...a blog by Richard Flowers

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Day 3882: TORCHWOOD: Middling Day: The One Where It Turns Out You Needn't Have Watched the Last Three Weeks


So, why didn't Jack just go straight to PhiCorp Chief Operating Officer Winston Zeddemore the moment they discovered PhiCorp were ready for the miracle with their stockpile of painkillers?

We could have stuck this one rather good scene with Ernie Hudson at the end of episode three, sparing us the clich├ęd "let's download all of PhiCorp's secrets from Jilly Kitsinger's computer" shtick and cut straight to the good stuff (no, not the bonking… well, not just the bonking…) in next week's episode. And, as a bonus, not gotten Dr Vera involved in the silly spy plot and hence incinerated.

Episode eight of this series is called "End of the Road" for no particularly apparent reason, but you would have been better off calling this episode "Dead End", because that's very much what it does to all of the leads we've had so far.

The scene between John Barrowman and Ernie Hudson really is rather good. They both underplay nicely, and there's a sense of fun between them that is so often missing from Torchwood's DNA. Hudson is rather delicious delivering the "devil in a three-piece suit" line, though I have to say, Jack does just believe him rather easily. Because though he defines himself as neither a good man nor a bad man but a middle man, that is basically a fib. He and his company are profiting mightily for being a "part of the system", and he's fully cognizant that there is a system and what his part in it is. Not to mention, he's doing the dirty with and subsequently on his secretary Janet. He's a baddie; he's just not the chief baddie.

And yes, the setup with Janet the secretary was verging on the ridiculous – she goes from no idea her boss/lover is about to dump her to "go get him" in no time at all, without apparently experiencing anger, denial or sorrow along the way; and by the way, are we supposed to assume that the contents of the top secret server stolen in episode four are actually Stuart's flirty emails? – but none of it was particularly more ridiculous than any other Torchwood route in to their target.

But the real thing about that scene is that Hudson's CEO Stuart Owens (not really Winston Zeddemore) is telling Jack: "that PhiCorp lead that you've been following, it stops here. You need to find a new plot next week." (Which, indeed, is exactly what happens, with new players appearing out of the woodwork at the end of this episode just at the moment when all the other plots have collapsed.)

We, the audience, have basically been led to believe that PhiCorp are (in "Buffy" terms) the "big bad" for this season and suddenly we have the rug yanked from under us. It ought to be an outrageous triumph, bluffing the audience and then going "fooled you". Unfortunately, it just delivers the all-too-expected news that much of the series so far – yes even the actually rather gripping "Categories of Life" – has not just been a protracted series of barely logical connections between tedious set pieces to find the next in the series of clues, but also a terrible wild goose chase all along.

Sometimes an investigation really can run off in entirely the wrong direction, and there can be drama in discovering that, in trying to win your way back from a big mistake like that. But there's no sense here that our Torchwood team are in any way appalled to discover PhiCorp was a red herring. And if they don't seem to care, then why should we? We were invited to invest in the arc of the last three episodes only to be told it's not actually where the story is at. So why did we even bother?

This is even reinforced by the conclusion where Jack's triumph that the world now knows about the modules and the category ones, his glee at their whistleblowing, is swiftly undermined by Rex's cynicism and the White House spokesperson saying actually they'll carry on burning people thank you very much.

(Though as I said in the comments to last time's review: category ones are not the problem – you don't even need to feed them or keep them warm because they can't die; you just need to stack 'em up somewhere – no, your problem is the escalating numbers of category twos who are conscious and demanding pain relief. And anyway your real problem is babies.)

Again, you could make a story out of the world's "failure of outrage" something like the way that millions marched against the Iraq war (remember that, Russell?) and it didn't change a thing. This feels like a reaction to the cynicism engendered by that. Except the script just doesn't care that the world doesn't care.

Somehow this episode manages to make the parts of Miracle Day that had real heart and drama in them feel like padding. And that's a real shame.

The rest of the episode also feels very much about closing off plot lines.

Gwen manages to redeem (sort of) last week's hilarious ineptitude and finally rescue her father. She's given two goes at getting a "crowning moment of awesome" for her troubles: first, her withering put down of Dr Patel for complicity in the death camp; and she's right, Patel has broken her Hippocratic Oath and so is no longer a doctor. And, second, the explosive demolition of the Modules at the Cowbridge Overflow Camp. At least I assume it was supposed to be a "crowning moment of awesome"; I'm afraid I was slightly left feeling "ooh, I hope Gwen's remembered to check they weren't loaded full of those people due be incinerated at 6am before she, er, incinerated them." Better hope it took her less than twenty minutes to change into her leather catsuit, find some C4 and a sexy motorbike and plant her explosives, eh.

(Rhys's moment of triumph, smashing through the camp gates in his big truck and vanishing into the night, is fatally undermined by the message from the people who've improbably hacked the I5 contact lenses – henceforth known as the world's most pointless kidnappers – saying he's only escaped as far as getting scrobbled by someone else. Sigh. It takes just a moment for someone to say "hang on, Rhys is away rescuing dad; let's have just the mother and daughter kidnapped".)

Rex finally comes off the fence and declares himself to be Torchwood not CIA. Shame that that's going to be rolled back in a couple of weeks' time as well. Good job he's not posted a video of him identifying himself as Torchwood (and ex-CIA) on the Internet for everyone to see, isn't it. What's that you say? He did what…?

And li'l Esther gets to prove that a flailing woman can incapacitate a man twice her size when he has her in a neck lock (what, did the CIA give her no training in self-defence at all?); and that she's never seen any horror film ever (it would have been a shock if Colin hadn't come back from, well, not the dead but you know…).

Still at least we got rid of creepy Colin and his unbelievable pronunciation. Jane Espensen tweeted during the UK broadcast to assure us that Americans really do pronounce "badminton" as "bad mitten" (presumably for the same reason they can't get aluminium right either), but thankfully this appalling word crash has been dealt with extensively at Tachyon TV already.

It's also necessary to ask, why Owens didn't tell Jack more about his own investigations. Jack asks about "specific geography" (the clue from the assassin back in "Escape to L.A."); it's almost as though he could tell Jack where the last episode is going to be set but chooses to withhold the information in order to prolong the series for yet another couple of episodes.

So rather than come out and say "why yes, Captain Harkness, only today I was having my man investigate some peculiar land deals in a painted back lot made up as Singapore" instead he gives him some guff about "the blessing" (gee, Mr Shiban, I think your X-Files are showing again).

This by the way is not a useful or practical clue (in the manner of the breadcrumbs that we've been following through the plot since "Dead of Night" – whatever happened to the Soulless, by the way?) as anyone who stifled a guffaw at Jack Googling "The Truth" will tell you. Three hundred and ninety-one million hits, all of them guff, when I counted.

Next Time… Captain Jack actually gets an episode to himself, in which he shoots the Stargate Franchise right in their Goa'uld and gets some really fabulous sex. Also, Gwen is a bit of a bitch, but I think we all know that already, right? It's called "Immortal Sins" or (fingers crossed) "The Good One".

"Torchwood: Miracle Day" continues tonight at 9pm (yes, that's in an hour!) on BBC1 and BBC1HD or if you're falling behind like me (yes, it's getting more and more difficult to stay just three weeks late with the reviews!), then there's always the iPlayer!

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