“Jane’s Take” on “Torchwood” Episode Nine: “The Gathering”

This episode of Torchwood was written by John Fay, a UK writer who was an amazing presence in the writers’ room with us. We all loved him. A great head for story and a Liverpool accent so strong that sometimes I wasn’t sure he was speaking English.

Even the name “Jack Harkness” would emerge as an exotic blur without a hard consonant in it anywhere but with a lot of extra h’s. I would just listen, entranced. It wasn’t even like listening to the Beatles – it was stronger than that. I did some research and learned that the Liverpool accent has actually changed since the 1960s, drifting farther and farther from what’s spoken in London. But it’s possible that I’ve gone a little off topic.

We open with a time jump. Two months later. I was one of the advocates for putting a big jump here – in a show about the world changing, the time allowed us to show how very much it’s changed. And – oh my god, that IS Russell’s voice on the radio there.

Everyone was tweeting at me, asking if that was him and I wasn’t sure – this is one of those episodes that I’d read but never seen in its finished form. But that is clearly him. (And yes, there is confirmation in my email inbox, as well.) Go, Russell! Come to think of it, the show clearly needed a deep Welsh radio voice for that role – we’re lucky we knew him!

And Gwen is robbing a pharmacy! And everything is so so gorgeously Welsh. I hope Torchwood opens the doors to more productions like this where we get to cross-pollinate with other writers and other productions from around the world. We’d all learn so much, as writers and producers and viewers and our shows would look and sound more like our planet. We can get insulated in the U.S. and we would benefit a lot.

Oh dear, Dad in the basement. I’m fascinated by how few steps it takes to get from our normal world to Anne Frank. “Strange days, Sweetheart.”

Esther and Jack in Scotland with a fridge full of blood. Rhys and Gwen in a new version of austerity Britain. Rex and still-undetected mole Charlotte toiling away at the CIA with Q, laying open Manhattan’s past. Jilly and that blue-eyed man talking about… hmm… Shanghai.

Oh man, this search of Gwen’s home… I’m so tense I can hardly type. Mary having to quiet her husband, Gwen all amazing with the knife, Rhys being so very Rhys. How lucky were we to have a Brit writing this one? I think the UK fans are going to go nuts when this one airs there. This is a show that hasn’t lost its roots.

And there, about 20 minutes in, some excellent acting from baby Anwen again! Holy cow, someone give this baby a movie or something! Gwen swings a mean saucepan. And our/your patience with the long parallel storyline of Oswald Danes pays off when he turns up in a Welsh kitchen. Looking at it in retrospect, I think the long time during which this story didn’t have a lot of points of intersection with our main story really works to make this moment bigger.

I think there might be a writing lesson in there – sometimes the tension that you feel as a writer to tie plot strings together is better resisted, almost the way you have to resist bringing lovers together too soon in romantic comedy. The tension is the same tension you want the viewers to feel as they want to hurtle toward resolution and you as the writer have to hold them back.

We talked a lot about how Oswald would arrive in the UK. At one point, we were going to see him get from ship to fishing boat to shore, traveling in the damp anonymous darkness.

Oswald thinks Jilly was his assistant! She was his keeper. And in the classic Torchwood dance of complex forward motion, he brings a clue, that isn’t a clue, except it is… nothing is ever easy. Every step forward that our team makes is so hard.

I love the way Fay has written the team as they work through the Harry Bosco-ing of the broadcast. “I could say Jesus, but I’m not in Jerusalem,” “You could take a slow boat…” There’s so much going on here – people talking on different tracks, over each other, opposing each other in interesting ways, having different realizations at different times. This is a lovely scene and I want to take notes. And look how that globe-ball is visible in the background, and the big epiphany is interrupted!

Search app! Never seen that before. Oh dear. Geraint.

Buenos Aires and Shanghai are almost perfect antipodes – this is extremely rare because so much of our planet is water. This crucial fact was something we worked out so early in the process that I don’t think Starz was even involved yet. So I’ve known this part of the reveal forever. But it’s giving me goosebumps anyway – a global conspiracy that somehow goes through the globe.

Lauren Ambrose, on her way to The Blessing, conveys fear and bravery with a series of blinks. Love her! That’s Frances Fisher as the rep of the three families in Shanghai. Part of an intentionally multiple array of human villains that we’ve seen this season – because this isn’t a story about a singular point of evil, but about a sort of collective evil of humanity.

And there is The Blessing. A void in the Earth. Russell drew a picture of it on the whiteboard in the room that stayed with us during the whole process.

And Jack’s blood points the way!

NEXT WEEK! The bloody conclusion!

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