Torchwood: Miracle Day, Episode 6

(Index to all Torchwood posts here.)

I know I owe you guys some RAWR action, but I’ve only read one and a half chapters, and, in comparison to the chapter I’m stuck on, Torchwood is kicking A Dance with Dragons‘ behind. (Oh yes, I said it. It is chapter and episode specific, though.)


So, at the end of last week (and do I need to say ‘big honking spoilers ahoy!’?) Vera Juarez gets burnt alive, making Rex very, very angry. Because he was such a happy chap before. But rather than starting straight back at his rage, we start with a new character, Stuart Owens (Ernie Hudson), someone inside of PhiCore, someone who doesn’t know the Secret, but who is starting to get damn curious about something. He orders a dude in Hong Kong to go investigate something. The dude looks like a tough guy, but whatever he sees is enough to make himself tell Stuart that he saw nothing, before throwing himself off a building. Closest thing to death in this brave new world – a jump off a tall enough building is said to bring brain death.

Cut back to Rex taking video of the modules and what happened to Vera and saying about how he’s going to expose it all. Meanwhile, Esther doesn’t know Vera’s dead yet. Her shift is just ending, but she’s worried about Vera because she won’t answer the phone, so she bluffs her way into staying on. In the meantime the camp-boss, Colin Maloney (Marc Vann), is going mega-paranoid in response to his guilt and puts the camp in lockdown.

At the same time in Wales Gwen is trying to get her father out and facing a bureaucracy both cowardly and desperate. In LA, Jack uses the creepiest come-on ever to persuade the mistress of Stuart Owens to help him get to the guy. Presenting her with emails that show Stuart to be a bit of a dickhead her persuades her that it will be revenge. But Jack finds Stuart surprisingly co-operative. Stuart can’t tell him much, but his reasons for that are interesting in themselves. Whoever has been stockpiling the drugs has been doing this for a long time using a lot of different systems. The real evil is hidden behind a wall of bureaucracy. The only true piece of information Stuart can provide is a single, enigmatic word: the ‘Blessing’.

Back at the camp, things are going crazy. They locate Rex and the camp boss goes to ‘question’ him. Esther does a passable job of nearly saving the day, but ultimately it’s the Maloney’s reluctant side-kick, Ralph (Fred Koehler) who cracks and decides the killing has to stop… by ‘killing’Colin Maloney.

The story wraps up as Gwen and Rhys save her father and Gwen blows the camp in Wales to Hell, capturing it on tape and sending a message to the world. A message that does not receive the resounding response they expected.

How was it?

It was stonking. Torchwood is well and truly back on form, despite killing off one of my favourite characters. The pace was fast throughout, without sacrificing the moral complexity that is starting to make this genuinely interesting. Although I’m still finding Mekhi Phifer’s performance somewhat weak, everyone else is bringing it.

They’re doing surprisingly well with the well-worn theme of how appalling it can sometimes be to just ‘follow orders’ – perhaps because they look really closely at the good reasons that might sometimes lead people to do bad things. I particularly loved Gwen’s railing against the doctor who refuses to reclassify her dad as category two, despite apparently being aware of what it means to be category one. I liked it because you could sense that the doctor was also angry – she wasn’t just following orders, she knew there was a crisis the extent of which Gwen is unable to comprehend because she is too emotionally involved in the very personal effect it has on her family. Not saying the doctor’s right, but they do a passable job of presenting her point of view without belabouring it. I especially like Gwen’s closing remarks to her, as she pulls back from her almost hysterical rage to a quieter, more terrible one. The reference to ‘not calling yourself a doctor anymore’ [sic] is call back to the Doctor’s comments in ‘The Beast Below’ and its maybe a little heavy-handed, but the final ‘shame on you’ is beautifully understated.

Relatedly, Ralph’s comeback to start saying ‘no’ is an effective counter-point to the doctor’s resignation. You can say ‘no’, but it doesn’t come cheap. He’s killed a man, and his youth-like appearance underscores the loss-of-innocence theme. Nothing is easy. Esther also has a loss-of innocence moment. They set this character up badly. In the first episode I took her for a badass, and have been wrong-footed ever since by the apparent ret-con of wimpishness that allowed Rex to take the lead from the CIA side. I’ve still got problems with that, but her arc over the last couple of episodes has been nice enough to help me ease into this other conception of her. I suspect she’s meant to be the one who gets ‘forged’ by her experiences this season, and who will come out hard on the other side. I can live with that. Not everybody should be a badass. Especially as Gwen is well and truly holding up her end.

They say that cool guys don’t look back at explosions. Maybe that’s so, but Real Badasses don’t look back at explosions whilst they’re driving away from them on their badass motorbikes. Where did Gwen get a motorbike from? Don’t care. How exactly does blowing up a module help all those people not get burned alive… care slightly more about that one, but I’m going with ‘she was blowing up the power supply or something – shut up it looked GOOD’.

She was a complete idiot to then go through an airport having completed an act of terrorism, but hey. It made for a nice contrast moment to see her in her casual, vulnerable, ordinary mum-gear as someone types directly onto her eyeballs that they have her child. Very powerful, very nice.

The political and media reaction to the message Gwen records is also very well observed. Any other year you might have been tempted to think otherwise – to think that governments would be shamed when faced with their complicity in mass murder and would act immediately. It’s by no means clear that they won’t react in the end, but it’s naive to think that governments can’t be dwarfed out of their morals by catastrophes, or that they won’t stick to ideals in the face of wide-spread public disapproval. Consider the slow reaction to the Arab Spring. Consider the stalemate over the US debt rating, or the backlash after the English riots. Consider the human rights abuses that have been widely ignored for years, simply because they are an inconvenience, but also because we have neither the resources nor knowledge to find solutions to all the world’s problems.

I’m impressed by this series of Torchwood. Granted, it’s been pretty rocky in places, but when it’s good, it’s really good. And despite still being ludicrous and fun in some ways, it’s actually dealing with some pretty significant and up-to-the-minute issues. Rock on!

And now for some WILD SPECULATION

So, who’s behind all this, then? Sounds like maybe not PhiCore after all. The Crazy!Theory side of my brain is screaming out for a Doctor Who tie-in. Like, maybe the Big Bad is all shadowy because it’s the Silence, which has found subtler ways to get its revenge on humanity. Maybe it’s all a big plot to draw the Doctor in after all. I don’t think so, though. It’s clearly closely tied to Jack in some way, anyway, as underlined by the Jack-flashback in the trailer for next week. Is someone using Jack as a battery for this whole Miracle Day thing? Might other people actually want to kill Jack to save the rest of humanity from the horrors of immortality? I just don’t have enough clues yet, but if you’ve spotted something I’ve missed, feel free to speculate away in the comments.

American viewers, though, please note: I am a Brit lass and I often don’t get to watch this until Friday – nearly a whole week behind you guys. Please don’t spoil me for next week!

Torchwood: Miracle Day, Episode 5

(Index to all Torchwood posts here.)

Now that’s more like it.


Governments around the world agree on emergency measures to place people in three different categories: three, two, and one… alive, ill, and dead. Categories two and one are shipped off to camps for containment and treatment in the face of rampant disease in the hospitals, Gwen’s father amongst them. Dr Vera Juarez sets her doubts aside and joins the Torchwood team in disgust at the actions of the governments of the world. Living people are being categorised as dead, disposable, objects.

Torchwood discovers that hidden ‘modules’ are a part of the camps around the world, and they infiltrate two camps – one in the States and one in the UK. Gwen tries to free her father, but the stress of the escape triggers a heart-attack, relegating him to category one. Rex infiltrates the State-side camp as a patient, whilst Vera uses her position on the medical panels to pose as an inspector and Esther enters as clerical staff.

Meanwhile, Jack tries to appeal to Oswald’s conscience to persuade him to use his media attention to expose PhiCor.

How was it different?

Suddenly Torchwood seems like biting political commentary. Healthcare being turned over to big business under the radar. Political freedoms being curtailed in response to a crisis. ‘A new age of care and compassion’ sounds very much like the sort of thing our current Prime Minister might say whilst categorising groups of people cleanly away so that they can be disposed of.

And yet the cutting undercurrent of this is that it is a genuinely desperate situation. It’s entirely understandable that people would agree to any plausible solution that sought to bring to control a situation rapidly becoming apocalyptically chaotic. It’s telling that the writers tacitly recognise the remarkably terrorist aspects to Torchwood’s activities. They’re operating outside and against governments to infiltrate and sabotage in the cause of freedom. It’s a surprisingly balanced and intriguing view that encourages us to weigh up the options and the sides and identify with aspects of disparate groups. I’m even warming to the presentation of Oswald Danes in his uniquely challenging fight for survival. He’s still a repulsive figure, but they’re starting to move him into a depth he lacked at the beginning, and I approve. I suspect we’re setting up this human complexity against a complete othering of an Alien Evil, but it’s still an unusually nuanced take.

I haven’t talked about it much, but Miracle Day has also been delightfully and understatedly inter-racial throughout. Yes, there’s a predominance of white main cast members, but we also see multiple black, Asian, and Latino people. I’ve mentioned before that the treatment of women is pretty good – there are lots of them, and the frequently kick ass, but they’re also vulnerable and believable in turn. Esther’s character’s had a rough ride, but Gwen and Juarez are consistently both interesting and strong. Perhaps the most peculiar thing, for Torchwood is that one of the least comfortable aspects of the show is its treatment of homosexuality, which seems to have been reduced to Jack making bad jokes to make Rex uncomfortable. It’s forced and unnatural and a little uncomfortable to watch.

Quite apart from the themes, though, this episode was fast paced, tense, and believable in a way the previous two episodes weren’t. Someone spoiled the ending for me by Googling key terms that brought them to my blog, if you would believe it, but it was still shocking and rather impressively horrible. Everything feels like it’s coming together, and I’m eager to watch the next episode next week. Hurrah!

Torchwood: Miracle Day, Episode 4

(Index to all Torchwood posts here.)

It continues.


So, Torchwood and friends are on the run and trying to dig up info on PhiCorp, the Über Eval drug company that may have orchestrated Miracle Day. They’re doing pretty well on the info front, but they’re doing lousy at the lying low. Esther actually drops by her sister’s and reports her to social services as an unfit mother. Gwen wanders around in the bright sunshine on her phone calling Rhys. And, having chastised Esther and Gwen, Rex shoots off to have an angsty-lack-of-reconciliation with his dad (and steal some of the painkillers his dad happens to be stock-piling). Unsurprisingly, they pick up a suspicious dude with a telephoto lens.

Torchwood learn how to break into a PhiCorp databank by obtaining the fingerprints, vocal patterns, and retinal image of a top scientist. Their tail does the same, in less humane ways, and lies in wait for them.

Meanwhile, a new News Star is on the rise, as Tea Party darling Ellis Hartley Monroe steals the limelight from Oswald Danes with her ‘Dead is Dead’ campaign, arguing that those who have died-but-not-died should not have equal rights to the properly ‘living’. At the same time, hospitals are persuaded to shove their emergency cases off to one side in a woefully under-equipped ‘plague-ship’ style hospital. Oswald steals the stage back by entering the disease-ridden building, making a speech, and holding a baby.

How was it?

I don’t know. I want to be more blown away by it than I am. I think the biggest problem is that, having started the series with an ass-kicking bang, Torchwood and friends are continuing to be disappointingly rubbish. I know it’s what keeps the plot going, but I can’t help but feel like there ought to be a Better Way. Also, much as I like seeing mental illness explored, there seems to be a conveniently unlikely amount of close-relatives-with-extreme-paranoia running around. It’s not entirely clear to me exactly what sort of mental illness these people suffer from, and at the moment it just all seems like a push towards heightened melodrama that’s hardly needed in the context of everything else that’s going down. It makes any discussion connected with these things feel like a throw-away-convenience.

Some elements of the plot are still working quite well, but I sort of feel uncomfortably unbalanced between something hard-hitting and clever and something surface level and pulpish. Where the opening couple of episodes really got the mix of old Torchwood fun and Children of Earth grimness right, it’s feeling more like an uncomfortable see-saw to me at the moment.

I don’t know how I feel about the Oswald Danes plot. It’s either brilliant or awful. I don’t like it. I’m deeply, deeply uncomfortable with how easily people seem to be swayed into forgiving him and even worshiping him. They had a child molester hold a baby for Christ’s sake! I know we’re meant to be all ‘isn’t public opinion fickle’, but I’m not convinced it is as fickle on issues like this as is being portrayed. People really, really don’t like child molesters. Yes, one or two people stand up and say it’s sick and they see through him, but I’m fairly convinced there would be a lot more. People would have snatched that baby right out of his arms once they realised who he was, charisma or no charisma. And, frankly, despite how much I usually adore him as an actor, I’m just not finding Bill Pullman’s performance that compelling.

What is interesting is his relationship with his PR lady. I liked the reveal that she is thoroughly disgusted by him, but she’s doing her job anyway. There are a couple of really nice moments, like when Vera tells Jilly that the media circus and Jilly’s excitement about it is disgusting, and Jilly delightedly responds ‘I know’ – a very nice piece of acting from Laura Ambrose. I also really loved the moment in Oswald’s hotel room as he crouches quietly by his mini-bar, cracking bottle after bottle just to hear the carbonated hiss we presume he’s been denied all these years. But overall, I’m just not sure. Mostly I feel like I’m being poked to talk about Oswald’s story because ‘gosh it’s so edgy’, but instead it feels overblown and implausible in a way that cheapens the edge. I am torn on this one, but it shouldn’t be mistaken for the sort of story that’s good because it sets your emotions and intuitions at war. This is no Dexter. Rather, sometimes it verges on something genuinely interesting, whilst at other times its crass and unbelievable.

In a similar way, bringing in a Tea Party Sarah-Palin-alike figure is in some ways quite daring and a nice piece of dry wit. But she’s introduced and thrown away in one episode, fitting in with my feeling that there are a lot of interesting ideas here, but they’re just being thrown in for colour rather than being really explored.

Perhaps I wouldn’t mind so much if the Torchwood focused stories were stronger. Credit must be given for Eve Myles’s consistently strong performance and the continuing believable emotion she brings to her familial relationships. However, the plot with her father being shipped away was so obvious it just bored me, rather than heightening the tension.

Still, I remain interested in seeing where it goes. The Jack plot is really intriguing, and I thought the bit where the hitman won’t kill him because he’s the last mortal man is a nice touch even if it’s also a fudge to explain why we get to keep our leading man when really he ought to have been killed. Keep it up, Torchwood, I’m still with you, but I’d like to see just a little bit more competence resurfacing soon.

Torchwood: Miracle Day, Episode 2 (Contains Spoilers)

(Index to all Torchwood posts here.)

Torchwood: Miracle Day, episode 2I’m continuing to like this, but it’s not without its problems.

Recap: In episode 1 someone released something at the CIA that flashed up the name and files of Torchwood before swiftly being deleted. Moments later, something happens that means that no one can die. No one that is, except Jack, who is usually immortal. Rex is on the phone to Esther at the CIA who has just witnessed the puzzling appearance and deletion of the word ‘Torchwood’. He’s in a car accident that ends with poles skewering him straight through the chest. He should be dead, but he’s not.

Esther investigates Torchwood and manages to find some photos of the crew just as Jack finds her… and some mysterious figures in black find Jack. Jack tells Esther about Torchwood, then wipes her memory. But somehow a file about Torchwood winds up on her desk anyway, and she tells Rex about it. Rex gets up off his not-so-deathly bed and charges across the Atlantic to chase down Gwen just as the mysterious men in black launch an attack. Jack arrives to provide Gwen with the means to save the day, but Rex somehow gets the British police to arrest them all anyway so he can take them back to the states.

Meanwhile, a paedophile on death row survives his execution and is freed on a technicality – theoretically, he’s already received his punishment.

Episode 2:

Why recap all this? Well, there are a few things about the start of episode 2 that bug me. First off, even though Esther gets her memory wiped by Jack, chasing down Torchwood is her baby, yet suddenly she’s in a position of asking if she can be on Rex’s team. Rex’s ludicrous actions may have captured Torchwood, but I’m deeply puzzled at the way no credit is being given to Esther for putting him on to this.

We also have the odd moment when, having arrested Rhys and dragged him and baby to the airfield, Rex decides to let them go, forcibly separating Gwen from her child. And the British police seem to have no problem with any of this.

I’m less fussed with this last point – as I said in my review to the previous episode, it’s Torchwood, I expect it to be a bit silly. Besides which, it does make for a nice dramatic moment. I had a really interesting discussion with a friend of mine about how Gwen’s role as a mother affects how my friend views her as a character. I have no children and no maternal feelings whatsoever, so this is a perspective I don’t naturally have access to. My friend found the prospect that Gwen was inevitably going to have to be separated from her baby if she was to continue kicking ass as she had in the first episode hit a bit close to the bone. She also couldn’t feel good about Gwen as a character if she was willing to do that without much fuss. What I really like about the opening to this week’s episode, then, is that we’re given an opportunity to see that this is a thing Gwen does not do easily at all.

Eve Myles has come on a lot as an actor over the last few years, and I found her distress and anger at being separated from her baby utterly compelling. I like this, and, on reflection, it also makes sense of what initially seemed, to me, to be an overly harsh reaction from Gwen where she blames Jack for all the trouble that’s brought down on them. Although she goes on to pull herself together and be consistently awesome throughout the rest of the episode, I’m glad to see this moment of emotional realism given to her feelings as a mother – again, in a way that does nothing to detract from her inner strength.

I also greatly enjoyed Dichen Lachman, whose appearance I was anticipating with glee last week. She did not disappoint as the cold and self-possessed Lyn. Although, it must be confessed that secret double agents of whatever people she’s double-crossing the CIA for have the slowest. IM. Ever. I mean, seriously, even if you’re supposing that they can’t use MSN for obvious security reasons, if they’re communicating that way at all you’d have thought it could have been both swift and encrypted. Movie tech has a habit of looking unrealistic, but I’m happier when they create stuff that looks more advanced than we could achieve, rather than less.

Anyway. Lyn. I like her. I like what happens to her at the end. It’s deeply creepy and a wonderfully nasty thing to turn your beautiful starlet into. It’s a moment that sells the horror of the situation in a way that even the still-living corpse of the man who got exploded in the previous episode didn’t quite touch on.

Speaking of building horror: I am in love with everything connected to the Dr Vera Juarez plot about what the medical profession will need to do in the changed circumstances. If other elements of the plot haven’t been sufficiently thought through, someone has clearly spent time on this, and this is where the real science fiction lies. They present all kinds of things I’ve never even considered. I really like that.

The Oswald Danes plot, on the other hand… I just don’t know. I’m not sure whether we’re meant to believe he’s sorry for what he did or not. And I’m not sure if I’m meant to be unsure, or if Bill Pullman is just utterly failing to pull off contrition. His conversation with the unpleasantly false Jilly Kitzinger seems to indicate that he isn’t actually trying to fool people. If so, that’s a really interesting take on how the prospect of not dying could change someone’s point of view, but at this stage… I’m just not convinced by the portrayal. Similarly, I found Jilly herself grating enough that I’m afraid there’s really nothing about this plot that has me wanting to return to it.

On balance, however, I’m still finding the Miracle Day has a lot to offer, and I’m really looking forward to seeing more of where it’s going with this. It’s an odd mix of dull cliché and really interesting and original content, wrapped up in the fun and action-packed Torchwood package I have developed a fondness for.