The first episode of season two of Torchwood makes good use of Jack Harkness’ absence, which quickly ends, but nonetheless is posited and allows for the rest of the team to become much stronger and remain less in Jack’s shadow.
The episode, “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang,” focuses on a previous partner of Jack’s (in more ways than one) from the time agency. It is a figure he doesn’t trust but is also clearly still attracted to: Captain John Hart, presumably no more his real name than Jack’s. We learned in the episode “Capt. Jack Harkness” at the end of season 1 that Jack had found himself in the past at one point and had borrowed the name of a soldier who had been killed.
The two episodes from the end of season 1 and the start of season 2 work together to both fill in Jack’s past and communicate that he is not simply mysterious or secretive. He is running from his past, and since he is a time traveler, it is a past that is also in the future. And since he is a time traveler among time travelers, his past keeps catching up with him, and he keeps landing back in it. Jack’s character illustrates the silences we often construct to try to put our past behind us. But it cannot remain hidden, not only because lives intersect in unexpected ways, but because we carry the past with us, even after we have changed in dramatic ways.John Hart suggests that life is a cosmic joke, and turns out to be after money, one of the few comforts in a meaningless existence. He tries to entice Jack back to the future and back to travel among the stars.
But Jack has learned something important since he and John had last been together. All the beauty of alien worlds galore can be less satisfying than stopping to really fully experience one place, one time, and forge connections with people there.