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The Torchwood team escapes to Los Angeles in pursuit of a miracle.

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

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.

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)."

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