In Countrycide the Torchwood gang is confronted by what they believe are to be alien forces that essentially kidnap people and decimate their corpses tearing apart all flesh and muscle, leaving behind just a bloody clump of bones. For most of the episode we don’t even catch a glimpse of the monsters. Instead the information that we as an audience gleans, comes from the large number of victims that they leave behind. Torchwood, a group with plenty of experience investigating and witnessing horrible acts of violence are caught by surprise by the viciousness of the attacks.
JACK: What is it?
GWEN: There’s another body in there.
JACK: Same as the other.
GWEN: What did this, Jack? Cos whatever it is, it can’t be human. How far is this going to spread?
JACK: Stay focused.
GWEN: I should be at home having dinner with Rhys. What am I doing here with you? Don’t you ever get scared, Jack? Huh?
Gwen begins to allow panic to overwhelm her and she begins to question her involvement in Torchwood. Who or what could do such a horrendous thing to another living being? Why would any being want to mercilessly torture another living being? Taunting them and setting traps for their next unsuspecting victims.
Gwen isn’t the only one who is second guessing Torchwood’s mission and their place in it-Ianto-who is no longer simply in charge of cleaning up after the Torchwood crew at the station, takes issue not just with the dangers that they are facing, but also with the addiction to fear and adrenaline that seems to be a perquisite in being a member of torchwood:
IANTO: You’re used to this, aren’t you? That facial expression you all share when things get a bit out of control, like you enjoy it. Like you get a high from the danger.
TOSH: You want me to apologise for that?
IANTO: Don’t you ever wonder how long you can survive before you go mad, or get killed, or lose a loved one?
TOSH: It’s worth the risk to protect people.
IANTO: And who protects us?
Gwen questioned whether Jack ever felt fear, and Ianto is doing a similar thing to Tosh. He is trying to get Tosh to reflect on why she is willing to face such risks without even thinking. This episode brings up two important issues questioning the motives underlying brutality towards another living creature, and the motives underlying those who decide for whatever reason to try and end injustice.
Tosh’s answer to the second question references not only the high and adrenaline one feels in a dangerous mission but also the desire to protect other people even at the potential cost of one’s own life. The first question, Gwen’s, is answered later on in the episode when it is revealed that the monsters are in fact humans who cannibalize others. The question, especially for Gwen becomes, how could other human beings bring themselves to brutally kill other people without a second thought? She tries to get who she believes to be the leader of the cannibalistic family to explain but instead she is left with a sinking realization that sometimes there are no good and clear logical reasons for the inhumane things that humans do to one another:
GWEN: The whole village was involved?
EVAN: Every generation. Our tradition. Once a decade target those travelling through, those most likely to disappear.
GWEN: And butcher them. What sort of people are you that you wake up in the morning and think, this is what I’m going to do? Why’d you do it? Come on. Make me understand.
EVAN: Why do you care?
In this episode of Torchwood the motives of those who perform unimaginable evil on others and the motives of those determined to stop them are vastly different. The cannibals get a kick out of brutally killing others and making them suffer before eating them, and Torchwood stops them to prevent others from being brutally murdered. Here it is clear to tell who is good and who is evil. But what happens when those who believe or claim to be acting on behalf of a greater good, cause other human beings to suffer? What happens when it is those who claim to be taking the moral high ground who subject others to indescribable anguish all in the name of justice and security?
For example, it is pretty clear that ISIS and other terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda have no qualms about exploiting and torturing others. In fact, they purposely capitalize on the suffering of other people in order to make gains. Only those sympathetic to their cause are unwilling or uninterested in truly acknowledging the amount of pain and suffering that their actions cause. But what if instead of focusing on the clear “bad” guys, we focus on say, the United States government, which has clearly stated numerous times its opposition to terrorism. But who in the name of fighting against groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS, groups that no doubt need to be stopped, the government treats the lives of others- american and non american as useless. I am thinking specifically about the number of civilians killed due to “bad” intelligence, the lives crushed based on corruption and incompetency in the highest levels of governments, the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques, which led to the torture of members of al Qaeda, but also to people who had no ties to al Qaeda at all, but had a similar name to a wanted terrorist. It is difficult enough to imagine one person intentionally harming another person, but it is horrifying to realize the harm that institutions can wreck on thousands of lives, especially an institution with as much power as the United States government. I find myself asking, along with Gwen, “who could do this? who could nonchalantly order the deaths of children half way across the world? Who could torture another individual, even when said torture provides no useful intelligence that could be used to prevent terrorist attacks?”
In Countrycide it is clear who the heroes and villains are, but in real world situations the dividing lines aren’t so clear. In Countrycide the cannibals basically admit that they kill for fun, but in the real world many acts of cruelty are disguised under the veneer of justice and security. The lines between good and bad become indistinguishable. How can we say, with a clear conscious that the United States government is the “good guy” while also endorsing torture?