Thursday, September 1, 2011

Torchwood: Miracle Day Review

Torchwood: Miracle Day, the ten episode long fourth season of Torchwood, is coming to an end in a couple of weeks. Despite both a physical and emotional disinterest, I finally caught up on the last three episodes which I had nonchalantly passed over in favor of watching...just about anything else.

Don't get me wrong, I'm totally a Torchwood fan. Or, at least, a Captain Jack fan. Well, OK, at the very least, I'm a fan of Doctor Who and Captain Jack was in Doctor Who for a time, except the Captain Jack that I enjoyed in Doctor Who is not the one we get in Torchwood.

Because Torchwood is the gritty underbelly of this fantastic, alien-filled universe. It likes to constantly prove to us just how mature its showrunners are, how violent and unfriendly the world is, how dark things can get in a fight.

The problem is they mix gruesome death and horrible torture with bouts of ridiculously bad dialogue, utter momentum destruction, weirdly cheap looking sets, and a cast of characters that are seldom even the slightest bit endearing.

Just in case you're far behind, the premise of Miracle Day is that everyone in the world stops dying. Thus within a week the healthcare system is collapsing, overpopulation is draining resources, the stock market is crashing because the writers say so and we trust their unique Californian economic expertise, and death cults are popping up all over the place.

Naturally, there is a large portion of the population taking drastic measures to pursue what they think is the best course. These people are consistently "religious" folks or high powered government officials with an (R) after their name, and they instituted a Category system, a new way to classify life. It's not a very complex system: Cat 3 people are fine, Cat 2 require medical attention but are treatable, and Cat 3 people should have died already but because no one CAN die anymore, they're just hanging around, using up our precious resources.

And as conservative officials are wont to do, especially ones in the governments of both the United States of America and Great Britain, they built "overflow camps" in which Category 1 people are sent to giant ovens and incinerated while still alive.

I'd be insulted if it wasn't such a juvenile, unoriginal, cheap plot line, trying to play on our inherited fears and attributing facets of true, documented evil onto temporary political opponents. Oh wait, I'm still insulted. The Nazis weren't too fond of the weak and disabled either, but you could deduce they were evil without needing to witness a pretty, Hispanic, female doctor whom you've been getting to know for 5 episodes be deliberately thrown into the ovens and murdered for her inquisitiveness. Add the emotionless, faux frantic beating on the door and tepid shouting of "No! NO! Noooo!!' by her erstwhile lover Rex Matheson, played by that wonder of modern science the living cardboard known as Mekhi Phifer, and you get what the writers surely consider a heartwrenching, gutpunching climax.

There are few redeeming qualities about Torchwood: Miracle Day, and they always come with the classic members of the team; Gwen and Jack. Regarding the new additions the only thing more frustrating than watching Mekhi Phifer shout at everything and take ten minutes to figure out a simple development is watching his CIA buddy Esther Drummond stink up the screen with her cloying incompetence. I'm sure Alexa Havins thinks she's imbuing the character with humanity by being so whiny and annoying, and the writers think they're accurately portraying the emotional trauma of getting involved with something like Torchwood in a global crisis, but considering she's a CIA agent all she does is ask obvious questions, cry frequently, dig deep for some resolve and strength of character, and then end up crying again two minutes later.

When the director of the LA camp, played by the perfectly creepy Marc Vann, tries to murder Esther, the fairly brutal hand-to-hand life/death struggle gave me some hope for her, as she fought pretty damn hard to survive. However, after choking him into unconsciousness, she has one of those stereotypical shock/revulsion freak-outs, makes with the waterworks, and stares dumbly at her chained-up, recently tortured partner, forgetting both that she should probably free him, and also, oh yes, people don't die anymore! So clearly the director's coming back at her. Honestly, I didn't love Vera Suarez, the recently immolated ER doctor, but she had much more mettle and character. Esther's the one who should've been killed off, and considering the general Torchwood mortality rate (an accurate testament to their writing abilities) I expect she'll be dead before Miracle Day ends.

Eve Myles' Gwen Cooper is still the best part of the show, but not by much. She seems to only have one characteristic, though it's an eminently watchable one: she's tough as hell and doesn't take crap from anyone. The scene where she blows up the Wales overflow camp, with a sweet little line that went something like: 'I don't care if the rest of humanity takes this lying down like a dog, I won't" is quite pleasing, and her incessant flying back and forth from Wales to LA shows her unflagging dedication, both to the Torchwood mission and to protecting her daughter.

However, it's her interaction with Captain Jack that really bothers me. In fact, everyone's interactions with him tend to revolve around one thing: taking him down a peg or two. Seriously Rex belittles him, Gwen exposes him for a perpetually culpable, pathological liar, and an entire episode, devoted to a flashback subplot that shows Jack in New York City in 1927 engaged in a graphic gay tryst as well as the bootlegging business, ostensibly once more about the cruelty of life and fate of all Jack's relationships as an immortal, actually portrays Jack's selfishness, inconstancy, and inhumanity.

Don't get me wrong, seeing a long, vintage era homosexual relationship form and escalate is a pleasure---it reminds me of the ridiculously romantic, and probably my favorite episode of Torchwood, where Jack, stuck in a building in the 40s, meets the gay soldier named Jack Harkness, the dead man who's name he stole at random. In this episode, the Italian isn't as beautiful, but he's even more sincere and Jack, incapable of making any allowances for his faith and shame at their actions, takes control of any of the guy's hesitations. Naturally he enjoys it: Jack is charismatic, handsome, experienced and charming. However there's a limit to the amount of earth-shattering changes one man can go through, and seeing your societally shunned lover shot in the head, and then walking out of Sing Sing two weeks later (which, by the way, Jack could have easily broken him out of) to find said lover alive and well, that's one of the things that might break you.

So naturally just as they're getting into another sex scene, the Italian stabs the crap out of Jack, believing him to be the Devil, and thus begins a considerably overlong sequence where scared and angry New Yorkers (again fervently religious) murder Jack over and over and he wakes up, again and again. Eventually the Italian repents and saves him, and apologizes, but Jack of course rejects him and lays all his disappointment in the human race on his shoulders.

The important part of this relationship, other than the Italian tracking Jack for the rest of his long life and eventually, as a dying ancient man, giving him some clues as to who's responsible for the Miracle, is when they're in bed and Jack is teasing or joking around and he gets angry at him. He, like Rex and Gwen, calls Jack out, accusing him of cheapening sex. Even Jack admits its true. Because it is. What was once a facet of his character, being omnisexual (though please note all his attempts at "real" relationships are with men) and promiscuous just made him dynamic and adventurous and some kind of libidinous version of the Doctor. But in Torchwood? He'll fuck anything that walks and abandon it in a second. The man who was seen hundreds of years of history, countless other planets and civilizations, things more beautiful and spiritual than anything we can conceive (for Christ's sake he's hung out with the Doctor!) this man sees no lasting beauty or sanctity in the act of sex. In fact he hurts people with it just to feel better for a little while.

The point is everyone relevant in the show calls Jack out at one time or another for being a dick. And instead of, say, remedying the situation, the writers prove that he's a dick. When Gwen's entire family is kidnapped and she must bring Jack as ransom, she doesn't even consider talking to him, she tasers him and ties him up in the backseat. When he's awake they exchange their dual grim determination; she says she'll murder him in a heartbeat in order to get her daughter back, and he actually says he'll "rip the skin from her bones" before he gives up his own life. I mean, seriously? These two are long time, best friends, who claim to love each other. If the Doctor was involved, if he had never even met Gwen before, he would sacrifice himself in a second to return her innocent family safely to her.

Torchwood seems to think we need a tough hero, and in their disastrously stylized version of a dangerous, adult, violent world, maybe we do. Someone who can live hard, think fast, and blow shit up. But you know what else would help when giving us a hero around which ten hours of plodding television is based?

A shred of decency.


  1. Angelo got out of prison 1 year later....1928.

    Just FYI

  2. Ah, you are totally correct, thank you. (I also forgot his name, but I think "the Italian" sufficed.)

    A whole year in Sing Sing? When Jack breaks into high-tech fortresses without a second thought? What'd he do all year? Seems like a rough abandonment. Could've at least wrote him a letter to warn him he was alive.