Torchwood: Miracle Day: Episode 6: “The Middle Men” (review)
Previous: Episode 5: “The Categories of Life”
Ooo ooo ooo: I get it finally! Miracle Day is a meta joke on fans! It’s Starz and — alas — Russell T. Davies saying, “Hey, look! No matter what we do to Torchwood, no matter how we torture it, no matter how we torment it, no matter how we twist it into something vapid and hideous and unTorchwoodlike, Torchwood cannot die. It will just go on forever — or for at least 100 American episodes — ever deteriorating, ever failing, but the Miracle means it will never actually succumb to death.”
Torchwood cannot be killed. It can only keep doing this:
to us fans.
And so now the true horror of the Miracle hits home.
How is it possible that ten under-an-hour episodes about what happens to humanity when people stop dying is simply too much time to tell the story? How can it be that there’s not enough story to fill this out? For here we have an episode in which next to nothing happens. It’s filler. And we only get filler when there’s nothing else to say.
What happens here? Nothing. Characters learn stuff that we mostly already knew: Esther learns that Maloney killed Vera. Rex learns that Maloney killed Vera. Jack learns that Phicorp knows nothing about the Miracle… and even he already knew that, already knew that someone else was pulling Phicorp’s strings. (But… wait: So who is controlling Jilly Kitzinger’s PR efforts? Who wrote that speech for Oswald Danes about “revelation”? Someone at Phicorp — and not some nebulous, apparently directionless “system” — is organizing events happening right now, events happening literally under the Phicorp banner.) Sometimes there’s suspense in waiting for fictional characters to discover things we already know. This is not one of those instances.
What the hell was the Shanghai diversion all about? There’s a super-top-secret Phicorp installation there with no security and no protection: Just go down that alley that is clearly used by people all the time — it wouldn’t be festooned with new, lit lanterns if it weren’t —
and turn left. Something so terrible is happening there that the Shanghai Phicorp guy kills himself (or as close as he can get) when he discovers it. Did he discover that Soylent Green is people? Did he discover that aliens are snorting like cocaine the ashes of the not-quite-dead people who’ve been burned at the overflow camps? But even that wouldn’t be as horrific as what Children of Earth gave us (and surely the ante has been upped here, right?). Unless the supersecret baddie aliens want not-quite-dead human beings burned alive for some awful reason, this will all have been a pointless diversion.
You know what might be cool? If Miracle Day was giving us a sense that all the tangents had a purpose, like the supersecret baddie aliens were leading Torchwood down the wrong path over and over again in order to keep hidden their true motives. But I don’t think that’s what’s going on. I think Russell Davies and Co. didn’t know what to do with ten hours of screentime. Which is really sad.
Is it really a productive use of Gwen as a character to spend an entire episode fretting over her father? Wouldn’t it have been more exciting and more suspenseful if she was deeply involved in unraveling the mystery — you know, like Gwen of old would have been — while simultaneously worrying about whether Rhys could save her dad? Isn’t that what bloody Torchwood makes you do: sacrifice your own interests for the good of, like, the entire fucking planet and all of humanity?
But even Gwen’s tangent makes little sense. “If I did that for you,” the doctor tells Gwen when Gwen asks to have her father reclassified out of Category 1, “I’d have to do that for everyone.” Everyone who? There are no visitors in the overflow camp. No one knows what is going on at the camp. Who would be hounding this doctor to do anything?
You know what’s so exciting I can hardly stand it? Watching Esther sitting at a desk:
It’s almost as exciting as watching her hugely unconvincing act pretending to be an incompetent idiot who doesn’t know what paperwork has to be signed. I almost peed myself watching that.
Is Maloney supposed to be some sort of parody of the banality of evil? Badminton? Seriously?
Also: no American would use the phrase car park. How did that get past everyone? Actor Mark Vann, who’s playing Maloney, is American: Did he not point out to someone, anyone along the way that this was not the right thing for his character to say? (Not that I blame him for this, of course, but it’s hard to imagine that he, as the actor who had to speak the line, wouldn’t have brought it to the attention of the director, at least.) Has everyone just given up caring at this point? Or are we going to learn that this is happening in a parallel universe where Americans say “car park” when they mean “parking lot”?
The gay jokes now officially make no sense at all: Rhys suggests that he was sent on a job at 5am because his supervisor was hitting on him? You’d get off a crappy job in the middle of the night if that were the case.
I’d love to think that Russell Davies was trying to have a good ol’ joke on American TV with his ridiculous homophobia and crass American characters, like he was trying to see how far could he go before someone said, “Hey, whoa, cut it out now, okay?” And then the joke was on him — and on all of us — when no one said boo.
Ah, and way to give yourself away, Rhys: Use the name “Captain Jack Harkness,” why don’t you? No one is looking for someone by that name. Speaking of… why did Esther use her real fucking name when working at the overflow camp? We’d previously been given the impression that there was some sort of Torchwood ID software that was creating the passes everyone needed to move around, but now we learn — because Esther is so upset to have her name on the official employment rolls at the camp — that obviously she somehow had to make herself known to some federal computer or other. She knows that she’s on the run, doesn’t she, from the actual federal government, not to mention whoever is behind Phicorp? Or did she just forget again?
The piles of idiocy never stop. It’s so convenient for Gwen that there’s plenty of C4 on a medical base. It’s good that no one is guarding it, and good that no one is guarding the modules she wanted to blow up. It’s not like there was some unauthorized guy wandering around, stealing trucks, using the name Captain Jack Harkness just five minutes earlier. It’s not like it takes time to set that much explosive, so that it’s gotta be close to 6am, when there’d be lots of activity around the modules because that’s when all the Cat 1s were being dumped.
“I’ve opened up the radio link,” Jack says so Gwen can do her Dramatic Speech(TM) accompanying her explosions while looking into the camera, instead of looking in a mirror for the benefit of the lipreading software. WTF?! There’s a radio link with the camera lenses? Since fucking when? Why not have it open all the damn time?
And then this is the big cliffhanger:
We already know they want Jack. Gwen already knows it. She should have known how much danger her family would be in after she wandered around the overflow camp announcing to anyone who would listen that the heart attack guy was her father, thereby rendering her pseudonym useless. Rhys used his real name, too, and she knew it. How stupid can Gwen be? How surprised can she be to have her stupidity used against her?
But this is the worst thing: Why don’t the mysterious bad guys just come and take Jack? They know where he is! Don’t tell me C. Thomas Howell didn’t report in before he got shot in the throat. And even if he didn’t… If Phicorp knows about “the security breach on the 33rd floor,” then so do whoever is behind Phicorp. If they can tap into the camera lenses, they can tap into all of Torchwood’s communications. What can Gwen do for them to bring Jack in that they can’t do themselves?
Next: Episode 7: “Immortal Sins”