Thursday, 3 September 2015

Adrift written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Mark Everest

This story in a nutshell: A boy has gone missing and Gwen investigates the case…

Hunky Hero: Jack lies through his teeth to Gwen when she asks him why he might have been on the barge on the night of Jonah’s disappearance but at this stage we have no reason not to believe him which makes the revelation that he has been lying a heart stopping moment. What could be so bad that he would hid the truth from his best friend who has been investigating this case with some interest? I wanted to slap Jack around the face with a wet halibut when he told Gwen he wasn’t sure shat she wanted him to do after he is presented with the horrifying accumulation of evidence that the Rift is gobbling innocent people up. It’s a clever scene because this is exactly the sort of inhuman response we have come to expect from him and yet it is hiding the real truth that he has been helping these people for years without anybody know about it. The way this episode gives this cold-blooded automaton a heart is worthy of applause. Gwen realising that these are all the people she has been investigating and discovering Jack at the heart of it throws a dark shroud of mystery over his character again. It’s the most interesting he has been in the first two seasons. Setting up the facility to help the victims of the Rift is the most human thing he has done yet in the series and I especially like the fact that there are only seventeen victims at the moment. Proof that there are still loads of victims out there that haven’t been found. That has an honesty to it too.

Jack’s Crew: Gwen has always been the emotional face of Torchwood and she is exactly the character to take up the heartbreaking challenge of having to find a missing boy. At first her Torchwood attitude seems prevalent until Andy asks her if something as simple as a missing child is beneath her these days which was exactly the sort of slap around the face she needed. I was literally applauding when Andy told Gwen that she had become hard and that she used to care about people no matter who they were…it’s the wake up call she has needed for a while to snap her out of the slow motion swaggering, gun toting ways she has developed since joining this ridiculous organisation. This episode is as much about Gwen coming to terms with herself as it is the mystery and she feels so strongly about the condemnation of her character she asks the closest independent observer – Rhys. Gwen and Rhys discussing children has some emotional weight to it in hindsight since in three episodes time she would be announcing her pregnancy. Gwen tries to do her best by Nikki and to give her the son she so desperately wants to see again. When confronted with the horrifying truth Nikki asks Gwen to promise to not do this to any of the other parents who have lost their children because the hope that one day their kid will walk through the door unharmed is preferable to facing such a monstrosity. It’s a marvellous moment of ingratitude that is completely understandable and as a result you really feel for Gwen despite the fact that she has only done what she thought was the right thing.

Catching up with PC Andy is always a joy because he is stuck in the uncomfortable position of both condemning Torchwood for the way they walk all over everybody (and who wouldn’t think that?) and wanting to join them because it looks cool. Andy also has the hots for Gwen but now she has learnt where her loyalties lie (the fabulous Rhys) his feelings are unreciprocated (unusually for this show). Its almost as if Torchwood has learnt that holding back every once and a while creates tension and drama – go figure! Like a tap he cannot switch his feelings for her off and he wont be a hypocrite and endorse their wedding when he thinks that Rhys is beneath her. When she cuts him out of the investigation when it gets too ‘Torchwood’ you feel genuinely sorry for the guy who kick started this whole thing because he had a heart. Even the sudden ‘no’ when he asks her if she would ever ask if he could join Torchwood felt real because Andy’s ‘thank you’ isn’t the reaction to an insult but a thankful response for some honesty at last.

Rhys laughing his head off at Andy’s feelings for Gwen feels very real to me. Its so much more entertaining than had he gone off in a jealous rant (and had this episode taken place earlier in the run before Torchwood discovered subtlety it so would have taken that angle!). Their toasty passion in the morning make me smile, Myles and Owen have such lovely chemistry at this stage. Gwen viciously fights the idea of having kids because of her job and Rhys (always the voice of reason) reminds her that she is saving the world over and over for a reason (with a couple of fucks thrown in to drive the point home and make her really listen). They do it so people can live their lives and they have the right to do that as well. Gwen seriously needs someone like Rhys in her life to provide the perspective of normality otherwise she would get entirely whisked up into the delusions of grandeur and sacrifice that Torchwood peddles. She cannot think that he extraterrestrial shit she deals with is more important than real life and that is exactly the tone the series has needed to adopt since the beginning. It got so caught up in the camp excesses of violence, swearing and sex that it forgot that the show needed a beating heart of emotion too.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I sleep in here some nights. Bury my head in the pillow. It still smells of him except the more I do it the more it smells like me.’
‘What is the Rift doesn’t just leave stuff behind? What if it also takes?’ – it’s a fresh idea and one tied into the shows mythology. Coming just a few weeks after a zombie fest at a wedding it proves that Torchwood still has some tricks up its sleeve.
‘We don’t have to be this hard! It isn’t a badge of honour!’ – hurrah! Its like Chibnall has taken away a list of all my complaints about this show and decided to do something about them!
‘It was better that I didn’t know. Before you I had hope.’

The Good: Do you know I fell in love with Gavin & Stacey and especially with the character of Nessa without realising that I had already seen Ruth Jones play this character on Torchwood. Not because she is unmemorable in the role, quite the opposite. She gives a touching performance and imbues her character with an uncomfortable, almost incestual longing to find her son (curling up on his bed is a discomforting moment for this viewer whose mother in law invests a similar sort of emotional attachment to his husband!) but it was because she is so different from Nessa (even to look at) that I did not make the connection. The pre titles sequence is nicely shot to resemble some kind of alien abduction – it actually feels as if the scene has leapt straight from The X-Files because of its dramatic simplicity and attention grabbing execution. The music is superlative in this episode – Torchwood has often employed a bombastic and unsubtle score because that is exactly the sort of show it is but with the delicate, emotional atmosphere of Adrift it gives the composer a chance to really show what he is made of and he takes you on an emotional musical journey too. The way the episode shows that Nikki has turned the search for her son into a crusade is heartbreaking because it has consumed her entire life and you know that whatever the answer is, even the finality of death, it will force her to break down and accept the loss she is denying herself. All the tapes scattered around her front room where she has been monitoring all the CCTV footage is a strong image that captures the obsession that has gripped her. What Ruth Jones brings to the role is a calm acceptance of this mania that is hypnotic. Everybody can see how unhealthy this except Nikki. It’s the most emotionally honest the show has been since Random Shoes. I love the sequence where Nikki accepts with some solemnity that she will be the only person who will come to her ‘missing persons’ meeting and then the room starts filling up with grieving parents who have also lost their kids. It opens up the episode by suggesting there is some much more frightening and far reaching going on here through a moment of spine tingling sentiment and not the usual Torchwood leap of logic (and the music is superb). Gwen and Tosh investigating all the missing cases grips because for once the investigation actually means something. It wouldn’t surprise me if Russell T Davies said he stole the idea of exploiting the horror of losing children for Children of Earth from this episode because it is such a palpable threat in both pieces of storytelling. I don’t know what kind of answer I was expecting to the mystery of Jonah’s disappearance but I didn’t think it would be as surprising and satisfying as a mental hospital set up out of the way for victims that have been swallowed up and spat out by the Rift, all with emotional and physical scars. It’s a chilling place and feels very real. Robert Pugh pulls off the superb feat of being both tragic and menacing as the older Jonah and the scenes of him screaming silently as the horror of the Rift grips him stayed with me long after the episode had ended. Its one of my enduring images of this episode, his eyes full of terror as he screams an endless scream. The moment Gwen has to tell Ruth that she has found Jonah was the moment I broke, I couldn’t hold the tears back any longer. Mother and son reunited and she rejects him outright before her the evidence she needs to realise this scarred monster is her boy. Being dragged away from him because he needs special care is a harsh ending for a character who deserved a happy ending.

The Bad: Just to remind us this is still Torchwood there is a scene with Jack and Ianto stark bollock naked grinding away over his desk. Is it really necessary? If I want to watch pornography I know where to look and I don’t usually look for it in a Doctor Who spin off. It’s the one off kilter moment of unsubtlety in an episode that treads a fine line of delicacy throughout.

The Shallow Bit: Although neither of them is what would accepted as conventionally attractive (whatever that means?) I find both Kai Owen as Rhys and Tom Price as Andy to be absolutely gorgeous. It could because the characters feel so real and likable but there is definitely something special about both of these blokes that draws me to them.

Result: Is this really a Chris Chibnall script? Adrift is so tightly focussed on the story it wants to tell and approaches the material with an emotional honesty that before the end titles my eyes were full of tears. It wears its Welsh setting as a badge of honour and the location filming is as beautiful and attention grabbing as the episode itself. What I really love about Adrift is that it doesn’t cheat the audience at any point. It promises them us the mystery of the missing boy and we see how Gwen (who has always been the beating heart of this team) slowly puts the pieces together to lead to a satisfactory and shocking conclusion. Along the way we discover a great deal about Jack and the nature of Torchwood which manages to genuinely shock and we reach a devastating conclusion about what really happened to Jonah. It isn’t camp, shallow, stupid or illogical – all of Chibnall’s worse script excesses and it makes me wonder if he can produce something this good why hasn’t he done it before? If Torchwood was as good as this all the time during its standalone period they would have never moved to the serial storylines. Adrift is emotionally sincere and gripping, it is excellent9/10


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