Thursday, 7 May 2015

Meat written by Catherine Treganna and directed by Colin Teague

This story in a nutshell: It's time for Rhys to discover why his wife was behaving so strangely last year...

Hunky Hero: Cue the gratuitous 'have you ever eaten alien meat?' gag and Jack's predictable answer. Rhys has a real distrust of Jack which is borne out a natural reaction to his mistreatment of his wife. I can't wait to see how this develops. There aren't many people that would stand up to Jack but Rhys is such a convincing bruiser that I could see him damaging that pretty face of his. How nice to see Jack showing some real pity and helping out just because it is the right thing to do. Perhaps his sojourn with the Doctor and Martha has done him some good.

Jack's Crew: I couldn't help but chuckle at Owen's insensitivity when Tosh suggests that the only people that Torchwood employees could date are other Torchwood employees and he suggests disparaging that she looks around herself. Nice one. Isn't it a bit soon for her to mooning over Owen after having just lost Tommy? Mind you, the moment where she reaches out and almost touches his back is very nice. Tosh reeks of victim and I my sympathies automatically stack up with her. Even if he isn't the centre of attention in season two Ianto gets a moment of humour in every episode to shine. Here he gets to be extremely polite with his stun gun. It's small moments that all add up to a far more likeable portrayal of the character. He was so bland in the first year in comparison.

Welsh Babe & The Boyfriend: Of all the characters on Torchwood, Rhys is one of my favourites. This was a organisation that was so far up its own arse that it desperately needed a critic and this no-nonsense, bull of a man was exactly what the Doctor ordered. He was treated abominably by Gwen in the first season, leaving him to pretty much get on with his life whilst she was seduced by both her work and Owen and drugging him to forget once she finally had the guts to tell him what she had been up to. He's the underdog, the man back home completely in dark of his girlfriends work in 'special forces'. He's easy to sympathise with and he is played with some bullish charisma by Kai Owen. To have him let in on the secret of Torchwood was one of the best creative decisions made in the second series and he would go on to become a firm favourite and vital to subsequent seasons. Not only for keeping Gwen grounded but the show too. Interestingly Gwen seems to think that partners o Torchwood employees should be exempt from suspicion in investigations. Tosh soon puts her right by dispassionately asking for Rhys' direct number. Gwen's trip back home to make sure Rhys is alright reveals the strengths and the weaknesses in this relationship; she genuinely does care about him but she is lying to his face all the time. Now the cat is out of the bag, something has got to give. We know all along that Rhys isn't in on the meat scandal but for a moment it is glorious to witness Gwen's shock when it appears that he has been lying to her. Now she knows what it feels like and she doesn't like it. Rhys is absolutely rubbish under cover trying to infiltrate the meat operation which strikes me as a realistic approach, he's just an everyman that has been caught up in an impossibly dangerous situation. Vomiting in the face of the butchered creature strikes me as a very natural response. The description that Rhys' heart is in the right place but his brain is a million miles away strikes a chord. He's a reactionary character but that is why he is so much fun to watch. If I were Rhys I would have laughed until my head rolled off had I been shown the Hub as Torchwood's base of operations. Rhys is touched by his experience with Torchwood, he is now looking at the world with a genuine sense of awe and wonder. I was convinced that he was going to be ret-conned by the end of Meat and it remains one the most pleasing developments of the show that they didn't go down this obvious route.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'What is this - Scooby Doo?' - You've been a part of Torchwood for over a year now, Gwen. That's exactly what this is. Scooby Doo with oral sex.
'Tell us how we are going to use it to arm ourselves against the future?' 'We could always hide behind it.'
'I used to look up and think - looks like rain, man. But now I'll look up and think of all the other worlds and planets...'

The Good: What a great opening this episode has with Rhys spotting his wife in the midst of Torchwood activities. You just know the shit is about to hit the fan. I have often complained about the hilariously over dramatic image that Torchwood has when it turns up at the scene of a crime - outrageously camp car, slow motion swagger and decked from head to toe in leather. Talk about making a statement. With one bold blow you know that Rhys is going to puncture that image when he catches up with Gwen. Chunks of bloody meat are enough to make you run to the nearest sink dry retching. The camera has to get right up close to these sloppy, textured slabs of meat to drive the point of the episode home. Fake vet stamps makes this episode pretty topical to watch all these years later given the not so distant horse meat scandal. Alien meat going in to pies, pasties and burgers...that's both stomach churning and fascinating. Exactly the sort of nauseating and quirky nonsense that this show excels in. I have seen the 'meat loaded food arrives when talking about killing animals' gag done before (DS9's Chimera) but this is much funnier. Learning from Doctor Who's mistakes (Erato especially), director Colin Teague uses a number of clever techniques to suggest the scale and weirdness of the creature that is being hacked to pieces. The shot of Rhys reflected in it's enormous sad eye justifies this episodes existence alone. In fact in long shot it does resemble Erato but with some convincing CGI features (such as breathing, writhing skin) that make all the difference. It is the addition of the tortured cries that sell the pain of this creature, it is desperately sad to hear its mournful wailing as it is ripped open and farmed out. The entrance into Torchwood is so deliriously over the top but I have to admit the effects work are triumphant. For some reason a genuine domestic across the conference table (between Gwen and Owen naturally) works much better than the conflicting relationships of the Torchwood crew.  'Imprisoned, chained and drugged...welcome to planet Earth' - Torchwood really does like lifting up the this planet and exposing its dark underbelly. For once it is justified. Euthanasia is the kindest act that Owen can perform given the pain it is suffering and for once a death at the end of a Torchwood episode isn't gratuitous but rather moving. I can't believe that I am genuinely feeling sorrow for a great CGI jelly but that is how convincingly this episode presents its credentials.

The Bad: Even when Gwen is trying to save her boyfriend she cannot help but look as if she is going to lean in and kiss Jack as he throws her against a wall. The woman has no sexual morals whatsoever. I feel like I'm watching Amy Pond again. After what she has done Gwen has the nerve to say to Rhys: 'All I ever asked is that you trust me!' I wonder if she was peddling that on out whilst she was deep-throating Owen in the autopsy bay. Unbelievably after she tells Rhys that she is the only man for him she can be seen looking at Jack whilst lip locking with her fiancé. As you can tell this aspect of her personality really grinds my gears. Thank God it is dropped after season two. Isn't it bizarre how Sarah Jane simply trusts her friends to keep their big secret about the existence of aliens but the Torchwood team feel the need to poison and violate those who discover their purpose?

Result: 'It's just meat, that's all!' I turned vegetarian almost a year ago and this episode re-enforces my decision. Not because I think that for the first 33 years of my life that I was eating chunks of bloody alien hide but because I made a moral and health driven decision that was absolutely right for me to make. Meat certainly makes its case for vegetarianism better than The Two Doctors did, presenting a poignant scenario and examining it in some depth. This is the third episode in a row that sees Torchwood working together as a team to foil a wrongdoing without falling apart at the seams, fucking each other senseless or all threatening to leave. It really feels as though the series is moving in the right direction. The discussion about why to save the creature represents the major difference between Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures (beyond the adult content). On SJA, Sarah is motivated by a need to help people/aliens whereas Torchwood only gets involved if they benefit from the effort and it will better their chances of survival in the coming interactions with hostile aliens. This sees the tide turning, Jack choosing to come to the aid of the creature simply because it is in pain. Another fine creative decision. For once this is an episode that needs to be gratuitous to drive its point home the scenes of the alien creature being hacked up as it lets out mournful howls are genuinely discomforting. You might rethink that steak for dinner tonight. And isn't it great that the creature seems to have been modelled on Erato from Creature from the Pit? The biggest strength of Meat though is Rhys being let in on the secret of Gwen's covert activities at last. He's been kept in the dark for far too long and his exposure to the dangers of Torchwood plays out with some drama and not a little humour too. Kai Owen steals the show and despite him still being in the dark about his wife's wandering eyes, Rhys is a much stronger character for the developments in this episode. An enormous heart has been dropped in the middle of Torchwood and it seems to be affecting Jack, Tosh, Owen...everyone. About damn time: 8/10

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