Note: this is only mildly spoilery, but proceed with caution. Also, there may be a slight delay on posting of episode 3’s recap, as I’ll be at SDCC next week. Hopefully the prospect of Torchwood/Doctor Who panel tidbits will suffice.

“Rendition,” is a slightly claustrophobic episode. Most of the action takes place in closed systems. An airplane, CIA headquarters at Langely, a TV studio, or conference-rooms. There is seduction and betrayal afoot, and this episode is more about slotting the puzzle pieces into place, than it is about revealing very much. Dr. Juarez (Arlene Tur) begins to see further implications of immortality for the human population, while we’re introduced to Jilly Kitzinger ( Six Feet Under’s Lauren Ambrose) a PR rep for a pharmaceutical company who is also very interested in Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman).

Meanwhile, Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins) is about to become embroiled in complications arising from her connection with Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer,) thanks to Mr. Friedkin (Wayne Knight) and Rex’s former colleague and lover, Lyn (Dichen Lachman).

Phifer seems to be hitting his stride, as the alpha-male battle between Matheson and Harkness rings both funny and true. Matheson isn’t a protege or a lover (yet?) and in this post-456 world, he’s got the upper hand.

The script by Doris Egan telegraphs some of the plot points a little too heavily, but the cast is given plenty of zingers: (mildly spoilery)

Lyn: If you’re the best England’s got to offer, then God help you.

Gwen Cooper: I’m Welsh.

Eve Myles nails the line to the wall, and it’s a pleasure to watch. I’m also very impressed by the way Lauren Ambrose invests the words, “I disagree,” with a sort of charming menace. Jilly Kitzinger may be the devil’s handmaiden or something altogether unknown, but Ambrose makes the glossy-brittle sheen of this PR-girl as thoroughly chilling as Pullman’s pedophile-murderer.

I’m pleased to say that John Barrowman’s performance as Jack Harkness, although he doesn’t have as much dialogue as TW fans are probably expecting, is still running on all 8 cylinders. There’s more gravitas, less telegraphed angst and while Jack may be part of the larger mystery, there’s absolutely no sense that the mystery is about him. The power imbalance, new dynamics, and yes: his maybe-mortality, have made Jack Harkness vulnerable and interesting again.

The biggest weakness in this episode, as in episode 1, is Havins performance as Esther Drummond. I don’t know if the writers are trying too hard to make her the new audience’s proxy or if Havins is turning in a bland and drippy performance, but Esther is too eager to please, too whingy and childlike for my tastes. This is a character who is supposed to be in a position of interpreting intelligence data with confidence, yet we’re shown nothing of that spark in her personality.

“Rendition,” is an episode that ratchets the tension up a notch, but where we’re still learning the players, where the web is still being woven and we’re making the discoveries along with the characters. I’d been trying to put my finger on the biggest difference between TW: MD and previous series, and it is simply: the Torchwood team is as much in the dark as the audience. It’s another layer of redefining Torchwood’s narrative for a new audience. That sense of being slightly off-kilter is slightly frustrating and incredibly intriguing.

The previews of Episode 3, “Dead of Night” seem to indicate that we’ll be getting some answers to the questions being asked by the characters and veiwers, very soon.