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September 1, 2015

Torchwood: Fragments

by Jason Hughes, posted Apr 13th 2008 12:43PM
Torchwood - Fragments(S02E12) The penultimate episode of the second season delivers in a big way, both setting up the season finale as a major event with huge stakes for Captain Jack as well as delivering some great looks back at what brought each member of Torchwood to the team. Using the framing sequence of a massive explosion, we spend the majority of the episode in Lost-like flashbacks.

What's so brilliant about the stories we get is that in most cases the back-stories are nothing like I would have expected for that character, and yet at the same time it so perfectly serves the personality and drives of each individual on the team. Suddenly, Tosh's meekness, Ianto's eagerness and Owen's boorishness make perfect sense in the context of their past experiences. Even Jack's cavalier behavior and obsessive dedication to Torchwood make sense considering his own history with it. What they've managed is to add more depth to our relationship with each of the individual Torchwood members just in time for all hell to break loose in the finale.

Captain Jack Harkness

Jack came to join Torchwood as a prisoner. The Torchwood of the latter nineteenth century was a lot more hardcore than the cuddly group we've come to love, and thus Jack found himself tied to a chair by two women and killed over and over again to try and figure out why he doesn't die. They'd tracked him through various drunken ramblings and as this is back in the day when Torchwood was still about taking care of The Doctor, it was his random Doctor name-drops that brought him to their attention.

As it was, his choices were fairly simple: be considered a threat to the state and people of England and dealt with, though short of eternal incarceration or drawn-and-quartering what could they really do to him that he wouldn't just wake up and walk away from, or come to work for Torchwood. You have to admit an agent who can't die would be a pretty handy thing to have.

What sealed the deal for Jack was the prophetic tarot reading of a little girl who said he'd find who he was looking for but that it would take more than a hundred years. If you recall, it was another little girl who helped Jack to find the resurrection glove that brought Owen back to semi-life. Maybe there's a string of little girl seers out there who are drawn to helping Jack.

It's interesting to think that for over a hundred years Jack worked as a subordinate agent in Torchwood. And after witnessing how brutally the women dispatched a captured alien after Jack's first assignment it makes me wonder what kinds of things he may have had to be a part of that he doesn't agree with. We know Jack has a dark side but he's also incredibly stringent on his own moral principles. Did he spend years just dispatching aliens carte blanche?

As for the events of New Year's Eve 1999, I want to know more about what led up to the internal massacre. Suddenly Torchwood is Jack and as it's all he's known for a century or more of course he's going to continue the "mission." But as Torchwood is somehow affiliated with the government, you'd think there'd be a massive investigation. The intro says it's "outside the government" and yet we've seen transfers from UNIT and other threats of interference from the government, not to mention Torchwood has to get its authority over the police in matters from somewhere. Maybe it's like the CIA where it's technically a part of the government but can work outside the laws of the government as an autonomous entity. (CORRECTED - Attempting to clarify the confusing relationship between Torchwood and the government as commented on in posts)

Would whoever Torchwood answers to really just turn over the whole department to Jack to rebuild as he sees fit? Considering it still holds its same power and authority, it must not be a problem. He'd have to do some pretty fancy speechifying to convince them to let him change the whole focus of the department to the kinder and gentler Torchwood we see today.

Toshiko Sati
I'll tell you right now, I expected a story of a mousy grad student genius who just got recruited by the government. Instead, we got a mousy double agent stealing plans from the government in order to somehow build an impossible device from flawed blueprints. She did this, of course, to save the life of her kidnapped mother. Tosh is no "bad guy!"

Still it was enough to get her thrown in a UNIT cell where she was advised she had no rights of any kind and could potentially be held forever without trial if that's what they felt like doing. I wonder if that facility is next door to Guantanamo Bay? It appears that in the world of Torchwood, the US isn't the only one who believes the best way to deal with terrorist suspects is to strip them of all human rights and essentially throw them in a hole until either they die or you feel like dealing with them. Our Martha Jones works for these people? Well, I guess your thoughts on the whole policy could differ greatly.

Tosh's genius was somehow discovered and recognized by Jack who offered her a job in exchange for the expunging of her record. But she is allowed minimal outside contact (in other words no visits home to see her mum). His initial offer is for her to try it for five years, and as the flashback was five years ago does this mean she might be "free to go," as it were? Did it even work that way? Was it a matter of she was serving a sort of probation with Torchwood or is she just one of them now?

Ianto Jones
Our boy Ianto got a last name (at least I don't think we already knew it) and we learn that he was the only recruit to have had prior experience with Torchwood, albeit in London. We also learned that Torchwood Cardiff is very much a renegade agency when compared to the other branches, which I can only assume are still out there. Considering the importance of the rift activity in Cardiff, I'm again surprised the government would allow Torchwood Cardiff to stray in mission and focus from the larger Torchwood entity. Or perhaps there'll be a future episode where Torchwood Central removes Jack and tries to reintegrate the Cardiff branch.

So apparently after the destruction of the London branch of Torchwood, Ianto tracked down the Cardiff branch. And as we learned already, he had a cybermen-infected girlfriend, Lisa, whom he managed to smuggle into the facility to try and save. This explains his overwhelming earnestness and insistence in coming to work for Jack. And I guess despite loving Lisa, he couldn't help but be attracted to Jack (and his coat) as the electricity between them was evident from the moment they fell on top of one another fighting the pterodactyl. Side note, in the intro we see the pterodactyl flying around. Is it potty-trained, or does it have a giant litter box somewhere? It seems to be right overhead some of the workstations. (CORRECTED - Thanks to commenters for reminding me to remember the past!).

I'm curious as to how much time has passed in-show? We're wrapping up the second season and yet it was twenty-one months ago that Ianto joined. Was he that new a recruit when Gwen joined? For some reason, I guess everyone seemed a lot more familiar with him on the team than that would seem to indicate. Either way, I give credit to Ianto for his dedication and determination in getting hired and his growth into an integral part of the storyline. I wonder if the writers had this exact character arc mapped out for him from the beginning, from receptionist/coffee jockey to field agent/lover or if it evolved as the character got pulled more and more into the meat of the stories.

Owen Harper
Another "secret origin" that did an excellent job of shaping the personality we'd come to love and loathe in Owen. The more layers we peel back on his onion the less one-dimensional he is. Interestingly, of the current team Owen is the only member to have joined specifically due to an alien encounter. Four years back, Owen was a doctor all goo-goo eyes and engaged to the woman of his dreams. Only she had symptoms similar to early onset Alzheimer's.

It turned out to be something far less terrestrial and far more lethal for the surgeons who went in to remove a tumor that had been discovered. It looks like Jack learned about this one and arrived a little too late to save the surgeons, but still allowed Owen to see the alien parasite inside his dead fiance's exposed brain. Traumatized much? And then while Jack wiped everyone's memories of the event, he left Owen's memories intact.

I guess this was so that he could mentally torture Owen for awhile before appearing before him near his fiance's gravesite. By this point video surveillance and records had indicated Jack had never been there and in fact didn't exist. Actually, Jack was testing him apparently. And because Owen never gave up on trying to figure out who Jack was and what the deal was with the alien, Jack recruited him. After all, he needed a medic.

So Owen spent several years afraid to get close to women because of everything he now knows. And Tosh was finally able to break down his walls of defense just in time for him to die and no longer be a complete man. By the way, am I the only one a little peeved that Owen suffered no injuries essentially at all? It's going to be a little convenient considering that his undead body can't heal from any injuries if he never suffers anymore considering how carelessly he throws himself in harm's way week after week.

Captain John Hart
We don't need the "Secret Origin" of Gwen Cooper as that's what the first episode was. Instead, after the team manages to save all of its members, Jack's old drinking buddy and partner John Hart (James Marsters) appears with a second hologram of a young man he claims is Jack's lost missing brother Gray. Hart planted the bombs, he has Gray and he's only just begun to destroy Captain Jack Harkness.

I wonder if next week's season finale can really wrap up this storyline or if we'll get a cliffhanger finale. Hart was hoping that his little explosion ruse would kill all or most of team Torchwood, except immortal Jack of course, so he'll probably be a little peeved to see them all alive, well except for undead Owen of course. Still, it looks like it should be a hell of a lot better than last year's finale with the giant demon monster stomping around Cardiff. Save the giant monsters for Japan and give me meaningful dramatic consequences like this any day.

Who had the best "secret origin"
Captain Jack Harkness56 (23.9%)
Toshiko Sati74 (31.6%)
Ianto Jones33 (14.1%)
Owen Harper68 (29.1%)
Gwen Cooper3 (1.3%)

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Nobody has commented on the strangeness of Ianto's back story.

He was so in love with Lisa that he dragged her half-converted body to Cardiff and jeopardized the lives of Torchwood Cardiff and possibly the entire planet by secreting her into the Hub in an effort to keep her alive and rescue her.

Upon arrival in Cardiff, (while Lisa is in a storage locker somewhere?) he meets Jack while hanging out in a park looking for sex with other men. After hanging around outside the Hub and finally showing Jack the pterodactyl, he gets the job he needs at Torchwood. He somehow manages to secret Lisa and her related equipment into the Hub without anyone noticing. When Lisa wakes up and is eventually killed, it doesn't take long before Ianto becomes Jack's love interest.

We have to assume that Ianto is bisexual, as it does not appear that Jack has coerced him into a sexual relationship.

Ianto was that deeply in love with Lisa, but he was in the park to hook up with guys while she was in cold storage? Was this just a ploy to find JacK?

Something doesn't feel right about it.

April 28 2008 at 4:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"Maybe there's a string of little girl seers out there who are drawn to helping Jack."

According to imdb it's the same actress playing the "young girl" in Dead Man Walking and "little girl" in Fragments.

Whether this is a lack of young actresses or on purpose to be the same seer...?

April 17 2008 at 10:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

IIRC, there were 4 branches, Torchwood 1 at Canary Wharf, Torchwood 2 being some guy in an office somewhere, Torchwood 3 in Cardiff, and Torchwood 4 which went missing (an homage to Babylon 5?). If the events of the Doctor Who telefilm with the 8th Doctor were mixed in, Torchwood 1 might have been a little too preoccupied at the time to bother sending Jack a new superior instead of just letting him run the branch. Besides, an entire century of service was probably very convincing.

April 14 2008 at 11:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I just happened to catch an early look at the finale and I agree with everyone else here that's seen it...simply incredible compared to the first season finale. But in relevance to this episode: This was a great episode to lead into a finale...character arcs and origins and just good entertainment. It's really been an amazing season 2 and I look forward to seeing what's in store in Season 3.

April 13 2008 at 10:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Several fans I know were quite disgruntled with the portrayal of UNIT in this episode. It had never been portrayed like this at all previously and to them it's like corrupting something beloved.

April 13 2008 at 8:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Great review, I agree on almost all fronts. But I was seriously shocked to see you have obviously not the slightest idea about Doctor Who and what happened to Ianto. Shame on you.

As for the finale, it's mindblowing.

April 13 2008 at 5:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Joni's comment

The sad part is that I am familiar with Doctor Who and a huge fan of it as well, and completely forgot all the stuff about Ianto and Cyber-Lisa when writing the review. Shame on me and no excuses but I've tweaked the review to reflect.

I have this alien parasite in my brain making me forget things...

April 13 2008 at 5:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cheng-Jih Chen

One question I had: was all this in the Torchwood writers' bible, i.e., the backstory documentation used by the writers.

April 13 2008 at 5:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cheng-Jih Chen

The UNIT jail was something they never mentioned with the Third Doctor. Cuddlier back then.

April 13 2008 at 5:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John Stewart

Torchwood isn't a government agency. "outside the government, beyond the police" it's right in the opening of every episode.

Though in "Greeks Bearing Gifts" Jack does call the prime minister to find out why Torchwood was added to government briefings and to put a stop to it.

April 13 2008 at 3:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mj green

I would just like more of the cute flying reptile. Favorite dino and all that. I would also like to see more of what is in the facility. What other goodies can we see? An interactive Torchwood website would be awesome. "Click on the cabinet to open."

April 13 2008 at 2:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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