Posts tagged Torchwood: Miracle Day

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Torchwood: Miracle Day 4×10 The Blood Line – Review

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Warning: Contains mild spoilers

Torchwood: Miracle Day‘s series finale, “The Blood Line,” contains moments sublime, absurd and WTF-worthy. What it lacks, is the sense that this is a closed and complete series. This may be good news or bad news, depending on how you look at it.

I’ll say this: throughout all ten episodes, the performances from John Barrowman and Eve Myles have been taken to the next level. In prior series of TW, Barrowman was often the bearer of the glib and facile quips, while Myles was saddled with far more angst than anybody should be. Gwen Cooper has grown up to be a pragmatic badass, complete with a sense of her own failings. Jack Harkness has grown up as well, and mortality has given him shading and depth.

TBL is the endgame writ large, with explosives. Lots of them. There is also one incredibly spoilery surprise that may represent a game-changing canon discontinuity with Doctor Who, and there are a lot of dangling threads. Since we’ve yet to see whether we’ll get a fifth series, let’s all keep our fingers crossed.

For all that, this is a great episode to watch. The cast, working from a script by Jane Espenson and Russell T. Davies, are given a lot of really fantastic moments that make TBL a joy. Esther Drummond and Rex Matheson stop being annoying and finally make sense in context. Frances Fisher and Lauren Ambrose are delightfully evil, and Bill Pullman gets to make a meal out of ham and cheese. We also get some beautifully underplayed moments from Kai Owen and Tom Price. It all comes down to Gwen and Jack, though. From Jack revealing to Oswald Danes that he’s from the future, and that the future is,”being written right now,” to Gwen’s gut-wrenching decision to shoot Jack, these characters remain the heart of Torchwood.

There’s a lot of palaver about antipodal lines and the frankly disturbing visual of The Blessing, (the center of the world resembles a mashup between Georgia O’Keefe and Edvard Munch, IMO,) but that’s not really what TBL is about. It’s about choices and conscience. The Blessing reflects who you really are back at you. For Gwen, there is, “Enough guilt to last me a lifetime. But that’s okay, I’m a working mother; I don’t need The Blessing to tell me that.” For Jack, “I’ve lived so many lives and now I can see them all. Hey: not so bad.” There are choices about sacrifice, choices about embracing the self, and choices about the needs of the few versus the needs of the many.

There’s a chilling moment when Danes asks Jack who he is, saying, “I know the smile of a man who’s done terrible things,” getting under Jack’s skin by saying, “Your friends. . . sometimes they like you, sometimes they love you, and sometimes, glittering away in those tiny gaps: they fear you.” It provides a much deeper and subtler contrast between Jack’s moral ambiguity and accountability, and the monstrosity that is Oswald Danes as Jack tells him, “You’ve made your life so small.”

For all that Russell T. Davies swore that he didn’t owe Torchwood fans answers about why, answers have been woven throughout the entirety of TW: MD. I came into this series with trepidation, and I’m leaving it wanting more. At the top of its game, the series has had interesting things to say about the manipulation of desperate populations, the way bureaucrats and politicians participate in fomenting a mob mentality, and the corporate puppetmasters pulling the strings. These are things that are familiar to most of us these days. In centering the machinations in the three families, and specifically in Frances Fisher as The Mother Colasanto (a dangling thread if I ever saw one,) Davies has left a web in place that could become a major arc with standalone episodes in future series.

I was pleasantly surprised to find Mekhi Phifer and Alexa Havins taken off the leash, in a manner of speaking: Rex Matheson is suddenly less of a jerk and more of a confident operative, while Esther Drummond is no longer a river of tears but competent and sure in her actions. If these characters had existed as complete and complex from the beginning instead of serving as proxies for Owen Harper and Toshiko Sato, the entire series would have been stronger. Havins proves that she’s capable of carrying no-nonsense material while Phifer’s talent isn’t restricted to being a smartass.

There is heroism and nihilism and betrayal, and there’s a lot of asskicking awesome to be had.

Thinking back over this series which has been both incredibly flawed and yet incredibly vital television, it seems that for as much as Davies wants to embrace the miniseries format, he’s also attempting to set up the future of Torchwood as something that belongs to no country, no government, no power except itself. With this tenth episode, the villains are vanquished (for now) and the status quo has been returned to the human race (mostly) but the questions remain: Who pulls the strings and why? Will we go like sheep to the slaughter or deliver our neighbors to the wolves at the door? Are we worth saving if we won’t save each other?

Perhaps, with a fifth series, we might get a little closer to the answers.

I look forward to it.

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Torchwood: Miracle Day 4×9 The Gathering – Review

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Warning: Contains mild spoilers

“The Gathering” opens with Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) robbing a pharmacy. While “End of The Road,” left us with Esther (Alexa Havins) and a gut-shot Jack (John Barrowman) fleeing the Colasanto mansion and the CIA, now they’re in Scotland and banking Jack’s blood. Back at the CIA, Rex (Mekhi Phifer) is trying to track down any trace of the three families and being undermined by Charlotte Willis (Marina Benedict) who is working for the families.

Jumping forward in time is both necessary and a cheat that I wish had been used on some of the previous episodes to cut away some of the narrative fat. The episode moves forward quickly, but is exposition heavy. Oswald Danes is, as Gwen says, “a monster,” but provides the team with information about Jilly Kitzinger, now “Lucy Statten Meredith,” who is becoming the families’, “Storyteller.” The manipulation and control of information is central to their power and the concealment of, “The Blessing.”

John Fay’s script is tight in terms of moving the narrative along. We’re given throwaway lines about rationing and the potential for dictatorships as the categories of life, overflow camps and incineration modules have been reinstated. Borders are closing, diplomatic relations are fractious at best and the global economic depression has made expedience the order of the day.

As the action then splits to Buenos Aires and Shanghai and the Blessing is revealed, with the caveat that no one actually knows what it is, the Nietzchean subtext is writ large. This is a world where the struggle for survival is determined by dwindling resources and whether one is even classed as a living human being. If two months is all it takes for the world to adjust to the new normal, then we’re all in trouble.

Watching this exposition-heavy episode unfold, I’m still unsure if all the questions and storylines can be resolved in the final episode “The Blood Line” but “The Gathering” is all business.

Finally, Torchwood is Torchwood.

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Torchwood: Miracle Day Review 4×8 “End of the Road”

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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?

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Torchwood: Miracle Day 4×07 review, “Immortal Sins”

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Warning: Mild spoilers

Torchwood: Miracle Day‘s seventh episode, “Immortal Sins,” is exactly what I’ve been waiting for. It’s an episode that finally feels like TORCHWOOD, is completely narratively cohesive within the episode, and it puts the plot into overdrive.

I’ll also note: I have loved Murray Gold and Stu Kennedy’s work on the series score and the music in the opening sequence is truly sublime.

Here’s the thing: the episode is almost exclusively composed of flashback sequences and scenes between Eve Myles and John Barrowman. Which does highlight the fact that Mekhi Phifer and Alexa Havins’ characters are still ancillary at best. Rex and Esther are warm bodies being shifted around the series like puppets. There’s no investment in them, there’s no reason to. If they wind up dead, I suppose most of the audience isn’t going to care. Which may not be a bad thing. If they don’t, then the next series had better figure out what the these characters are for and who they are. Espenson seems to have the surest grasp of that, and while they’re only in this episode briefly, the scenes count.

I’ve been unsure about Espenson’s take on Torchwood, although she has deftly inserted references to the first three series of the show, and Doctor Who. “Immortal Sins,” is the first time we see aliens, the first time we hear the Doctor referenced by name, and the first time the new viewers truly gets to understand exactly why there’s all this fuss about Jack’s mortality, including a scene that is really not for the faint of heart, shot partially from Jack’s POV.

While the end of “The Middle Men” (4×06) set up Gwen’s betrayal of Jack, here we’ve got flashbacks to 1927 New York alternating with Gwen and Jack in a car as she drives him to what she expects will be his death. Her family’s been taken and Gwen and Jack confront some hard truths. These are actors who know each other, characters who know each other, and they make the most brutal dialogue sing.

Gwen: “. . . This is about my daughter. . . And I swear, for her sake: I will see you killed like a dog in front of me if it means her back in my arms. Understood?”
Jack: “Understood. And let me tell you: now that I’m mortal, I’m gonna hang on to this with everything I’ve got. I love you Gwen Cooper, but I will rip the skin from your skull before I let you take this away from me. Understood?”
Gwen: ” Understood. I feel like I know you now, better than I’ve ever done before.”
Jack: “Yeah. Right at the end.”
Gwen: “Right at the end.”

These exchanges and the flashbacks showing Jack on assignment for Torchwood in 1927 New York, provide the proper context for Torchwood that we’ve only had in bits and pieces up until now.

From his meeting with young immigrant Angelo Colasanto (Daniele Favilli) on Ellis Island, through Jack’s inevitable departure, there are illuminating glimpses into why Jack is Jack. There is a glaring piece of discontinuity with Jack’s personal timeline, yet it’s less irritating than it should be due to the reason for it. Espenson has subtly acknowledged and resolved the lack of closure with the lost members of Torchwood, and I thank her for it. The audience needed to know that beloved characters weren’t disposable, and that comes through loud and clear. In his burgeoning relationship with Angelo and its conclusion, we see more of who Jack is than we have in a very long time.

What is most encouraging is that we finally get to understand the source of the, “Blessing,” even if we don’t quite know how it has turned into the, “Miracle,” or why Jack is now mortal.

There are still mysteries left to be solved, but this episode feels like we’re not going to be left hanging. It’s everything I’ve wanted from the entire series. Tight pacing, on point, well-acted and uncluttered. I think the next three episodes are going to be one hell of a ride.

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Torchwood: Miracle Day 4×6 review

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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.

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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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Torchwood: Miracle Day Recap/Review: 4×3- 4×5

Warning: Contains mild spoilers.

Torchwood: Miracle Day‘s episodes, “Dead of Night,” “Escape To L.A.,” and “The Categories of Life,”are episodes that bridge the gap between a narrative that spoon-feeds new viewers and gets down to business at last.

“Dead of Night,” penned by BTvS/Caprica alum Jane Espenson, relies a little too heavily on contrasts. A chilling confrontation between Wayne Knight’s duplicitous Friedkin and Mekhi Phifer’s Matheson segues into a car chase distinguished only by Murray Gold’s score. The masked, silent, “Soulless,” (who seem to exist only to provide the creepy visual,) breaks to a British/Americanism lesson. Crisps/Chips, Fizzy/non-fizzy lemonade. . . it’s meant to be a bonding moment, but the literal explaining of differences between the team members feels a little too precious.

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As I’ve stated previously, Alexa Havins has not been selling me on Esther Drummond. I’m beginning to think this is less the actress’s performance, and simply the way she’s written. A CIA analyst doesn’t just, “Read blogs for a living,” and I’m fairly certain that a working knowledge of basic security protocols and tradecraft wouldn’t be over an analyst’s head. Unfortunately, the writers can’t seem to decide if Esther is naive and incompetent, or a tech wiz who can hack anything. This is a huge flaw that consistently snaps me out of the drama.

Lauren Ambrose, Arlene Tur, and Bill Pullman dominate ep 3, in the best ways. As Dr. Juarez grapples with the practical realities of the new world order, Jilly Kitzinger is very obviously trying to profit from it. Oswald Danes is the wild card: he’s a monster and opportunist who doesn’t claim to be anything else except in front of the cameras, and it’s clear he’s just trying to survive. For now.

DoN can’t seem to decide if it’s about a team coming together or falling apart before that can happen. Rex is in rage mode, Jack just wants to get laid, and Gwen seems to want to smack them both. (NB: No analysis of the sex scenes. They make sense in context, they’re not hardcore and if it offends your delicate sensibilities to see either a man and a woman or a man and another man having sex: you might want to stop watching Torchwood.)

The key scenes in DoN are a phone call between Jack and Gwen that gives a very clear sense of the before and after of Torchwood, and a confrontation between Jack and Oswald Danes that is beyond chilling (and makes fantastic use of this study in contrasts.)

This episode finally puts the expected name to the Big Bad: PhiCorp. Enlisting a monster to do their PR, stockpiling drugs in preparation for the Miracle, wielding influence over elected officials, bureaucracy, and the population at large to make a profit. Typical Big Pharma.

The pieces are in place, now it’s time for Torchwood: Miracle Day to show the audience what’s really going on.

(more…)

Torchwood: Miracle Day recap 04×02 – “Rendition”

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.

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Torchwood: Miracle Day Recap: Ep 04×01 The New World

Warning: Here be spoilers by the dozen.

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The New World is about a new reality. We’re first introduced to pedophile-child murderer Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman) as he’s about to be executed for his crimes. Meanwhile, analyst Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins) and CIA officer Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer) are puzzling out why and how someone would bypass security and email a single word to station chiefs, “Torchwood.”

That’s when everything changes. Danes’ execution is carried out, Matheson is in a fatal car crash. Except they don’t die. No one does. No one can.

“Miracle day,” creates a new world and a new mystery that seems like something right up Torchwood’s street. Except there is no Torchwood. The last time we saw Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) and Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles,) he was leaving the planet after the death of his lover and she was pregnant. Now Gwen and husband Rhys Williams (Kai Owen) are living in the wilds of Wales with baby daughter Anwen, and answer the door with an arsenal at their fingertips.

Russell T. Davies has returned to the miniseries format of Torchwood: Children of Earth. Fanbase issues aside (see my thoughts, here), it’s a format that works. Rather than constantly inventing a new alien-of-the-week, Davies has created a circumstance that gives him a blank canvas to address big questions.

If no one can die, how long will our resources last? If no one can die, how long will people suffer? If no one can die, how long before it’s the only thing we pray for?

Havins’ Esther Drummond, a plucky CIA analyst who doesn’t know when to stop asking questions, serves as the audience proxy in much the same way Eve Myles did in the first episode of Torchwood. She’s saddled with far too much stilted expository dialogue and action, not to mention inappropriate shoes. While Myle’s immediately established Gwen as stubborn and humane, Esther is vague and a little drippy. (Note to costumers: I don’t care how tiny the actress is, character-appropriate costuming matters. CIA analysts don’t dig around archives in five-inch stilettos.)

There are a lot of echoes to “Everything Changes”, including the inevitable use of retcon when Esther first meets Jack: The explanation of Torchwood’s origin and function, the inevitable discussion of photos which show a man who looks just like him.

Esther: “Is he your father?”
Jack: “I suppose he must be.”

In a story that hinges on the fact that no one can die, Davies has created a little wrinkle: Jack appears to be mortal. He can be injured, maybe even die.

TW: MD is not for the squeamish. There’s quite a bit of body horror, from Danes’ execution and Matheson’s impalement, to a man who attempted to kill Jack by strapping a bomb to his chest and whose charred remains are still conscious. When Jack inquires whether a body could still survive if the head were cut off, the answer is pretty gruesome. That scene also contains two delightful continuity nods: Jack poses as, “Owen Harper, FBI,” and while gruesome, it does explain The Face of Boe a little bit more, when the severed head’s eyes open. There’s also a truly chilling performance from Bill Pullman. Oswald Danes crimes are heinous, and the stone-cold rationality he displays while demanding to be released, since his sentence was carried out, is frightening. Whether Danes is an adversary they’ll have to fight, or will become the moral compromise our heroes have to make, remains to be seen. Pullman made my skin crawl, and I can give no higher praise.

Mekhi Phifer spends most of the episode in a hospital bed, but Rex Matheson is still a bit of an enigma. Establishing that he’s a cocky bastard, and ultimately driven and capable, is all we get in this first episode. Arlene Tur’s Dr. Vera Juarez is an interesting link between Rex, Esther and Jack and I’m hoping we’ll see more of her as the season progresses. Phifer also gets one of the best lines in the episode while crossing the Severn Bridge into Wales, “It’s like the British equivalent of New Jersey.”

Image Courtesy of Starz.com

Tom Price returns as Sgt. Andy, and he and Kai Owen’s Rhys provide grounding presences for both Gwen and the audience. This is still the Torchwood we know and love, with a bit of an American spin. As for that spin, it fits Torchwood like a glove. While the incongruity of action heroes based beneath the Roald Dahl Plass in Cardiff was part of Torchwood’s charm, (and still is,) the slightly glossier, faster pacing of its Americanization doesn’t hurt it in the slightest. We get Gwen Cooper being a Badass Mother, putting earmuffs on Anwen before shooting at a helicopter, and taking up a rocket launcher when it gives chase.

Myles and Barrowman don’t get as much screen time as the new kids on the block, but every second matters. No longer a newbie or even a veteran, this is Gwen Cooper the survivor of Torchwood. Whether it’s the influence of the team of writers on “Miracle Day”, new directors, or simply being outside the environment of BBC Cardiff, Barrowman has stepped up his game. Jack Harkness is still attractive and charismatic, but he’s also not nearly as brash and cocky as we’re used to seeing him. He’s not in charge anymore, he doesn’t have the resources he’s had in the past, and now he’s facing the double-edged sword of his own mortality, just as the rest of the world is facing one of immortality. Seeing Barrowman and Myles together is the cherry on top of TNW. It’s not a perfect episode, but it does what it needs to do: it establishes both the plot of this season, and the Torchwood universe for new viewers, while drawing all the characters together and reuniting Jack and Gwen. There are nice touches on the political and legal environment in a post-9/11 world, (or, post-456,) and we know there are big questions and struggles ahead, as Matheson has Gwen, Jack, Rhys and Anwen taken into custody for rendition.

What happens next? I don’t know, but I want to find out.

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Torchwood: Casualties, Context, and the Future of Genre Television

Editor’s Note: This article was written as a collaboration between Kristen McHugh and Stephanie Wooten.  We apologize for the length but we hope you enjoy the read and can provide your thoughts on this matter as well.  Kristen did an amazing job putting together our hodge-podge of ideas so at the very least it deserves a read because of Kristen’s awesome writing skills.  Thanks!

Warning: If you’ve never seen Torchwood or been on the internet with Torchwood fans. . . you know the drill.

Let’s begin at the beginning: Stephanie and I came to Torchwood in different ways. I came into it from the BBC America premiere, as an avid Whovian. Stephanie stumbled into the TW: CoE panel at SDCC 2008, already familiar with Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who, but not aware of how much darker its spin-off was, or would become.

No, this is not another rant about Ianto. Well, it is a little bit. Creators have the right to determine what happens and what’s at stake in their universes. Taking the whims of fandom into account is a recipe for disaster and can shred the creative vision faster than a piranha shreds a steak.

And yet. . . creating successful television for the long-term necessitates knowing your audience, persuading them to invest in each season and getting them to tell their friends. If you’ve got a finite story to tell, then you know how long you’re hoping they invest. If you haven’t got a set endpoint for the narrative, the trick is keeping it both fresh and familiar.

Russell T. Davies would be right if he said that Torchwood: Children of Earth was the most successful series of TW to date. He’d also be guilty of profound disingenuousness if he ascribed that purely to the TW: CoE narrative.  The format helped to keep the audience hooked. It’s a lot easier to keep an audience interested for five straight days than it is to keep them coming back each week over three months.  There’s data on all TW series to date, but – check out one of only TWO negative reviews: Ginia Bellafante apparently JUST HATES GEEKY THINGS. Here’s also a link to nielsen data.

To give CoE credit: it was brilliant storytelling. Tightly-paced, relentlessly tense narrative full of moral complexity and a lot of living in shades of grey, rather than black and white. That doesn’t mean Davies didn’t break his fanbase, and I know a number of people who won’t be back for Miracle Day.

Much has been made of the Jack/Ianto fangirls/shippers and how they represent the, “Broken (fan)base,” of Torchwood. The thing is, while they’ve been the most vocal, they’re not alone in being broken. Some of us just have slightly different rationales for why investing in Miracle Day seems risky.

This is what Stephanie and I decided to hash out: Why did we feel betrayed by Russell T. Davies? What could have been done differently to keep from alienating fans? Should it have been done differently?

Via twitter, email and text, we’ve given a lot of thought to this. What we’ve concluded is pretty simple: Davies keeps killing off the people we’re supposed to be invested in, but never lets us mourn. This is a bad practice in a period of downturn in the fortunes of genre programming in general. Outside of Syfy, (which has axed BSG/Caprica/SGA) there’s not a lot of sci-fi & fantasy genre programming on the air at the moment. Yes, we have Supernatural, Fringe, True Blood, & Game of Thrones (not counting the few remaining SyFy original programs) but when one considers the large number of television stations and countless hours of programming, it seems to be a pretty small number in comparison to the number of criminal procedurals and/or reality shows.  Only a few genre-related pilots were picked up by the networks. Outside of premium or dedicated cable channels, Doctor Who is the only consistently performing or growing show in the genre category. As geeks, we’d like to see more quality genre programming and we’d like it to last more than a few episodes.

Returning to TW, yes, people die in real life. Yes, characters die in fiction. However, there is something to be said for acknowledging that a character not only means something to the people in-universe, but to the audience. RTD hasn’t given his audience that chance as seems clear in multiple interviews.

Stephanie and I both have two huge sticking points, beyond Davies’ tendency to gloss over the value of the audience when speaking to the press.

1. In-universe grief is where?
2. When the only way to raise the stakes is killing characters, how hard are you really trying?

There are times when a senseless death that comes out of nowhere works in a narrative. Joss Whedon is a master of this. Joyce Summers’ (Kristine Sutherland) death led to one of the most powerful examinations of mortality in a universe where death and risk was a constant. “The Body” is starkly powerful, and I (Kristen) have had a similar experience in real life. That episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer devastated me. Just as it devastated the characters and the audience.

Mini-spoiler alert: If you have not seen Serenity or later seasons of Buffy, skip the next paragraph. 

Tara Maclay’s (Amber Benson) death is another example of BtVS dealing with the aftermath of a senseless and unintended death. The metaphor may not have been perfectly executed but Willow’s extreme anger at the world over the loss of a loved one is a common reaction to death (see: Xander punching the wall in “The Body”). Hoban “Wash” Washburne’s (Alan Tudyk) death in Serenity further illustrates that it is entirely possible to kill a beloved character for absolutely no reason and have it work.

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