5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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Jesus. Chibnall again.
That being the case, Countrycide turns out exactly as you’d expect. This episode is a cheat. It cheats with the premise, it cheats with the plot, it cheats with the characters. As a result, it’s a failure. Again.
Torchwood’s purpose is hunting aliens, remember? Queen Victoria said it. Jack says it at the beginning of every episode. Small Worlds may not have strictly qualified under this criterion, but at least the fairies were supernatural. Countrycide, on the other hand, is a cop show about catching murderers. Human murderers.
The murderers aren’t just murderers, they’re also cannibals. And they do the murdering and cannibalising every ten years. Why? Why all the ritual about the ten years? Why do it at all? Because, apparently, it makes them happy. Is this a comment on the frequent pointlessness of murder? Nope. It’s about a writer who sets up a premise and then can’t be arsed to think up a reason to explain it.
Having cheated the audience twice, Chibnall then makes it a trifecta: if the murderers are only people, what’s with all the rushing back and forth at superhuman speeds we see earlier? Answer: there is no answer. It’s just a cheat.
Having set up a cheating plot with a cheating premise, Chibnall then proceeds to cheat his way through it. Because no sane woman would get out of her car unarmed in the middle of the night, body on the road or not, she gets a totally unlikely baseball bat in her car. What’s the camping got to do with anything? Absolutely nothing: it’s only there so they can sit round and play truth or dare while exchanging significant looks. How does the villain get the SUV? Because somebody’s too dumb to remove the keys, followed by all of them being too dumb to shoot the tyres out despite being practically on top of the thing and running pointlessly after it.
It goes on and on. It’s so dark in the pub that they’re tripping over bodies before they can see them: why don’t they open the bleeding curtains? Why do Tosh and Ianto moronically separate to look around the house when they know they’re both armed and could easily shoot each other by mistake? Why are they looking round the house anyway when they’re supposed to be finding the car? Why does Jack insist in making a base in the pub when the survivor guy has already barricaded his place sufficiently well to keep the villains out? Why does the villain woman lie to Tosh and Ianto when she’s already got the upper hand? Why does Tosh cower behind a tree instead of legging it after kicking the villain in the balls? Because behaving like idiots is the only way to advance a plot more full of holes than the bastard child of a sieve and a cheese grater.
Not only is the plot flimsy, it’s desperately tired. If we listed every slasher movie and X-Files episode this ripped off the world would run out of pixels.
However, if this was the X-Files, it would have worked, because we cared about Mulder and Scully. Do we care whether the entire Torchwood staff ends up swathed in plastic and swinging from meathooks? Do we heck, because none of them have any character worth a damn.
Not that Countrycide is short of character development. There are whole scenes full of it (and we use that phrase advisedly). Trouble is, it’s either ludicrously random or shoved in in the service of the supposedly adult agenda.
Let’s start with the ludicrously random. Tosh, after a little snivel about her heretofore undetected passion for Owen, morphs without transition from back-room boffin to Indiana Jones. Huh? Where did that come from? Not only is it out of thin air, it also falls sadly flat when after her proud boast that she’s never met a cell she can’t get out of she fails to get out of it. What little Action Girl cred that remains is then drained by her tripping in the woods (how much do you want to bet she sprained her ankle?) Yes, it’s a nice reversal that the woman’s the brave one while the guy’s the squealer, but you can’t just throw it in out of nowhere.
And Ianto? Well, the quivering terror’s completely in character after the blubfest in Cyberwoman, sure. But where does he get off guilt-tripping the others for forgetting about Lisa when because of the whole Lisa thing they were nearly all killed? Also, why does Jack keep insisting that Tosh and Ianto can look after themselves? Isn’t Ianto just the guy that empties the bins? His promotion to tough guy’s even more eyebrow-raising than Tosh’s.
Furthermore, what’s with Jack’s fascination with Ianto? First he’s pashing him while he’s unconscious, and now he’s giving him burning looks over the campfire. Sure, the heart (and other organs) want what they want, but what in God’s name is Jack seeing in this deceitful, wet, incompetent traitor?
Then there’s Gwen. First, we’re mightily tired of her dramatic rants about stressful it all is. If she doesn’t like it, why doesn’t she stop blaming Jack for the job she was breaking her neck to take on and just go?
Then there’s the whole Owen thing. And honestly, we think some of these scenes are contenders for the worst writing we’ve ever seen on television.
It starts with the camp scene, during which we thought we’d tuned into an episode of Hollyoaks by mistake. As the juicy revelations and speaking looks unrolled, with Chris Chibnall again displaying his inimitable talent for sexy banter in lines like “Needing a hand getting it up?”, one of us rapped out: “Is this relevant?” The remarkable thing about that is that usually we live for this kind of stuff, so for the execution to be so appalling that we couldn’t wait for it to be over is a truly outstanding achievement.
Then we get to the bit with Gwen and Owen in the trees. If there were a Bad Sex award for television, this would be the worthiest recipient ever. We’ve seen some people characterise Owen’s throwing Gwen around as near-rape: we certainly wouldn’t say that, as it’s very clear that his caveman tactics are making her highly consensually weak at the knees. What we do object to is the pure bodice-ripper content, delivered without a speck of subtlety in lines we’re surprised Burn Gorman could get out without gagging. It’s…just…so…bad.
This isn’t adult content: it reminds us more than anything of adolescent fanfic. The scene showing Owen’s Caring Side, picking lead out of Gwen as she clutches significantly at his jacket, does nothing to dispel this as it’s a classic hurt/comfort fanfic scenario. What with all of this and the utterly gratuitous “tenderising” references, we’re starting to think that Chris Chibnall and whoever else on the production team sanctioned this need to grow up.
But it’s not as if it was all wasted. Gwen takes this burning sexual tension and marries it with her completely unreasonable fury at doing the job she asked to do, resulting in an apparently cast-iron excuse to cheat on her perfectly nice and trusting partner and losing all our sympathy in the process. Score.
There’s just one thing we like about Countrycide. Just one. And that’s the darkness of Jack’s revelation about the torture. Jack’s back in contained-bitterness mode here, which is a significant improvement over the angsting of Small Worlds.
Can this series get any worse?
Couldn’t they spare us, just once, from villains who find their work intensely amusing?
After that distinctly dodgy, distinctly unoriginal slomo scene with Jack spraying bullets around, it was a bit of an anticlimax (yes, we know) to find that everyone was still alive.
NO HARD FEELINGS
After being threatened with rape and murder, Tosh’s first response to the bullet-bespattered villains is: “They’re injured! They need to get in the hospital!” Yeah. Right.
DON’T BET ON IT
There’s that “I have seen things you would never believe” line again!