They Keep Killing Suzie
Tony kills Suzie. Everyone else seems to be doing it.
Suzie Costello is the avatar of a whole different Torchwood to the one we know. She’s a valued member of an earlier version, a version that would have made just as good TV, but would have been different. We knew her only briefly in Everything Changes, and she was revealed to have gone down a dark, addictive and ultimately murderous path. While that might seem to make her a lost soul, an always-baddie, it’s worth remembering that at some point in the first two series, Ianto’s revealed to be hiding a half-converted Cyberman in the basement, both Gwen and Tosh get with the alien-snogging, compromising their judgment, Jack’s revealed to be running a Victorian asylum for Rift-victims, and Owen becomes technically-dead-but-still-walking-about-for-no-good-reason King of the Weevils, so it’s not as though any one of the Torchwood team we know is exactly in a position to throw particularly big stones.
This is the episode that shows us Suzie Costello, who she was, who she is. And what we see is complex, weak, flawed and still murderous, but also clever, ruthless and single-minded. It also shows us at least a potential reason why Suzie, who ‘always kept herself to herself,’ might have been all those things, and gone off the rails of Torchwood’s moral but murky mission.
When an apparent maniac starts murdering people and writing messages for Torchwood in their blood, the team are called in, partly on the assumption that the killer has a bee in their bonnet for our Hubdwellers, and partly, we suspect, because the local Force, in the person of Detective Kathy Swanson (Yasmin Bannerman), wants to stick it to the smug, strutting alien-wranglers who think they own the city.
What complicates matters beyond the standard ‘serial killer with a grudge’ baseline of the episode is the traces of retcon found at the scene – suddenly a serial killer could have been driven to kill by the very fact that they’ve been retconned by Torchwood. Given that Torchwood has retconned at least a couple of thousand people, the question is raised: is everyone they’ve retconned about to go psycho killer on Cardiff’s ass?
Honestly, as a conceit, this is pretty much the high point of Paul Tomalin and Dan McCulloch’s script. From there, we’re quickly back in the business of using the Resurrection Gauntlet from Episode 1 to try and interrogate the dead victims about their killer. When none of the team have a talent for using the Gauntlet except new-girl Gwen (it works on an empathic principle, and it’s not too big a leap to say that everyone else in Torchwood is far too wrapped up in their own problems to extend that much empathy), we have ourselves the beginning of a ball game, Gwen having replaced Suzie in the team. When it turns out that the killer, the victims, and Suzie all had a point of connection, the final strand of the set-up is delivered. Gwen uses the Gauntlet on Suzie herself, and Suzie Costello comes back from the dead.
Except here’s the thing: most of the people the Gauntlet resurrects have two minutes, maximum, back in the world of the living. Suzie…just won’t stop. She just won’t die again, no matter what the team throw at her.
This is how we get our chance to explore the nature of Suzie Costello rather more than we did in her first outing as a Torchwood agent. To be absolutely honest, Dead Suzie is rather hard work for an audience used to Gwen’s combination of arse-kicking and heart-breaking compassion. She’s more spiky, more sharp-edged, and as the episode unfolds, we learn of a plot that goes back before her murderous stint with the Resurrection Gauntlet, meaning Suzie was a bad lot before she took up killing people. Putting the Hub into lockdown with a linguistic code, while persuading Gwen to drive her out of Cardiff, at first seems like a reasonable plan, but when we find out what her escape has all been about, it’s supposed to add a degree of explanation to Suzie’s character – her sense of never having been good enough. Because Suzie has two more murders to commit, one inevitable by the very nature of her survival past the point of death, the Newtonian principle of every action having an equal and opposite reaction elegantly deployed to show us why she can’t now be killed no matter what the team do to her, and the other purely personal. The personal one never goes into detail, never shows us exactly what demons lurk in Suzie Costello’s past, but that there are demons we feel certain, because the personal murder is in a whole different league to all her other killings. Her new knowledge of the darkness that lies on the other side of death, and the thing that’s moving in the darkness, adds both piquancy to her final murder and desperation to her determination to stay alive now she’s returned to the human world. Certainly, Indira Varma plays Suzie’s desperation convincingly – if you knew for certain what was waiting for you when you died, and that it wasn’t the ‘nursery school’ version of an afterlife that Gwen espouses, all bright light and loved ones, but simply darkness and the thing that moves within it, then simply knowing ‘the right thing to do’ would never be enough to make you give up the light of a human existence. But as a plot, it’s absolutely barking mad – the lengths Suzie goes to simply to dose and program the killer that gets Torchwood’s attention, months after she has killed herself, and the idea that she was thinking that far ahead and in that deranged a manner for the two years before she started Gauntletting people, is absurd if you subject it to any of the realistic analysis to which Torchwood normally stands up. And once you realise that, the premise of the episode more or less collapses, and it sits there being more or less what it is – an excuse to see more of Suzie Costello, and to show us the very important differences between Suzie and Gwen, with Gwen coming out very much on top as far as the viewer is concerned.
So as episodes go, it dissolves into senselessness, and the underpinnings of its premise are lain bare to all and sundry, but if you give it a pass on that fact, They Keep Killing Suzie still delivers hooks, creeping depth of characterisation and some highly effective threat for Gwen, inasmuch as she becomes a walking illustration of the idea that ‘no good deed goes unpunished.’ It’s her kindness, her empathy with Suzie that first connects the two, and it’s that connection that allows Suzie to play her, very nearly to the point of death. Suzie comes out of this episode much darker than she was when she was simply murdering people out of a drive to use the Gauntlet and unlock its mysteries. Here, she’s a character who – unknown to us when we first meet her – was planning murders-by-proxy long in advance of her obsession with the Gauntlet taking hold, and having been to the only afterlife of which she’s aware, comes back more ruthless than ever, willing to send both someone who wronged her, and the innocent that is Gwen, into the darkness in order to escape it herself.
While not the most technically accomplished episode of Torchwood ever filmed, They Keep Killing Suzie shows the nature of the job of being Torchwood very well – everyone too wound up in themselves to have ever really asked Suzie about her life and her need to talk; over-reliance on retcon to solve the inconvenient problems involved in the general public seeing what they do; the belief that things are dealt with, only to have them come back and bite them; and most specifically, the arrogance of a Torchwood that thinks it’s untouchable – Suzie was one of them, and she turned against them, so she had to be dealt with, but apart from her, this team has been dealing with aliens and Rift activity for some years, and there’s that sense of swagger about them that Detective Swanson mentions. At the very end of her second life, Suzie warns Jack that that’s about to change – that something’s moving in the dark, coming to get them. Coming to get him in particular.
And when it arrives, Torchwood and the world will never be the same again.