“They Keep Killing Suzie” is quite possibly my favorite episode of Torchwood so far. Certainly for someone interested in the intersection of religion and science fiction, it gives a lot to talk about.
We first meet Suzie in the pilot episode, and it is there that the resurrection gauntlet is introduced as well. In that episode, Suzie kills herself. She had been committing murders in order to have the opportunity to train with the gauntlet. She had been the only person on the team that was able to use the gauntlet, and it had thus far proved possible only to bring someone back to life for a couple of minutes at most. After Suzie’s death, since her murder spree might have been due to the influence of the alien glove, the resurrection gauntlet is locked away.
In “They Keep Killing Suzie,” someone has begun trying to get Torchwood’s attention by killing people and writing “Torchwood” in blood on the wall. To try to solve the crimes, they decide to use the the resurrection gauntlet, and since it turns out that Gwen can use it, they are able to trace the matter to a “religious support group” called Pilgrim, where people discuss matters like the meaning of life and the existence of God.
When they discover that Suzie also attended the group, they bring her back to life – but unlike others, she stays alive. And it turns out that Suzie had made plans to facilitate her return in case of death, and what had been happening was part of her plan.
GWEN : When you’re dead, I mean when you die… what happens ?
SUZIE : What do you want me to say ?
GWEN : The truth.
SUZIE : Really ?
GWEN : Tell me.
SUZIE : You religious, or…
GWEN : Just sort of, in passing you know…
GWEN : I dunno…
SUZIE : Yes you do, what do you believe ?
GWEN : Stupid but, I always sort of think… like you know, white light and all that and I think of my gran and she’ll be there, waiting for me. The smell of carbolic…
SUZIE : Your faith never left primary school.
GWEN : So what’s up there ?SUZIE : Nothing. Just nothing.
GWEN : But… but if there’s nothing what’s the point of it all ?
SUZIE : This is, driving through the dark, all this stupid tiny stuff. We’re just animals howling in the night, ‘cause it’s better than silence. I used to think about Torchwood, all those aliens coming to earth, what the hell for ? But it’s just instinct. They come here ‘cause there’s life, that’s all. Moths around a flame creatures clinging together in the cold.
GWEN : So when you die it, it’s just…
SUZIE : Darkness.
GWEN : And you’re all alone there’s no one else ?
SUZIE : I didn’t say that.
GWEN : What’d you mean ?
SUZIE : Why do you think I’m so desperate to come back ? There’s something out there, in the dark, and it’s moving.
Later in the episode, Capt. Jack Harkness manages to kill Suzie (hence the title of the episode) by destroying the glove, which was in fact draining away Gwen’s life and keeping Suzie alive. Towards the end of the episode, he says “The resurrection days are over, thank God.” But Ianto points out that the thing about gloves is that they come in pairs.
So the episode tackles certain religious topics, and might seem to be doing little more than inverting the view of the afterlife associated with Christianity and several other religious traditions. But in fact, it is doing more interesting things than that.
On the one hand, in contrast with Gwen’s “grade school” level faith in a heaven to which one goes when one dies, the classic doctrine of the afterlife is in fact resurrection – return to a bodily existence, but a different sort, in which one never dies again. That makes a close connection to a major element in this episode’s storyline. On the other hand, the idea of a place of darkness, in which one may or may not cease to exist altogether, but in which one clearly does not continue to live in a full or any meaningful sense, is akin to the notion of Sheol in the Hebrew Bible.
Students are consistently surprised when it is pointed out to them that most of the texts in the Hebrew Bible do not adopt a viewpoint which asserts that there is an afterlife. Like Gwen, they wonder what the point is if there isn’t eternal life.
The message of this episode of Torchwood is perhaps that if you cannot find meaning in this life, then you won’t find meaning even if your life were to be extended indefinitely.