Torchwood: Miracle Day 4×6 review
Warning: Contains mild spoilers.
After raising the stakes in episode 5, episode 6 of Torchwood: Miracle Day is. . . not as taut as it could have been. Spending far too much time on characters we’re probably never going to see again, (Fred Koehler’s horrified guard Ralph and Mark Vann’s pathetic and menacing Colin Maloney) the momentum slows to a crawl.
Here’s the problem I, and a lot of viewers seem to be having: pacing. There are too many secondary characters who go nowhere and not enough focus on plot advancement that maintains the tension that should be there. Individual scenes crackle, like Gwen confronting an NHS doctor at the overflow camp in Wales. You can feel that the words, “Just following orders,” are on the tip of the doctor’s tongue before Gwen says, “Don’t you dare.” Yet it makes no sense that Gwen has abandoned her cover identity in the thick of things, even with her father’s life is at stake. Alternate that with a scene that’s supposed to be tense and just comes off as silly, as Rhys (Kai Owen) confronts a puffed-up agent of bureaucracy while trying to execute a rescue. Owen is the picture of stolidly capable yet out of his depth in the machinations of Torchwood, but it is beyond suspension of disbelief that the Welsh are this incompetent at security.
Then there are the plot threads that simply make no sense at all, because they’ve been left hanging. Much like the “Soulless” and the “Dead is Dead” movements of prior episodes, here we have the, “45 Club.” Okay, I buy that we’ve got a little bit of Kubler-Ross going on here. Denial, acceptance, bargaining, etc. But add that to concentration camps and the message is getting thoroughly muddled. These threads make one appearance and are never heard from again.
Get. To. The. Point.
Is it that Davies’ arc needed the compressed and relentless pacing of Children of Earth? I think that’s part of it. What has also become clear, is that unlike the first two series of Torchwood, and most definitely unlike CoE, we have no insight into the what and why of the storyline. In the first couple of episodes, this worked because it created a new dynamic for the viewer. After the 6th episode, it’s become frustrating and exhausting.
We don’t know what’s important and what’s not. We’ve got subplots and scenes designed to show us the characters’ humanity (Esther’s sister and Rex’s father), we’ve got entirely too many characters who are never seen again, and when we finally get scenes that further the plot, they’re either brutal or Keystone Kops. Yet, we don’t really know anything substantive about the cause of the “Miracle” or who is actually behind it. Now we’ve gone from a Miracle to a “Blessing” and it still doesn’t tell us anything. That there are Machiavellian webs within webs has been hammered home, but there’s no real payoff.
The high points of “The Middle Men” are Ernie Hudson as Stuart Owens. Owens giving Jack an education on just how little power there is at the managerial level, is a smackdown with finesse rather than fists. I also heartily approve of Eve Myles (Gwen) being badass on a motorbike and blowing things up. John Barrowman remains solid, and Mekhi Phifer finally brings something more than bravado to Rex Matheson. Righteous indignation and a commitment to finding justice for Dr. Juarez suit a character who is being reminded daily that he’s on borrowed time. I was happy to see Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins) finally get a hero moment, and then it was subverted and ruined.
One of the flaws that led to the downfall of NBC’s Heroes was a plot that became more fragmented and lost momentum as it became more complex and as characters were introduced. I suspect that in attempting to fill a 10-episode commitment, we’ve got eminently qualified writers like John Shiban and Jane Espenson inserting filler scenes, with the same net effect. The plot is fracturing rather than coming together. As a viewer, I may enjoy the individual episodes, but when they’re done, I don’t feel like the audience is being served.
Underneath the clutter, there is an important point being made. Profit, politics and events that may be natural or man-made can form a perfect storm. The manipulation of frightened human beings into a mob willing to allow their fellow citizens to be herded like cattle to slaughter, or worse: willing to do the herding, is possible. Time and again we’ve seen it throughout history. The “Othering” of our fellow men and women, until we will rend them limb from limb in order to assuage our fear, is something that’s happened over and over again. From Nazi Germany to Rwanda, to the rhetoric we hear about Muslims and illegal immigrants today.
I get it.
The question is: will the audience stick with TW: MD long enough for the point to hit home? With the pace of the narrative thus far, I can’t blame them if they don’t. This is not a story that benefits from a weekly broadcast, certainly not with the extraneous details taking center stage over core characters and making narrative continuity into a unicorn the audience has to chase from week to week.
I applaud the ambition in the scope of the story, I applaud what I’ve been able to glean from the narrative thus far, and I applaud the cast for turning in solid performances even when filler scenes are beneath them. I don’t applaud the way talent and narrative are being squandered to fill a time slot.
When the run is complete, I’ll watch all the episodes consecutively and maybe I’ll arrive at a different conclusion. For now, I will urge Starz to give Torchwood another season with a qualifier: either tell the story in a flat 6 episodes, or use 10 episodes to tell more than one story.
Right now, the next 4 weeks seem like an eternity.
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