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TV Review: Torchwood: Miracle Day – “Immortal Sins”

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Last week I suggested that perhaps Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), himself, is “The Blessing” referred to by PhiCorp CEO Stuart Owens (Ernie Hudson) in Torchwood: Miracle Day’s “The Middle Men.” I guess I was pretty close there, eh? This week’s episode “Immortal Secrets” is the strongest episode in weeks; I was glued to my seat the entire time and was actually surprised to see it end, as it seemed that only moments had passed since the opening scene.Courtesy Starz

At the end of last week’s “The Middle Men,” Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) was stunned to learn through those nifty Torchwood contact lenses that Rhys (Kai Owen), her mother and baby Anwen had all been taken hostage back in Wales. All the kidnappers want in exchange is Captain Jack Harkness.

Never underestimate the determination of Gwen Cooper when her family is in danger. Using the stun gun on Jack, she takes him captive and drives out to the desert to turn him over. As they drive, Gwen, almost as if she’s convincing herself why it is okay to deliver Jack into the hands of the kidnappers, enumerates Jack’s many sins, while confessing her own—and why Torchwood (and Jack by extension) are toxic to anyone who draws near.

First blaming Jack (who has always beaten himself up about the losses surrounding him), and then herself for loving the hunt too much; for thriving on Torchwood, for the work making her feel superior and alive, Gwen tells Jack that although she loves him, she would gladly turn him over to whatever fate the kidnappers have in mind for him than lose Anwen and the rest of her family.

But Jack, newly mortal Jack, wants to savor life as a “real” human. He has never felt so alive because he can finally die. He’s not willing to give that up easily, he says. And, as he tells Gwen, although he also loves her, he will fight her to the death to keep on living.

Fortunately, back at the makeshift Torchwood Hub, Esther (Alexa Havins), who’s a lot smarter than Rex (Mekhi Phifer) gives her credit for, realizes that Jack (and probably Gwen) are in danger. They track Gwen’s car, alert Andy (Tom Price) back in Cardiff, who then rescues Rhys, Anwen and Mrs. Cooper. Although the team have the kidnappers eventually at gunpoint, Jack is told that he’ll want to come with them anyway. And this is where the episode’s main plot and a second, parallel plot taking place in 1927 intersect.

Running parallel to this present-day plot, we are transported in flashback to 1927 and Ellis Island where we meet Angelo (Daniele Favilli), an Italian immigrant who’s stolen Jack’s forged visa. Jack, on a Torchwood mission to destroy an alien parasite that might change the course of world history, befriends (and then beds) the small-town Italian man. But in between these revelations, Jack and Angelo have some pretty steamy sex, as ominsexual Jack is strongly drawn to the young Italian.

But Angelo gets an up-close demonstration of Jack’s immortality, which slightly freaks out the young man. Is Jack a blessing or a curse; an angel, or the devil himself? Tuning him over to some of the neighborhood folk, who believe he is the devil incarnate, they amuse themselves trying to kill him. They slash him and knife him, and each time he dies, he comes back weaker and weaker. The torture and blood loss—and the physical cost of reviving are almost too much for Jack, who is finally left alone, weak and blood-covered head to toe.

In the process, the people have taken vials of his blood, and ultimately try to sell him to a trio of crime bosses, who can certainly find use for the immortal man. Jack escapes his captors, but they now have his blood. And I suspect that the blood is connected to the “miracle” of Miracle Day.

“What did you give them so long ago,” asks the assassin in an early episode? Jack replies that he doesn’t know, but he’s likely been pondering that question for weeks, and now he’s finally figured it out.  It’s his blood. The blood collected during Jack’s torture so many years earlier. And now Angelo, still living, wants to meet up with Jack again—and he’s at the center of the Miracle Day miracle. Stay tuned for next week!

There is much to love about “Immortal Sins.” Captain Jack has not featured so prominently in a Miracle Day episode since “Rendition.” And it’s great to have him back front and center where he belongs.

We learn a lot about the man Captain Jack in earlier days. He was a lot more callow—and a lot less circumspect than he was when we first met him in the first series of Torchwood. He lets Angelo into his life far more easily than I imagine he would let anyone into his life (and secrets) decades later. And that callowness cost him then—and apparently the price is still being exacted more than 80 years later.

We know, of course, that none of the Torchwood Cardiff team had known about his immortality…problem when we first meat the team in Series 1. Although Jack does take Gwen into his confidence early on, no matter what the others may have suspected, it is not until the final chapter of the first series that Ianto, Tosh and Owen realize that Jack cannot stay dead. You have to wonder if Jack’s experience with Angelo and the horrific torture to which that led may have shaded his experience. It certainly fits.

It’s also interesting to note the relative passivity with which he accepts Gwen’s decision to turn him over to the kidnappers. Although he is tied securely hand and foot, I imagine that had he wanted to do so, he could have found a way to overpower Gwen. But he doesn’t consider it—not seriously. He’s quite willing to exchange himself for Gwen’s family.

When they stop to stretch their legs, there is no rancor, and as Jack talks wistfully of firebirds, there is a calm between him and Gwen. He understands, and although he certainly wants to live, he does nothing to stop her. Part of that, I think goes back to Jack’s belief that he is responsible for so much suffering—from his brother’s disappearance when he was just a boy on Boeshane to Ianto’s death in Children of Earth. I recall in the Series 2 episode “Exit Wounds” that Jack accepts what might have been the lifelong torture (burial alive) at the hands of his vengeful brother as if (according to Captain John Hart) as if he deserves it. But I digress.

I loved the way the two disparate storylines of “Immortal Sins” finally dovetail. I knew they had to somehow relate, but it wasn’t until the bloodletting that I began to figure out the connection. Who were those three criminal types from back in 1927 who decided to purchase (and likely enslave) Captain Jack?

Although Angelo saves Jack from a lifetime of torture and enslavement at the hands of (what I assume to be) organized crime, what is the cost so many years later? And with only three episodes remaining, I guess we’re about to find out!

The series’ main plotline takes a backseat this week, however, we do learn a few things through the deft placement of media reports and Internet videos, although it’s barely mentioned in “Immortal Sins.” We learn that the “module” project has been “paused” in the aftermath of Rex’s video being loosed in the wilds of the Internet; it now has had millions of hits and people are outraged. But, asks Rex, for how long?

People are outraged that Dr. Vera Juarez loses her life, yet people are concerned about the growing population. Are the modules so wrong, they wonder, in dealing with the current crisis? It’s an ageless question, chilling, yet expected. How long will it be before the populace demands the modules be brought back online as Oswald Danes recommends in a television snippet.

Man’s inhumanity to man; when people feel threatened, they sacrifice the perceived weak. Until, that is, they themselves become the victim; who then will stand up for them?

Random thoughts:

  • This is the second episode in a row without much, if anything from Oswald Danes storyline. I certainly don’t miss it (although Bill Pullman is excellent in a twitchy, creepy sort of way), and I assume he’ll be back in the picture as the series reaches its climactic hours. But it was a pleasure to see Jack back as the focus of the story. He is Torchwood, after all.
  • That was one freaking hot scene as Jack describes to Angelo what he would do with the beautiful woman on a neighboring balcony. Even as he uses it to seduce Angelo, it reminds us (and particularly viewers unfamiliar with the other series), as does Gwen’s question about how many children Jack has, that Jack isn’t exclusively gay. “I like a lot of things,” he explains to Angelo. Of course Jack is “omnisexual,” and has been married (who knows how many times), and has (who knows how many) offspring.

Over the course of the several Torchwood incarnations, we’ve seen Jack longingly gaze at an early 20th Century wedding portrait, hold his long-ago beloved Estelle in his arms as she dies an old woman; we’ve met his daughter and (one of ) his grandchildren, Stephen, whom he sacrifices to save the lives of millions in Children of Earth. But Jack has had his share of male lovers and infatuations, from Captain John Hart (James Marsters) to Ianto Jones to the “real” Jack Harkness (“Jack Harkness,” Series 1), and who knows how many in between.

  • I also loved the idea that the 1927 storyline is an actual Torchwood case. Jack is sent to New York to eradicate a dangerous alien parasite, and it is there he encounters Angelo. Perhaps contacting Angelo is even part of his Torchwood plan. It’s interesting to see Jack operate within Torchwood, but much earlier in his timeline.
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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)."
  • Carl

    I’m afraid that this episode has rendered the first 2/3 of the series irrelevant. After all, Torchwood didn’t really accomplish anything in that time and now it looks like they’re getting spoonfed the answers.

    What was the point of the kidnapping if all they had to do was tell Jack that Antonio wants to talk to him? With all the death he’s seen why did Jack never consider that his blood or DNA might be able to heal? Could he have given his grandson a dose before sacrificing him? Could he have made Ianto immune to the disease that killed him? Could he have revived Owen without the glove?

    I actually don’t like this explanation because his condition is due to vortex energy making him a fixed point, not something physical.

  • nan00se

    The episode was probably more palatable becuase it had a focus on Captain Jack.The scenes between CJ and Gwen were dissapointment-nothing new here–Gwen berating CJ –CJ looking pained-the only news was Gwens assertion that she felt important when the others died–but Gwen has always been a mixed bag and not to everyone’s taste.I still find that MD relies to much on old plot devices,storylines and dialogue used in the previous series and Dr Who.CJ story is becoming very repetitive -old lover/relative from past shows up,he dies again and again after being tortured–its all been done before-they need to come up with a new slant on his charactor and not sure why they decided to use a similar scene(CH lands on to -meaningful looks etc,i like the suit) within the angelo story–it was a destaction and worked much better first time around.Nothing new in this ep re the plot or storyline–we knew a past love was on the horizon and it was pretty predictable where it was going–and lets face it predictable is a key element on Miracle Day

  • BK

    I did like this episode more so than the previous ones because I finally felt the storyline was beginning to move along. Although it was nice to see Jack at the forefront, I still found myself wondering about the three men with whom an agreement had been made concerning Jack. It was also a nice touch to have the aforementioned gentlemen shake hands in a makeshift triangle. So I’m guessing in the next episode this little hint will be revealed along with Angelo’s connection? Well at least I hope so

  • I thought about the coat when he retrieved it from the vent. Why would he have it? But then I thought that he must’ve already had it somehow. We don’t know how he got the coat originally, do we?

    I do think he met Angelo early in the timeline…in the period in which be became stuck waiting for the return of The Doctor. It explains (and is wonderful continuity, actually) why he is so much more gee-whiz with showing off the technology and sharing his immortality secret with Angelo. He is much more impetuous, callow and open–with relationships too.

    I also loved the fact he thought it might be cool to have a companion like The Doctor, like he was trying to “be” like him, in his own way.

    I also wonder if the need to get a Visa and encountering Angelo as well has to do with the mission. Angelo knew the mob guy who had the alien parasite. Jack meeting Angelo was no coincidence, IMHO.

  • Connie

    I thought it was a great episode, and I can come up with theories to fix the holey bits 😛

    So! My thoughts on timelines:

    It could be early time line, just back on Earth from the Daleks and Bad Wolf.

    “The Doctor: When did you realize it?
    Jack: Earth. 1892. Got in a fight on Ellis Island. A man shot me through the heart. Then I woke up.”

    The coat could be something that a past/future him left in a hidey hole, or simply a custom made job.
    I mean, he obviously likes the coat quite a lot (he met the Doctor in it!), nothing saying he couldn’t get a tailor made one before they are supposed to show up.

    And when he says any amount of years (700 whatever), there’s always the chance he’s just talking about the future, rather than his actual years lived.

    And with the “men like you always kill me” he could be speaking figuratively, or perhaps literally – I mean, he did die for the Doctor, so by “men” he could be really saying “people I love” and again, speaking more figuratively of like, the betrayal and breaking his heart or w/e.
    So it’s not necessarily that that’s happened to him before or that he’s had a lot of longtime companions/lovers since landing on Earth and just suddenly has a hankering.
    Though even if he does just suddenly want a companion, why not? Love and all that. Allure of trying out the Doctor’s shoes, perhaps.

    And yes, if it was an early past event, then it would explain why he doesn’t like showing off his immortality now, was free with showing his tech and telling secrets then, and now doesn’t attach so well when it comes to long-term relationships / thinks it’s better to leave them while they’re good before they turn sour/reality sinks in.

  • Raven

    Then again he could have been there to rectify what the Trixter had set in motion, travelling from a point after he left Torchwood. It would fit but its so random and convenient. But it does draw parallels between him and the Doctor.

  • Raven

    After Jack bounced with his vortex manipulator to try and follow the TARDIS back to Earth following the events of ‘The Parting of Ways’ (Doctor Who S01E13) it burnt out, not allowing him to teleport or travel through time. It obviously had some functions as he was still able to use it in certain capacities just not teleporting or traveling through the vortex until the Doctor fixed during the gap between ‘Utopia’ and ‘The Sound of Drums’ (Doctor Who S03E11 & S03E12). Jack stated he was forced to live through the entire 20th century in order to await the day that the Doctor would refuel at the rift to find out what happened to him. Its extremely poor writing though as Jack hadn’t lived relatively that long at that point in time. There would be no way for him to be that old and be in that time frame unless he traveled back in time after he left in Torchwood S03E05 and lvied throughout that time period again, risking the chance he would come in contact with himself from the past and another version of him before he met the Doctor. Poor writing. The coat in it of itself is one big gap. He didn’t have it when the Daleks invaded Satelite 5 and then he bounced into a period the coat didn’t exist in.

  • Angela

    The problem lies in that where does this story take place in Jack’s timeline? Was it after he zapped himself to Cardiff following his transformation and got stuck there? That would explain his need for a visa, if he was still using his vortex manipulator he could have just zapped himself into NYC. Also he wouldn’t have had the coat, that is a period coat and he hasn’t made it to that period in time yet on this go round. I just feel like Jane E dropped the ball as far as where this occurs in Jack’s life. It would explain his standoffishness with relationships for the rest of his life, if it was after he was left on Earth, without his vortex manipulator. Otherwise why would he have this newfound desire to have a companion and not be alone anymore?? Sloppy writing!

  • Jamie

    I completely agree with you. This is probably the best episode of the series and wonderfully written. I love how they compared the Doctor to Jack and seeing whether or not he could have a companion as well. I’m really curious about Angelo and what happened after Jack left him