Any Torchwood fan who saw the promotional stills for Twisted Showcase‘s “Peter and Paul” had to have had a good chuckle. There is Gareth David-Lloyd with his hand to his ear, pretending to talk on the phone. You know, the classic scene from “Sleeper”–”Land lines, mobiles, tin cans with bits of string. Everything, absolutely everything. No phones. Phones are all broken. Hello? Anyone there? No! Coz the phones aren’t working.”
Just as the Torchwood team is surprised to hear Jack’s voice at the end of that scene, David-Lloyd’s character is no less surprised to hear a voice at the end of the line–which, surprisingly enough, actually does happen to be his hand. Despite the silly-seeming premise, there is a very good reason why David-Lloyd’s character, Paul, thinks his hand is a telephone, as well as a very good reason why a message is coming through on that particular hand. No, it couldn’t come through on the other hand, or his big toe, or his navel–it has to be his right hand. And as this eleven minute long webisode flies by, we, like Paul, come to understand the significance of this very strange method of communication.
Spoilers after the cut. I repeat, spoilers after the cut. If you don’t want to know what happens, do not follow the cut. . . .
Characters hearing voices is nothing new. It’s so timeworn a cliche that when I realize that’s what an author is doing, I automatically flash back to those cartoons of my youth that used to portray a tiny devil on one shoulder and a tiny angel on the other of a character who had to make an important choice.
We aren’t sure what that choice is as the webisode begins. The set is a stark apartment, with the usual white and ecrus, relieved only by a large grey sofa and black and white tile in a kitchen—a minimalist contrast of light and dark. The result gives a timeless, otherworldly tone to the proceedings. Paul (David-Lloyd) is slouched on the sofa, with a couple day’s growth of beard, disheveled hair, and a wrinkled shirt.
It’s clear Paul is having a hard time of it, and when we hear the phone ring, we know from the expression on his face that the cause of his distress has to be the news he is going to get on the phone. The minute we see him raise his right hand to his ear in that childish parody of playing telephone, however, we know that this is an internal conflict rather than external.
Paul is well-aware of that as well, with a strong enough grip on reality to know that a voice talking through his hand is not normal. “You’re a hallucination; a figment of my imagination” he cries out at one point. “I must be sick.”
Yet no matter how much Paul tries to wrestle with that disembodied voice, it insistently returns. It has an important message for Paul, about something that happened during his infancy that no one ever told him–that he is the surviving member of a pair of conjoined twins and that the voice is that of his brother who died so that he could live–Peter.
Peter and Paul–get it? Rob Peter to pay Paul? You just know some kind of payback is in store.
And when Paul’s girlfriend Jessica returns from the doctor’s office, we know for sure what it is: she’s pregnant. And finally, Paul does have an opportunity to pay back Peter for the sacrifice of his life–by having created a new body for him. Of course, there has to be a complication–Jessica’s not so sure she wants to have the baby.
As I tweeted after viewing the webisode for the first time, this story flew by. I was under the impression that Twisted Showcase’s webisodes were five minutes long, so I was amazed afterward when I realized the run time for “Peter and Paul” was actually eleven minutes. The episode gives David-Lloyd the opportunity to do what he does best—tap into strong emotions and sell them.. When we learn that Peter was attached to Paul’s right side, at the shoulder, it becomes clear the physical reaction that Paul is having whenever he hears from Peter, who is somehow making him feel (cellular memory, repressed memories?) the physical pain of separation. David-Lloyd is not afraid to take the expression of that pain to an extreme physical level, at one point launching himself from the sofa and rolling on the floor in agony—literally wrestling with his own devil.
The one weak spot for me, however, was the chemistry between David-Lloyd’s character and the girlfriend, Jessica (Beth Mascarenhas). It’s clear from the set-up that Paul and Jessica aren’t close. They aren’t married (neither wears a wedding band), and although they live together, they seem oddly disconnected. At one point in the dialogue, Jessica actually remarks “Has it come to the point the only time we shag is to celebrate something?” They seem to have fallen into the habit of being together without truly being together. All of this makes sense in the context of how their problem plays out; a more committed couple would not be so nonchalant about discussing an abortion. When Jessica kisses Paul at the end of the webisode, after The Discussion, again, it is oddly unemotional. There is no spark, I can’t see what brought these two together in the first place, and that lack of connection diminishes my emotional investment in the outcome.
However, the premise of the webisode raises some interesting metaphysical and philosophical issues for those who are so inclined. What karma do we owe to those we have wronged, intentionally or intentionally, in this lifetime or others? Does Peter have the right to the child growing inside Jessica? And if that baby is supposed to be Peter’s re-entrance into the earth realm, is there a reason he is not yet attached to the fetus? Or, being attached, does he feel his mother’s ambivalence and is reaching out to Paul in a last ditch effort to secure his return? Or did Peter’s soul attach itself to Paul after the separation (it’s not unheard of for souls to accidentally latch on to another being in the trauma of death)? Is Peter simply a deeply buried, repressed memory, hidden at the cellular level, that is brought back to the level of consciousness at Paul’s intuitive awareness that Jessica is pregnant?
Viewers who are so inclined can have a field day with the ethical can of worms opened up by this premise. As an American woman viewing this during a time when some in my country want to mandate medical rape for any woman who requests termination, the issue of women’s choice was foremost on my mind at the end of this webisode. Who has the right to decide what happens to the fetus growing in Jessica? Jessica? Or Peter? Even from the perspective of a woman having the freedom to make a choice over what happens to her body, the situation can still be emotionally complicated, but when the metaphysical element comes into play, who can tell what is right or what is wrong when trapped in these bodies we have no full awareness of what contracts our souls entered into before we came here? Perhaps on a soul level Jessica has agreed to bring Peter into the world and Peter’s “wake-up call” to Paul is an attempt to help her remember that agreement. Perhaps Peter has no right to that body, a body that might have been promised to another soul, and is trying to hijack it to get back into Paul’s life to wreak revenge. Maybe Peter is destined to die again as Jessica’s fetus. Perhaps Peter has killed others in previous lives and now it is his turn to atone for those sins through dying in these lives. How can either Paul or Jessica know?
And that brings us to yet another mother’s choice–Peter and Paul’s. What a horrible decision she must have been forced to make. Yet how can we ever fully understand the consequences of our actions when none of us can see with any certainty the outcome? Was Peter’s mother aware of how much he would suffer as he was separated from Paul and died? This must have been a truly agonizing, soul-wrenching moment in her life. However, we’re never given the mother’s point of view—only Peter’s. Yet we still know that no mother makes a life-or-death decision about a child lightly. Maybe, if she hadn’t chosen one child over the other, both would have died. And perhaps, out of her love for her remaining child, she decided not to tell Paul in order to protect him, to keep him from having to deal with the terrible weight of survivor’s guilt.
Ultimately, the ending is left open. We aren’t given any definitive answers, but are just left with the questions–it is up to the viewer to decide what course of action the trio takes, and what is right and what is wrong, and that’s probably the best ending for the tale. After all, it’s the element of the unknown and unknowable that is one of the things we love most about scary stories.
If you’re a fan of Gareth David-Lloyd, you’ve probably already watched it; if not, find some time to check it out. Twisted Showcase currently has the episode up on its YouTube page (which I’ve linked to in my Blogroll) with a link there to their home page. If you’re not a Gareth David-Lloyd fan, my guess is that you will be by the end of these eleven minutes. There are few actors that could manage to believably sell this premise, but David-Lloyd manages to do it. As for me, I’m going to check out Twisted Showcase’s next webisode to see where they go from here. “Peter and Paul” shows promise, and I hope the next installments are as interesting and thought-provoking as this one was.