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TV Review: Torchwood: Miracle Day – “Escape to LA”

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So the Torchwood team has moved to Los Angeles, more specifically Venice Beach, hot on the trail of the Phicorp pharma baddies. But is it really as simple as a pharmaceutical company (or companies), perhaps in cahoots with parts of the U.S. government wanting to make more and more profits? Naah. This is Torchwood, silly, and nothing is ever quite as simple as it seems.

People can’t die. No one, that is, except the previously immortal Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), Torchwood’s dashing leader. The seeming miracle has turned quickly into a curse as the should-be-dead mount in the world’s hospitals, taking up limited bed-space and consuming the world’s supply of vital medicines. But Phicorp to the rescue as it has stockpiled warehouses full of whatever’s needed, pushing the concept that all medicines should be made freely accessible. Never mind those pesky little prescriptions, which take up doctors’ time to jot down.

Phicorp’s message is aided by poster-boy Oswald Danes, the should-be-dead-but-isn’t executed pedophile murderer. Bill Pullman, who’s best known for his everyman blandness (personally, I crushed on him in While You Were Sleeping and Independence Day, in which he played more the quiet hero of the story) plays Danes as an ordinary guy who is anything but. He is the banality of evil, secretly unrepentant, yet with a remorseful and increasingly heroic public persona that has now lent to him the name “The Sainted Danes.”

“Dead is Dead,” reads the bumper sticker de jour. The dead, says the philosophy, promoted by a Tea Party-esque politician, should be treated as dead. They should be separated to suffer in isolation, apart from everyone else, in camps. It is a quiet movement, operating beneath the radar—to “take care of” the living dead, moving quickly beneath the bombast of politicians. It hits home among the Torchwood team, as Gwen’s (Eve Myles) father, back in Cardiff is tagged to be moved to such a camp. Of course ex-CIA agent Rex Matheson (Mehki Phifer) would be equally affected since he is one of them, having been impaled by steel piping in an automobile “accident” in the series’ first episode. 

But what is the end game? Is Phicorp simply one front of a much bigger threat? And what has this all to do with Captain Jack and Torchwood? As Gwen’s husband Rhys (Kai Owen) says earlier this season, there must be a connection since Jack became mortal simultaneous to the “miracle.” And in this week’s episode, that connection is made explicit when Jack is confronted by a Phicorp assassin. Something ties Miracle Day into Jack’s past. What that connection might be is anyone’s guess. Any guesses, all of you Doctor Who and Torchwood experts?

What is Jilly Kitzinger’s (Lauren Ambrose) role in all of this? Is she really the amoral publicist, latched on to the Oswald Danes gravy train? Or is there something more sinister about her? And what about Esther Drummond (Alexa Havens) and the seemingly unconnected story of her sister? Is it simply a human-interest tangent to the main plot, or is there a reason for her sister’s sudden insanity?

The Torchwood team of Miracle Day is more ragtag than in any other series within the Torchwood universe, a patchwork of personalities, still only barely functioning as a team. Of course that makes sense as both Jack and Gwen are somewhat out of their element and far from home (even given that Jack is ostensibly an American). They are without the Hub and without most of their equipment; and of course Jack is no longer indestructible. If he hurtles himself into mortal danger, he’s not going to come out of it this time.

The team is more prone to mistakes and errors of judgment. Rhys is constantly phoning; Esther is inexperienced, leaving the team vulnerable. Rex has an ego as large as Jack’s, and he’s colder. So I’m interested in seeing how the team will gel—if it does, or whether its more patchwork nature plays against it, throwing them all into greater danger against a enemy likely as sinister and deadly as the 456 of Torchwood: Children of the Earth. (By the way, for you fellow newbies, you may have noticed reference in several places during Miracle Day that refer to the “456” laws. That’s a great excuse for you to go back and watch the three earlier Torchwood series. The 456 form the core threat of Torchwood: Children of the Earth—Series Three.)

My main quibble with last night’s episode is its focus on the new characters and very little time spent with Jack and Gwen. The storyline with Rex and his father and Esther and her sister took up an awful lot of the episode without moving the main story forward (unless it does and we just don’t know yet—entirely possible). So stay tuned. There are six episodes to go, and it’s sure to get more intense. Writer Doris Egan (who penned the series’ second episode “Rendition”) told me to watch out especially for Episode 7, but said no more than that.

Torchwood airs Friday nights at 10:00 p.m. ET on STARZ.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.
  • Sherry

    Hey Barbara – the other Torchwood team member’s name is Esther Drummond. I was thinking last night while I was watching it that there is not enough about Jack. I was glad the last half brought in more connections to him. I’m mixed on Miracle Day so far. I miss the stories from the first two seasons – I liked how there were continuing threads but the team faced new adventures each week.

    I think there are some good ideas in Miracle Day and there have been a lot of good scenes but not sure it’s come together as well as it could. I think Bill Pullman is very good.

    It doesn’t feel like Torchwood as much, a good story can make up for that, but they still have some work to do.

  • barbara barnett

    Sherry, I said that. Did I misspell it? I agree–not enough Jack. I suspect that an intensification is coming–all surrounding Jack, however.

  • ally

    Barbara, I think you also had a typo in the description of Bill Pullman as Oswald – quite instead of quiet.

    I liked the scenes with Rex and Esther encountering their relatives. It made Rex that much more human and explains some of his motivation for keeping that rough and gruff exterior while being vulnerable underneath.

    With Esther we already knew from last week that she was the younger sibling but also apparently the more responsible one and the caretaker of her sister. Having now “met” her sister, it adds to her motivations to protect her family as well as feeling so out of place and torn amongst all these self confident group of people in Torchwood. It made the characters more believably fallible as well as explaining their actions.

  • barbara barnett

    Ally, you have a point. Thanks for pointing out the typo. Will fix.

    I was just rewatching the final episodes of the second series, and wonder if we might find clues in “Fragments” and “Exit Wounds.” There are references to what happens in the 21st century (something bigger, I would imagine, even than the 456 in Children of the Earth). For example, why did Alex kill the Torchwood members (except, of course Jack)–saying it was a mercy killing? And what is the object that Jack may have in his possession that the bad guys want so badly?

  • Sherry

    Sorry – I forgot to say there is xxxx in the place of a name in the last paragraph.

    I am also wondering if this somehow ties into what happened with Owen in season two. I would like it to tie back to something. The resurrection glove was also used in the very first episode so maybe that ties in somehow, though I’m not sure how the pharmaceutical company would be related to that. We shall see I guess.

  • Jamie

    I love Miracle Day so far and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds. The exploration of the medical side of the problem is really interesting so far and kind of appalling in some ways, especially with the separation of the “dead” from the living. And also having Oswald Danes as a spokesman for Phicorp and being the named the Sainted Danes is terrible, but I can’t help but feel intrigued by him and why him specifically Phicorp wants as their spokesman.

    This has Jack’s name written all over it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it did indeed have something to do with past seasons, especially the events that happened at the end of season two and children of Earth. Perhaps it has something to do with losing Tosh, Owen, and Ianto as well as being responsible for killing his own grandchild. He did mention it in the previous episode when he confronted Danes about getting over killing a child.

  • barbara barnett

    Owen’s “problem” was created by the glove—the one that Jack stole from the Weevils. When Jack resurrects Owen with the glove…

    Could this all be the work of the Weevils—or their masters? Hmm.

    Jamie–I agree. I found that scene between Jack and Danes compelling and poignant. Or what about that ring John Hart gave him?

    Sherry–thanks for pointing that out.

    Sherry–oopsy. What happens when you write fast :) Thanks. It’s been corrected

  • Ing

    This is the beginning of a series of events that will turn Jack into the Face of Boe. Mark my words.

  • Jamie

    Oh yeah! I keep trying to think about what item he might be referring to but I can’t come up with anything because the hub was destroyed in COE.

  • barbara barnett

    Yes, the Hub was destroyed. Gwen even had to return his wristband to him at the end of COE. But he’s lived such a long time, so who knows.