By Joan O'Connell Hedman
Torchwood enters Bizarro World when an alien reprograms the team's memories—and personalities—in "Adam." We're short on science fiction and long on character again this week, as is usual for writer Catherine Tregenna, but we get a big juicy chunk of Captain Jack's backstory. It's up to you whether or not it's a worthy trade. I was happy to hear Gray's story only four episodes after John Hart dropped that bombshell ("I found Gray") on Jack.
We open on a scene of cozy domestic silliness, as Rhys (Kai Owen) refuses to give Gwen (Eve Myles) her other sneaker; the ensuing wrestling match and its follow-up make her late for work. This couple works for me because they laugh so easily together. After fighting so hard for Rhys in "Meat", Gwen is more relaxed and confident of their relationship than ever.
The title character is slyly introduced (did you catch his picture with the team in the opening credit images?), already in place at a terminal in the Hub, joking about the audits he has done for the past three years. Since financial audits are periodic events, at first I thought Adam (Bryan Dick) was some accounting-office flunky come to check on Torchwood's books. For all their "outside the police" rhetoric, they must have some oversight. Gwen has only been around about a year, so it's not inconceivable that she wouldn't have met him before when everyone else knows who he is. She walks in, sees the new guy, and immediately asks, "Who the hell are you?"
The camera swoops around to register the concerned looks on everyone's face, but Adam's smooth. He wraps a hand around Gwen's shoulder, saying, "Very funny, that's what I said to you on your first day of work, remember?" Images of Adam interacting with Gwen at Torchwood flash by, and suddenly Gwen "remembers" who he is.
Gwen's isn't the only mind that Adam has tinkered with. Tosh (Naoko Mori) and Owen (Burn Gorman) have apparently traded personalities, and Tosh is in the midst of a smoking affair with Adam. Naoki Mori looks terrific in her low-cut tops, having ditched her glasses in favor of a confident attitude. Poor Owen is more mousy than Tosh ever was, and gives off a distinct Clark Kent vibe behind his square specs; it's odd to see Burn Gorman playing such a nice guy, but he sells it.
This episode's macguffin is an ornately carved box. No one remembers where it came from or who brought it in, and they're trying to figure out what it does, if anything. Jack (John Barrowman) is distracted by a fleeting vision of a boy, someone close to him, but he doesn't admit he's seeing things to anyone yet. When Jack sees the boy again in a holding cell, suddenly Adam is there, concerned for him. Jack is unsettled, but he's rejects Adam's offer to talk.
The day passes uneventfully for the rest of the team as they investigate and catalog unidentified alien artifacts. Poor milquetoast Owen is unsettled by some "get a room" variety PDA between Adam and Tosh, supposedly celebrating the anniversary of their first kiss.
Everything seems routine until Gwen gets home and freaks out when Rhys, just out of the shower and wearing that blue robe of his, comes up behind her to give her a hug. Gwen has no idea who he is, and grabs a huge knife to warn him away. She trades her knife up for her gun while she calls Jack for help. Rhys goes from amused to annoyed to scared as he realizes that Gwen's not joking. She really can't remember a thing about him, even going so far as to accuse him of faking the photos they have plastered all over their flat. Kai Owen works wonders here, getting us past Rhys' goofy robe and slippers and focusing on the relationship coming apart. Eve Myles is outstanding, afraid of Rhys but still able to look after herself, but practically melting into Jack when he gets there.
When Jack and Adam arrive, Jack has to answer "He's one of us," when Rhys wants to know who Adam is. Adam, of course, knows exactly what happened. When he inserted himself into Gwen's memories, he buried her true memories of her time with Rhys. Whatever his purposes, though, Adam isn't about to reveal himself at this juncture, so he treads very lightly and says very little. Jack isn't any help at all in figuring out what's happened to Gwen, but at least he recognizes Rhys and assures Gwen that it's OK that he's there. Rhys' first instinct is to accuse Jack of manipulating Gwen to push Rhys out; he knows Torchwood has amnesia pills and has done some memory-tinkering of their own. Rhys only calms down when Jack promises he'll find out what happened and fix it. Adam takes Gwen back to the Hub for a once-over, and Jack stays with Rhys, filming him, talking about how he met Gwen at college and their first kiss in a supermarket check-out line.
The direction here is outstanding, as our focus changes from live Rhys to Rhys in the camera's viewfinder, to Rhys' image onscreen, and then finally to Gwen, watching the heart-stricken man. She's still not feeling it, but says she can see what he's saying. Adam, watching Rhys, looks contrite. Cupping Gwen's face he asks her to believe him when he says Rhys is her fiancé. The capper? "Your memory's just playing tricks on you."
Meanwhile, Owen's still working on the puzzle box, and Tosh asks for an update. "No joy yet," Owen responds, but disappointment is nowhere evident in his expression. He knows that he'll be working late with Tosh, and is beyond pleased at getting to spend some time with her. In a cute call-back to the cheese and pickle sandwich that Tosh brought him in the last episode, Owen has sandwiches for each of them. Tosh is surprised that Owen knows that smoked salmon is her favorite; I'm annoyed that Tosh is surprised. She insists on beers for the two of them, and goes off to get them over Owen's weak protest that they shouldn't be drinking at work. It's astonishing how completely Adam has reprogrammed these two, but it is fun to see them swap roles, even if Tosh is a bit of a prat. (Can women be prats?)
Meanwhile, Jack and Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd) deliver Gwen to Rhys; she's somewhat calmer, but still doesn't want to be left alone with a man she still considers a stalker. ("If he comes after me again, I'll kill him," has to be one of the most chilling lines that Eve Cooper's had to deliver yet.) But they assure her she'll be alright and head out.
On the street, Ianto tells Jack about a Weevil sighting in a nearby sewer, but Jack is distracted once again by the sight of Gray under a streetlight. "Can you see him?" he asks Ianto, but by the time Ianto has asked "Who?" Gray's gone. Jack doesn't answer, instead deflecting to the Weevil situation. He prefers to check out the sighting alone, even though Ianto offers to go with him.
When Jack climbs into the manhole, he's back to his old self, calling "Come out, come out, wherever you are," to the hiding Weevil. He moves cautiously down the sewer, his flashlight searching for any sign of movement. He doesn't find the Weevil, but he does run into another vision: his father. "Dad?" Jack is less surprised than he might have been if he hadn't been seeing Gray all day. Dad's not really there, of course, but he still warns Jack, "Get out. Get out, son. Run!" Jack runs, and hauls himself out of the sewer, panting. Barrowman's great here, confused and scared; the direction supports him by not lingering so long that he has to over-emote.
Out of nowhere, Adam's there. Jack asks him how he got there, but Adam insists he came along. More hand on shoulder, "remember?" business. Jack, still thinking about what just happened, accepts Adam's version once again.
Back to Rhys and Gwen, who wants to know how she could forget loving him. It's a good question, and one that Rhys can't answer.
Adam argues with Jack, insisting that Jack tell him what's going on, that he is the one that Jack can confide in. Jack's tortured, but relents, and he begins to tell us about his 51st-century childhood on the Boeshane Peninsula, where they lived under threat of invasion from "the most horrible creatures you could imagine." We plunge into Jack's memory, the day the invaders came, in a fantastic series of flashback scenes. Each is narrated by Jack, although we do hear some dialog. His father told him, "Take Gray, keep him safe;" when young Jack protests, wanting his father to stay, his dad says he has to find his mother. The two boys run off, hand in hand, amidst crowd of other running figures. At some point, Gray's hand slipped out of Jack's, but Jack didn't realize that Gray had fallen behind.
Young Jack reaches a hiding place, expecting Gray was following. When he sees that Gray's not there, he panics and starts searching for his brother among the bodies on the beach. He runs all the way home, where he finds his father's body just outside the door. He screams for help. Grown up Jack is there in the memory, too, reliving it all. Back in the present, Jack tells of his fruitless search for Gray. Adam interrupts. "It wasn't your fault." Jack disagrees vehemently. "I let go of his hand! It was the worst day of my life. It's the last thing I want to remember." Jack stalks away, drawing the powerful scene to a close. We've had some problems in previous episodes with Barrowman doing more scenery-chewing than acting, but in this episode, he does a great job of conveying Jack's guilt, pain, and anger, particularly in the scenes recalling his childhood.
Back at the Hub, Tosh is annoyed because she hasn't heard from Adam, and they're supposed to be celebrating their anniversary. Owen seizes the opportunity to declare his love for Tosh, going all out, and continuing even over her protests. Tosh is furious, proclaiming his behavior "completely inappropriate." How dare Owen approach her like that, when she's with Adam? And even if she weren't, she says, pounding the nails into poor Owen's coffin, "You're not my type, never will be." Owen, shattered, looks after her, uttering a single, deflated, "Oh." Even though these characters are basically one-offs, both Mori and Gorman totally inhabit them and make them real. Poor Owen, and at the same time—poor Tosh! She's right, it was inappropriate, but she could've been kinder. But new Tosh has no time for kindness.
Gwen and Rhys are at the market, picking up something for dinner. Gwen's still freaked out but Rhys reminds her she's not the only one who lost something; he's suffering, too. The cashier walks off to take a cell call just as Rhys comes to pay, and Rhys just loses it. He doesn't scream or anything, he just starts on a long, sarcastic jag about the idiocy of the cashier, "Here then, keep the change, I'm not coming here anymore, it's overpriced," that sort of thing. Gwen suddenly starts laughing, recognizing, remembering something, "Rhys the Rant." She lists off all the things that set Rhys (and everyone else) off; Rhys is hopeful that maybe she'll be OK after all.
Ianto, meanwhile, is checking his diary to see if there's any record of who brought in that box. He's frantically paging through it when Adam appears; Adam knows the jig is up when Ianto tells him he's not mentioned in there. "Everyone else is," Ianto says, trying to figure out what's going on but not quite getting there. When Adam partly phases out, Ianto asks him, "What are you?" Adam attacks Ianto, viciously implanting false memories of murdering three different girls, with horrid levels of detail: their struggles, the rain, how good it felt to Ianto, even disposing of the bodies. Gareth David-Lloyd annoyed me no end the last time he got emotional; I just couldn't believe it. This time, though, his agony is palpable. As Adam continues the assault, Ianto's cries and screams rip right through me. It's a horrifying scene.
Jack, struggling, is perched on a rooftop, letting the earlier memory play out. His mother comes running. She breaks down seeing her husband's fate, but thinks to ask Jack, "Where's Gray?" Jack says then the words he will repeat so many times, "We were running so fast. One moment his hand was in mine..." His mother breaks down again. Our Jack, in the memory, asks, "Why now?" Back in real time, he repeats the question, barely holding back tears.
From terror to sorrow to hope, we're back at the flat with Rhys and Gwen, getting ready for bed. Gwen's recovered memory has led her to be comfortable enough to sleep in the same bed with Rhys, at least. "That's all we've got, really. Memories," Rhys says. Gwen's sure they'll be OK, but Rhys isn't. With the threat of such a huge loss still hanging over him, Rhys confesses that he had always wondered if Gwen had settled for him. He knows that if Gwen met him now, she wouldn't think twice about him, given all that goes in her life with Torchwood. Gwen protests and Rhys kisses her; she doesn't remember, but then she gets a very cute smile, "...but it was nice." Rhys kisses her neck, and she says, "I like that," surprised; Rhys isn't. "I know," he responds. "Remind me some more?" she asks. These two crazy kids are going to be just fine. Maybe it was just the sappy string music in the background, but my heart was melting.
Cut to Tosh and Adam in the semi-darkness of Tosh's flat, disrobing each other passionately while sexy music pulses. They proceed with typical clinching and groping but things get a bit creepy when Adam asks Tosh how far she'd go for him. Tosh, playful, interprets this sexually at first, but Adam's serious: "Would you die for me?" Tosh, wide eyed and silent, nods yes. They kiss, and we're out.
Back at the Hub, Ianto is waiting for Jack, and he's a mess, insisting that Jack lock him up before he does something horrible. He tells Jack he killed three women, and Jack, of course, doesn't believe a word of it. Jack decides to use an alien lie detector on Ianto, which glows green when he's telling the truth and red when he's lying. The lighting and direction of this scene is awesome, but the two actors make it. Ianto careens from terrified at his memories to a kind of satiated pleasure, remembering how good it felt to kill them. Jack listens to all this, stoic, watching the unwavering green light. Ianto takes that as proof that he really is a murderer. Jack flatly denies the possibility, and knows something happened to Ianto.
Thank goodness for CCT, eh? The British are addicted to their video cameras, and Torchwood is no exception. Jack sees Adam's attack on Ianto, and realizes the source of all the recent weirdness within the team. He shows Ianto the tape, but the poor guy still isn't quite convinced. Jack goes to the lab, and pulls out the vials with the team's blood samples; of course there isn't one for Adam. Ianto checks his personnel file where everything is in order, but it was just updated 24 hours ago. There's no time for further discussion, though. Their investigations are interrupted by Owen, who stumbles in with a gorgeous bouquet of white flowers, which he leaves at Tosh's workstation.
Jack and Ianto lay low as the rest of the team assembles for the work day. Tosh and Adam come in, and Tosh finds the flowers. Adam shrugs that they're not from him. Owen is charmingly apologetic about his outburst ("Selfish of me,"), and Tosh is much more kind this morning. Gwen comes in, still a bit tentative, but feeling better. Ianto and Jack look on from different vantage points, both perturbed when Adam calls for a group hug. (Seriously? Ick.) When Adam reaches for Ianto, he pulls back; Adam coolly digs, "Listen, I could murder a coffee," and Ianto looks as if he could murder Adam. Jack apparently read Ianto's mind because he's there, aiming his WWII pistol at the back of Adam's head. Jack wants answers.
Of course, Adam and the rest of the team (save Ianto, strangely silent throughout this scene) have no idea why Jack would be acting this way. They argue back and forth until Jack says: "By making us think we know him, he disturbs our real memories." Tosh looks alarmed at that. Jack hauls Adam up to take him to the vault, but Tosh comes through for Adam, drawing her weapon on Jack. A terrificly tense scene plays out here, resolved ultimately when Ianto takes the weapon from Tosh so that Jack can lead Adam away. Tosh is unmade; she really believes she loves Adam and can't stand what's happening. Jack is furious, snarling at Adam, "This is what you've done to us." The entire ensemble is fantastic in this scene, from Jack's anger to Tosh's despair, Owen and Gwen trying to bargain and reason, and finally Ianto, determined to put an end to whatever it is that Adam has done.
With Adam confined, Jack questions him; Adam tells him that he came from the void, through the rift, and he was drawn to Torchwood by Jack's extraordinary memories. It's never quite clear what he is, other than some kind of psychic energy vampire/manipulator, somehow feeding off of and living within other beings' memories. It doesn't make much sense but it doesn't have to; all we really need to know is that Adam's entire existence is dependent upon raping the memories of the people around him. He's a predator of the worst kind, even as he tries to justify what he has done: Tosh has never been more happy or confident, Owen has lost all his cynicism, and Jack was put back in touch with a past that he had long buried. Of course Adam fails to mention that he obliterated Gwen's memories of her fiancé, and he gave Ianto the memories of a serial killer. To Adam, it's all to the good, those sweet, delicious memories, but even they weren't enough. He specifically needs people to remember him, or else he'll die, and so he inserted himself into the team.
Jack isn't buying any of what Adam's selling, and brings the team together to deprogram them. They're arranged around the conference table, and Jack puts them through a kind of hypnosis exercise, asking them to reach back to a memory from long ago, something that defines them. Each of them in turn reveals something deeply personal: Owen's parents constantly screaming at him. Toshiko, never being good enough. Ianto, in love with Lisa, happy, and then losing her. Gwen, loving Rhys, but not the way she loves Jack. Jack gives her a pill, and then hands one to each of the others in turn. Briefly, each reveals how they came to Torchwood, here: Toshiko, knowing she's special, waiting for someone to see it; Jack sees. Owen, as a doctor, saving patient after patient, but finding no one who can save him, until Jack. Ianto, finding meaning again, with Jack. Jack kisses his forehead, and then explains that they have to wipe out the last 48 hours to forget Adam and go back to being who they truly are.
This was a difficult, lovely scene, with a slight Island of Misfit Toys vibe. All of the team is damaged in some way, and Jack collected them all not just for their talents, but to help them heal. The problem is, why should Jack's plan—RetConning the last 48 hours away—work? Memory isn't linear, it's a series of incredibly complex interconnections. Why should "erasing" the last two days remove the traces of Adam's tinkering of their memories of the last three years? I'd say Adam's implanted memories were only surface-deep, but look at how thoroughly he reprogrammed Tosh and Owen. That had to require some significant, deep work that I wouldn't expect forgetting 2 days to undo.
But no matter, we'll just accept Jack's premise and promise, and go with it. It's a bit more problematical to go with what comes next, Jack's final scenes with Adam, with the alien bargaining for his life as he begins to phase out (which is a nifty, shifting effect). When Adam offers to retrieve Jack's last good memory of his father, Jack is rightly suspicious; why would he do such a thing? Adam puts on his puppy dog eyes and pleads for one last chance to taste such a glorious memory, and Jack, tempted by the idea of regaining some part of his past not tainted by Gray's loss, succumbs.
But of course that's not what happens. We're back on the Boeshane Peninsula, and Young Jack is playing ball with his dad, and Gray. When the ball rolls away, there's a strange boy there. We know it's Adam, and while Young Jack wants nothing to do with him, sensing that there's something wrong there, Jack's father is displeased with his son's unfriendly behavior, and calls them all home. Our Jack is there, despairing, "This is not the way it's supposed to be, Mom came out, too, we built a fire..." Instead of recovering that last good memory, Adam has invaded and twisted it, too.
Jack comes out of his reverie, still holding his dose of RetCon. Adam begs him not to take it, but he does. As the sedative takes effect, Jack sleeps, and Adam disappears.
Some unspecified time later, everyone's awake, back to their usual selves, and wondering, how did they manage to lose two days? The CCT video has all been wiped, and there are no logs to indicate what happened. Tosh takes some ribbing about acquiring a secret admirer, and everyone's surprised to hear that the flowers are really from Owen. "I don't do flowers," Owen snorts. "And I definitely don't do apologies." Tosh smiles a bit anyway, knowing something must have happened. Jack picks up a bag marked "Adam's property" and asks, "Hey, who's Adam?" Ianto's "Don't know," is blessedly absolute. No one remembers how Adam said the box contained his last memory. Jack removes the intricately carved box from the bag, and a small, separate piece of carving falls to the floor. He picks it up and aligns the carving with the grooves on the box and pushes it into place, but nothing happens. It's only as he walking away that the box opens; he turns to see what it held. But it's only sand, and as it drifts through his fingers, Jack's expression is searching, as if the sand reminds of him of something he can't quite remember.
I never thought I'd be saying this, but John Barrowman carried this episode. He had to work through a full emotional spectrum here, and the only time I felt he went a wee bit overboard was in the hypnosis scene, but really, even that was fine. I love how ferociously protective Jack is of his team, it meshes perfectly with the boy who lost his little brother and determines he will never allow something like that to happen again. Gareth David-Lloyd's Ianto really stretched here, too, and is rapidly becoming my favorite character. This was an amazingly balanced episode, giving each character a significant story, and each actor a substantial role. That in itself is an amazing achievement, but the production values and direction seamlessly supported the character interaction without being so flashy as to draw attention to itself. About the only thing I would criticize in the production department is the aforementioned sappy string music.
Coming back to the story, there is a bit of weakness there, but it's not fatal. Adam worked fantastically as a character and agent of change, but not so well as a science fiction concept. Among Torchwood's aliens, he's particularly inexplicable, but in this case I don't mind so much because of everything else this episode included. I wonder if I'm too willing to make excuses for this kind of thing, and just last week I was saying that I didn't want Torchwood to turn into a soap opera. But this story is exceptional science fiction, even though we get precious few details regarding what Adam really is. It brings us back to ideal Torchwood material, the intersection of alien and human, illuminating once again some fundamental aspect of our natures. Jack was right when he said our memories make us who we are; what kind of people will we be if we ever develop the ability to edit our own remembrances?
Joan O'Connell Hedman sometimes blogs about movies and television. This article's screencaps are from The Institute, a Torchwood fan site.