Thugs on a Plane
"Rendition" starts where "The New World" left off. Rex Matheson is gloating over his capture of Jack, Gwen, Rys and the baby. For some reason, only when they have reached the waiting plane does he announce that only Jack and Gwen are wanted on the voyage; Rys and the baby will be staying behind. (Here we have a minor revelation in the form of Eve Myles, who for once shows us that Gwen Cooper is a force to be reckoned with.)
The story, from the keyboard of Doris Egan, a writer with an extensive portfolio (as well as a blog), but whose work is new to me), is uneven in a way that suggests interference from the heavy hand of Russell T Davies, Show-Runner, adding a little continuity here, some political commentary there. Nevertheless, "Rendition" is a good deal more entertaining than was the opening instalment of Torchwood: Miracle Day.
Most of this episode, and very nearly all of its best parts, happen during the flight back to America, a self-contained, tense and claustrophobic, medical thriller. I'll gloss over the details. If you've seen the episode you know what happens; if you haven't, it's the kind of chapter you'd rather not have spoiled. Suffice it to say that, were we not trained to know that you don't kill either of your two remaining stars in the second entry of a 10 episode series, we would be on the edge of our seats as Gwen directs the race against time to save Jack's life.
It is also, to a happy extent, a return to Torchwood's slightly campy roots. "Rendition" is often quite funny and we are graced with some warm interplay between the re-united Gwen and Jack. Old fans will likely squee a little, while new viewers will get a sense of a deep back-story without being bored or confused.
|"Water? I'm American too. Can't I contribute to our global cultural hegemony with a nice frosty cola?!?" Bad script, bad acting or post-modern thespian jiu-jitsu?|
(Speaking of Jack, I still don't know whether John Barrowman is a good actor or just a good performer with looks and charisma. When Jack Jack demands to know why he can't contribute to "American cultural hegemony" by having a cola, one doesn't know whether to cringe at the wooden delivery and mispronounced words or to applaud an audaciously cheeky, post-modern bit of camp. You decide.)
Meanwhile, back on the ground, the rest of the episode is still mostly about setting up the board for the rest of the series.
Who or what is behind the mysterious triangle pulling Brian Friedkin's (Wayne Knight playing a toned-down Newman — fun to watch, but still too B-movie villainous to take entirely seriously) strings, and why is it so important that all traces of Torchwood be eliminated? Who alerted the CIA to Torchwood in the first place? Are we really expected to believe a child-killer's teary television 'repentance' will instantly turn around his standing in the eyes of the American public? (I said last week that Bill Pullman was very good, but I'm coming to think that, with Wayne Knight, his scenery-chewing is too much of a good thing.) And how is Jilly Kiltzer involved? I don't expect Davies to go the Beelzebub route, but thanks to the blogger Tennants for pointing out that her role is almost certainly far more significant than it seems at first glance.
More in the dramatic background, but thematically important, is Dr. Vera Juarez' story-line. It is she who points out the obvious and science fictional truth, that new circumstances require new methods.
"We're doing it wrong," she says of her emergency room's procedures. "... All our reflexes are wrong ... Even the worst-injured aren't gonna die. So we need too reverse it. We're desperate for beds, so we treat the minor injuries first ..."
That eureka moment leads her to a meeting of experts and an encounter with the lady in red, Jilly Kiltzer. Unlike Oswald Danes, Juarez takes Kiltzer's card.
Largely through the eyes of Juarez we're shown a lot more about just how not-wonderful this brave new immortal world is turning out to be. Cells are still ageing, even if they won't die, and the future looks more and more like one of eternal suffering than anything else. If immortality doesn't include "eternal youth" and "good health", as io9.com's Charlie Jane Anders suggests, the result is a world in which nobody is dying looks "suspiciously like a world where everybody is dying."
Back at the CIA, Esther Drummond discovers that she is being set up as a traitor and manages to make an unlikely but entirely plausible escape as she, along with Rex Matheson, is forced onto the side of the Torchwood angels.
By the end of a pretty entertaining episode, the pieces seem to be in place and I am starting to get really curious about what happens next, even if I am not yet, quite, fully-committed. I'm still not happy with Davies' fast-and-loose ways with basic story-logic (as with Oswald's near-instantaneous release from prison) and I'm really hoping that Jack's "morphic resonance" theory is never mentioned again. But all in all, I am more optimistic than I was after having seen "The New World". What about you?"