Image from Hitfix.com

Warning: Spoilers

“End of the Road,” is an episode that doesn’t seem to know what it is. While the episode contains rich, crackling dialogue and moves the plot along nicely, it falls flat as a whole.

John de Lancie and Nana Vistor’s performances as Allan Shapiro and Olivia Colasanto are crackling, and keep the episode from devolving into a muddle of plotlines. Visitor is saddled with the info-dump of SCIENCE, but manages to make it very clear that the ambitions of the families who engineered the Miracle go far beyond immortality. It’s also clear, as the three families excluded Angelo from their pursuit of the, “Gift,” “Miracle,” and, “Blessing, that they’re very anti-LGBTQIA.

While we’re given plenty of plot-relevant reveals, we’re also given lots of Esther Drummond being. . . Esther Drummond. As in previous reviews, I keep coming back to Esther as a character that none of the writers seem to have bothered to develop. Esther’s sister may be the mentally ill family member, (and there’s a revolting subplot about volunteering to be Category One,) but Esther devolves into tears and hysterics at the drop of a hat. We’re further given Bill Pullman’s twitchy and maybe-reforming, maybe-descending-into-messianic-delusions Oswald Danes. Oswald’s attempt at the girlfriend experience with a prostitute and his interactions with Lauren Ambrose’s fatally ambitious and morally compromised Jilly Kitzinger add nothing to EoTR, while derailing the scenes that move the plot forward.

The episode swings from fantastic dialogue that, in de Lancie’s hands, becomes scalpel-sharp:

Shapiro: (to group) “People seem to be talking over me. Which is fascinating, and rare. . . and forbidden.”

To a narrative torpor as we still haven’t really met the villains of the piece, just their catspaws. It’s great that the subtext of manipulation of the financial markets and potential for world economic collapse, as well as a holocaust of anyone classed as a Category One, (as well as the new Category Zero, those who deserve to burn for moral reasons,) linger in the margins. It’s not so great that we’re still stuck with a pacing problem, with only two episodes left to wrap up the series.

Ryan Scott and Jane Espenson have written an episode that has both amazing scenes and scenes that only seem to exist to remind us that characters like Jilly Kitzinger and Oswald Danes are still around and will probably be relevant to the plot. At some point. Maybe. Alien tech that serves as a plot device but is never really explained as to interaction with whatever is causing the Miracle, and the depth of the families’ web of conspiracy are teases that don’t add anything to the narrative arc. Gwyneth Haydon-Porter directs her actors ably, yet the entire episode plays like a patchwork quilt of scenes rather than a coherent story. At this stage, we should be able to see the motives and connections far more clearly than we do.

Espenson excels at writing Jack and Gwen, and the meat of Torchwood. Every episode she’s been a part of has included references to canon, acknowledgments of the loss of characters like Ianto Jones, Owen Harper, and Toshiko Sato. She’s made Jack human again, in every sense. She’s given us Gwen Cooper as a warrior and a woman. Seeing Ms. Espenson’s fierce focus on making Torchwood. . . Torchwood, continually subverted as that focus drifts to subplots that either have no point, or will only be revealed in the endgame is what’s left me feeling frustrated as a viewer.

Eight down, two to go: will the endgame be spectacular enough to keep Torchwood alive?