End of the Road
Torchwood: Mediocre Day
It's not unusual, but it is nevertheless always a sad time when a fan is forced to point to mediocrity and declare it Good. The Russell T Davies- and Jane Espenson-penned End of the Road brings us to that point with Torchwood: Miracle Day.
The best episode of the series to date, and by quite a margin, is also blandly pedestrian television at its best, with moments that are quite a bit less than that. Slow moving and burdened by long-winded info-dumps, the characters still act like idiots and the lousy security at secret bases still kicks one's suspension of disbelief in both balls.
But this week, things do move, and one is left with the thought that, with not too many changes, End of the Road could have been an entertaining and intriguing follow-up to the series-opener.
Too bad it's the eighth episode out of ten, not the second.
The story continues directly from last week's climaxus interruptus. To no one's surprise, Jack and the gang accept Olivia (Nana Visitor) Colasanto's invitation to visit her grand-father, confirming the wide-spread impression that the past few episodes have been utterly meaningless.
Possible a little more surprising, Angelo looks every inch of his 100-plus years and, if I got it right, is now hanging on only thanks to the Miracle — which is pretty convenient timing, given that Angelo actually has nothing to do with the Miracle after all.
What-what-what! I hear you cry. The kidnappings, the chases, the subterfuge? Apparently, that was all to protect Jack, not to kill him. Which really begs the question I asked last week: Why didn't they just call?
Nana Visitor gamely dishes out techno-babble until she gets exploded, explaining that Angelo wasn't denied access to Pink Floyd's secret club because he was a nobody, but because he went Judas one better by not only kissing the sacrificial god, but by schtupping him, too.
Anyway, while everyone is standing around trading exposition, Our Lady of the Stilettos fails to notice the other guards outside her SUV are having guns pointed at their heads. In fact, she only realizes anything is amiss when Brian (Wayne_Knight) Friedkin (remember him?) points a gun at her head.
Friedkin explains he is in a hurry, but doesn't let his haste stop him from having some private face time with Rex.
Why? To Tell All of course! He also explains that he doesn't just work for the Families, he is owned by them. But clever Rex is now wearing the magic contact lenses he had been told before would only work for Gwen. (Why the switch? When did it happen? Who cares! This is Torchwood!)
Rex lets his ex-boss know he's been punked — but good! — and Friedkin realizes he should have paid more attention to those old Hollywood B movies he watched on late-night television.
The irony! It burns!
Enter Friedkin's boss, Allen Shapiro, in the form of a slumming John de Lancie who — just for a moment — seems poised to offer an advanced class as a representative of the William Shatner School of Charismatic Hamming-It-Up, but instead we watch the material slowly devour his soul.
Brought up to date and now convinced that Rex and Esther are innocent, Shapiro observes of Pink Floyd's Three Families, "Whoever these people are, they're a lot smarter than" Friedkin.
Or maybe not, since nobody bothered to check Friedkin for weapons. Like, maybe, a bomb.
Before you can say, "Make it so," Friedkin — using the detonator so cleverly hidden on his wrist — blows himself, Major Kira and a couple of Red Shirts to kingdom come.
Jack decides the ensuing chaos is the perfect time for a heart-to-heart with his murderous old flame. "More bloodshed," he whispers in the old man's ear. "All these years later, my life hasn't changed."
Vapid monologue complete, Jack kisses Angelo, who responds (whether to the monologue or to the kiss is unclear) by doing the impossible — he dies! (Jack knows this because the body starts to go cold about 10 seconds later. But — nevermind!
Cut to a television nobody is watching for a brief update on the Worldwide Catastrophe that Doesn't Disrupt Commercial Aviation or the Lives of California Beach Bums.
It seems that, because of the Miracle, Greece and Spain have declared bankruptcy and, "Spain is going under. They're going to take the whole European Union down with them."
Is this show a rigorous exercise in world-building and political commentary or what, folks!
Since things have been moving so fast, it's time for the traditional insecure cell-phone conversations.
Esther has a heart-to-heart with her sister, courtesy of a blonde colleague at the CIA (who, we learn soon after, is actually in league with Pink Floyd). Esther's sister (What? You don't remember Esther's sister? Shame on you!) is determined to "volunteer" as a Category One, taking her kids with her. "Online," she says, "there's thousands of us." Thousands of would-be suicides who presumably are afraid of heights or don't have easy access to a 44th floor.
Esther doesn't call in child protection this time, but only grits that "we need to ... fix this stinking world."
About the same time, Gwen gets through to Wales for another chat with Rhys and, this time, her mum too, from whom she gets an awkwardly-scripted but spiritedly performed pep-talk, which we know is emotionally significant because Murray Gold's score rises dramatically in volume. Also, Rhys says something, but I don't remember what.
Then, the blonde agent's black, crew-cutted colleague (who probably isn't working for Pink Floyd) reports that Oswald Danes (remember him? Bully!) is, "preaching hellfire and salvation" and is "the most popular man in the world right now."
Two episodes and at least 27 minutes since we last saw hide or hair of Oswald Danes or Jilly Kitzinger, I guess it's high time we get back to Dallas, where Oswald is still(!) preparing to preach to a stadium filled with Russell T Davies' idealized vision of humanity.
Oswald is nervous though, and so (after a yet another interminable info-dump from Jilly) tells Jilly he wants her to get him a girl. Or rather, a woman — and make her a red-head!
Seems Oswald wants to graduate from the rape and murder of children to dinner with whores. It's crass, but for once, a character's actions actually make intuitive sense. Oswald's purpose in the larger "story" remains unclear as ever, but give credit where it's due: this one scene is credible.
Jilly is disgusted and says so, but nevertheless heads off to do the deed. She is interrupted in the hall by an eager young woman offering her services as a personal assistant — we'll soon find out she's actually with the CIA. Jilly accepts her offer, and says, Get me a sandwich, then find Oswald a whore.
The prostitute, though, isn't too bright. Tiny as a child herself, she does a Vera Juarez and insults and belittles a dangerous man while alone with him. The viewer fully expects a brutal murder to ensue. But we've forgotten that what story there is to Torchwood: Miracle Day is one driven entirely by idiots. The prostitute's role here is to tell Danes that he has been classified as a Category 0 and so will soon be off to the ovens.
Angry and frightened, Oswald pays a visit to Jilly. What's up with this Category 0 stuff? Jilly takes some pleasure in explaining that the government has plans for people like Oswald, for those who have transgressed too far against human decency.
So much for your legal technicalities, Oswald!
Oswald bloodies Jilly's mouth, then runs off (was it me, or was he clutching a purse?) as Jilly shrieks that he's in even bigger trouble now! A rape and murder conviction is nothing compared to common assault in the new world order!
She's then approached by the mysterious handsome man from some previous episode, who offers her a better job. No, not with PhyCorp (remember PhyCorp? Oh, right. Why should you?), but with something much bigger — the Families! As an incentive, he tells her that her new assistant is a CIA plant and then shoots her.
Sign me up! quoth our Jilly.
Meanwhile, Jack is
pouting un-subtly keeping a secret. A secret which will be revealed momentarily anyway, since there are but two episodes left to go in the series, and also because none of these faux-dramatic set-pieces are meant to advance the plot anyway.
The CIA's forensic experts having gone over the deceased Angelo's home with the brilliant proffesionalism we've come to expect from any organization that comes into contact with Torchwood, our heroes and a couple of Company minders hang around the now-emptied bedroom, doing nothing in particular.
It's Esther, of all people, who notices that the spot on which Angelo's bed had been is very different than the rest of the floor! Maybe, she infers, there's something underneath!
Jack says Oh noes! Whatever you do don't look under there and especially whatever you do, don't tell your boss!
Esther hurries to spill the beans and soon a crew in haz-mat suits uncovers some fancy flooring tiles — sorry, an alien transmitter cleverly disguised to look like some fancy flooring tiles.
Shapiro gets understandably pissed that Jack won't tell him what's going on, so he deports Gwen. "From this moment on, Torchwood is defunct." Now it's Gwen's turn emote again. She yells at people, makes empty threats and promises, and even hurls some papers to the floor as she's escorted down the hall and towards yet another trans-Atlantic flight complete with complimentary peanuts and beer.
Now that Gwen's gone, Jack decides he might as well explain everything after all.
The mystery device is, "Some sort of transmitter" that "mostly proves my theory that immortality is caused by some sort of morphic field." Unfortunately, "saying it's a 'morphic field' is, is, as vague as saying it's radiation."
Most. Pointless. And yet unconvincing. Techno-babble. Ever.
But it's enough to impress Shapiro, who declares Jack an Expert and tells him to "make it safe" before wandering off for a coffee and donut, leaving Jack to have his perverted ways with the Dangerous Alien Tech.
Jack modifies the flooring tiles — sorry, the transmitter — to create a cone of silence. I'm a celebrity alien hunter! he explains to Rex and Esther. Get me outta here!.
But the plan goes awry and the episode closes with Gwen staring wistfully at clouds from her first class flight while Jack lies bleeding in the back seat of an SUV driven by Esther, who doesn't know where she's going.
Which gives us the first real cliff-hanger since the end of the Episode One. And so it is that I find myself, for the first time since that episode, actually kind of curious about what happens next.
Unfortunately, "actually kind of curious" is a pretty tepid enthusiasm for a series lumbering like a fat, crippled and incontinent black bear towards its presumable climax.
Torchwood: Miracle Day has so far been a thriller without tension, science fiction without world-building, adventure without action and a mystery whose few clues have been handed to our heroes like wafers at a Catholic mass.
Which makes even this, best, episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day pretty awful television. Maybe not quite "the biggest shitpile in the history of bollocks", but a bizarrely — a remarkably — incompetent example of failed story-telling.
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