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TV Review: Torchwood: Miracle Day – “Categories of Life”

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Torchwood: Miracle Day continues this week with the rather innocently titled “Categories of Life,” but what transpires is anything but. As people continue not dying around planet earth, Phicorp has the response for dealing with the scant supply of hospital beds and scarce medical supplies. And in a plan of which Adolph Hitler and Joseph Mengle would be proud, Phicorp, with the willing—and perhaps desperate—cooperation of most national governments have created so-called “categories of life.”

Category 3 is for healthy people; Category 2 is for folks are ill, but not terminal. But if you’ve been mortally injured or fatally ill, and would have died, you are Category 1.

As hospital facilities burst at the seams, the sick and injured are taken to “overflow” camps that strongly resemble battlefield hospitals. Overworked physicians and other health care practioners triage the incoming and tag them with blue (Category 2) or red (Category 1) clothespins. In agony and needing treatment, the patients await their fate.

Learning about the categorization, the horrified Dr. Vera Juarez (Arlene Tur) joins “the fight,” meeting ex-CIA agent (and non-dead) Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer) in Venice Beach, where Torchwood now set up its new base. The government, she relates to the team, now has the power over life and death. But where does this put people like Rex, who was “mortally” wounded in Episode 1, but seems to be slowly healing? Is he a “2” or a “1?” he wonders.

At the end of the last episode, Gwen (Eve Myles) had learned that her father, who’d suffered a heart attack, has now been relocated to an overflow camp in Wales. Leaving Jack and the others in California, she flees back to Cardiff desperate to rescue her father, but frustrated at every turn. However, after infiltrating the camp as a nurse using false papers, Gwen discovers some of the horror of the “overflow camps.”

Back in L.A. the rest of the team try to infiltrate the local overflow facility at San Pedro. Rex is the natural choice to go undercover as a Category 1, since he’d been impaled at the start of Episode 1 (and certainly would have died). But because he is slowly healing, he does not appear to be as badly injured as he is.  He’s clearly not an obvious Category 1 at this point, and Esther Drummond (Alex Havins) now working as a clerk in the understaffed and overworked San Pedro camp, hacks the files in order to get him reclassified with the dreaded red pin. Taken to a barracks-like building, Rex quickly pulls out a camera and starts making a video record of the camp—evidence!

Vera, a respected member of the medical panel initially charged with developing an overflow plan, scores observer credentials and visits the facility—including the secret “Module” area. Not trained to conceal her emotions like the rest of the team, Dr. Juarez loses her cool when she is escorted around the camp by a bigoted jerk of a facility manager. When she arrives at the holding shed for “the uninsured,” she completely loses it, threatening the manager with arrest and prosecution. Bad idea, since the manager similarly loses it, shooting Vera in the stomach inside the holding shed. Locked in an bleeding, she gets a front row seat as we learn how Phicorp and the government plan on dealing with the uninsured: incineration!

In the meantime, while everyone else plays undercover, Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) stays back at the base—the only mortal man left in the world. It would be difficult for him, as Esther points out, to go undercover. He’s a seriously wanted man—with assassins on his trail.

But Captain Jack can’t stay still for long, and goes in pursuit of Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman) who’s about to give a speech at a huge “Miracle Day” rally in LA.  Jack believes he understands Danes: he’s a man, like Jack, who wants resolution to his life—a man who wants to die and be rid of the tormented hell in which he lives.  Jack tries convincing the charismatic Danes that he should join the other side: become a national hero—and perhaps find redemption. Why remain the freakishly immortal and despised pedophile, of whom the world cannot get enough?

Jack pleads with Danes to replace the words of Jilly Kitzinger’s (Lauren Ambrose) canned Phicorp speech with a Jack’s—a speech that will reveal the truth and rock the world. Although Danes looks momentarily as if he seriously ponders Jack’s plea, in the end, the pull of the dark side is too great. Jack has failed miserably.

We are at the midpoint of Torchwood: Miracle Day with “Categories of Life”—at the midpoint of a heroic and classic struggle between good and evil. And we are at a point where the team seems to be defeated on every count. Gwen can’t save her dad; Vera is dead, and Rex can’t save her, watching her burn to death alive with dozens of others held in “the module.”

And Captain Jack, desperate to have Oswald Danes hear him, stands helpless, defeated and mortal (and is it just my imagination or is Jack looking exhausted in “Categories of Life?”).  Can he even keep up his usual pace with his newfound status? The man who never sleeps (as he tells Gwen early on in Series 1) might have been fine without rest, but what of this new, more fragile Captain Jack Harkness, so powerless in the face of this great evil?

Things seem pretty bleak, but things are likely to get even worse as the weeks go on and the grand plan and its motivation are revealed. But will the team be able to move on past the defeats of this week to struggle on—and at what further cost? Torchwood: Miracle Day is a very, very dark series.

I wasn’t sure in earlier episodes what to make of Rex and Captain Jack. They are two leaders, accustomed to getting their own way and being in command. But I’m liking the alpha-male pissing contest between them—and the scene sending Rex off in an ambulance to the overflow facility is fantastic.

I also like Esther. She is so unlike Gwen had been in her newness to Torchwood back in Series 1. She lacks Gwen’s self-confidence and assertive personality. Esther seems like a bit of a fragile flower, but is likely anything but. Jack clearly sees that she is frightened and nervous—terrified of screwing up, playing along with the heavy hitters. But I think he sees something more in her as well. I loved that he walks with her on the beach reassuring her quite tenderly, and then making a point to call upon her in the team meeting. I also enjoyed Esther’s gentle teasing at Jack’s expense as they all went off to do their derring-do—only to leave Jack back at the ranch.

So what is the bigger picture here? We have a corporation staging a “miracle” to do what? Make people slaves to pharmaceuticals for eternity? To what end? And what’s above Phicorp? We have “The Modules,” so nasty that they are erased from satellite images. Are the modules where the uninsured go to be incinerated? That can’t be their purpose outside the U.S. where everyone has national health insurance. Hmmm.

 What is Danes’ purpose in all of this? Why him? Convenience, or something more sinister? And, of course, how is this all connected back to Captain Jack Harkness—as we know it must?

Your thoughts? Episode 6 of Torchwood: Miracle Day airs Friday night on Starz.





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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."
  • Jonathan

    That was an interesting concept they added. Hadn’t thought of it!

  • Nate

    Really dissapointed with this series. Russell Davies you have destroyed what was once a unique and creative series! What are you doing!! The USA aspect is a massive mistake and the lack of the torchwood hub is like Dr Who no longer having a Tardis and losing his ability to be a timelord. This is not torchwood, its boring, drawn out where this miracle day arc could be a triology and poor John B takes side stage with a very pathetic Bill Pullman performance. A very disgruntled once massive proud Welsh Torchwood fan.

  • Sherry

    I don’t think Torchwood is a show that should simmer. There is so much more they can be doing.

    Look at the original concept for Torchwood – a group of alien fighters (for lack of a better word) led by an immortal alien. That concept no longer fits. Where are the aliens? What happened to the rift? Why are they in America? Why did the CIA have a Torchwood file? I liked that Torchwood was a part of the UK. I don’t like that the U.S. has commandeered them. They should have stayed with their original concept. They didn’t need to try to top Children of the Earth. That was a five day special. It aired in one week. I fully thought they would find some way to form a new Torchwood team.

    Why did Jack come back to Earth? How did he know to go to the archives and find Esther? I really think these are loose ends that are there for convenience. They will never get answered fully.

    I am bored by Phicorp. Even if they reveal aliens at some point, it is too late.

    I still hope the show does well enough to maybe keep going. Like Taffy I am still watching because I like Torchwood and I hope for more, but I would hope they get some things back to the original concept in another season.

  • Hi Taffy. What I meant was “trained” was not in the formal sense at all. Yeah, Gwen has a difficult time controlling her emotions, but when push comes to shove, she can suck it up if she has to. Rex is CIA, and he’s great at concealing his emotions, he’s just too damn arrogant for words.

    I’ve thought a couple of the episodes were too slow moving, especially at the beginning–and have featured too little of Jack. I loved the first three episodes, wasn’t crazy about #4, but liked this one. No, they are not working as a team yet, and if they were, I’d think it was very unrealistic.

    Gwen’s like has been disrupted, Jack has come back out of nowhere (and I’d love a scene between him and Gwen just talking about that). Their rhythms are quite different than that of the Amerians (in a way, I think Jack is American only in accent–the U.S is more foreign to him than London or Cardiff). Rex is accustomed to working on his own, and Esther is completely out of her element. In the end, I do think they’ll jell (at least whoever of them remains–as we know the mortality rate on Torchwood is pretty high).

    If Phicorp turns out to be the ultimate bad guy, I will agree with you. MD would have been too obviously good vs. evil (with no shading, as was evident in COE), and I’d be disappointed. On the other hand, I would not have dived into the entire Torchwood universe had it not been for MD. The one TW episode I’d watched several years ago didn’t quite grab me. But now I’ve become a happy addict and can’t get enough.

  • Taffy

    I had to laugh at your comment that Vera hadn’t been “trained to conceal her emotions like the rest of the team”. Since when has *any* of the “team” been “trained” to control their emotions? Certainly, Gwen and Rex never have! LOL

    As far as MD is concerned, I’ve been very disappointed in it. It’s based on some pretty enormous medical, legal, and procedural errors, which, if corrected, would remove nearly everything the show is based on, plus, it’s full of “tell” and next to no “show” and waaaayyyy to much filler. It’s not like the writers didn’t know it was a 10-ep show to begin with; IMO, they’re experienced enough to have taken that into account and done something with the extra time they had – other shows/mini-series do. Halfway through, I’m still saying that if MD were turned in for a final project, the student would be lucky to get a passing grade in the class. So, no, still not impressed or entertained AT ALL; I’m just watching (stupidly) because I used to *like* Torchwood – and keep hoping to see something of what I liked in this new “reimagining” of it.

  • Sherry–I fixed it :). I’d gotten them mixed up. I always think in terms of Hazard designations on chemicals 1 is OK and 3 is very, very bad, which is why I got confused.

    COE was packed into 5 episodes, and this is 10, so the story has more time to simmer. Also, they’ve introduced new characters.

    I’m not sure I agree the story is jumbled, but I would love to see more of Jack in the story. I think they’ve not formed a team yet, because they have had not time to do it. There’s been almost no time to breathe.

    Jack seems desperate in Categories of Life. He’s out of his element and not really sure how to battle this thing. He’s mortal and more fragile, while everyone around him is immortal.

    I hope we get more of Jack in the weeks to come, and Torchwood writer Doris Egan told me that I’d especially love Episode 7 (but she wouldn’t spill anything about it).

  • Sherry

    No, she has the categories correct. Category 3 is “healthy alive” category 2 is “unhealthy alive” and category 1 is “dead alive.” I personally think the show did that backwards, it’s confusing.

    I’m becoming more and more disappointed in this season. I don’t like Esther. I think the story is jumbled. I’m re-watching Children of Earth and there was more story in the first episode than there has been in five episodes of Miracle Day. I really hate saying this, because I love Torchwood, but I can’t help but be disappointed in what I have seen.

    They have stripped Jack of everything that was interesting about him. He is barely there really. There is something different about Gwen too, but I’m mostly disappointed in the Jack character. I agree with you that the rivalry with Rex and Jack is good, but I think they could gel it together more. They have not formed a team at all. I just don’t feel any camaraderie, and I am really missing that aspect of Torchwood.

  • Damn. I am so bad at numbers!

  • You’ve got your categories mixed up/typoed. “But if you’ve been mortally injured or fatally ill, and would have died, you are Category 3.” Should be category one there. Just a friendly heads-up 🙂