Dead of Night
First (gay) bar to the right or,
The inconstant audacity of Russell T Davies
Torchwood: Miracle Day is getting better as it goes along. "Dead of Night" was the most entertaining entry yet, though it was, ironically, the one that felt most like an instalment rather than a self-contained episode.
Despite this, "Dead of Night" still suffers from the sense the story is proceeding according to an abstract set of plans, rather developing organically from the situation and the characters' reactions to it.
The flaws this week come not from an implausible use of the American legal system, but from out-of-character behaviour on the part of Jack, of Rex Matheson and of Vera Juarez.
Let's talk about the man-sex first. The scenes themselves were fine, more than fine, in fact. Rare for television, the bar was believably loud and crowded, and the flirtation between Jack and the bartender was short and hot with a nice on-screen chemistry between Jack and the bartender.
The sex scene itself (not nearly so explicit as had been hyped) was also well-done and the performances intensely enthusiastic. (And yes, it did make sense that Jack, very much aware of his sudden mortality, insisted that condoms be used.)
What didn't make sense, or at least, what wasn't convincingly portrayed, was what lead up to it.
The world is falling apart, the "members" of Torchwood are fugitives and at the same time humanity's only hope. It makes little sense that the Jack we know who just up and cross the street to get drunk and laid, leaving and Gwen and Esther to their devices. He's supposed to be Captain Jack, not Private.
Similarly, Rex's decision to walk away from Torchwood seemed more due to auctorial decree than to character development.
(Again), Rex is on the run from the CIA, the world's falling apart, and Torchwood seems to be the only hope for its salvation. Yet off he goes in a snit, straight into the home (and then the unlikely arms) of Doctor Vera Juarez.
Both situations could have been written convincingly, but neither were. (Well, both of the men's decisions could have been convincing; I'm not so sure I could be convinced that even a well-rested Vera Juarez feels any sexual chemistry towards Rex Matheson (sorry Rex).
One scene good in itself, the other rote, but neither worked in terms of story or character. One can't help but suspect that Davies decided, long before the story had been fully worked out, that he wanted man-on-man sex and black-on-white sex, and this episode seemed as good a place as any to work them in.
What did work very well, and that seemed to flow organically from both story and character, were the interactions between the various women.
The scene on the steps when Kitzinger approaches an exhausted Juarez as she has a cigarette, and especially the interaction between Gwen and the former CIA desk-jockey, Esther are small models of finely-crafted character moments.
In the latter case (and passing the Bechdel Test with ease) Gwen and Esther have been developing an affectionate, sarcastic relationship that is thoroughly believable and strictly between the two of them.
Indeed, "Dead of Night" reaches the point that it seems positively normal for the female characters to operate as fully autonomous people with their own agendas, rather than as adjuncts to the men around them.
At this point you couldn't possibly describe the parts of Juarez or Esther, let alone Gwen or Jilly Kitzinger, as "wife" or "girlfriend" or any other ancillary role. If the gay sex and the inter-racial sex are transgressive, the role of the women in this program is arguably even more so.
So where are we, now that we've just about passed the one-third mark of 2011's Torchwood?
As is so often the case with Russell T Davies, we're left with a mixed package. Some brilliant concepts and excellent set-pieces, mostly good character and relationship development, and plotting that ranges from adequate to frankly unbelievable.
I've forgiven Davies Oswald Danes' implausible release from prison and even his unaccountable fame and place as the spokesman for PhiCorp; I'm willing to accept Jack's lapses as a leader (why he went after Danes near the end doesn't make much sense either) as I am Rex Matheson's fickle departure (and return).
I want to know who's behind the miracle and how PhiCorp is involved; I'm growing more intrigued about Jilly Kitzinger's uncanny ability to show up at the right place at just the right time. There are flaws here, but I'll certainly keep watching.
I wish this fourth series of Torchwood was better, but I'm glad it's as good as it is. Which is more or less how I've felt about the program since a young P.C. Gwen Cooper happened to spot Captain Jack Harkness and company temporarily bringing a dead man back to life.
Click here to return to the "Miracle Day" overview and links to the previous instalments in this series.