Adrift

Posted in Episode by - July 17, 2018
Adrift

Aired 19 March 2008

It’s no secret that Torchwood has struggled to find a consistent tone and voice with its tackling of alien and very human threats alike, part of this down to the wide variety of threats the team has faced but part of it also down to inconsistent characterisation as the show has tried to find itself and realistic nuance within its remit to explore more mature themes. Yet while understandably every episode cannot be as deep or sobering as Chris Chibnall’s ‘Adrift,’ it provides an incredible example of what Torchwood and, indeed, the genre of science fiction can achieve as it explores tough themes that don’t have easy answers or resolutions by having Andy ask Gwen to look into the case of a missing local teenager.

The only small misstep that ‘Adrift’ makes is in its attempt to explain why Andy was not at Gwen’s wedding earlier in this run of episodes. Torchwood has very much gone out of its way to develop Gwen as the emotional core of this organisation, and her continued- if brief- associations with Andy have ensured that she never forgets her more humble but honourable roots. However, while Andy has made no secret of the fact that he dearly wants to join Torchwood, there hasn’t quite been enough time over earlier episodes to support his claim that he still fancies Gwen and that he holds some degree of disdain for Rhys. Likewise, his suggestion that her time at Torchwood has hardened her as a character somewhat goes against Jack’s insistence that Gwen is around precisely because of her humanity and emotion, placing Gwen in something of an odd position in which Andy’s claims can be supported, but only by circumstantial evidence rather than the truly overt evidence that has been displayed.

Indeed, Gwen’s humanity has never better been on display than here when she visits Nikki, the mother of the missing teen, who is so wonderfully played by Ruth Jones. Despite it being some seven months since her son’s disappearance, Nikki is almost incurably optimistic that he is still alive, and her constant filming of groups to then search for a fleeting glimpse of her son and her sleeping in his room to smell his scent once more are wonderful developmental beats for the character that expertly contrast with her natural feelings of failing as a mother. Through their discussions, Andy has formed an emotional connection with this woman, and his insistence that Gwen help quickly brings Gwen back into the world of the ordinary where the most devastating heartbreak can strike anyone at any given point. Tellingly, these two support Nikki’s desire to form a support group for those dealing with loved ones who have disappeared and show up to the first meeting knowing that they may be the only two to do so, but the dozens of other people showing up to bond over their shared experiences prove that Jonah’s disappearance is anything but an isolated event.

Interestingly, providing a fitting counterpoint to Nikki’s loss of a child is Rhys’s desire to have a meaningful conversation with Gwen about having a child of their own. Gwen, naturally and perhaps rightly to some degree, suggests that her chosen profession makes this impossible and irresponsible, but Rhys finally reaches his tipping point with her evasiveness and quite bluntly proclaims that the only reason she fights alongside Torchwood is to ensure that normal life can continue in all of its many forms. This truly is a standout moment for Rhys, and Kai Owen rises to the occasion spectacularly with an unbridled emotion that has so rarely been seen from his even-keeled character. Quite appropriately, this conversation only seems to enhance Gwen’s personal connection with this case as Jack seems unwilling to answer her questions about why Andy has footage of him at the scene of Jonah’s disappearance, and she quickly uses Tosh’s technical abilities to piece together the fact that the Rift acts as a two-way doorway and that small blips in their readings that they have previously disregarded correspond with the surprisingly extensive web of disappearances that has furtively engulfed Cardiff.

Jack has always been less than open with his reasoning, but his firm insistence that Gwen drop this case when she presents her information proves that there is a more insidious side to Torchwood’s involvement, and it’s quite refreshing to see how blatantly Ianto betrays his lover and boss when he goes behind Jack’s back to secretly provide Gwen with a GPS device that leads her- after she rather appallingly and dangerously leaves Andy behind on the deck to head into potential danger alone- to a remote island. While she fortunately finds that Jack has been acting with far less malevolent actions than she might have anticipated, the fact that he has been collecting those victims who have since reappeared but who have been so utterly changed by their experiences on the other side of the rift they cannot reintegrate into society is nonetheless profoundly distressing, and an aged Jonah who spends an increasing amount of time every day letting out a bloodcurdling scream is an intense reminder of the inherent unknown and danger that the rift always presents. Unfortunately, Gwen became so caught up in solving Jonah’s case that she did not consider the negative impact that seeing her son in this condition might have on Nikki, and though Nikki assured her that seeing her son regardless of any changes was the only important thing, her later pointed statement to Gwen that she wished she had not so that she could retain her shred of hope is arguably the most emotionally powerful moment of the story, ending on a downbeat note that reminds Gwen that she and Torchwood cannot always emerge victorious and that the most extreme consequences can come in a multitude of forms.

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