The Best and Worst of Torchwood: Miracle Day

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I have been quite a fan of Torchwood, a spin-off series of Doctor Who. Torchwood is based on the organization featured prominently during Doctor Who‘s Series 2 story arc, and the character, Captain Jack Harkness, featured during the end of Doctor Who Series 1. What makes it different from both Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures is the strong adult themes present in the series, such as the images directly above and below, and how much it delves into sexuality during it’s first two series, which dissipates when it switches to a mini-series format.

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I wasn’t as particular towards Miracle Day compared to the other seasons of Torchwood, as this io9 article, “Torchwood: Miracle Day: An Onion With Only One Layer” explains much of my own reservations for this mini-series:

If I had a problem with the final episode, it was the fact that it mostly felt a bit prosaic, after nine episodes of build-up. And “Phase Two” of the Families’ plan felt a bit generic “and then we take over the world.” Basically, now that we know Russell T. Davies’ entire storyline for Miracle Day, it feels a bit slight. After this show changed gears from “dystopian social thought experiment” to “conspiracy thriller” halfway through, it never quite got its mojo back.

So in “The Blood Line”, all four of our surviving heroes, plus Oswald, congregate at the two openings to the Blesssing in Shanghai and Buenos Aires. Once there, they have two confrontations, in parallel, with members of the Three Families. And all is explained.

Here’s what I took away from it: after the Three Families witnessed Jack’s immortality back in the 1920s, they kept Jack’s blood, and managed to become bargain-basement Illuminati, controlling the media, finance and politics. And eventually, thanks to the Internet age, they discovered these two spots in Shanghai and Buenos Aires where everyone’s life expectancy was exactly the average for the human race. This eventually led them to the Blessing, some kind of super-ancient presence in the center of the Earth that could be connected to Silurian mythology or the Racnoss or whatevs. The Blessing exactly calibrates a finely tuned matrix that harmonizes with the human race.

So the families set about experimenting on the Blessing, and eventually they figured out that if they exposed it to Jack’s immortal blood in both places at once, the Blessing would interpret this blood sample as the new “normal” for humanity — and thus, it would turn the entire human race immortal. (Except Jack, who would switch the opposite way, for some reason.) And by turning the human race immortal, they reasoned, they could cause widespread chaos and the collapse of society — which, in turn, would allow them to seize absolute power over the economy and everything else, sending anyone who opposes them to the ovens.

As plans for taking over the world go, it’s a little bit fancy. And maybe I’d just been expecting too much, but I was sort of hoping the scheme would be a bit more concrete, like there would turn out to be something about Phase Two that would take the immortality concept in a new direction.

We’ve known about the Three Families since episode three or four, and we’ve known they were power-hungry fiends. So the big reveal being that the Three Families were power-hungry fiends, sort of fell flat for me. At the end of ten episodes, I sort of wanted a better explanation for why anybody would want to turn the human race immortal on purpose. And as villains go, the Three Families never quite got enough traction, or inspired that much hatred.

Oh, and the ticking time bomb in this episode is just “in a few hours, we’re going to bury the Blessing under rubble, so that the Miracle will become permanent.” Somehow it feels a bit lacking in urgency. (And why wait? Why not just blow up the facility now, or five minutes from now?)

Meanwhile, the Blessing is just… a plot device. There’s no big mystery about it, it’s just another big entity that’s trying to be kind — sort of like the space whale in that one Doctor Who story. Or the nanogenes that turn everybody into gas-mask zombies in that other Doctor Who story. I really think this miniseries could have worked better with some good honest aliens, or some villains who were a bit more horrible.

The other big problem with this episode was just that things seemed drawn out for no particular reason. Like, it takes Rex about five minutes to explain the basic idea of, “Let’s pretend we died in that explosion, so the baddies don’t know we’re coming.” It’s as though nobody’s heard of that tactic before. (Was anybody else hoping that, when the Buenos Aires baddies are holding Rex and Esther hostage, Rex would at least try not to speak on the audio relay, thus depriving the Families of proof that he’s their hostage?)

And then there’s Oswald himself. One of the biggest question marks hanging over this miniseries, all along, was why this repulsive criminal was being given such a central role in the story. And now that it’s all over, that question only looms larger. The sardonic story, in earlier episodes, of Oswald becoming a quasi-televangelist was fascinating and strange, like a bit of P.T. Anderson had wandered into our science fiction thriller. But what was Oswald’s story really about? He winds up being set up as a suicide bomber by Captain Jack, and when he finally blows himself up, he screams that he’s going to find the girl he molested in hell and molest her for all eternity. Oswald’s character has collapsed back down to being just a scary pedophile, after the show has teased us with all these other facets. I remain unclear on why Oswald wasn’t just a minor supporting character in one or two episodes, like the Tea Party lady.

If that isn’t bad enough, the whole PhiCorp-Families Conspiracy isn’t good television, being connected to a similar context as Fringe‘s “Dream Logic” which hardly comes off well.

The Best:

Dead of Night, The Categories of Life, Immortal Sins, and End of the Road

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So, the total usual:

  • Dead of Night is the last time we have any sense of old Torchwood (Series 1 and 2) present in the show, which is a shame since I liked that much, much better;
  • The Categories of Life the moral challenges fraught from Miracle Day happening come to full fruition in this episode, which make it really worth watching, largely in disgust;
  • Immortal Sins has similarities to Children of Day: Day Three, as well as “Fragments” and “Adam” from Series 2, in that Captain Jack’s past is touched upon. I have had a tendency to enjoy these episodes;
  • End of the Road is decent in at least trying to tie things together finally.

According to the IGN review of Dead of Night:

While the first two episodes of Miracle Day acted as an introduction to the characters, the Miracle and the threat, “Dead of Night” dives right into the story with a new, makeshift version of the Torchwood team on the proactive. As much as I’ve enjoyed the first couple of episodes it was good to finally have a story with a bit more of that classic Torchwood feel to it.

The interaction between the members of this new Torchwood team benefited greatly from the character development of both Esther and Rex. Everyone seemed to be naturally in-tune with one another, making this new team feel like a natural fit. I wonder if the plan is to have this team stick around for possible future seasons of the show or if this is only a temporary setup. Personally, I would like to see these four, along with Dr. Juarez, form the new Torchwood. Rex’s brash, insensitive and slightly homophobic attitude clashes delightfully with Captain Jack, while Esther grows closer with Gwen who was once in a similar situation to the young CIA analyst.

There is quite a bit of information revealed about the possible antagonists and their motivation. Even though we’re given a fairly definitive picture as to why Miracle Day may have been created, it’s hard to imagine that a pharmaceutical company with profit in mind is the whole story. There’s something evil and possibly alien lurking in the midst with the hint that this all comes back to Captain Jack Harkness. Jack seems to think so too.

Oswald Danes has finally garnered the attention of Torchwood and we’re starting to see how his part of the puzzle fits in the grander scheme. It’s still unclear why Jilly and PHICORP specifically chose Oswald Danes to be their spokesperson though. Jilly did comment on his “acting” ability when she first met with him but judging by his run in with the locals and the police, he’s still hated by the public. Not the type of person you would necessarily want speaking on behave of your company. Maybe it just has to do with the fact that his face is in the spotlight at the moment or maybe there is something else we don’t know about Danes.

Bill Pullman is given a lot more screen time and he seems to be having a lot of fun playing the monster. The final scene between Danes and Jack allowed Pullman the opportunity to play the role with a bit of camp; calling for his henchmen whilst acting all pompous and arrogant. It looks like both Danes and Pullman have slipped into the role of diabolical villain just nicely. The way Danes addressed Jack by name was suitably creepy as was his dark admission of the details regarding the death of the girl he murdered. There’s some fantastic dialogue that Pullman does an exceptional job of delivering. The whole frightening description gave me chills. Miracle Day has a great villain in Danes.

Between the informative opening and the tense conclusion “Dead of Night” slows down a bit to tell a much more personally story. Captain Jack, wallowing in his mortality, takes the opportunity to do what Jack does best – get laid. This isn’t a shallow encounter for Jack however – his sudden return to mortality reminds him of what it truly means to be alive. By night’s end, he’s drunk on both sex and life while also being reinvigorated to get to the bottom of this mystery. However, he’s still ultimately alone. Jack’s telephone conversation with Gwen is cut short when Rhys makes an appearance via webcam. While Gwen is preoccupied with her family, Jack desperately attempts to gain her attention, hoping that she will respond. Now that he’s mortal, those little things like friends and family become far more important.

Rex and Dr. Juarez’s sexual interlude was unexpected. I have to imagine Rex must have been having the best sex of his life. He’s supposed to be dead. I’m surprised he didn’t comment on it afterwards.

Taking the time to slow down and focus on the emotional stability of this team was a smart call. It also allows for the opportunity to get across the impact that Miracle Day is having on society via something other than news broadcasts. We’re allowed to get a feel for how Miracle Day is impacting each of the members of this new Torchwood team while also seeing the rest of the world through their eyes. We got a bit of this in “The New World” via Gwen and Rhys, but we see a lot more of it here.

There are some great little one-liners that point to the larger world that Miracle Day exists in. Jack hinting where he got the camera contact lenses was a nice nod to his travels through space and time. I also appreciated the quip about being bigger on the inside than the outside when referencing the PHICORP facility. These nice little touches are cute reminder that Torchwood’s pedigree is certainly not forgotten.

According to the IGN review of The Categories of Life:

With Miracle Day hitting its midway point, I was hoping that the series would have picked up a bit more steam. A little more about the secret organization behind Phicorp would have been appreciated but it looks like we will have to wait at least another week for that. “The Categories of Life” is a great concept for an episode however. Imagine government, along with Big Pharma, determining who is alive versus who should technically be dead. That’s a solid basis for an episode. While Dr. Juarez explores one of the controversial overflow camps and discovers its terrible secret, the rest of the group isn’t given much else to do besides watch Dr. Juarez do her thing, save for Captain Jack, who hunts down Oswald Danes once again.

Dr. Juarez’s discovery of the horrific conditions inside the overflow camp leads to an emotional outburst of frustration. Remember, the procedure at the overflow camps is based on her recommendations, but twisted to meet Phicorp’s needs. Juarez is horrified by the realization that her recommendations have been perverted and used to create such an unbearable situation for the millions of sick and injured that have been brought to these camps. While the concept of a “Miracle Day” is unlikely to manifest itself in the real world, the very realistic reaction by the governments of the world in “The Categories of Life” has a frightening ring of truth to it. Even if you remove the corporate greed of Phicorp, the health care crisis that the world would face is very real. The scary realization that things may not play out that differently from what is depicted in this episode did cross my mind and I love that RTD is giving the Torchwood writers an opportunity to look at these morally challenging concepts.

“The Categories of Life” is one of those scary science fiction concepts that also act as a fascinating social commentary. The poor conditions that the Category 2 patients, those who are sick and can’t take care of themselves, experience is only half the story, the frightening truth is what is happening to the Category 1’s. Those who are brain dead or technically should be dead are boxed up and burned alive. At this point we can only assume that it’s done to keep them out of sight and out of mind while the majority of the world enjoy what the Miracle has to offer. You have to wonder, in the unlikely situation that Miracle Day really did happen, what would we do with the growing numbers of should-be-dead in this situation? Again, it’s horrifying to think what may happen to our humanity as we strive to remove those unfortunate elements from our brave new world. Out of sight, out of mind.

With Juarez just having joined the team it was surprising to see her taken down so quickly. Her emotional outburst didn’t help things at all and I couldn’t help but think she should turn it down a notch as she inspected the overflow camp. The conditions were horrible but her primary goal was recon. Of course, compassion sometimes overrides logic and Dr. Juarez finds herself amongst the Category 1 patients as they are being burned alive inside the module.

Esther doesn’t seem to do much of anything this week. Along with Rex and Dr. Juarez, she’s also tasked with infiltrating the overflow camp outside Los Angeles, but beyond staring longingly and showing concern for Dr. Juarez, she doesn’t contribute at all. Although, after last week, maybe it’s best if she doesn’t get herself into too much trouble.

Rex also infiltrates the L.A. overflow camp (notice a trend here) and is the first to discover the modules, but he learns their grizzly secret too late as he witnesses Dr. Juarez burning alive. All he’s left to do is film her fiery fate,which is undoubtedly far worse than death.

Despite the intriguing concept of “The Categories of Life”, Gwen, Rex, Dr. Juarez and Esther are all doing the exact same thing with only one of the characters, Dr. Juarez, actually contributing anything substantial to the plot. We didn’t need to see the injustice of the overflow camps from four entirely different perspectives. Having Dr. Juarez infiltrate the camp with, maybe, Rex there to witness her death would have been enough. Esther would have been far better off being given another assignment this week. She ultimately suffers from Jane Espenson having no idea what to do with her.

Gwen’s story is far more personal and I can understand why she felt the need to return home. Still, we saw nothing we weren’t already seeing in the scenes with Dr. Juarez. She discovers what is happening to the Category 1 patients at the same time Rex does. Also, splitting Gwen from the rest of the group midway through the story seems counterproductive. Hopefully, she makes a quick return next week but she still has her father to worry about.

With Gwen, Rex, Esther and Dr. Juarez all involved in infiltrating overflow camps, Captain Jack goes off on his own little adventure to confront Oswald Danes. Captain Jack uses his patented “standing in the hallway, mysteriously” routine to lure Danes away from Jilly and then offers him an alternate speech for the rally. The Danes worship still baffles me so it’s good to see a few scenes that show the majority of the public still vocalizing their hate for him, that all changes however with Danes’ big speech in support of Phicorp. Pullman’s delivery of the speech is over-the-top, but that is status quo for Danes thus far.

The connection between Captain Jack and Danes is just not resonating right now. We’re meant to believe that they share a certain kinship and that Jack understands Danes’ true intentions. However, I’m just not seeing it. We’ve seen Danes turn against Jack twice now and I don’t get the impression that he’s remorseful or wants to die for what he has done. On the contrary, Danes seems to love his celebrity status and he’s clearly enjoys playing the general populous for fools. Maybe Jack has finally learned his lesson.

According to the IGN review of Immortal Sins:

“Immortal Sins” is a noticeable shift in pace compared to the rest of Miracle Day. Slowing down to delve into Jack’s past and giving us a glimpse at what may have been the catalyst for Miracle Day was a welcome and almost necessary transition from the last couple of episodes. There have been not-so-subtle hints that someone or something from Jack’s past may have been involved in Miracle Day but the potential genesis of this entire story wasn’t quite what I was expecting, although it’s still very much appreciated.

Jack’s flashbacks center around a love story between him and an Italian immigrant named Angelo Colassanto. While the two may start by sharing the same bed, Angelo contrasts Jack Harkness in almost every way imaginable. Religious, ashamed and afraid of who he really is, Angelo’s interest is quickly piqued by the exciting new world of adventure and freedom Captain Jack is offering him.

Angelo’s introduction to Jack’s immortality is followed by a grizzly sequence of torture that had my stomach turning. Jack is repeatedly tortured and murdered by the locals who seem to be getting off on the idea of killing without consequences because they consider Harkness a monster or demon. Angelo is helpless in the situation but you have to wonder why he allowed people to see Jack’s strange ability in the first place, if he so quickly regretted it. There’s also the introduction of the three men in suits who apparently purchase Jack from a butcher. They also feature the most unusual three-way handshake in the shape of a triangle – very intriguing, yet very vague.

Given Captain Jack’s long history, pulling a potential villain from his past seems only natural. After all, he must have rubbed more than one person the wrong way before and after being transformed into an immortal being by Rose Tyler. However, when we last leave Angelo Colassanto, he doesn’t appear to be in a position to formulate a complete genetic transformation of the entire human race. While his love affair with Jack and subsequent introduction to a strange new world makes for a fascinating story, the real meat of Angelo’s evolution is what I’m dying to dig into.

When it comes to aliens and its connections to Doctor Who, “Immortal Sins” may be the boldest episode of Miracle Day. Captain Jack doesn’t shy away from mentioning The Doctor and it has been obvious recently that he likens himself to the 900-Year-Old Time Lord. He even compares his relationship with Angelo as having his version of a companion. The adventures of Captain Jack through history with his very own companions is an intriguing premise that I’d love to see explored at some point in the future.

Besides The Doctor reference, it’s great to finally see something ‘alien’ appear on Torchwood. A noticeable alien presence is something that Miracle Day has been sorely lacking since the start of the season. Miracle Day needs a little more alien intrigue now that Phicorp has been revealed as a pawn in a much larger game.

Back in the present, it was good to have Jack and Gwen together again. This might not be there most ideal reunion, but there is something about the harsh honesty in their conversation that was missing from the last couple of episodes. Jack’s determination to hold on to his mortality despite that meaning the possible death of Gwen’s family was shocking. Despite the incredibly long and fulfilling life he has lived, he’s still not willing to sacrifice himself to help save Gwen’s family? It’s selfish, but somehow I understood what he was trying to say. It had a lot more to do with dying according to someone else’s terms than dying by his own. There was no way he was going to willingly give himself up to some shadowy organization without putting up a fight. I can hardly blame him; still, I was pulling for Gwen to save her family by any-means-necessary.

However, if Angelo had called up and said “Hey, remember me” I’m pretty sure Jack would have gone anyways, rendering this whole kidnapping episode a little pointless. In fact, as much as I enjoyed “Immortal Sins,” I kind of find myself wishing that all the Oswald Danes scenes so far in this season had been lifted and replaced Captain Jack flashbacks, maybe scenes in which we get glimpses of events leading up to Miracle Day. Angelo being the potential mastermind feels a little out of left field considering his character was only introduced in episode seven of a ten part series. A little more setup would have made this week’s conclusion all the more satisfying.

Rex and Esther make a small but substantial appearance, backing up Gwen and Jack when they need help the most. After the focus had been a little more on them instead of Jack and Gwen, switching things up was the best move. Hopefully we get to see all four of them share screen time next week.

Once again, Oswald Danes and Jilly Kitzinger are conspicuously absent. There’s a short mention of Danes promoting the use of the Category system but it’s rather unnecessary. Since Oswald and Jilly never had an important impact on the plot as it is, their absence is almost welcome. It means more time being devoted to the Torchwood team and finding out the real truth behind the Miracle Day mystery.

According to the IGN review of End of the Road:

Last week I was certain that Angelo was one of the people behind what caused Miracle Day. As it turns out, I wasn’t entirely on the ball with that assessment, though he was researching immortality. Of course, it still seems ridiculous that Olivia Colasanto (Nana Vistior) would send armed men to hold Gwen’s family hostage if they weren’t involved in the greater scheme in some way. I don’t find the reasoning given this week all that persuasive either. Again, it was an attempt to create drama under false pretenses. There was no reason for Olivia to do what she, but it created dramatic tension. Gwen’s rightfully pissed.

The introduction of John de Lancie (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Breaking Bad) and the reintegration of the CIA into the storyline was a bit rough around the edges. I’m not a huge fan of Wayne Knight’s casting in his role as the Families’ hired help. He’s too neurotic for a character whose noble ties to the mysterious triangle families seems to be deeper than blood.

With Wayne Knight out of the way, de Lancie is a breath of fresh air in his rule as a CIA chief. He brings a lot of his natural charm to the role and I quickly grew to like him even though he’s technically working against Jack and Gwen. Truth is, he has a point and Torchwood needs to start playing nice if they hope to solve this issue.

It’s disappointing to see that Gwen is getting shipped off again. Is there some rule that says she can’t be with the rest of the group for more than an entire episode? I like Torchwood and one of the reasons I like it is the team dynamic. With the original group dead, Jack and Gwen are the heart of this new team. Splitting them up again, especially this late in the season, is more than a little disappointing. I loved their back-and-forth banter again this week. They seem to have made Gwen even more of a spitfire than I recall in previous years. That’s also one of the reasons they need to keep her around.

With Gwen rushed out in the first act, it’s up to Captain Jack and the new recruits to work out what happened to Angelo. It’s a bit strange to be saying this, but I found myself siding with Rex and Esther when they decided to reveal what was hidden underneath Angelo’s bed. I know Jack loves his secrets, but sometimes his need for complete secrecy is counter-productive to the cause. This was one of those times. Esther and Rex aren’t blindly dismissing their duty to the CIA simply because a strange man in a trench coat is telling them what to do – smart move.

Esther’s sister makes another appearance and while I’m not too thrilled to see this story rear its ugly head again, it does give Esther the motivation to go against Jack’s orders. Also, the concept of people choosing to become Category 1 patients, by means of some sort of near-suicide, is frightening. It would be great if they had more time to play with the idea, but this late into the series I’d rather they just focus on the Triangle Families.

Well, we finally have something alien that ties into Miracle Day. Angelo’s device is an interesting concept and it’s good to see that it ties back to Jack’s theory that morphic fields are involved. Using it to mask their conversation seemed a bit silly. Anyone who turned their head would no something was up and Rex spent too much time doubting that the technology could do what Jack said it could do. After all he’s seen, Rex needs to have a bit of faith.

It’s a bit strange to see Danes and Jilly back after not being around for two weeks in a row. Danes’ request for a prostitute was creepy. His scene with the high-class prostitute was awkward, as expected but I think the outcome was appropriate. Ultimately, he will never be seen as a normal human being. As for his encounter with Jilly, I’m not sure whether I’m supposed to feel sorry for her or not. She’s obviously disgusted by him as well, rightfully so, but she seems unfazed by the CIA agent getting shot when the possibility of a promotion comes up. I guess her thirst for success outweighs her morals, and just when I thought she was going to be the better person too. I’m curious what a promotion means within the families.

“End of the Road” concludes with the Torchwood team once again fractured. Gwen’s on a plane and Rex is left behind at the Colasanto residence while Esther drives away with a wounded Jack. I really hope things turn around for them next week. I’m getting tired of seeing this team beaten down as badly as they have been. It’s time they have their moment to shine.

The Worst:

Rendition, The Middle Men, The Gathering, and The Blood Line

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And, of course:

  • Rendition had some pretty forced and far fetched moments that were not helpful to the overall story;
  • The Middle Men generally deals with introducing this world conspiracy via PhiCorp Executive Stuart Owens though I am not that entertained with this sort of storytelling; and,
  • The Gathering and The Blood Line serve as the worst Torchwood finale ever, fraught with plot convenience, and lame character endings. I’d skip all of it because at least that helps preserve what was good with the beginning of this mess.

According to the IGN review of Rendition:

“Rendition” starts with Torchwood taken into custody while Rhys is left behind to take care of little Anwen. Everyone’s being unnecessarily hostile in this opening scene. Maybe putting Jack, Gwen and Rhys in cuffs isn’t the best way to get them to help. Either way, Jack and Gwen find themselves on a plane headed for the United States. Jack and Gwen’s banter is great throughout the entire episode and makes what would otherwise have been a dull series of scenes of them handcuffed on a plane fun to watch. The conversation they had regarding his immortality was very Doctor Who and I appreciate the parallel being drawn between his character and The Doctor. Jack really does suddenly drop into people’s lives and start messing things up.

The information we learn regarding Morphic Fields was interesting. Any science fiction that has me doing a little scientific research after the episode is always appreciated. Considering Jack was marked for death for even bringing up Morphic Fields probably means that it is connected to Miracle Day somehow. These little hints of the larger mystery are appreciated but few and far between right now.

Jack’s poisoning created some excitement but most of it had to do with putting together an unfathomable concoction to save his life. The drama felt forced as Gwen spent most of her time freaking out. I get that it’s meant for laughs, but she’s a former police officer. Aren’t they taught to remain calm in this sort of situation? Having everyone panic, raise their voice and start freaking out is an amateur attempt at creating dramatic tension. Jack’s poisoned and he’s going to die – that’s all we need.

When they finally hit the ground and Rex learned that he was being set up the humor and action started hitting all the right notes. Both the fight sequence and the humor were back on track. I loved Gwen’s complaint about the escape vehicle being a Mini and not an SUV. Even Dichen Lachman’s twisted neck, while not the best of effects, was still fun to watch. With Gwen and Jack finally out of handcuffs things should hopefully start to pickup. Rex giving Jack his vortex manipulator back didn’t go unnoticed as well. The fact that they went out of their way to draw attention to it makes me think that it might get some use.

Esther and everyone else at CTU-lite spend the majority of their time watching the Oswald Danes’ botched execution or showing sympathy for him after his emotional apology. So do they spend most of their time watching TV for a living? I wonder how well it pays? Esther’s escape from the CIA facility was inventive and hinted at a looming greater threat that wants to eliminate anyone who has had any connection with Torchwood. Brian Friedkin (Wayne Knight) is somehow connected to this organization and they communicate with him via a mysterious little device. If this is Davies’ attempt at a 24 like organization we should have had an entire episode asking whom the mole was before we found out.

Last week it could be forgiven that Oswald Danes’ story didn’t have any impact on the primary plot. There was a lot of work being put into establishing the characters before we get into the meatier part of the story. Unfortunately, we don’t get anything more from the Danes’ story this week. He’s still a creepy, slimy monster who got off on a technicality that I’m not sure actually exists, but we need more to give a damn about him in the context of the story. His melodramatic talk show interview was grating to watch. The interviewers’ over-the-top delivery of every line was far too aggressive despite who he was interviewing.

Danes’ obviously fake apology was an interesting twist that has now led to him receiving sympathy from the masses. While intriguing, what it has to do with anything related to either Torchwood or Miracle Day remains to be seen. I’m sure there are many horrible people benefiting from immortality around the world, so what makes Oswald Danes so important? The mysterious and hyper Jilly Kitzinger (Lauren Ambrose) provides the only thread that connects his story with anything else.

Doctor Juarez (Arlene Tur) joins a rather large group of doctors and scientists who are trying to understand what is happening and work out a solution to the problem. I actually wish we spent more time with Dr. Juarez this week. The science behind what is going on is intriguing and it’s clear that biology has been fundamentally changed in a very specific way. While humans are immortal, they still age. It’s hard to say how anyone would benefit from this but I’m excited to find out!

According to the IGN review of The Middle Men:

“The Middle Men” still suffers from the same problem that “The Categories of Life” had, which is the band needs to get back together. It’s not that the story hasn’t been intriguing while the Torchwood team has been split up, but this new group works so much better together that keeping them apart seems like a waste of the limited time this series has to tell its story.

It would have been nice if Rex and Esther’s escape from the overflow camp could have been squeezed into the conclusion of last week’s episode. It does have a few good moments however. Rex’s fruitless attempt to escape the camp by dressing up in military fatigues was good for a laugh and Esther’s desperate fight with Colin Maloney (Marc Vann) was surprisingly tense. Esther’s been looking for an opportunity to feel like she’s making a difference and it looks like she finally found her moment to shine.

Simultaneously, Rhys and Gwen are working towards a similar escape of the Wales overflow camp but also need to save Papa Cooper before he’s shipped off to be burned alive. If it wasn’t already obvious, Gwen’s conversation with one of the Overflow Camp doctors is used to draw a parallel to Nazi concentration camps. Even though the allusion to concentration camps has been pretty evident, Gwen’s desperate pleas with Dr. Patel to not “just follow orders” was still chilling. Those who are in charge of running these camps appear to have been frozen with fear as they helplessly watched the medical infrastructure of the entire planet fall a part, leaving them complacent to blindly follow the first, seemingly logical, order they hear.

In Gwen and Rhys style, their escape is loud and boisterous. Gwen destroys the modules that are used to burn Category 1 patients alive while Rhys makes his escape amidst gunfire. They sure know how to make an exit.

Ernie Hudson’s portrayal of Phicorp executive Stuart Owens was a unexpected surprise. I’m not too sure what I’ve last seen Hudson in (probably my millionth re-watch of Ghostbusters) but his performance really caught me off guard. He has great camera presence and I enjoyed his forthright and direct deliver to Captain Jack in their restaurant scene together. If Hudson’s not getting enough work, that should be rectified.

As for Stuart, I was equally impressed with the introduction of this flawed, but seemingly noble Phicorp executive. His infidelity puts him in a vulnerable position, however I almost get the impression that Jack would have received the same answers if he had confronted Stuart man-to-man, without utilizing the mistress. In fact, I thought Jack’s roundabout way of meeting with Stuart made him look like a bit of a fool. Jack confronted Stuart expecting a smoking gun and instead found his expectations turned on their head as he may have discovered an unexpected ally. We learn a lot from Stuart, bust most importantly, Jack gets confirmation that Phicorp is simply another pawn in a much larger game.

Both Oswald Danes and Jilly Kitzinger are surprisingly absent from this week’s episode. That might be for the best as Danes’ story felt like it hit a brick wall last week. I’m sure they’ll probably both be back next week but I didn’t miss their storyline at all, which says a lot about the impact it’s having on the overall narrative thus far.

Miracle Day has been good so far, even great at times, but the next episode has to start lifting the veil of secrecy on the puppet masters behind this strange New World. With Gwen back in America and the team reunited, things should hopefully start ramping up. The conclusion to “The Middle Men” certainly feels like it’s going in the right direction with Gwen pitted against Jack in a desperate attempt to save her family.

According to the IGN review of The Gathering:

Protip: When you’re not sure how to resolve the previous episode’s cliffhanger, skip ahead a couple of months. Well, in the case of Miracle Day, seven weeks is more precise. Really though, who’s counting? It was extremely disappointing to see this trick used to resolve the cliffhangers from last week. While I wasn’t a huge fan of how the story left our beloved characters at the conclusion of “End of the Road,” I at least expected the story to pick up soon after we had left off. Instead, it’s seven weeks later, Gwen has settled with her family, Jack and Esther miraculously made their way across the pond to Scotland and Rex has completely reintegrated himself with the CIA.

The Rex and Gwen storylines were more-or-less headed in the direction we saw this week but seeing Esther and Jack in the UK was a bit disappointing. Esther’s sense of complete helplessness as she fled with a dying Jack was a big beat to end an episode on. Effectively, that big emotional moment was dropped and we get a throwaway line that Gwen helped Jack and Esther get into the country. Plausible, but it completely kills the moment of Esther’s arc. We saw this at the beginning of Doctor Who: Season 6 as well. The moment from the cliffhanger of “The Impossible Astronaut” was killed by a jump-in-time at the beginning of “Day of the Moon.” I’m a bit more forgiving in that case because the two episodes themselves worked out for the best. Also, time jumps are part of what you expect on that show.

However, I don’t feel the content in the rest of “The Gathering” makes up for its troubled start. Let’s continue with Rex’s return to the 24 style CIA facility. I was more than accepting of this stuffy computer lab at the beginning of the season because this was a natural place for Rex and Esther’s journey to start. The whole point is that, even though Rex and Esther work the CIA, they’re still fish-out-of-water when they team up with Torchwood. That’s supposed to be their grand magical adventure into the realm of the strange and unusual. While Esther has continued that journey, Rex spends the majority of this episode wound up in boring CTU land with the default resident mole (again, shades of 24) trying to stop his hunt-for-the-truth at every turn. Again, acceptable early on, but it feels like a step backwards to dump him in the CIA office again.

It’s equally troubling that the Rex’s research at the CIA is used as an information dump. I’ll admit, Rex’s idea to research fiction instead of fact in order to trace the families was rather brilliant. The problem is that it’s all done in the confines of an office. Instead of having Rex just mention the story, we could have had a scene with him tracking a copy of it down in an old bookstore, the only copy left in the city. That could have lead to a little adventure, a little danger and a lot less time spent in the office just talking about it.

While Rex is busy in his office, Gwen is fighting off the British secret police with a stick. The hunt for Gwen’s father by the British Category 1 squad felt like an unnecessary distraction. We’ve already witnessed and understand why being Category 1 is a horrible thing and it’s a great storyline, but it’s unnecessary at this stage in the game. The story needs to focus on The Gathering and The Blessing without all of this unnecessary filler. Instead of feeling an intense amount of fear for Gwen’s father, I was more frustrated with the fact that we weren’t moving on to the important plot points.

Oswald Danes’ surprise appearance in Gwen’s kitchen was shocking to say the least. I love that we’ve seen Gwen and Rhys go to great measures to secure their surroundings in previous weeks, yet they let this man just waltz in. Wouldn’t they be, by protocol, picking that stuff up at the door? His back and forth with Reese is cute to a fault. I liked were we started with this character but he’s turned into a bit of a joke now.

Rex’s information dump over the phone to Esther and the rest of the team is the catalyst for the final few minutes of the episode when the members of Torchwood finally decide to do something instead of sitting around and waiting. In fact, Gwen and Jack, the very heart of Torchwood, don’t do much to help themselves. Rex is the one who pieces together bits from an old story about Jack, Oswald Danes gives them information on a process, while Rhys of all people pieces together the connection between Buenos Aires and Shanghai. I have to admit, the Buenos Aires/Shanghai bit was clever. Reminds me of the time I tried to dig a hole to China.

Jilly gets all the best moments of this episode. She gets shipped off to Shanghai while also meeting a gauntlet of strange people she will never meet again. Finally, she gets to see The Blessing. I’m not sure what The Blessing is, but we know it’s a big hole in the planet between Buenos Aires and Shanghai. We also know that it’s connected to Jack in someway. On that plot point alone I’m excited for next week’s episode but the majority of “The Gathering” didn’t deliver the storytelling or action that’s needed at this point in the series.

According to the IGN review of The Blood Line:

“The Blood Line” is in many ways a fitting end to Miracle Day. The concept is sound and makes for a great science fiction premise, but the ultimate execution is flawed and the final reveal of what is behind Miracle Day is vague. Still, this is one of the better efforts of the season and delivers a few surprises that will keep those who stuck around hooked for a potential future season.

Early in the episode both Torchwood teams make their respective way towards The Blessing. Gwen has a funny encounter with a Shanghai local but her journey is otherwise uneventful. Rex and Esther are nearly killed in a suicide bombing attempt by another crazed Family devotee. For a Family that tries to keep a low profile, it sure does seem like every other person is working for them. Luckily, Esther and Rex escape the explosion which allows them to make their way to The Blessing.

We get a bit of Mole Girl intrigue back in the States. It was frustratingly convenient that the CIA Magic Mole Tracer wasn’t used until it was too late. We’re given some excuse about it being unstable. I’d like to think that the CIA would be smart enough to just collect everyone’s cellphones before they enter the building if they really think there is a mole.

The Blessing ultimately turned out to be the starting point for two huge morphic fields as was hinted at by Jack way back in the second episode. However, I’m still not exactly sure what The Blessing is supposed to be. If anyone asks, I’m just going to tell them that it’s a giant mystical crack in the Earth that controls the average lifespan of everything on the planet based on the lifespan of the inhabitants of Buenos Aires and Shanghai. Oh, and it feeds on blood. I’m not sure that was the resolution everyone was hoping for, but there you have it.

More disappointing is that we don’t learn anything more about the Families in this episode. There are hints that suggest giving the Earth immortality is part of a larger plan, however that’s being saved for a potential future season. That’s frustrating to say the least. If this season was more tightly packed, I’m sure they could have fit everything they needed to into ten episodes.

Rex’s big reveal that he was carrying Jack’s blood inside him via a transfusion was hilariously convenient. The forethought to do something like that is a little farfetched, even if they did know Jack’s blood is an important factor in what is going on with Miracle Day. Still, that is the hardcore attitude you need to be a Torchwood member and Rex has proven that he’s willing to cause himself physical pain if it means stopping the bad guy. It’s ridiculous, but I’ve seen crazier things on Torchwood over the years.

Oswald Danes’ involvement in all of this stands out like a sore thumb. I’m not entirely sure how that character made it to this particular juncture in the story or why he was so important in the first place, but there he was in the final act of the season with a bomb strapped to his body thanks to Captain Jack Harkness. Without his involvement in the episode, I’m pretty sure the exact same results could have been accomplished by other means. Danes’ sudden and creepy realization that he liked being a monster was redundant since we could already piece this together based on his actions. I had high hopes for Danes but he ended up being a rather needless entity in a story that was already having trouble staying focused.

The climax of the story is Jack and Rex committing their lives to reversing the polarity of the Earth crack’s morphic field so that everything can return to status quo. The whole sequence felt like very ‘hurry up and wait’. Both Rex and Jack spent a lot of time talking about what they were going to do without actually doing it, giving the bad guys enough time to shoot Esther. If Jack and Rex refrained from standing around explaining what will happen once they committed their own blood to the crack of doom, sweet little Esther may have been able to reconcile with her sister.

There are a couple of big twists and cliffhangers to end Miracle Day and setup a potential new season of the series. Esther’s death came as a shock and as a harsh reminder that no Torchwood team member is ever safe from the deadly stroke of Russell T. Davies’ pen. It was fun seeing Esther’s transition from analyst to field agent but out of all the characters her contribution was arguably the least, making her the most expendable. Her sacrifice is not in vain however, as we do get to see her sister alive and well with her kids at the funeral.

The other big twist, which most of us probably saw coming, was Rex gaining Jack’s immortality. In earlier episodes, Jack put a big emphasis on the fact that his blood had nothing to do with his immortality. Clearly he was wrong as it played an important role both in Miracle Day and Rex’s regeneration after getting shot by a bullet. It’s an interesting development for a second season and I hope Davies has a plan to go with this big twist as having two immortals on the team could become boring, fast.

The reveal that we may not be done with the Families and Jilly Kitzinger was a bit disappointing. With how this season has played out in the last few episodes I’d rather the next season start with a fresh mystery for the Torchwood to solve. I’d even like to see the show return to a more episodic format with new mysteries every week. While Miracle Day had its moments, RTD struck gold with Children of Earth and trying to match that success may prove difficult. Instead, it appears that we will be getting more Jilly and more of the Family storyline. What’s Plan B and does it have anything to do with aliens?

Torchwood needs more aliens.

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The next in best and worst is Children of Earth.

 

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5 thoughts on “The Best and Worst of Torchwood: Miracle Day

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