It goes without saying, doesn’t it? I’ll say it anyway: major spoilers. As I write this, only the first episode has aired in the USA, but this covers the full five eps.
1. Children of Earth
Earth’s children 
[1.1] I just rewatched, in one long jag, all five eps of Torchwood: Children of Earth, which comprises season 3 of the show. I laughed. I cried. I shook my fist at the screen because something happened that I really, really did not like at all. (More about that under the cut.) If you liked seasons 1 and 2 of Torchwood, all I can say is, it won’t prepare you for season 3, because the stakes are higher and the themes are darker: children, love, commitment, duty, honor. This is the program that had something real to say, in season 2 in particular, about life and death, but T:COE takes the promise of the first two seasons to a whole new level.
[1.2] Season 3 of Torchwood, the Doctor Who spin-off starring John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness, aired in the UK on 5 consecutive days from July 6 to July 10, 2009. It began airing on July 20 on BBC America, and it will be available on DVD on July 28. (Why, yes, I have preordered my DVD from Amazon!) The plot, in a nutshell, is thus: Aliens announce, by seizing control of and speaking through all the children in the world at once, that they are coming. They want something—something to do with our children. And it not going to be good.
The Torchwood team: Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), and Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd) 
[2.1] This miniseries has several themes. One is family, as articulated by the Torchwood family, Ianto’s sister and her family, Jack’s revelation of the existence of a daughter and grandson, Frobisher’s murder-suicide to save his daughters from a fate worse than death, and Gwen’s pregnancy and the family she has created with her husband, Rhys. Another theme is duty and service: various politicians attempt to cope with the crisis, from engineering cover-ups and off-the-record remarks, to spinning the removal of 10% of Earth’s children as a useful method of reducing Earth’s overpopulation, to sacrificing the children of a dedicated public servant to the aliens, to committing treason for an ideal. The scene in Day Four where a female civil servant lays out the criteria by which children should be selected—those who are likely to contribute less, the lowest 10%—is devastating as she—a woman! a mother!—says what everyone is thinking. Late in the series, the theme of drug use arises, when the aliens say they use human children for “the hit”: the children are incorporated into the aliens’ bodies, as the ambassador demonstrates to everyone’s horror; their bodies provide pleasurable chemicals. In short, Earth has been contacted by a bunch of drug runners. The revelation of the aliens’ utter selfishness (and possible commercial interest) makes their actions all the more abhorrent. They are not acting out of desperation but greed.
[2.2] One important theme in Torchwood in general, across all three seasons, is the nature of life and death. The character who epitomizes these concerns is Jack, because he cannot die. In T:COE, he dies over and over again: he’s shot at least four times, he’s blown to bits by a bomb implanted in his body, he smothers or drowns in liquid concrete that then hardens into a block, and he dies from the virus released by the 456 as a demonstration of their power. Every time, he comes back. The government thinks that his remarkable regenerative powers have something to do with the rift and/or the Hub, Torchwood’s Cardiff base of operations, but as educated watchers know, his immortality is the result of the grace of the Doctor’s TARDIS. The other character in Torchwood most associated with death, in addition to Jack himself, is Owen, Torchwood’s doctor, who in series 2 becomes a walking dead man with a fragile, nonhealing body. Owen, along with his colleague, Tosh, dies, but his condition is used to make several points about the nature of life and death, and to contrast with the sort of life-death immortality that Jack enjoys.
[2.3] But the overarching theme of T:COE is love. The 456 mock humans’ ability to love their children, citing horrific infant mortality rates, and also citing the unfortunate decision back in 1965 to give the 456 twelve children. When John Frobisher kills his children, his wife, and himself, he does it because he loves them and is attempting to save his daughters from a fate that he literally considers worse than death. When Frobisher’s secretary dons contact lenses that permit the Torchwood team to record everything she sees, she does it for the love of her now-dead boss, a good man driven to his death by an unscrupulous politician. Ianto’s sister, Rhiannon, takes neighborhood children into her house and takes risks to keep them safe because she loves her own children. However, at the center of the this theme is the love relationship between Jack and Ianto.
3. Gaying up Ianto Jones
Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd) 
[3.1] Even after two seasons of Torchwood, we really don’t know much about Ianto. He’s the quiet, hot guy in a suit who delivers coffee in season 1 and who gradually becomes a field agent. We know he and Jack to be lovers, but of course the audience for T:COE must also be casual watchers who haven’t seen seasons 1 and 2, and thus, some time is spent on Ianto and his relationship to Jack, the better for Ianto’s death in Day Four to evoke an emotional response. (I know it evoked an emotional response in me, my usual refrain: “You did not just do that.”) Ianto is presented in season 1 as straight, in that he has, or had, a girlfriend (1.04 “Cyberwoman”), and Gwen is rather surprised when she finds out that he and Jack are lovers, but in T:COE, little ambiguity remains about his preferences.
[3.2] T:COE tells us more about Ianto than the entire first two seasons of the show, during which whatever he and Jack had together wasn’t clear. They seemed to care for each other, but it wasn’t presented as a committed love relationship, and they didn’t acknowledge themselves to be a couple. Rather, as Gwen puts it in T:COE, it’s “shenanigans in the dark.” But in T:COE, their relationship deepens and changes as Ianto confronts his feelings. The catalyst for some of this is his coming out to Rhiannon in Day One. She asks him about it: a friend of hers had seen Ianto dining intimately with a man who was “gorgeous, like a film star, like an escort.” Ianto, looking panicked, is finally driven to say, “He is very handsome,” thus admitting all. He continues, “It’s weird. It’s just different. It’s not men. It’s just him. It’s only him. And I don’t even know what it is, really, so, so I’m not broadcasting it.”
[3.3] This inexplicable something is love. Now that self-contained, buttoned-down Ianto has come out, now that he and Jack verbally spar about being a nagging, typical couple (although they tend to have these conversations while not really looking at each other and trying to be casual), the narrative repeatedly presents him as gay. Moments after he comes out to Rhiannon, his brother-in-law greets him cheerfully with “Hi hi, gay boy! Says you’re taking it up the ass!”, followed by a bear hug. It’s the best coming-out party ever: nobody seems to care much, although Rhiannon is touchingly concerned about his happiness. In Day Three, Clem declares him “queer. I can smell it,” and more than one character asks, “Ianto. Is he gay?”
Ianto and Jack 
[3.4] Several of Ianto’s scenes with Jack show Ianto feeling out whatever their relationship is. When a doctor in Day One treats them as a couple, Ianto tells Jack, “He thought we were together, like a couple. He said, ‘You two.’ The way he said it: ‘You two.'” Jack responds, “But we are. Does it matter?” Ianto, clearly uncomfortable, says, “No. It’s all a bit new to me is all.” Later in Day One, Gwen also calls them a couple, leading Jack to say, “I hate the word ‘couple,'” a sentiment that Ianto says he agrees with. Several other exchanges along these lines occur, where the two of them express discomfort while simultaneously moving closer together: they are a couple, but only now are people treating them as such.
[3.5] Although we see the result of a long-term relationship with the immortal Jack—his daughter, who appears older than Jack, notes that he never changed, while her mother grew old and died hating him for it—Ianto notes that they ought to make the most of their time together. Ianto wants to learn more about Jack: he asks him what it felt like to die in the explosion, when a bomb implanted in Jack’s body goes off. Did it hurt, or did everything just go black? (The answer: it hurt.) He demands of Jack that he be told information: where Jack is going, what he is doing. Jack responds by answering the question, and then offering a tidbit of what is to Ianto shocking information: “And just so you know, I have a daughter called Alice and a grandson called Steven, and Frobisher took them hostage yesterday.” Can anyone really know Jack? Or is it, as Jack asserts, all there on the surface, with nothing beneath it?
Jack holds a dying Ianto while the terrifyingly mysterious representative of the 456 looks on from its tank 
[3.6] Still, Jack loves Ianto. In Day Four, in a scene where Jack learns that the 456 have released a virus into the building that will kill everyone, including him and Ianto, as a demonstration of the aliens’ power, he capitulates completely. “I take it all back, but not him!” he begs. The alien remains implacable, of course: they expect delivery of 10% of the world’s children, as requested, the next day. This moment is a turning point for the darkness of the show: not only has a beloved character died, but he’s died just as he’s realized he’s in love, and the aliens will not negotiate. Torchwood’s plan has failed. They have gained nothing except a demonstration of the power of the 456, which has resulted in many deaths. Jack’s panicked initial reaction to the realization of Ianto’s impending death is the same panic we see on the faces of mothers in Day Five, when they realize their children are boarding buses, to be taken somewhere for some unknown purpose. They would do anything to ensure the safety of their children, just as Jack wants to take it all back, to soften his stance, to negotiate again.
[3.7] The emotional climax of T:COE is Ianto’s death in Jack’s arms; so often, of course, it has happened the other way around. However, Jack always comes back, and Ianto won’t. Ianto’s last words to Jack begin with the significant, “I love you.” He continues, “Hey. It was good, yeah? Don’t forget me. A thousand years’ time? You won’t remember me.” Jack promises that he will, and Ianto breathes his last. The scene ends with the two of them dead on the floor in front of the tank housing the 456. They took a last stand together, and they went down fighting. The revelations of Ianto’s sexuality were used in aid of this emotional impact. They also tell us something about Jack: he loves, but sometimes, that doesn’t matter. As he put it, he’s lived a long time and done a lot of things.
[4.1] The terrifying and implacable aliens, the absence of hope, and the destruction of an important, only recently acknowledged love relationship all render T:COE bleak, because it seems that this time, the world will end. Jack’s story isn’t over, of course. Torchwood saves the day, but at a high personal cost: Jack’s own grandson, Steven, a child, must be used as the fulcrum for the powerful transmission that ejects the 456, and it costs Steven his life—and Jack any hope of a continued relationship with his daughter.
[4.2] T:COE, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and any other number of TV shows and films, kills a gay character just after establishment of great intimacy: Ianto admits his love aloud to Jack, then dies; Tara dies right after having sex with Willow. In fact, it’s such a cliche, especially in the horror genre, that Brian Jurgens, on October 30, 2006, wrote a tongue-in-cheek essay about for in AfterElton.com: “The Gay Characters’ Guide to Surviving a Straight Horror Film.” And speaking of Buffy, Daniel Greenfield, in “Gay Characters, Mortality and Buffy,” notes that gay characters in popular culture become de facto role models. He argues that Tara did not play an important narrative role in Buffy and pretty much had to die, if only to provide a pretext for Willow to wig out and bring the season to its shocking climax. Yet Ianto certainly plays an important narrative role in Torchwood, with important skills and autonomy. Interestingly, in T:COE, he is also the voice of the 456 as he reads Lois’s scribbled shorthand notes aloud. He is a sort of mysterious alien himself. Rhiannon didn’t know him, and it seems Gwen didn’t know him either, as she learns when she tells Rhiannon of Ianto’s death. Who he is becomes synonymous with who he loves.
[4.3] Ianto may have been gayed up for T:COE, but it’s also made clear in the narrative, for those who haven’t seen the first two series, that he’s dated women, and this whole gay thing is new and inexplicable to him, a kind of label, like “couple,” that he’s not quite comfortable with. Jack, of course, is a space-traveling omnisexual: he’s taken both men and women as lovers, and it’s certainly implied that he’s had sex with all manner of aliens too. Clearly, within the past 30 or 40 years, he fell in love with a woman, married, and started a family. Ianto’s uneasy because this whole gay thing is new. Jack is uneasy because he’s not sure about this whole “couple” thing, so different from shenanigans in the dark.
[4.4] Both Ianto and Jack thus inhabit an ambiguous space that the narrative attempts to redefine as “couple in love,” to create an emotional center for the series, and to show the effects of the death of beloved people on Jack’s psyche, even as it shows the effect on Ianto and his relationship with others when he semipublicly admits to being in love with a man. And Jack is certainly affected: he screams at the 456 (“Not him!”); he cries when he places Steven on a pad and starts up the machinery that will kill the child while saving 10% of the world’s children from a hideous fate. In addition to all the physical pain and repeated deaths that Jack’s body takes, we have the emotional pain inflicted by overwhelming loss: “Steven, and Ianto, and Owen, and Tosh, and Suzie, and all of them. Because of me,” he says in Day Five as he prepares to leave.
[4.5] Of everyone we know from three seasons of Torchwood, all have died except Gwen and of course Jack. Gwen’s happy marriage to Rhys and her pregnancy offer a beam of hope: children, a family, mean life will go on. But it’s also closing a chapter for Jack’s character: “I have lived so many lives. It’s time to find another one,” he says in Day Five. The team is gone, Ianto is dead, the Hub has been destroyed, and Jack leaves Earth. For Torchwood, there is nothing left.
5. Photo credits
1. BBC America: http://www.bbcamerica.com/content/262/index.jsp.
2. BBC UK: http://www.bbc.co.uk/torchwood/.
If you would like to comment…
This is copyrighted under Creative Commons, so it may be reposted freely. Thus, perhaps you are reading this at a site other than khellekson.wordpress.com. If you would like to leave a comment at the original source, where I might, you know, actually see it, the URL for the original page is https://khellekson.wordpress.com/2009/07/21/torchwood-children-of-earth/.