Friday , April 12 2024
The Torchwood team discovers the "categories of life."

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

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.





About Barbara Barnett

A Jewish mother and (young 🙃) grandmother, Barbara Barnett is an author and professional Hazzan (Cantor). A member of the Conservative Movement's Cantors Assembly and the Jewish Renewal movement's clergy association OHALAH, the clergy association of the Jewish Renewal movement. In her other life, she is a critically acclaimed fantasy/science fiction author as well as the author of a non-fiction exploration of the TV series House, M.D. and contributor to the book Spiritual Pregnancy. She Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (

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