Sunday, 26 April 2015
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Ashley Way
This story in a nutshell: Introducing Captain John!
Jack is punished by his team for abandoning them at the end of End of Days (he’s been off having the adventures with the Doctor and Martha against the Master in Utopia/The Sound of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords) leaving his Mickey Mouse organisation to cope without him. It's what I’ve been saying all along…they are much more organised and sophisticated a unit without him! Jack is eager to make John’s acquaintance as soon as he realises he is in town and their shared history is summed up in how they can’t keep their hands off each other, kick the shit out of each other and then share a drink. He and John were partners in every sense of the word and as nothing could ever be simple for Jack they were stuck in a time loop so their relationship stretched to five years rather than the two weeks it actually was. Yeah, before Simon I had relationships that felt like that. When Gwen is selfishly whining on about being deserted I would have thrown in a comment that I had helped save the world (and incidentally her life) from Harold Saxon and told her to stop going on like a kid who has been dragged from a sweet shop empty handed. His time with the Doctor facing the end of the world has reminded him that he belongs with this group of people (it must have been especially tough if this is the better alternative). Barrowman doesn’t quite have the subtlety to pull this scene off, he should stick to lip locking and trading insults with Marsters because that’s where he looks most comfortable. When he is spectacularly thrown off a building Jack even manages to land in an over the top way.
Jack’s Crew: Gwen has a little paddy about Jack abandoning them and completely failing to notice how well they have coped without him. She and the whole team are frustrated with his evasiveness but seem to think it is more fun when he is around. Fun? Are you kidding me? They were ankle deep in corpses and spunk last year! There is a lovely moment where Jack starts getting frisky with Gwen (is there no such thing as personal space in Torchwood?) and discovers her engagement ring that puts a stop to all that. Or so you would think…she admits that she said yes because ‘no one else would have me’ which is just about the worst note to start a marriage on. How comes Gwen ran the team whilst Jack was away considering she is the most naïve and the least experienced? That’s probably the Torchwood employment policy! She was clearly going to say ‘tell Jack I love him’ just before she was about to sacrifice herself to the rift – after letting Owen bone her and now having an affair of the heart with her boss its any wonder she has any time left for the only man who will ever truly love her. If I were Rhys I’d move on to somebody worthwhile.
When we cut to Owen and Tosh in the storage locker I was shocked because I had forgotten they existed! When he asks ‘what are we doing with our lives?’ my first thought was ‘what lives?’ When they trimmed the fat out of the show and excised these two characters (despite losing a perfomer as strong as Burn Gorman) it is telling that the next season was the series’ peak.
Despite a couple of rounds of hide the sausage last year you could hardly say that Jack and Ianto got their relationship off to a solid start. Jack vanishes for an age and when he shows up again he snogs another man (not to mention his namesake last year)…and then he asks Ianto out on a date. And Ianto says yes! Clearly trust issues are not an issue in Torchwood and there is an open door policy (ewww) when it comes to relationships. It's not something that I can buy into so until I see some mutual respect and commitment between these two it isn’t a relationship of any sort that I recognise.
When the four of them were all inside the same storage container I was screaming at Jack & John to lock the lot of them in and throw away the key.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Torchwood!’ ‘Not Excalibur?’ – John wonderfully takes the piss out of our team name by suggesting something even more outrageous!
‘You live in the sculpture? Could you be any more pretentious?’ – John continues to sound like one of my reviews…
‘This is the entrance for tourists’ ‘I can remember the last time you said that.’
‘You take the roof. You’re good on roofs.’
· James Marsters’ Captain John really works although in a way he is just as ridiculous a character as Jack is. But that’s part of the reason why he does work so I’m not criticising. The reason all of the villains failed to make an impact in the first season is because they were either too earnest (Mary in Greeks Bearing Gifts), too dour (Susie), too unbelievable (Lisa in Cyberwoman…brrr!) or too ambiguous (the sex alien in Day One). It's why the best episodes for me were Ghost Machine, Random Shoes and Captain Jack Harkness because they didn’t even try to have villains, they just got on with telling a good story. Okay the last episode there had Billis Manger but he was mostly shrouded in mystery and was kept in the background so at that stage he was just an intriguing character rather than somebody who was openly opposing the team (when they tried to shoehorn him into a villainous role in End of Days he failed to work as a character on any level). The thing about John is that he is big, bold, daft, sexy and completely lacking in morality and trading his success on his charm offensive. He’s basically Jack but evil (or at least enigmatic which is much more fun when you are dealing with a villain – too often they try and make Jack ambiguous as a character which completely de-stabilises the show and leaves it without a hero) which gives him someone as equally improbable to bounce off of. When they are on screen together it feels as if the nonsensical characteristics of both of them cancel each other out and what is left is something genuinely sexy and witty for a change (‘I worked my way up through the ranks!’ ‘I bet the ranks were very grateful!’). Marsters’ plays the role with an eyebrow squarely arched at the audience which is a relief after the cringeworthy earnestness of some of the performances last year (when the show is this ridiculous you cannot take it too seriously as an actor – Eve Myles was made to look like a right pudding in much of series one because she reacted with such deadly solemnity to so many outlandish situations) and he shares great chemistry with Barrowman. When these two are together Kiss Kiss Bang Bang sings. Because they are such preposterous characters naturally the first thing they do when they meet is stick their tongues down each others throats and then beat each other up – it’s the only way two such over the top characters can say hello! The camera clearly loves him and when he is around it glides around him practically in slow motion like a fashion shoot ensuring he is given adequate coverage. His ‘help me Obi Won Kenobi’ was spot on funny. What’s really strange is that Captain John wouldn’t work in any other show…without the equally daft Captain Jack to compliment him he would feel hammy but these two orbiting each other like a pair of outrageously monstrous planets means he is right at home in big, daft Torchwood. Naturally Captain John has weapons stashed everywhere about his person except up his arse (although I bet he’s got some tucked away up there as well and is just waiting for an examination).
· Its nice to see somebody else from the Time Agency turn up but it also appears that we wont ever see much of this organisation as we are informed that it was shut down. It was such an odd backstory for Jack because in the four years and multitude of episodes nobody exploited the missing year/time agency angle that Steven Moffatt built into the character. When it clearly had a lot of potential. Oh well, let’s revel in this little snippet and the arrival of John which paints in a little more colour and detail to Jack’s history.
· ‘By the way…I found Grey’ is the dramatic punchline to this episode. Is this Jack’s son? Brother? Lover? Who knows but it at least shows willing that this series is going to tie some of Jack’s personal history into an arc. If the pay off isn’t great (Exit Wounds is a bit of a mess aside from one or two very powerful moments), the build up is at least tantalising.
· The pre titles sequence with the blowfish allowing the little old lady cross the road is emblematic of the embarrassing childishness of early Torchwood and how they got the tone so very wrong on the whole. Could you imagine this ridiculous scene turning up in either Children of Earth or Miracle Day? There’s actually a similar scene in the Sarah Jane Adventures where a Judoon waits at a traffic light after tearing the door of a police car which is much, much funnier and fits the tone of the series with much more alacrity. This is just odd…and does actually have much to do with anything. As an opener to the second series it seems to say ‘we’re back…and sillier than ever!’ The dialogue isn’t witty enough and the situation isn’t plausible or fun…although I think all three of these are supposed to be in evidence! The SUV looks more dafter than ever chasing a fish in a sports car around Welsh housing estates (I’m not sure if that sentence has ever been written before…or ever should be again) and tossing into the scene a man covered in blood and the suggestion that the ridiculous looking alien is smacked out on cocaine is such a discordant clash of the adult and the childish I was completely out of my comfort zone at the sort of tone Chibnall was looking for here. Then the giant, walking halibut opened its mouth and out came those cultured, aristocratic tones and he kindly spells out the character spec of each of the regulars…I’m at a loss for words, I really am. This really is television for morons.
· The scene where John forces himself on Gwen is filmed like the beginnings of a rape scene and is uncomfortably surrounded by the silliness of the rest of this nonsense.
· It’s when Chibnall tries to add some depth to the Jack/John relationship when it doesn’t work (‘he wont stay with you…he and I shared something…’) because it is two people who are all about sex, wit and violence trying to pretend they are about something more. Its why John’s return at the end of the season is nowhere near as effective because Chibnall pushes that angle too far and it loses all of its sparkle.
· It's not a great sign of the strength of a series when it offers up the suggestion of something far more interesting and I start dreaming of that instead. John suggests that Jack ditches the rest of Torchwood like the rotten baggage they are and they head off into time to have adventures. I would much rather watch that show! ‘The glitter of the galaxy…the mischief we could make’ is a much better tagline for a series than ‘the 21st century is where it all happens…and you gotta be ready!’
· When the team rush to save Gwen’s life the music is a direct steal from the dreadful Cyberwoman episode when Gwen was strapped to the Cyber-conversion table. I’m sorry but anything that reminds me of that season one disaster is counterproductive.
· John’s into bestiality too? There really is nothing subtle about this show, is there? Lusting after a poodle isn’t funny, it's just a bit tasteless.
· Once this episode is over you realise that this entire instalment has been about introducing John and allowing for his ominous portent at the conclusion. What a waste of 45 minutes! After superabundant plots last year it feels like a massive step back to yank a narrative away from the series opener and focus on character vignettes alone. Especially when there is only one character worth investing in and he’s not even a regular. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is ultimately some funny lines, a bit of flirting, a few sketchy lines of backstory filled in and a lot of wandering around a very dull location. What’s especially interesting is that the whole diamond/bomb plot did not require the Torchwood crew in the slightest, it would have played out in exactly the same way for John wherever he went. When your regulars are completely superfluous to the seasons introductory episode you are in trouble.
The Shallow Bit: Speaking as somebody who has lusted after James Marsters’ cheekbones throughout the entire run of Buffy the Vampire Slayer I have to say it is something of a dream come true to see him enjoying some guy on guy action. To say that I didn’t have a raging boner during the scene where they snog would be a big fat lie. It's also one of the few times that Torchwood presents a gay sex scene that doesn’t feel gratuitous (the other for me is the kiss between the two Jack’s in Captain Jack Harkness because that was rather the point of the episode and also the Jack/Angelo romance which also was the beating heart of Immortal Sins) because it is steeped in the history of the characters rather than just being shoehorned in. Ianto’s sudden conversion to homosexuality in They Keep Killing Susie was embarrassing, their sex scene in the office in Adrift is completely out of place and that godawful moment in Rendition when Jack just goes off shagging without a condom because you can’t be killed by AIDS anymore throws back gay morality about 50 years. However you feel a genuine connection between Jack and John here which is actually bolstered by their intimacy rather than spoilt by it. And as I say getting to see James Marsters lip locking with another guy is hardly something I would object to.
Result: When it is focussing on Captain John, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is excellent because he is such a perfect fit for Torchwood as a baddie with his witty one liners, amoral sexuality and penchant for violence. He is a microcosm for everything that is twisted about this show and played with delicious playfulness by James Marsters his scenes really made me smile. Unfortunately concentrating so much on introducing this character leaves us without much of a plot or a point to this episode and the slack is made up with by horrendous scenes like the blowfish in a sports car, Gwen paralysed by lipstick and fake diamonds. As soon as we move away from the charisma and wit of the Jack/John interaction it is a shocking reminder of how tedious and mismatched the rest of the regulars are and how their vacuous characters flounder when they don’t have anything to do. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is such a discordant mixture of the very good and the very bad that it epitomises Torchwood rather well and if like a Chinese takeaway it is tasty but lacks any substance whatsoever at least it is entertaining whilst it is on unlike much of last years offerings. Far from an inspiring start to the second year but fun in places, the show really couldn’t have survived another year of episodes like this: 5/10