Given its ratings success, there’s every indication that Torchwood will be returning for a third season. But writer-producer Chris Chibnall’s superlative “Exit Wounds” is something unexpected: a wholly complete and satisfying episode that could just as easily serve as a series finale as a bridge to the third season.
The events of this episode are relentlessly paced, but it never seems rushed. It just keeps driving towards its inevitable conclusion, thoroughly engaging the viewer. Chibnall is a master manipulator; just when I thought I was thoroughly sick of undead Owen (Burn Gorman) and dithering Toshiko (Naoko Mori), “Fragments” re-humanized them, and “Exit Wounds” made them fully real, noble, and tragic.
We open directly after the closing scene of “Fragments,” with the team bruised but still alive (except for Owen, of course) and mostly all right after the explosion. Everyone’s working their gadgets, and Ianto (Gareth David-Lloyd) determines that Captain John Hart (James Marsters), the author of their current misery, has driven the stolen SUV straight back to the Hub. Tosh detects major Rift activity all over the city. Just then Gwen (Eve Myles) gets a panicked call from her old partner, PC Andy (Tom Price), saying they need her right away at the police station. Andy’s a pretty steady guy, but he seems very upset.
Jack (John Barrowman) quickly assigns the team to various locations: Owen to the hospital, Tosh and Ianto to the central sever building, and Gwen to the station. He’s going back to the Hub himself. In the first of many examples of Chibnall’s excellent use of humor throughout this episode, Rhys (Kai Owen) sputters a bit: “In my car?” It’s not a big car, but they manage. It’s not much, that one line, but with Rhys’s expression, it lightens the mood slightly. Chibnall uses the same technique at various points throughout the episode, but doesn’t allow the humor to derail the plot or the overall mood. As they drive off, we hear Tosh warning, “Jack, these are traps.” Jack knows, but they have to deal with them anyway.
Cardiff’s going to hell in a handbasket, it seems: Weevils attacked the police station and murdered the four most senior officers in what seemed like a targeted attack; Andy is only too happy to have Gwen subdue the restless aliens that the PCs somehow managed to crowd into one cell. Owen easily tranquilizes a large and vociferously hungry alien with his all-species sedative, and Ianto and Tosh easily dispatch three “ghosts” in the server building in a nice homage to the just-shoot-’em scene from Raiders. Aside from the murders, everything seems to be tidying up rather quickly for the team.
Not so with Jack, who finds Hart in the Hub, petulant at having to wait so long for his arrival. There’s a horrid disco anthem blaring, but Jack is too tired and too angry for the banter that Hart wants to share. This is where we learn that it’s not really an accident that the team survived: Hart was just practicing with those devices. (I would argue that Hart never intended anyone to be seriously injured in that explosion; there’s abundant evidence to suggest that he did what he could to mitigate the effects of the devices.) Marsters is fabulous in this episode from start to finish. He’s not easily read, and that makes it all the more delicious for the viewer, trying to figure out whether or not to trust him. Our first thought must be that he’s completely lost it when he pumps Jack full of lead from two machine guns, immediately after declaring, “I really do love you.” He seems most insistent on this point, that Jack understands it, “because this… is gonna get messy.”
Jack revives to find that he is chained, spread-eagle, to the wall in the Hub. Marsters gets to toss off several more quips in this scene, including “Nobody cares until you tie them up.” He lectures Jack about embarrassing him in front of people he barely knows and how can Jack not have time for him when he has all the time in the world. Jack does what any sane person does when confronted by a vindictive ex: interrupt and pray for a change of subject. “Where’s Gray?” he asks.
Hart gradually works his way around to Gray, except he’s withholding some crucial information. When he tells Jack that what happened is beyond his control, Jack rejects that, but we’re not in a position at this point to make such an absolutist judgment. It doesn’t matter anyway, because Hart starts muttering to himself and adjusting controls on the Rift Manipulator, and Jack screams at him to stay away from the machine. Hart turns a dial on his wrist unit and somehow makes Jack’s wrist unit into an electrocution device. Throughout the torture, Jack swears to stop him. Hart really is obnoxious when he says, “I hope you can.” He pauses for a few seconds as if waiting, then says, “OK, let’s get ourselves a good view!”
He comms the other team members and tells them to get to the roofs of their buildings asap, or they’ll miss the “fun.” He questions himself unconvincingly, “Or do I mean carnage?” The team races to the tops of their prospective buildings as Hart narrates how lovely Cardiff is, encouraging them to take a good look. Explosion after explosion rocks the city, and we hear sirens howling in the distance as the team looks on, stunned. Jack is horrified and accuses Hart of destroying the city. Hart does his best crazy-in-love impersonation and says, “Hold me,” but what he’s really doing is abducting Jack. They both phase out.
Gwen recovers from her shock first, and comms the other team members. Tosh reports that fifteen explosions have effectively crippled the city; all services are disrupted, including communications and those that provide power to the nuclear plant’s control systems. Owen is scurrying around a hospital that is completely without power; one of the explosions destroyed the backup generator there. Gwen prioritizes quickly, instructing Tosh and Ianto to keep the nuclear plant from going critical.
Jack awakens on a small plain; the onscreen graphic reads “Cardiff 27 AD.” Hart’s there, and Jack slugs him before he can do anything else. Marsters here has a bit of exposition to wade through, and does a good job of it: he had to jump this far to get away from the “trigger signal,” but what’s he talking about? He explains how he has had a “life generation detonator” molecularly fused to his wrist; he shows Jack the unit, and has him open it. Jack does so and immediately steps back, arms up in the universal gesture of caution: “You’re a walking bomb.” Hart says, “He has me doing anything I’m told,” but before he can say anymore, he sees something past Jack and says quietly, “Just run.” Jack thinks he’s being manipulated again, and scoffs that he won’t fall for the oldest trick in the book, but he turns anyway, and there’s a man there. “Gray?” Jack asks. There’s a man striding easily towards him. He’s smiling, saying, “I never stopped believing. I always knew I’d find you.”
Gray (Lachlan Nieboer) is slightly taller than Jack, but just as handsome. He bears a patch-like scar on his neck, but his face is untouched; his clothes seem like some kind of prison uniform. The casting of Nieboer as Jack’s younger brother is fantastic; the two men even sound alike. (At certain points I wondered if Barrowman actually dubbed in Gray’s dialog.) They embrace, and Jack whispers, “I’m so sorry,” his eyes welling. Gray matter-of-factly pronounces, “Sorry’s not good enough,” and plunges a huge knife into Jack’s chest. Gray watches Jack die, impassively, while Hart stands by, eyes narrowed. “Get a shovel,” Gray tells Hart. (Where do you get a shovel in 27 AD?)
In present-day Cardiff, Gwen has assumed command at the police station, simultaneously delegating and reassuring the constables that they’ll get through this. Both Rhys and Andy are impressed; Andy calls Rhys a lucky sod. This is probably the nicest these two men have ever been to each other. At the central server building, Toshiko and Ianto are struggling to prevent nuclear meltdown; it’s just not working. Ianto says he’ll go to the plant, there must be something he can do on-site. Tosh protests that it could be suicide, but Ianto counters that they have to do something. Tosh agrees, but insists that they both go.
In 27 AD, Jack is standing, shackled hand and foot, in front of an open grave. Jack tells Gray how he searched for him for years. Gray starts what is essentially his Evil Villain Speech, demonstrating just how crazy he is. He blames everything that happened to him on Jack, the years of torture and neglect at the hands of “the creatures” who captured him. Jack finally asks, “What do you want from me?” Gray wants Jack to suffer. He wants his life. Jack will be buried there, where Cardiff will rise, his “blessing of life” a curse as he revives again and again through the millennia, unable to free himself, unable to really die.
Hart’s horrified when he hears the plan, and says he can’t let Gray do this. But Gray pushes Jack into the grave, and commands Hart to fill it. “No way,” says Hart; Gray reminds him of the detonator on his arm. Hart looks long a Jack, who gives him the slightest of nods. Hart takes off a ring, kisses it, and tosses it onto Jack’s chest. “It’s sentimental value,” he tells Gray, and he begins filling the grave. Jack flinches as the shovelfuls of earth cover his face.
Gray phases into Torchwood, in the Vaults. He looks at the Weevils in their cells, planning something.
Rhys finds Gwen, curled up in a corner of the station, alone. There’s no word from Jack, and she’s worried this is how everything falls apart. “I can’t do this!” she sobs. “Rubbish,” he answers her; obviously she can, because she already has. Rhys gives her the reassurance she needs; Gwen, the one who could be the rock for everyone else, needs her own anchor. Even if she didn’t believe in herself, everyone else did, Rhys says. “And I do. You’re a bloody hero. You keep going, ’cause we need you.” Gwen looks up at him and asks, “Will you marry me again?” They both laugh. Just then Tosh calls saying she’s picking up Rift activity from inside the Hub, similar to what they saw when Jack was taken. Tosh can’t check it out; she and Ianto are on their way to the nuclear plant to avert the meltdown. Gwen hesitates, not wanting to leave the station, but Rhys assures her they’ll be OK there.
Gwen arrives at the Hub, gun drawn, and finds not Gray, but Hart. With her gun in his face, she gives him twenty seconds. He says, “I know where Jack is,” and that gets Gwen to listen. Hart tells Gwen the whole story, but she still doesn’t trust him. Hart tells Gwen how he found Gray chained to the ruins of a city in the Bedlam Outlands, the only one left alive amidst a pile of corpses. Hart thought he was a rescuing hero, and didn’t realize how much Gray had learned from his captors, and eventually Gray struck. In the midst of this speech, the molecules “unbond,” and Hart rips the detonator off his arm with a sickeningly juicy sound.
Hart calls Toshiko to trace the signal in the ring he tossed into Jack’s grave, but Tosh can’t find anything like it all. Hart insists that it has to be there, but suddenly an incredible electronic shriek echoes through the Hub, and, apparently, Cardiff. Weevils come out in the open—climbing out of the sewers, swarming everywhere. Hart knows its Gray, on his rampage, destroying Jack’s life from the inside out. Ianto calls in that they’re all over the streets, and he and Tosh won’t be able to reach the plant now. Owen interrupts, “Leave it to me, I can get there.” How? “King of the Weevils, remember?” he says, referring back to the events of “Dead Man Walking.”
Gwen and Hart, in the Hub, are using all the monitors and equipment there to search for Jack’s signal, finding nothing. Suddenly they’re surrounded by Weevils, but Ianto and Tosh arrive just in time. Their bullets put the Weevils out for a while, but they’re not dead, so Ianto, Hart, and Gwen drag the Weevils back down to the Vaults and into their cells; just then, the doors close. Whoops. They’re each trapped with a Weevil, and there’s Gray. “You could’ve gone anywhere, and you came back,” he taunts Hart. Hart replies, “A question of honor.” But Gray has only one focus now: “His life is mine, now.”
Owen arrives at the nuclear plant and manages to convince the nice tech there that he knows what he’s doing so she can get out. He hands her some Weevil repellent and wishes her luck, and then calls Tosh. The news is bad, the Reactor has already gone critical. I particularly enjoyed the dialog here: “Can you fix it?” Tosh thinks for a moment, “Of course I can, I’m brilliant,” she replies, but before she can do anything, Gray shoots her in the stomach. He watches her fall, and kicks her phone away, but he doesn’t kill her. Tosh writhes on the floor, pleading for help, but Gray ignores that, instead ripping the cables out of all the monitors, turning everything off. He’s cold, asking her how she feels, knowing death will come soon. “Are you afraid? Are you sad?” Tosh realizes how insane he is. Before Gray can do anything else, a loud, rhythmic pounding echoes through the Hub, and Gray walks off to investigate its source.
Tosh leaves a trail of blood on the floor, crawling to her phone, which has fallen downstairs into the medical bay.
Gray strides into the Morgue in a gorgeous long shot, and opens the drawer from which both light and the pounding are coming. It’s Jack! “I forgive you,” he says. Gray is dumbfounded. “How did you survive?”
We flashback to Torchwood, 1901, with a slim brunette giggling over the steady signal she’s discovered. The best part is, she gushes, we can even get to it! Her male companion is much less enthused about having to dig down 40 feet to find it, but dig he does. The two are nonplussed to find Jack, who is supposed to be out working on assignment for them. “I’ve crossed my own timeline,” he explains, and instructs them with some urgency to put him in cryo-sleep and set the timer for 107 years in the future. He’s grubby, but he doesn’t look otherwise any worse for the wear for having spent 1900 years buried alive and dying. Wouldn’t that take a psychological toll?
Jack repeats, “I forgive you,” and turns to leave. Gray’s, “Don’t you walk away from me,” is more or less required here. Jack asks for absolution, but Gray can’t give it to him. Gray’s only strength is his hatred for Jack, and he begrudges Jack everything. It’s all Jack’s fault. Jack embraces him, crying, “I know, Gray, I know,” but he’s holding a cloth in his hand, and he holds it over Gray’s face, knocking him out.
In the cells, the Weevils are still out, but Hart’s messing with his wrist unit. “Recall signal,” he says, “time for all the pests to return home.” And with that, the Weevils slither back to their hiding places.
Tosh, on the floor of the medical bay, has found a tray of morphine injections. She somehow manages to get power to the nuclear plant, and calls Owen. He can hear that she’s hurt, but she denies any new injuries, saying it’s just her arm, and she’s “sorting out some more pain killer.” She injects herself with the morphine, and relaxes just a bit. But the situation at the plant is critical now; there’s no way to stop the meltdown, and the only option is to vent internally, into the chamber where Owen is. Tosh explains how they’ll set up a time delay for the venting, “You’ll have to remember to get out.” Owen says that he trusts her, and she manages to smile, “That’s what I’m here for.”
Jack gets the others out of the cells, and everyone piles on him. “Quite a queue for the hugs,” Hart remarks. Jack is happy to see him, too.
Tosh initiates the protocols that will control the venting process, but suddenly a power surge spikes over through the system. The plant’s emergency override system goes into effect, sealing off the chamber immediately. Owen is trapped. He shouts angrily that he doesn’t want to go like this, swearing he’ll rage his way into oblivion. Tosh is devastated, and begs him to stop. When Owen asks why, she barely squeaks out that he’s breaking her heart, and that does it. “It’s my fault,” she weeps, but Owen comforts her, no, she couldn’t have done anything about the power surge. He asks what will happen, and she explains how the chamber will be flooded with radiation. Then they just talk for a minute, waiting for the end, and Owen remembers how Tosh was always covering for him. Tosh reminds him of the time, just two weeks after he’d joined, that she had to pretend to be a medic because he was hung over and hadn’t come in. “We never did get that date,” Owen sighs. “I didn’t know until it was too late. I’m sorry.” “Me, too,” Tosh manages. The venting begins, and the driving, repetitive theme builds as Owen stands. “It’s all right, Tosh, really. Oh, God…” he says, and then dissolves in light.
Jack sees the trail of blood on the floor, and then Tosh in the medical bay. He calls for Gwen. Ianto says, “Owen’s there,” meaning at the plant, and Tosh gasps that she couldn’t save him. She smiles up at Jack, then dies in his arms. Gwen sobs, and the camera pulls up slowly as Jack, Gwen and Ianto realize that they are all that’s left of Torchwood.
Rhys and Gwen are snuggled on their sofa, listening to the television news recap of the day’s events. Back in the Hub, Jack has Gray in a cryofreeze unit, and Hart says that maybe killing him would be the release he really needs. That’s not an option for Jack; Gray is his penance. Hart tries to make Jack understand that what happened to Gray is not his fault, but that’s not something Jack can accept.
Jack looks up at Hart, wondering what’s next on his agenda. “Need help with those Rift predictions?” Jack asks. Hart says there’s a lot of this planet he hasn’t seen, and that since Jack likes it so much, he’ll check it out. He gives Jack a peck on the cheek and says sincerely, “I’m sorry for your losses.”
Jack is boxing up Owen’s effects while Ianto deletes the personnel records from the computer system. The sad piano music doesn’t make this any easier to watch. Gwen is packing up Toshiko’s things, and it’s hard to see her pick up Tosh’s glasses and box them, knowing Tosh doesn’t need them anymore. When Ianto hits the final confirmation on the deletion of Toshiko’s record, a video begins playing. “If you’re seeing this,” Tosh says, “I guess it means I’m dead. It’s OK. It really is.” She thanks Jack for saving her, and tells Owen he “never knew,” but of course he did, that she loved him. She loved all of them, and she hopes she did good. Jack, Ianto, and Gwen are quite overcome.
Jack says they’ll carry on, but Gwen doesn’t see how she can. Jack says she can, they all can. “The end is where we start from.” The strings in the score lift the shot up and away, spinning out over Cardiff.
As a season ender, this is just beautiful. Owen’s sacrifice and Tosh’s murder remind us how dangerous Torchwood’s world really is; so often it seems like just a lark. I appreciated that the writers didn’t take the opportunity of the nuclear meltdown to reset Owen’s physiology back to normal, and that Tosh’s injuries didn’t just turn out to be flesh wounds. Torchwood has a hit-or-miss record with hitting the “reset button”, but Chibnall avoided it here, thankfully. What good does it do to imperil the characters if the viewers always know they’ll be all right in the end? That’s OK for certain programming, but unnecessary here.
This was a remarkably well-constructed episode, with flashbacks from Jack’s memories of losing Gray (“Adam”) integrated seamlessly, avoiding that “clip show” vibe. Bouncing back and forth between different eras in Cardiff’s history was handled cleanly with the onscreen dates, and Cardiff looked gorgeous in every era. We even got another view of my favorite set, the Morgue. A word about the score; sometimes I find the driving theme a bit unfair, the way it repeats and steps up in tone and tempo, we can’t help but respond to it. But it works, and it’s beautiful, as is the choral music, and even the previously mentioned “sad piano.” Here, I felt the score increased the intensity of episode without being intrusive.
The first season of Torchwood was, charitably, a mess; the series didn’t know its own characters and suffered accordingly. This second season has given us much more consistent characterizations, and worked to address several nagging issues. The rehabilitation of Ianto’s character was brilliant, and I found the resolution of the Rhys-Gwen-Jack situation both realistic and sweet. Plus, it’s a relief that the producers didn’t drag that out further, or put Gwen into Jack’s bed just to complicate things.
We can’t care about the characters unless we really know them; sex appeal will only get you so far. So it was terrific that in this season we got so much of Jack’s backstory, and also that he got some closure on the defining moment of his young life. One reason Jack could come out of that grave so well is that he knew he would get another chance with Gray if he just hung on. Nearly 1900 years is plenty of time to figure out how you’re going to deal with your psychotic brother, and it’s a reasonable penance for an immortal to bear, if he considers himself the cause of all his brother’s misfortunes. For all his oddities, Jack has been the most consistent character.
We can’t say the same about the others, but the character explorations of “Adam” and “Fragments” were spectacular. I liked the narrower focus this year; instead of having some huge, humanity-threatening peril descend, the show gave us instead a personal vendetta that threatened Cardiff. It didn’t seem small because of the time and technology involved, and because we cared about the characters.
There’s no word to date on whether or not there will be a third season; Chris Chibnall has moved on to a UK version of CSI, which is sure to be a hit if it mirrors his work here. I’m hoping producer Russell T Davies is willing to spend more time in Cardiff. I’d like to see how Jack rebuilds his team, and a question remains. Was Gray’s attack on Cardiff the twenty-first century threat alluded to in the credits, and the cause of the 1999 suicide-murders that destroyed Jack’s entire team? I don’t know, but I do know that I want to see how “everything changes.”