Torchwood: Children of Earth messed me up for a long time—we’re talking at least a week of emotional trauma. There were so many haunting, disturbing, and heartbreaking moments in such a small number of episodes that the entire viewing process felt like a kind of emotional overload.
Although Children of Earth had more than its share of painful scenes and Torchwood was known for killing characters off in brutal ways, I wasn’t prepared for what I would feel when Ianto died in Jack’s arms, fearing that he would be forgotten in the thousands of years the immortal Jack would go on to see after leaving him behind.
This is a scene that is heartbreaking on so many levels. Even if you have no idea who these two characters are or what is specifically happening to them, you can feel everything they’re feeling. Gareth David-Lloyd makes Ianto’s fear of being forgotten so palpable because it’s so relatable. Isn’t that what we all want—to know we’ll be remembered long after we’re gone? And I love how you can feel Jack’s certainty pushing back against Ianto’s doubt. When he promises Ianto that he’ll never forget him, you believe it because he’s never sounded so sincere before.
That’s the most painful thing about this scene—it’s the most broken and vulnerable we’ve ever seen Jack. This is a character defined by his bravado, but here he’s stripped of his pride, begging the man he loves not to leave him. John Barrowman’s performance in this scene is incredible. He’s so comforting towards Ianto at the start of the scene, but as soon as he can see Ianto fading away, the panic beings to set in. The way his voice breaks when he says, “Stay with me!” is like a sucker punch. This scene is a great example of the power of an actor holding back tears. We know Jack is not a man to show his true emotions easily—with immortality comes a certain sense of detachment. But here he’s so overwhelmed with grief that he can’t keep those feeling down any more, even though he’s trying to do just that. When Ianto dies, Jack sounds so lost, so broken, and so hopeless—it’s such a hard thing to watch when you’re used to him being full of energy and sparkling charisma.
Ianto was simply a quiet, kind man who just wanted to take care of Jack—that was his job, but it also became his life. Somewhere along the way, he went from being the coffee boy to being someone Jack trusted with his secrets—and ultimately his heart. Ianto was such a genuinely good character that it was a truly upsetting shock to see him die.
I’ll never be okay with this scene, and that’s the whole point. And I know I’ll never forget Ianto Jones—this scene made sure of that.