One of the sweetest scenes of the season-opening “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” was Gwen (Eve Myles), wide-eyed, explaining to Jack (John Barrowman) that the ring she was wearing was an engagement ring. Rhys (Kai Owen) had asked, and she'd said yes, because “Nobody else will have me.” Throughout the season the writing team has done a good job of referring to the wedding without making too big a deal of it, which was a very good thing. Anyone who has ever been married or planned a wedding knows how the process can take over your life; the problem is, the details you're obsessing over are deathly boring to the rest of the world. “Something Borrowed,” a wedding episode, Torchwood-style, avoids both the precious and the obnoxious, with shape-shifting aliens, tons of snappy dialog, and terrific action set-pieces; in the end, love and a really, really big gun conquer all.
It's the night before Gwen's wedding, and she's chasing down an alien in the streets of Cardiff. She's also running late for her “hen do,” a bachelorette party with her girlfriends, waiting at a local pub, wearing pink marabou-trimmed cowboy hats. The cross-cutting between the scenes highlights the delicious absurdity of each. Gwen shoots the alien, who conveniently leaves a trail of black blood; along the way Gwen notes that he can change form. She calls for backup, as she eventually corners the alien. He attacks her, biting the arm she throws up defensively. Jack arrives in time to blast the alien just as Gwen throws him off. Jack's concerned for the arm, but Gwen insists it's nothing, and heads out for her party.
From that zippy beginning, “Something Borrowed” continues spinning at least two, sometimes three, intertwining story lines, all cleverly interweaved and equally interesting. The “hen do” looks like a blast, even as Gwen frets that she's crazy to be out drinking when she's getting married in 13 hours.
Gwen wakes up bleary-eyed and alone the next morning; Rhys has spent the night at his best man's flat. Gwen squints across the room to see her wedding dress hanging outside the wardrobe, she gives an adorable clap of delight; today's her wedding day. She's not feeling her best though, and we immediately think, “hangover,” but that's not it at all. The reveal here is awesome, as Gwen leans over to look into her mirror for confirmation of what she's already seen. She stands up and finally, we can see what's freaking her out: overnight, she's gone from svelte to eight months pregnant. Her “Oh,” is so loaded with mixed emotions it would be difficult to list them all, taking us into the credits.
Then she's in the kitchen, pouring herself a glass of water and, true to cliché, eating pickles straight out of the jar as Jack explains how this could have happened. “Eggs passed in the bite,” he explains. Owen insists that Gwen will be fine, if there were any major incompatibilities, she'd be dead already. How comforting. Owen further technobabbles that she'll have to undergo some procedures in a big machine and then be off her feet for a few days—and Gwen stops him right there: she refuses to postpone the wedding. Jack tries to talk her out of it, but she won't be swayed, and agrees to the procedure only after the ceremony.
Jack and Owen head back to the Hub. Owen has another go at the dead alien's body to see if he can find anything else. Jack dispatches Tosh to keep an eye on Gwen at the wedding, and sends Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd) to get Gwen a new - bigger - wedding dress. Ianto takes it in stride when the shop clerk assumes he's actually buying the dress for himself.
Gwen immediately calls Rhys, who's dead asleep on the sofa, still dressed in yesterday's clothes. Rhys covers like a pro, though, and launches into a spiel about how Banana (Jonathon Lewis Owen) is on the phone even now, confirming the flowers. Gwen doesn't care about that, of course, and insists on seeing Rhys, bad luck be damned.
Given the circumstances, Rhys deals quite well. His reactions: 1) Bastard Torchwood 2) you're pregnant 3) are you going to be all right? I think that's just about right, actually. When Rhys gets all pissed that Jack sent Gwen out last night, Gwen gets right into his face and shouts, reminding him, “It's my job!” Rhys wants to postpone the wedding, but Gwen, in a very sweet speech, convinces him that all she wants to do is marry him, today. Rhys agrees.
Tosh cajoles Owen into joining them at the wedding, and the two of them have their most comfortable scene, ever. Owen even promises to dig out his dancing shoes, after the obligatory “dead can't dance” reference.
One of the highlights of this episode is meeting Gwen's and Rhys's parents. Gwen's parents' reaction to her pregnancy is awesome, particularly her mum's glee when she contemplates how Rhys's mother will take it. The dynamic between the two mums is characterized by poisonous charm; if they're speaking to each other, they're trading insults, usually veiled as compliments. It's delightful when they drop the pretense and let the claws be seen. When Rhys's mother, Brenda (Nerys Hughs), complains she wasn't late for her own wedding, Gwen's mum, Mary (Sharon Morgan), can't resist replying that she couldn't dare, otherwise her husband might've got away.
Since Gwen is pregnant with an alien, the rest of the plot revolves around getting her un-pregnant again. There are two possibilities: Owen does his techno-magic, or she's ripped apart by the alien's mate. It seems the males carry the fertilized eggs and transfer them through the bite, while the female waits around until the proper time, and then tears open the host to deliver the offspring. Tosh spots the female alien quickly; she'd just picked up the DJ in the bar. Unfortunately, Tosh is too late to save the poor guy, and the idiotic Banana Boat stumbles in just as she's about to take the alien down. Tosh and Banana end up bound together in black webbing, unable to move much, but able to speak just fine. Tosh had already told this guy off at least three times, but he just doesn't get it, and she ends up threatening to turn him into a castrati if he doesn't behave himself. You can see why Tosh doesn't get many dates, at least not with the kind of men she'd actually want to go out with, but I love her in these scenes anyway. She is who she is, and she's not going to change a bit just because a handsome blond guy offers to buy her a drink.
Tosh is out of commission and Gwen has no clue she's being stalked, so Jack, Owen, and Ianto take off for the wedding in the SUV. Jack notices that Owen's packed the hit-or-miss singularity scalpel, first seen in “Reset,” and Owen launches into a reasonable sounding defense of its use to get that alien out of Gwen. Ianto agrees with Owen, leading to one of my favorite exchanges (of many). Jack asks, “What is with you? Ever since Owen died, you always agree with him.” Ianto replies, “I was taught never to speak ill of the dead, even if they're still doing most of their own talking.” The whole Owen-is-dead situation has become blessedly routine, and I was surprised at how I was able to enjoy the references to it throughout this episode.
Gwen, looking as lovely as an extremely gravid bride can look, breaks down and confesses to her father that the baby isn't Rhys's. Her dad, quite reasonably, thinks she's talking about another man, but Gwen spills the whole Torchwood/space-time rift/alien baby story. Dad thinks it's just the stress of the wedding that's got to her, and dismisses the whole thing. Rhys's father, on the other hand, thinks he can still talk his son out of marrying this crazy woman, but Rhys matches Gwen's earlier fervent passion in insisting that he loves her and is going to marry her.
Finally, here's Gwen walking down the aisle on her dad's arm, with her attendants following, contrary to the American tradition. The minister begins the ceremony by asking the official “Are there any objections?” And wouldn't you know it, just at that moment, Jack comes running in, yelling for them to stop.
Of course Rhys is livid, and Gwen only slightly less upset, but they listen to Jack's explanation. Meanwhile, Ianto and Owen locate Tosh by her comm signal, and free Tosh and the best man. They dash down to the chapel, and Tosh recognizes the female alien. The all open fire on her, but she jumps through the window and takes off.
Whether its maternal drive or just a hardier constitution by nature, this alien is impossible to kill. The team keeps pumping it full of bullets but it just doesn't stop. It's also incredibly smart in its choice of individuals to copy, first choosing Rhys's mum; Gwen saves her by recognizing her “god-awful” perfume. But then they realize, if this is the real Brenda, who's out there in the garden with Mary? Gwen has two incredible scenes with the shape-shifter, and this is the first, where she appears to be sacrificing herself to save her mother. Luckily, she was hiding her gun behind her bouquet, and emptied a clip into the alien before it could hurt anyone.
Later, she's alone in her room while Owen trains Rhys on the singularity scalpel, citing his broken hand and noting it would be better for someone with two good hands to use it. The creature is Jack this time, and it is so restrained, and so perfectly mimics Jack that for the majority of the scene, we can't be sure who it really is. It's only when it reveals its teeth and claws that we see it isn't the real Jack. We have to wonder if Gwen knew all along, because the conversation was more intimate than any we've ever seen them share. Barrowman must have had a blast in the monster make-up, which gave him a legitimate excuse for an over-the-top performance.
Owen remarks on how much ordinance they've put into the alien, and the fact that she's still standing. Jack remarks they're going to need a bigger gun, and we get a brief scene of them assembling a very large weapon out of three separate cases from the back of the SUV. “Torchwood is ready,” the season two opening voice-over remarks; are they ever.
There's a bit of running around, but not too much, and Gwen notes that running in a wedding dress with what feels like a keg of lager stuffed up her skirt is less than ideal. She ends up with Rhys in the stable, pursued by the creature that has once again assumed the form of his mother. Rhys manages to operate the singularity scalpel perfectly on only the second try; of course we knew he wouldn't blow up Gwen, although he did cause a small explosion with his first attempt. With the alien offspring gone, you'd think its mother would give up, but no; she breaks down the door and demands her child.
Rhys grabs a chainsaw and starts it up, prepared to hack the alien to bits, after telling it off quite thoroughly: “I have had a gutful of you. You get my girlfriend pregnant, you impersonate my mum, and you ruin my wedding day.” He lifts the chainsaw, and it sputters off. “Fuck,” he stammers. The alien, a grotesque of his mother, drawls, “Rhys, you're a bad boy.” Her voice rises, “and you know what bad boys get?” Blown to bits by Captain Jack and that really big gun, that's what. Black goo flies everywhere. Jack's all swagger, complimenting Rhys on his Evil Dead look, and picking up Gwen from the hay and giving her a hug that lasts about a second too long. He confirms that she's OK, and joins her hand to Rhys's: “The hero always gets the girl.” Rhys still can't quite believe what just happened. He knows that there is a love between Gwen and Jack, but that Gwen chose him; now he knows that Jack is acknowledging that fact as well.
The happy couple finally get through their vows, and we cut to the reception. Rhys and Gwen are dancing, and Owen asks Tosh out onto the floor as well. Jack cuts in on the newlyweds, and he and Gwen do that “talking about things not related to the words we're speaking” thing; he's going to miss her while she's away on her honeymoon, but he'll be busy with Ianto, pizza, and saving the world a few times. Ianto cuts in and, as required, he doesn't want to dance with Gwen, but with Jack.
And now they're all back at a table. Gwen notes the events of the day have been too much for the parents, who are all passed out at the head table. Brenda and her mum are leaning against each other, holding each other upright. Both Gwen and Rhys are surprised to see that. Glancing around, the couple realize that everyone is passed out; turns out, that's what level 6 Retcon will do when it's mixed with champagne. “You drugged our families?” Gwen asks. Jack nods, and suggests they might want to forget the whole thing themselves, sliding two innocent-looking glasses of champagne towards them. They decline—no more secrets! And they head off to their honeymoon, not worrying about how everything will sort itself out.
They don't have to, of course; the rest of the team is still there, and it's their job to clean up this huge mess. We haven't heard anything about implanting memories, but we know they can fake all sorts of things. There's nothing they can do for the poor dead DJ, but they'll concoct a cover story for his death, and they'll somehow leave everyone with the impression that the wedding was both “drop-dead gorgeous” and “class on toast.” They're Torchwood, and that's what they do.
If you've any doubts by this point, “Something Borrowed” is the high point of the season so far. The guest cast was uniformly fantastic, friends and families, all. The creature effects were a bit over-the-top, but it all worked marvelously. My highest compliments to freshman writer Phil Ford, who kept our characters in character, while filling in backstory we had no way of imagining, all while delivering drama, action, and laughs. Last, I have to mention how beautiful the locale was. Both the interior and exterior sets were, indeed, “drop dead gorgeous,” and it was delightful to see everyone so dressed up for a change. It's all these little things that combine to make it so perfect, as Ianto says, “That's what I love about Torchwood. By day, you're chasing the scum of the universe. Come midnight, you're the wedding fairy.”
We close on a tiny scene with Jack, back alone at the Hub. He blows a handful of confetti into the air with a relaxed smile on his face, then goes to his desk to retrieve something. He chuckles softly as he leafs through the old photographs he takes out of a battered box, finally pausing over one: his wedding picture, from long ago. The camera pulls back as we watch Jack get lost in his memories. It's a lovely moment, and helps us to understand, perhaps, why Jack is happy to let Gwen marry Rhys.
Joan O'Connell Hedman sometimes blogs about movies and television.