Torchwood: Miracle Day - Dead of NightBookmark and Share

Thursday, 28 July 2011 - Written by Paula Seligson
Written by Paula Seligson

Torchwood: Miracle Day - Dead of Night
Written by Jane Espenson
Directed by Billy Gierhart
Broadcast on Starz - July 22 2011
BBC Worldwide Productions
This review contains plot spoilers and is based on the US broadcast of the episode.

A team dynamic has returned.

When Torchwood first hit television, it was described as Jack’s spinoff. But by the end of the first episode, the audience knew the show would focus on the Torchwood team, not just Jack. The previous two episodes of Miracle Day were lacking because there was no team dynamic. We had Gwen and Jack, and Rex and Esther. These four are now finally working on the same side, along with Dr. Vera Juarez.

Though a team dynamic has returned, the team dynamic has not. Jack, Gwen, Toshiko, Owen, Ianto - these five worked together as friends and with trust. The new ‘team’ formed from necessity, and is rightfully on very shaky ground. We see Rex challenge Jack’s leadership, ultimately deferring to him but then walking away and later returning. Esther grapples with her lack of experience and self-confidence, echoing Gwen’s first episodes of uncertainty at her ability to do the job. Jack, though a leader to Rex and Esther, defers to Gwen. And Gwen takes the most leadership, at a level of self-confidence not before seen in the show.

Jack and Gwen’s semi-role reversal finally gives insight into Jack. He’s mortal for the first time in thousands of years, and he wants to enjoy it, revelling in discomfort and hilariously even a hangover. But more than his mortality, he’s letting Gwen into his life. Instead of putting up a strong front as the sole leader of the group, he acknowledges (and she also interrupts and reminds him) that she’s competent and knows what she’s doing. In doing so, he also acknowledges that he’s not ‘okay’ from the events of Children of Earth. As he reveals the lasting effects of that finale, it leads to one of the best scenes in the show so far: Jack’s confrontation with Danes.

Danes is creepy and disturbing, and his description of how much he enjoyed raping and murdering the young girl left me feeling legitimately disgusted. He assumed Jack was like him, and just watching Jack’s expression change from one of anger to guilt and then to revulsion was disarming. Danes reveled in the murder of a child, and Jack listened with first-hand experience. Jack expected a monster and he found one. Of all the people affected by the Miracle, this man is the one becoming the next Jesus-like cult leader, deceiving foolish and desperate people looking for some kind of sense in the world. We now see his role in the show, and it’s one hell of a social commentary that I can’t wait to see progress.

But this conversation with Danes also revealed how fragile Jack has become. Not that he’s close to breaking or no longer being the Jack we all know and love - that would be a ridiculous cop-out. He has thousands of years of experience and is an impossibly strong person. Regardless of the horrible choices he’s had to make, he’s still the hero who will save the day. Yet all those years weigh on his shoulders and soul, and before that didn’t matter, because he had to keep going. But now things have changed - Jack is mortal. The writers are emphasizing his mortality not by just his actions - like ignoring the world for a night of sex - but also through his emotional exhaustion - his heartbreaking phone call to Gwen. I think they’re foreshadowing how he will deal with the Miracle at the end of the season. Because Jack saw himself in Danes; he saw a man with a deathwish.

As for the plot, it continues to unfold at a slow pace, throwing a bone or two to the audience each episode. PhiCorp either caused the Miracle or knew about it and chose not to tell anyone. And why? For profit. They’re pushing their agenda for a world with no drug prescriptions, pushing it via Danes and a terrified populace, with drugs stockpiled using Timelord technology.

I’m still waiting for the shocks and twists bound to appear that will make this quintessentially Torchwood, and find myself impatient at the tantalizing speed of the storytelling. This story is much slower than the other seasons, and it allows for more analysis of the affects of the plot - like Danes’ being noticed and attacked by two people and then picked up and beaten by the police, the cult with the masks, and a night full of sex for some and work and uncertainty for others. The slower storytelling creates more attachment to the plot through the characters, and hopefully wont cause the episodes to become boring as the story progresses.

But what of the growing team dynamic? Rex and Vera are ‘not strictly professional’ while Esther pines after him. Jack is trying to become closer to Gwen while she’s more focused on the Miracle and her family. Esther will hopefully come into her own as she faces new challenges, perhaps with the guidance of the obviously-impatient and frustrated Gwen. Rex continues to deal with his constant pain, and grapples with essentially being a solo agent, no longer tied to the CIA, an organization he’s dedicated his life to. And Vera attempts to find solutions for this entire mess, getting roped into Torchwood through her role as a surgeon and her access to PhiCorp. Jack and Gwen’s partnership carries the direction and expertise of the group, but the other three contribute, trying to make sense of the new world with their own respective skills. The five have the potential to recreate Torchwood, but as of yet have not succeeded. There are essentially two members of Torchwood, and three trainees.

They’re not a team yet, but they’re becoming one.




Torchwood: Miracle Day - RenditionBookmark and Share

Monday, 25 July 2011 - Written by Paula Seligson
Written by Paula Seligson

Torchwood: Miracle Day - Rendition
Written by Doris Egan
Directed by Billy Gierhart
Broadcast on Starz - July 15 2011
BBC Worldwide Productions
This review contains plot spoilers and is based on the US broadcast of the episode.

Torchwood is taking advantage of its longer time-frame.

With 10 episodes, 50 minutes each, instead of the usual 45 minutes for a ‘monster of the week’ or the miniseries of Children of Earth, we finally get to see not only the action of the plot but also its greater ramifications for both the Earth and the characters.

Rendition continued exploring the Miracle into the extent of its world-impact. This isn’t just the Torchwood team trying to save the Earth from a threat only they know about. This isn't Doctor Who where only the Doctor and maybe his companions can save the day. The Miracle is affecting the whole world, and that means the world’s best minds are going at the issue because everyone has a stake in what has happened.

That’s why I loved Dr. Juarez’s scene where she reverses triage. She understands how few resources her hospital has when nobody can die, and she realizes that a doctor’s most lacking commodity - time - is no longer an issue. This extends into her attendance at the panel, where we realize that illnesses will soon become resistant to drugs, and the most in-demand drugs will be painkillers. Logical steps like these turn Torchwood into good science fiction, which discusses how people deal with new issues and what ramifications those issues have on culture and resources.

The cultural aspect is prominent through Danes. The use of social media, ranging from the Twitter hashtag #forgive to memes about Danes’ failed execution like the Youtube video ‘what did you do?’, show why Danes is a character at all. As Esther says, “It’s the miracle made visible.” But she also comments on another interesting development: reconciliation between India and Pakistan, going completely against how she thought those cultures would react. It’s details like these that I hope the show continues to include, because they are what set it apart from a fun and dark ‘scifi’ action show into something that really analyzes human behavior and comments on society.

Gwen and Jack’s interactions continue to be a highlight of the show I love Gwen’s conflicting feelings of anger at Jack for leaving and for then returning, her fear for her family, and her relief and joy at having Jack and all the action of Torchwood back in her life. The entire scene where Jack is poisoned and Gwen, Rex, Juarez, and the flight staff work to save his life was just, simply put, well done. Her concern for Jack and her utter refusal to let him die are characteristic of how much stronger Gwen has become as a person since she first joined Torchwood.

Jack is still as cocky and in-control as always, which make his interactions with Rex a welcome comic relief. He is also finally being open with Gwen, as shown in one of my favorite dialogue exchanges in the episode:

Gwen: Where did you go, Jack?
Jack: A long way away.
Gwen: And did it help?

Jack just looks away, and doesn’t try to lie to Gwen and say that he’s fine. He’s no longer portraying himself to be the unshakable leader when he’s with Gwen, which shows how much their relationship has grown.

Also, point of interest: Jack’s guess about morphic fields causing the Miracle (confirmed by the CIA’s response of attempted assassination) is actually from the conjectures of the real scientist Rupert Sheldrake: http://www.sheldrake.org/Articles&Papers/papers/morphic/morphic_intro.html
I’m very excited to see how the writers take Sheldrake’s ideas and make them real for the show.

So far, Torchwood continues to be a strong show with a good mix of plot, characters, and action. The chase scene when Esther escaped from the CIA, the moments where Rex stared at himself in the bathroom mirror on the plane and questions again why he was still alive, and Danes’ disturbing breakdown of ‘I’m sorry’ on national television are all examples of continuing strong scenes in the show. I also love the bones the writers keep throwing at the new audience to hint at information only previous Torchwood fans would really know, especially in regards to Jack’s immortality, like when he says he had a boyfriend in the 1800s who used arsenic. The plot is progressing by revealing a bit each episode, and it’s fun to keep the mystery going. The new information in this episode - the morphic field, the oscillating level of life, and the fact that people are still aging - is all intriguing and I can't wait to see what is revealed next.

But of the two new characters, I only like PR rep Jilly Kitzinger. She is sly, developing the plot, and downright creepy with her smile and business cards. She’s interesting. On the other hand, Rex’s old love interest, CIA agent Lyn Peterfield, is too stereotypical to keep my interest. She’s exactly what you’d expect from a high-security-clearance CIA agent. And her ‘death’ was too camp - I felt like I was watching a zombie horror film when she walked toward the car with her head twisted around. Although she gets points for another really disturbing Torchwood moment.

Another issue I had with the episode was the gay flight attendant, Danny. I felt like every joke centered around him fell short. The jokes themselves felt juvenile, and at the least should have involved Jack flirting with Danny. Humor, usually very dark, is part of Torchwood, and it would be wrong not to have comic relief throughout an episode. But a character like Danny highlights an issue with longer stories. With a short length and time limit, writing has to be tight. Every word must count. But when a story becomes longer, and without the pressing need to make every moment necessary, quality can be lost. I felt like that’s what happened with Danny.

It’s wonderful for the story to not feel rushed. Scenes are longer, letting us see more nuances in the characters facial expressions and mannerisms, like Danes’ slight and sly smiles, and the beats between Jack and Gwen that are always filled with either silent communication or unspoken emotions. The full story gets to unfold in the style of a very long movie, allowing for a slower and more comfortable evolution of the plot as well as more character development. Hopefully this freedom in length wont diminish the quality of the show.




Torchwood: Miracle Day - The New WorldBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 19 July 2011 - Written by Paula Seligson
Written by Paula Seligson

Torchwood: Miracle Day - The New World
Written by Russell T Davies
Directed by Bharat Nalluri
Broadcast on Starz - July 8 2011
BBC Worldwide Productions
This review contains plot spoilers and is based on the US broadcast of the episode.

Torchwood is back. There are differences - more explosions, American-geared jokes, and cinematography no longer based on the confines of a city. But the feel of a science fiction story grounded with people and taken to the edges of dark and disturbing is the same.

It begins dark. A convicted rapist and murderer of a young girl, Oswald Danes, is prepped for execution by lethal injection. The mother watches, hoping for closure from his last words, and cries as Danes dismisses her and waits for death. Immediately the plot (already spoiled by the previews for the episode) is introduced. The liquid enters the man’s veins and he thrashes in agonizing pain, undying.

And so Miracle Day starts.

This episodes begins with why I love Torchwood. With Danes’ unsuccessfully completed execution, it immediately shows the horrible nature of the Miracle: if people can’t die, what does that mean for the pain they suffer when death wont release them? With Danes, we see horrible pain but no other side-affects because the drug simply passes through his body.

With CIA agent Rex Matheson we see an unhealing injury. Even in the promo pics, he’s depicted with a bloody shirt.

And of course with the exploded assassin, we see the abject horror of the Miracle. What happens when a person’s body is damaged beyond function? They keep living.

The episode rightfully takes the time to explain the mystery of Torchwood for the new American audience just tuning in, with echoes of season one: finding an old picture matched to a modern-day Jack and retcon. The two accessible characters - Rex and fellow CIA agent Esther Drummond - are believable. Rex is portrayed as arrogant and in search of advancing his own career, but ultimately with a very personal stake in the mystery of the Miracle. The joke about the toll bridge fell short, but hey, the guy is in a lot of pain, you can’t expect to have a sound sense of humor. Esther’s obvious (and unrequited) feelings for Rex are an expected addition to the character interactions (there’s always a romance) and will be interesting to see unfold. Esther shows she’s both inquisitive and self-directed by seeking out information on Torchwood despite being told not to bother, which is encouraging for her later character development.

Of the new characters, the surgeon, Vera Juarez, is the most interesting, due to both her personality and her experiences while standing at ground zero of the Miracle - the ER.

We’re just getting to know the new main characters, and so far so good. Esther is definitely the weakest, but that leaves the most room for character development. All are in the thick of the Miracle’s effects, and they each deal with their respective burdens in different ways. The only one I’m not sure about is Danes, because his side-plot seems extraneous, and so far is the weakest portion of the show. Still, I’m excited to see what directions the writers take the new characters.

But if you’re a returning fan, they’re not why you’re watching the show. Jack, Gwen, and Rhys were fantastic.

Gwen has reached a new level of bad-ass, now that she’s a mother protecting her child. The scene where the couple comes to her and Rhys’ door for directions was brilliant. I love the new level of fierceness she brings to fighting. She has her daughter and her husband, she has reclaimed her life from Torchwood, and she will not let ANYONE ruin that for her.

I am so glad they didn’t change Rhys and Gwen’s relationship. He’s just as annoying and against Torchwood as he’s always been, and it’s a wonderful counter-perspective to Gwen’s readiness to jump in and save the world. While Gwen protects her family from the dangers of the world, Rhys has to protect Gwen from herself and her willingness to get involved. Their argument in the hospital was wonderful, and the best example possible of why Rhys is a worthwhile character to have around. I especially loved his readiness to handle a weapon and fight, revealing how much he’s grown since the start of the show.

And of course, Jack! Saving the day, one rocket launcher at a time. His reunion with Gwen was quick but well-done. Just the sheer look of joy on Gwen’s face (and the disgruntled scowl from Rhys) made me grin in delight - what’s left of the team is back together. Their reunion leaves fans wanting more, which I am confident the writers will deliver in the coming episodes.

And their reunion reveals the biggest shock of the episode - Jack is now mortal.

Plotwise, along with Torchwood being broadcast in the CIA headquarters before Jack wiped it from the entirety of the internet, it seems as though Jack’s presence is connected to and possibly causing the Miracle, and perhaps was even a trap for him. But could it instead be that whatever is causing the Miracle has managed to supersede Jack’s immortality, making him able to be injured but still (like the rest of Earth) unable to die? We’ll have to wait and see, but the plot is extremely intriguing and I can’t wait to see where they take it.

And yet the most interesting aspect of Jack’s mortality is not even the plot, but himself as a character.Jack has been immortal at this point for thousands of years. He has suffered in horrific and excruciating ways, and even spent his first few hundred years trying to find the Doctor in order to regain mortality. For now, in the thick of the plot, he’s most concerned with protecting Gwen and saving the Earth. But does Jack want to die?

We watch him casually suggest decapitating the exploded assassin in a truly cringe-worthy scene, all the while knowing he’s been through a similar experience during Children of Earth. The audience rarely sees the inner psyche of Jack. We see him endure horrible experiences, and he always seems to absorb whatever is thrown at him, back to his flirtatious old self by the next episode. But by the end of Children of Earth, he finally leaves because he’s suffered too much on his home planet.

Now that he has the chance to die, will he take it?

I suspect the finale of this story arc may be Jack’s choice between death or immortality, a choice that will decide the fate of the Earth.

In the meantime the fascinating plot will continue to unfold as the entire world deals with an increasing population and a growing number of injured who should but cannot die. The New World was an exciting start to a 10-episode season, slow paced enough to let the show right itself on American soil, but still full of action and adventure. And most importantly, it was still distinctly Torchwood.