456 Classification - Sensitive Information Revealed
Yes folks, from here on in all Torchwood reviews WILL contain spoilers! Mainly because as the show moves closer and closer towards its final death throes, I'm sorry, exciting climax, it going to be increasingly hard to keep these little reports spoiler-free. And partly because I figure if you're reading this you're either a) already watching or b) don't give a toss. So then what does Episode 6 - The Middle Men bring us?
Well, we have an intriguing and surprising opening sequence which neatly set-up a fresh plot strand for this outing. However in the bulk of the episode is largely resolving the action from last week. Yes, around three quarters of this episode is Escape From The Overflow Camps. In the US, we have Rex and Esther attempting to get out with a minimum of fuss, while back in the UK Rhys and Gwen are still attempting to rescue her father. Meanwhile Captain Jack is seeking to have a quiet word with the fellow from the pre-credits sequence, a PhiCorp exec who has been getting a wee bit suspicious himself about what his company is getting up too.
And to oversee these spookshow shenanigans we have John Shiban on script duties again. Much like the last episode he was involved with (Escape From LA), this chapter of the Miracle Day storyline is tightly focused on the espionage operations and features a fascinating incidental character portrayed by an '80s pop culture icon. For the afore-mentioned PhiCorp suit, Stuart Evans, is played by the great Ernie Hudson - yes, it's Winston from Ghostbusters! And I'm happy to report that Mr Hudson is excellent and his scenes are some of the best in this instalment, partly because they deliver some tantalizing hints about what is really going on behind the Miracle but mostly because Evans doesn't turn out to be the face of corporate evil you're expecting.
Also on good form this episode is Eve Myles as Gwen, with the script giving her a winning combination of drama and action. Now amid all the nit picking over the last few weeks, I have been sadly neglecting to praise Eve Myles, as hands down she's been delivering the best performances in the team, and the character of Gwen has easily been the most consistently written too. Also in Gwen, the spirit of what I'm thinking of as the original Torchwood lives on; embodying the quirky humour and the down-to-earth human reactions to extraordinary events that were a much bigger part of the show than it is now.
In fairness however, we have Captain Jack appearing more like his old self in this episode, and the script makes good use of Esther and Rex. Now Alexa Havins has been fairly consistent throughout this series and proved to be an interesting character as the team member who is new to all this cloak and dagger stuff, however Rex has been mainly stuck on barking and shouting duties. But in this episode, while we don't exactly get masses of character development for him, Mekhi Phifer does at least get to extend his range beyond 'gruff'.
Now then, we have no appearance from Bill Pullman this week, which on one hand is a shame as his performances have been excellent. But on the other hand, the absence of Danes removed a major thorn in the side of the show's credibility (see previous reports for my troubles with this character). However that's not to say there weren't still niggly annoyances with the plot.
For while this episode clipped along nicely a decent pace, in terms of the overall series, shouldn't things be moving along a little quicker? I can't help thinking this part of the story should have either happened around episode 4 or been done in half the time. I mean we've only four episodes left and the team has actually learnt very little and took an awful long time to discover it.
However sensible plotting isn't proving to be this series strong suite. Last week I mentioned the increasing fuzziness over the rules of the Miracle and this continues to be a problem. Firstly we get a throw away line explaining that actually people can die if they are totally incinerated, so then no sentient ash clouds on the horizon then. But as this is a Davies masterplan I still wouldn't rule out a budget-blowing horde of cinder spectres appearing out of nowhere to smother the bad guys in the last episode...
Now this loophole in humanity's new immortality I could forgive if the concept of death only occurring in cases of 'complete cellular destruction' had been bedded down in the plot earlier. However as presented here, the explanatory line this week comes across as a quick fix because the writers forgot the rules. And indeed this is isn't the only instance of writers fudging the Miracle rules. To begin with the opening scene where the Hong Kong investigator throw himself off the roof makes for a dramatic opening but is undercut when you remember that no one is supposed to die. Yes we have mentions of the 45 Club but again this was introduced too close the scene to convince as anything other than papering a plot hole.
Admittedly that may seem like typical fanboy quibbling, but there's more serious questions hanging over the battle between Esther and the stressed to insanity camp boss, Maloney. For a start, throttling someone in a world where no one dies makes little sense, but the fact he is conveniently gunned down into submission seems like a direct contradiction of what we've seen before, as neither Rex nor Vera slipped into unconsciousness when seriously injured; indeed the the former made an explicit point about it when the team were talking about the Miracle a few weeks back - that whole 'forced into life' business. Plus in Rendition, we had the character who Miss Emma Lou of The Blue Box Blog wonderfully renamed The Lady Who Startlingly Resembles A Siamese Cat happily playing with the traffic with her head on backwards.
Then again in the last Shiban episode, we had C Thomas Howell's assassin handily flaunting the rules too and also conveniently collapsing. Now considering he would actually die, I have been wondering why the team just left him there - after all he was just about to spill some vital information shouldn't they have captured him for interrogation? Admittedly his wounds may have prevented him talking but he could held a bloody pen!
I don't know about you, but I'm getting the impression that generally the writers are really struggling with this no one dies business. While a certain amount of thought has gone into the effect such a scenario would have on society... Ok, ok, well alright... Just the healthcare system really, no one has carefully thought through the implications for plotting in action orientated narratives, namely that it becomes a bit of a sod if you can't have victims and bad guys biting the dust.
And so we have these logic gaps, opening the way to the dark dimensions where the cynical questions bubble and blaspheme at the centre of the universe of audience disbelief. Now a good writer should fear above all else accidentally opening one of these unhallowed portals... However if you fumble your dramtaic incantations, armchair smart arses like me start wondering about things like...
Why the hell is there a solider subservient to a civilian bureaucrat in the first place?
And while I enjoyed M*A*S*H as much as everyone else, is Torchwood really the right venue for a character that is clearly ripping off Radar?
And although it was great to see Ernie Hudson, did Jack really need to speak to him? Couldn't they have got most of his information from that server they nicked?
And is it just me or is the main tactic of this new Torchwood team what I believe to be called the Mrs Doyle Stratagem in intelligent circles - simply sidling up to the target and saying 'Ah go on! Help us out! It'll be grand! Ah go on , go on , go on, go on, go on!'
...I'll stop there before I get to speculations about the effects of Botox on John Barrrowman's performances, but you get the idea. If you leave holes in your plot, your viewers will be down them quicker than Alice after a white rabbit and the show won't be holding their attention. And if you're careful, like the wooden men on the chess board in the Carroll inspired Jefferson Airplane song, they be getting up and telling you where to go...
Now generally I was being moderately entertained by this episode, but much like the rest of the series, all these little niggles kept nudging me out of the show. And while much of the time these are are minor points, the fact is Miracle Day has been consistently riddled with such little irritations week in and week out, I am getting to the point where it's becoming exceedingly annoying.
Of course that's not to mention the massive hairy cock-ups the show insists upon periodically waving in our faces. However, showing that some one in the production team has some grasp of pacing, this is the second week in a row where they've saved the most egregious plot idiocy for the end of the episode.
This week the story closes with Rex's footage being released to the world and what happens? Bloody nothing that's what. It's bad enough the revelation is tossed away in a few lines, but what's unforgivable is that it doesn't seem to matter. The governments and PhiCorp just carry on burning folks tra-la-bloody-la! To quote Jefferson Airplane again - "logic and proportion have fallen smartly dead".
Plus in combination with the cliff-hanger, I'm now convinced that this whole Miracle business is an idiotically complicated plot just to get at Jack and hence the majority of the plot of Miracle Day may well be a colossal red herring, and if that is so, a massive waste of our time.
I sincerely hope that this isn't the case but at the same time my expectations of getting any meat on the bones marked 'geography', 'families will rise' and 'the blessing' next week are exceedingly low... Instead I predict more dashing around that will seem entertaining enough but with a moment's thought will become irritating and unfulfilling...
JIM MOON, 18th August 2011