...a blog by Richard Flowers

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Day 3861: TORCHWOOD: Monocle Day: Dead of Night


So… the plot, as they say, thins…

At the end of all this, do we actually know any more about what is going on?

We kind of knew about PhiCorp before, even if not so blatantly in-your-face, from Jilly Kitsinger's calling card. And we kind of knew the Miracle was turning a bit bad. So all we're left with here is a string to tie it all together. We're playing join the dots this week, as our little band discover their connection to, well, the rest of the plot. The surprising thing about this is how clunky it is.

Rather than everything seguing nicely at the climax, as happened last week, this time we are following a trail of breadcrumbs.

It's all a bit "here's a thing and here's a thing and oo here's a thing…" string together by tenuous connections and coincidences.

So the meandering story leads us from the guy who was trying to set up Esther and Rex – Dennis Nedry and his magic red telephone – to the TARDIS-gag warehouse – bigger on the inside – that tells us that EvilCorp sorry PhiCorp are behind it via the staggering coincidence of Rex's "not a professional relationship" just happening to be Dr Vera who is being seduced by devilish Jilly of, you guessed it, Pfizer sorry PhiCorp and so she can take them to the villains secret-base-cum-plush-conference-centre where Gwen can do the grand old cliché of post Mission: Impossible/post-Spooks espionage drama – i.e. nick the computer records by downloading their entire mainframe onto one memory stick – while, surprise surprise, Oswald Danes turns up to complete the circle.

It's as though the production team have decided that the story should hang on the set pieces and any old flim-flam will do in between rather than hanging the story on the plot and having the set pieces be the flashy moments that keep upping the game.

Hanging off of all this we get a succession of wet character moments set to varying levels of cringe-inducing. The most gratuitous being Captain Jack's "I'm off to do the sex scene now," moment. (Obviously you choose your own value for "wet".)

I do wonder if that isn't a big distraction, getting everyone hot and bothered about the intercutting – or in the case of the BBC, just cutting – of the gay and straight sex scenes so we're supposed fall into the "oh it's just Torchwood smut agenda again" trap and all the while blind-siding us with that moment where Vera just happens to have access to the next level of the plot.

And incidentally, Vera only tells Rex that she's got an invite to the PhiCorp shindig after he tells her the whole plot so far. This is Rex "do not even try and contact your family" Matheson casually blurting out all the secrets he's discovered to a civilian. With whom he's just had sex. Yeah, he's definitely Torchwood material.

Or maybe it's that PhiCorp's painkillers may be non-narcotic and non-addictive but instead make everyone spout exposition at any given moment. (In which case Gwen is probably on them too, if her opening speech or rather string of factoids, which no amount of flouncing around handing out phones or doing business with masks can disguise, is anything to go by.)

I love Vera, though. She seems to be the only person in this show who's actually putting a real character into her acting. Compare her performance to Mekhi Phifer as Rex's "I'm pissed cos I'm impaled" shtick or Barrowman's angsty "we're good aren't we?" whine or Eve Myles schizoid "Look how hard I am… ooh a baby!" behaviour or that thing that can only be described as "that thing that Bill Pullman is doing" and tell me I'm wrong. And I'll come to Esther in a minute.

Having said all that: does Vera actually sleep at all? Because she seems to do a double shift at the emergency room, nip down to the Capitol for time on the Miracle Panel, spend the night boffing Rex and then time for a shower before she's off back to the hospital. Her downtime appears to consist of sharing a cigarette with Jilly.

(And then Jilly – did I mention she's the devil? – teleports back to Atlanta, Georgia to arrive at exactly the moment that Oswald is dumped on the pavement after being beaten up by the cops. I mean, how can she possibly arrive with such perfect timing? If we're ascribing super-powers to her, Alex suggests she might have set up the whole business with the police assault just to put Oswald there at her feet.)

Meanwhile, Esther, who last week broke out of CIA headquarters in a stolen car, has to be taught basic spy-craft by Mr Grumpy von Spill-de-Beans. Doesn't this make you wonder: (a) how rubbish are we supposed to believe the CIA are (see also, Rex breaks into CIA chief Friedkin's house and, what, one police car is despatched?!); and (b) whether Jack only recruits Torchwood agents from the pool of people who've never even seen Spooks?

I'm struggling – I think a lot of people are – to justify the inclusion of the terminally extended "you say potato/I say sidewalk" English versus American-Englishisms gag. All I can think is that this is Esther's naïve attempt to ingratiate herself with her exciting new pals.

Is Esther in fact being written as somewhere on the Asperger's spectrum? Or at least "TV Asperger's".

We've previously had dialogue to state that she is a good CIA observer because she doesn't connect to the stories she's monitoring (although that's not really supported by any evidence). And we know that what she's good at is line by line analysis of the internet. We also see her entering telephone numbers into her new phone from memory – at least until Rex bawls her out for it. Plus there's the "family history" with her admitting that her older sister has trouble coping.

(And that's without looking into the slightly weird pseudo-mother/daughter thing that Gwen and Esther seem to be building.)

Or maybe Jane Espensen is just using leftover bits of the Buffy/Dawn relationship from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer".

And then we have the "big reveal" of the evil company who knew the Miracle was coming (i.e. probably engineered it). Can I just say "yawn"?

Making the human race immortal to increase the profits from your range of painkillers is… well, it seems an awful lot of effort. Most companies would just adulterate the feedstock. This isn't really "banality of evil"; this is just banal.

And is there any company in fantasy television that isn't evil?

Is there some kind of insane Libertarian/Communist crossover that requires all companies to be bad? The critique from the left that they exploit the workers; from the right that they are nasty collectives? Or is it just that almost everybody works for a company, and knows it can be a soul-destroying drudge. Or at least everyone has had experience of one of them, especially the big faceless ones be they utility supplier or burger chain, and will have experienced the frustration of banging your head against the corporate wall.

And yet Russell Davis is a man who says that anyone taking money away from the British Broadcasting Corporation is "savage and evil".

(And would that be more savage and evil or less savage and evil than an illegal invasion resulting in institutionalised torture and hundreds of thousands of dead civilians, Russ?)

Time to check your cliché at the door, I think.

Anyway, the episode concludes with the discovery of the people behind the people behind the Miracle, namely the mysterious triangle folk aka World's Cheapest Playstation.

I realised who they ought to be, of course. They ought to be Torchwood.

You know, the real Torchwood, the Torchwood who, after the debacle with the Cybermen, went underground and have been letting everyone think that Jack's hopeless little band of helpers are "Torchwood". Because they've been around for ages, they're "everywhere" and they would explain why the word "Torchwood" got broadcast to the CIA at the very second the Miracle occurred.

(And because I've always said Torchwood should be the enemies of this series, not the heroes.)

Sadly, they'll probably turn out to be Yartek Leader of the Alien Voord. With a big stick.

Finally, did "the Soulless" actually mean anything or did they just seem like a cool idea at the time?

Oh, and why didn't Jack tell Brad the Barman he had an "excellent bottom"? Cos he did have.

Next time… I bet no one has ever tried to do "Mission: Impossible" with a big gayer as the star before… what? And then we lose all contact with reality as the Tea Party try to muscle in. At least we can stop even pretending to shoot in Washington when we "Escape to L.A."

"Torchwood: Miracle Day" continues tonight at 9pm on BBC1 and BBC1HD or if you're falling behind like me, then there's always the iPlayer!

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