Gwen Cooper is our gateway character into the world of Torchwood. She’s the audience surrogate, the one who is still new to all this, and the conscience of the team. Giving her a spotlight episode from time to time shows how good she is at that and makes for good drama.
But then we get an episode like “Adrift,” and while it does showcase the strengths of Gwen as a character, it also is, well, something where the plot somewhat falls apart if you think about it for, like, five minutes.
See, here’s the thing: Gwen is asked by her old partner Constable Andy (who has a thing for her and doesn’t like Rhys) to look into a missing teenager. 14 year old Jonah disappeared off a bridge in a flash of light, and his mother has been looking for him ever since. A few things come up rather quickly.
For one, there are a hell of a lot more missing people. Gwen theorizes that the Cardiff Rift takes people away just as it drops aliens off, and with Tosh’s help, she plots a pattern to show that her theory appears to be true. With that in mind, she takes her findings to Jack and the rest, proposing they do something about it.
However, given the way the Rift acts, it is more or less impossible to predict when this will happen, there’s seemingly no way to get the missing people back, and they can’t comfort the survivors because that would mean revealing Torchwood’s existence, and it looks like they’re a secret this week to most people.
Jack says no to all this. Owen shares Jack’s assessment. Tosh does what she’s told. Ianto just looks rather sheepish.
Oh, and Rhys doesn’t want to hear about it at home.
And when Gwen asks to make it a special project, he says no to that too. Very firmly. She even interrupted his fun time with Ianto for that.
The long and the short of it Jack does know something (obviously). Ianto secretly left a clue for Gwen to follow, and she found something: some of those people do come back, and Jonah did as well, but they’re all locked up in a special asylum on a small island in the bay. Jonah himself was gone, from his perspective, for 40 years. And Jack catches Gwen there, but he’s not mad and just explains that a handful of people do come back, but they aren’t the same and are kept at the asylum for safekeeping. Gwen wants to bring Jonah’s mother to see him and does so over Jack’s objections.
Jack’s objections were good ones. While it takes some convincing to get Jonah’s mother to see Gwen is telling the truth, she can’t take her son home, even if he poses as her father, but then he starts to scream, something he apparently does for 20 hours a day, because the 40 hours worth of physical and mental torture left him a shattered shell of a man and this is what comes out more often than not. Jonah’s mother more or less tells Gwen not to take anyone else there, and Jack and Rhys both offer comfort to Gwen for what she went through.
It’s a good showcase for Gwen as a character, showing her empathy for others and her investigative skills and determination. It likewise shows she knows how rough her job is in that she won’t put Constable Andy’s name in for consideration as a Torchwood agent (she’s doing you a favor there, Andy). But here’s the question I had: why didn’t Jack just tell her?
See, if Gwen is going to find out, and Jack doesn’t really object to her knowing once she does, why does he still keep it a secret from her? And how many of the others knew or didn’t know? Ianto left the clue behind for Gwen, but he is something of the group’s unofficial recordkeeper, so maybe he knew and Owen and Tosh didn’t. In fact, it did seem like Tosh at least didn’t know, but wouldn’t Jack spending time to explain what was going on to Gwen, right down to Jonah’s mental attacks that showed why he was locked up there in the first place, have been enough to maybe keep Gwen from causing Jonah’s mother’s heartbreak?
I realize there’s no episode if Gwen sees how hopeless her efforts are within the first ten minutes, but there are other ways to tell the story rather than use Jack as a temporary antagonist. Just sayin’.