. Even though Owen insists he’s fine, Jack points out that 1) he DIED three days ago and 2) they aren’t sure WHAT Owen is so until they can, Martha is Torchwood’s medical officer. Owen reluctantly turns in his gun and security pass. As if to add insult, Owen is shown how to make the coffee by Ianto, who now gets to go on missions (and be close to Jack). Everyone has something and Owen has nothing. The bitterness is palpable. Ianto points out that Owen’s saved so many lives; is he really going to let this beat him?

Martha’s running her tests and Owen’s flirting. If the circumstances weren’t so strange it would be normal. Despite his corpse-like state, he’s in great shape and there is no signs of “stiffening” (cue inevitable penis joke). Gwen calls Martha up for a meeting and Owen’s simply left to get the coffee. He’s playing waiter while the rest of the team learns about Henry John Parker, a collector of alien memorabilia. Tosh’s sensors picked up an energy spike at his residence. They’ve been monitoring him for ages even though he hasn’t left his house since 1986. Despite Owen’s assertion that Parker is harmless, Gwen hands out assignments, pointedly leaving Owen out.

After a brief interlude to the present with Owen stating he’s a bloody brilliant doctor, we return to the flashback with Owen continuing to bitch at Martha for doing his job. As an aside, I love having Martha on the team, but I wished they’d given her character more to do in this episode. While Owen says he’s fine and Martha should go see her boyfriend, Martha points out he’s not fine and he’s sliced open his hand with the scalpel he’s been tossing for the whole scene. She stitches him up, but points out his body will no longer heal itself. He can’t feel anything; he can touch, but not feel.

Back in the present, Maggie points out that Owen’s a charmer for pushing people who care away and Owen comments she’s a pain and that’s probably why she was dumped. Owen really is a charmer and Maggie tells him her husband died and rebuffs Owen’s apology. In flashback time, Owen is begging Jack for something to do. When that doesn’t work, he goes home and watches TV. Then cleans out his fridge and throws away his toiletries. The entire sequence, set to “Atlas” by Battles, is done by a man whose eyes just look dead. Tosh decides to pay a visit with pizza and beer, which Owen can’t have, and starts complaining about work. She may have good intentions, but she’s not helping.

Owen stares into his empty refrigerator
What’s the point of being still living if you can’t enjoy the good things?

Owen asks Maggie about her husband. She says he died in an accident on their honeymoon. Today is her wedding anniversary. Owen asks why she waited and Maggie said she believed people when they said it would get better. Does Owen believe it will get better? In the past, Tosh is still talking and Owen interrupts her, asking why she’s there. She wants to help him, but Owen doesn’t want to be one of her projects. She still wants Owen, but he has nothing to give her. He’s twisted and broken and snaps his own finger to make the point. He then takes off running and heads straight to the river and dives right in and he stays under. When he finally surfaces 36 minutes later, Jack is waiting for him because he likes wet guys in skinny jeans, but asks Owen how long he’s going to continue to act like this.

Maggie and Owen stand side by side on the dark rooftop
Together in the dark.

The team is discussing Parker with Ianto listing off alien artifacts he’s collected. Some they recognize, but they don’t know what’s causing the spike in energy at the house. Gwen’s running point on this operation and says they can take down guards and security cameras, but there are solar-powered heat sensors, which will be very hard to get by. Owen interjects at that moment, saying they need someone with no body heat and pointing out that they have nothing to lose. Jack agrees and has Ianto give Owen back his gun. Tosh walks in and before Owen can apologize, she hands him his keys and tells him she turned the telly off. As Owen tells her the story, Maggie wonders why Tosh simply let him get away with yelling at her. Tosh is a professional, apparently, and that’s what they do. Maggie says she doesn’t care about him and just wants to jump and Owen takes her at her word and drags her to the ledge and tells her to go ahead and get on with it. She admits she’s scared. She wonders how Owen got from there to here.

The team is outside Parker’s manor and Martha warns Owen that if he gets hurt, he won’t recover. Jack hands him a package, telling him he’ll need it. Gwen creates a diversion by telling one of the guards that his wife is in the hospital and Owen slips through the gate once he’s gone. He encounters a second guard, but knocks him out without hurting himself. Using the T-shirt Jack gave him (with TinTin on the front), he pulls out the cables, though the electrical charge does nothing to him. Owen has a minute and a half until the back up generators kick in, though Parker has a personal generator in his room that is unaffected. Owen is ignored by the heat sensors (he’s literally too cool for school) and Tosh directs him to the energy source.

Owen’s confronted by Parker’s security, who threatens to shoot. Owen is all swagger and telling the guy what a bullet does to a person (he should know because he’s already dead) and he’s had a hell of a day. He knocks him out and head’s to Parker’s collection room. He finds the man himself, lying in bed and hooked up to medical devices. Parker has been expecting him, having watched him via security cameras. He rightly guesses Owen is from Torchwood, that Jack sent him and he seems to have a bit of a crush on Tosh. Parker is very sick; he’s had three heart attacks, but he’s fine because he has the “Pulse,” a device he keeps near him at all times and that is keeping him alive. It’s also the source of the massive energy spikes.

The big shocker is that the Pulse is doing nothing to keep Parker alive; it’s releasing a ton of energy, but it’s not going to him. If it explodes, it could kill thousands. Basically, Parker is holding onto the device because he is afraid to die; he doesn’t want to be alone in the dark. Owen points out that he’s already alone. The Pulse is giving him hope and that’s what is keeping him alive. Owen knows he’s scared, but Owen knows about death too; though Parker calls him a boy. He’s been through so much and now he’s alone. Really all he wants is a decent steak. He might as well be dead. He gives the Pulse to Owen, though he is still alive. Owen promises to return and they can face death together. Parker wants to hear about Torchwood and the aliens; let him know there’s something else out there.

Suddenly, Parker flat lines and Owen goes to administer CPR, but he has no breath to give him. As he tells Maggie, Parker’s death was the last straw and he wanted it all to end.  As Owen is mourning Parker, Tosh tells him the device is going to explode. Owen holds the Pulse to his chest and says his goodbyes. He tells Martha she’ll be great at his job and orders Jack not to bring him back. He thanks Gwen and Ianto and apologizes to Tosh, who still professes her love for him. The Pulse begins to glow and tendrils of light emanate from it as Owen presses it to his chest.

Owen and Maggie stand on the rooftop. He holds the pulse, which shoots out violet light in all directions.
Light in the darkness

Standing on the roof with Maggie, he tells her that everyone expects life to be shit. But sometimes it’s not and he pulls the Pulse from his bag. He tells her that it’s a reply to the messages sent out into space by NASA in the 1970s; they just don’t know who it’s from. It sang to him, providing him a light in the darkness. As we flashback to earlier once more, Martha bids goodbye to the team as she states that Owen is more than fine to continue as chief medical officer. He kisses her on the cheek as a goodbye and I do wish we could have had an epic friendship for the pair, but oh well. Jack gets a more enthusiastic goodbye as Martha kisses him full on the lips, you know, just to see what it was like. Jack tells her she’s always welcome to come back. Later, Tosh tells Owen that if it gets too bad, that he share it with her. Owen admits that he’s scared that if he closes his eyes, he’ll be trapped in the dark. Tosh takes his hand and tells her she’ll be here.

Owen is walking home when he finds a picture of Maggie and her husband. He looks up and sees Maggie sitting on the roof and that’s how the whole thing started. He didn’t come up there to jump, but to help and hands her back the photograph. He tells her if the darkness is too much, then she should jump, but if there is only a tiny glimmer of light, she should take a chance. He holds her hand as rooftop is covered in tendrils of light.

By 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.

4 replies on “Retro Recap: Torchwood, Episode 2.08, “A Day in the Death””

Some parts of this episode reminded me of euthanasia and the impossibility to be allowed to end your own life even when you’re done with it physically and mentally. Owen’s tiredness and tunnel-without-a-light-at-the-end-of it feelings were so pressing and heavy during this episode and those returned to me when reading your recap.

The euthanasia angle is something I’ve never thought about tbh, but it’s a really interesting perspective. Mainly this episode forced me to confront some of my own thoughts about mortality and the afterlife. It made for some really uncomfortable thinking time.

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