Torchwood: Miracle Day: “Dead of Night”

Posted on July 23, 2011

Before one episode aired, we had two worries about this series. Unfortunately, this episode confirmed both of them. We were concerned that ten episodes was too long a format for one story and we were also concerned that when it came time to stretch things out a bit, they’d fall back into the season 1 & 2 trap of “Everybody has sex to deal with their problems!” Let’s deal with the latter complaint first because you can’t just bring up sex and say “We’ll get to that in a bit.”

Believe us, we aren’t remotely prudish about sex scenes, but the original BBC series of this show had a tendency to fall back on sex or make-out scenes way too much. In addition, the show had an overwhelmingly cynical take on sex and adult relationships; not one of the show’s main cast members had a particularly healthy approach to either. Jack was too removed from normal human emotions due to his extremely long life. Gwen cheated on Rhys a couple of times, lied quite a bit about, and has had an on-again/off-again flirtation with Jack, even going so far as to kiss someone she thought was him on her wedding day (don’t ask). Tosh was a grown woman who acted like a 12-year-old girl. Ianto … well, we’ll skip the Cyberwoman stuff (like any smart person should), but his relationship with Jack was awfully one-sided and he seemed incapable of doing anything about it. It was downright emotionally abusive at times. And Owen was just an asshole and a user who treated most women like crap.  Combine those two factors: gratuitous sex scenes + cynicism and what you got were a lot of endless and un-sexy sex scenes.

You could argue that Jack’s sex scene had some story and character motivations behind it. The old “tasting death makes me horny” idea. Sure, that works. If you ignore the fact that Jack was just as horny when he was immortal. Last night’s side track into fucking bartenders with impressive abs was mostly for show and to stretch out the story. Although we did get that scene with Jack calling Gwen, which was sweet and a little sad. It was nice to hear them both talk about Ianto, but the real point of the scene was to show once again how alone Jack is. He loves Gwen – like he loved all his teammates, any one of whom he would have slept with – but Gwen has a family of her own now (Don’t even get us started on the apparent exit of Rhys and Andy from the story) and can’t be batting her eyes at a man she can’t have, especially if the world is coming to an end. We’re happy to see Gwen with her priorities straight, even if it does make Jack all the lonelier. When Jack and Oswald come face to face (in a scene that really didn’t make any sense), we find out that Jack is still punishing himself for sacrificing his grandson in Children of Earth and it’s implied that he would like “execution” as much as Oswald does. Of course, in Jack’s case, he actually can end his life now if he wants to. We know he won’t, but he needs to keep punishing himself, so he’ll probably spend a good deal of time toying with the idea of dying and fucking his way out of his dark moods. Then again, he had a naked bartender in his arms and gave him a lecture about safe sex, which doesn’t support the idea that Jack is all that fatalistic. Either way, we hope they don’t make too much of the idea that because they’ve both killed children, Jack and Oswald are somehow alike. It’s clearly bullshit if you spend more than ten seconds thinking about.

The other sex scene was worse in a lot of ways. First, can we just say that a sequence of sex scenes mashed together like that strikes us as really, really childish in a lot of ways? Jack’s had some story and character reasons behind it, but as far as we can see, Juarez and Rex in bed was only portrayed concurrently just so they could have straight sex to balance out the gay sex. It certainly made no sense from a story or character perspective. Rex made one or two slightly suggestive comments to her, but there was never anything to indicate a flirtation or even an attraction. In addition, he’s never been anything but rude to her and she doesn’t strike us as the type of gal who takes shit from men she’s attracted to. From men, period, for that matter. One minute she’s rolling her eyes and bandaging his wound and the next she’s kind of limply submitting to him, demonstrating no passion or interest whatsoever. If there was a reason for this, it wasn’t evident in the scene or any of their interactions. They were just suddenly having curiously passionless sex.

And we hate to be Those Guys, but we can only stretch our suspension of disbelief for so long. Rex has been living on painkillers for days and he’s got a gigantic bleeding hole in his chest. We’re all for making the hero (or one of the heroes) a super-stud, but the idea that someone in his condition could even get it up was a bit much to take. The idea that a doctor would have sex with someone in that condition - seconds after dressing his gaping wound – is even harder to take.

Plot-wise, there wasn’t a whole lot more going on that we didn’t assume was going to happen. As we expected once Jilly started flashing her business card around, Big Pharma is going to be coming in for a little demonization in this story. We doubt very much Phicor is the main culprit behind Miracle Day, but they clearly positioned themselves to profit from it before it ever happened. As for Torchwood, the new team is in place and acting like Torchwood again. In fact, they’re acting a little too much like the Torchwood we remember, with Rex in the Owen role and Esther clearly channeling Tosh (possibly without all the sexual hangups). We don’t know if that was meant to be a cute wink to the previous team or the creators don’t realize they’re rehashing old bits.

We’re not entirely convinced of some of the social changes being talked about in this show either. Like we said last week, showrunner Russell Davies is obviously having some fun cycling through a whole bunch of stereotypes about modern America, but our judicial and legislative systems aren’t quite as insane as he implies them to be. Just as we came to terms with the idea of Oswald being released, he unveils this left-field idea about congress doing away with drug prescriptions. And speaking of Oswald, we’re having an equally hard time believing that the public would somehow embrace him or find him interesting; or that the media (which is particularly poorly portrayed in this story) wouldn’t come in for a metric ton of criticism for giving him so much air time. You don’t see Casey Anthony making the talk show rounds right now, do you? And she wasn’t found guilty and sentenced to death, like Oswald was.

No, there are problems here and they tend to be a lot of the same problems we’ve always had with Torchwood: actions that don’t make sense, sometimes for character reasons and sometimes because people just don’t act that way, and a cynicism that at times feels unearned, like a moody teenager. It wasn’t a bad episode, but it was definitely a boring one. We still think this is a fun show with a great concept and entertaining characters, but the long form means we’re going to have to suffer through some typical Davies weak points in order to get to the fun bits.

[Picture credit: Starz]

    • http://twitter.com/Razorqueen Razorqueen

      I’m not watching Miracle Day, mostly because I don’t have Starz but also because I was not optimistic about it from everything I’d read. I decided to wait until it was all over and then watch it. For one thing, RTD said it was going to be “darker than Children of Earth,” and I’m not sure I could survive something darker than that. I’m not sure that so far, from what I’m hearing, it’s darker, but it still doesn’t sound promising. Hrm. I miss Torchwood. 

      I seem to be the only person who actually liked “Cyberwoman.” I mean, come on, it’s not like it’s “Spock’s Brain”!

      But anyway, thanks for your posts, TLo. Love your analysis. 

      • Anonymous

        You actually are not alone in that. I liked “Cyberwoman” as well. It showed a level of continuity moving over from Doctor Who in the scope of a traumatic event. A creature trapped in your lover’s body (who really has become a monster) and still being unable to let her go is rather poetic. Now, the fall out of mess that happened afterwards….

        I am not watching Miracle Day either, honestly. I am enjoying the hell out of these posts though. <3 TLo.

    • Anonymous

      I know nothing at all about this show but based solely on this synopsis/review I will make no effort whatsoever to find out what it is all about.  Sounds moronic.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=12933141 Elizabeth Riley

      Good thoughts, I agree! The Rex/Dr. Juarez stuff came completely out of left field, IMO. Weird. I’ve always found the dynamic between Jack and Gwen interesting. I keep wanting Jack to come out with whatever his feelings are for her, but they always leave me hanging. 

      Where are the aliens in all of this mess? I agree that 10 episodes is a bit too long for one storyline, from the looks of things. I want some aliens up in here!

    • http://twitter.com/MandySCG MandyJane

      Torchwood just doesn’t make much sense to me.  The actors playing the characters are all good, but the writing and the pacing (or whatever it’s called) is really horrible.  I’m trying very hard to like this show, but I don’t know how many more episodes I’ll last.

      • MilaXX

        I don’t think Miracle Day works as well as Children of Earth as a stand alone series. I get the sense that complete newbies, those who have never seen TW or Doctor Who are finding this a little difficult to follow. I have to admit, I’m starting to question how close to canon Davies & co are staying. Sure there are mentions of former TW members like Owen & Ianto, and shout outs like “bigger on the inside” remark, but the more they these bits, the more questions it raises for me as a long time viewer.

    • Anonymous

      RTD has always been misogynistic, anti-American, and weird about sex.  Why expect anything different now?  Like Razorqueen, I don’t have Starz so I’ll be catching this when it’s available in other formats — if I decide to bother.  “Children of Earth” was superior because they focused on the characters and had a great, stripped-down story.   If they’re already stretching in the second episode, I wonder whether Miracle Day will be worth the time.

    • ArKane Fyre

      I was all “yay pretty men having sex on TV!” before, “c’mon, straight sex to balance out the gay? For srs, guys?”

      Anyways. I’m bored and ended up cleaning my room while watching the episode. The series is dragging, and I don’t like Rex. I don’t find any redeeming qualities to him yet, and I dislike the way he treats both Juarez and Esther like disposable tools. I was hoping Juarez taking off her dress before Rex said anything wasn’t going to foreshadow sex, but man, the way she leaned in was awkward.

      Then the public’s acceptance baffles me. If the police officers’ reaction are anything to go by, public sentiment towards him is polarized at best. Seeing the stereotypical “fat brainless American woman” mindlessly absorbing Oswald’s speech as if he was the new Messiah, when the stereotypical “punk kids” just before was out for his blood makes me feel like they’re implying Owald is accepted by the mainstream public. Which, really, is kind of insulting to the general public.

      I think that’s another problem I have with the characters in this series. They’re all caricatures of the person they’re supposed to be.

      Anyways, glad you guys are covering this. I see your post and then go watch the episode so I can read it. Thanks TLo.

    • http://twitter.com/lbcubbison Laurie Cubbison

      I’ve long thought that Davies isn’t very good at story arcs, and MD is confirming it. I’m with you on the poor understanding of American culture, and I also think Americans would be more likely to claim God or Satan as responsible than jump to aliens as a cause.

      WRT MD in the context of past Torchwood, I think Esther is a cross between Ianto, Tosh and Lois Habiba. That’s actually the one thing I do like about Davies’ writing. He has a good sense of what a good admin type can bring to a team, which is something a lot of TV writers miss.

      • MilaXX

        Never cared for Davies either.

      • Anonymous

        As with Donna Noble — supertemp…

      • http://profiles.google.com/shannonlstewart Shannon Stewart

        Oh yeah, you’d be hearing from the religion angle WAY more than the alien from Americans.  Hell, half the people in this country can’t decide what shoes to be  without it containing a sign from God these days.

    • Rand Ortega

      A very disappointing, lackluster episode. I understand transitional, expository bridges, but those plot devices should be contained w/in excellent, thought provoking (even when it’s off base), intriguing storytelling. This ep had none of those qualities. Instead it was fraught w/ stereotypical hackneyed memes that sloppily & obviously revealed the creators targets of derision instead of subtle exposures w/in the series’ overall satirical tone. & the ep shamefully didn’t move the story along w/ the 1 possible exception (won’t mention because I don’t want to be a “spoiler”). I love RD. I believe he’s the most interesting TV writers working. But this particular episode really made me doubt that belief.

    • http://www.woneffe.com Jef Nickerson

      ZOMG, did you know lemonade in Wales is fizzy!? Gah, the whole cultural divide nonsense was dumbfoundingly grating in this episode. But the “it’s bigger on the inside” line almost made it all better. 

      • Anonymous

        Absolutely. I wouldnt have minded if it was clever, but having a character rattle off translations was idiotic.

      • MilaXX

        The one thing I do like are the small shout outs to the original series and Doctor Who.

    • MilaXX

      I agree with pretty much everything you said with the exception of the Rex/Juarez hook up which has been telescoped since episode one. It’s all of Davies tics as a story writer coming to the fore. The other bit I disliked was the Brit/US word translation, which was not only unnecessary, but stupid and condescending as well. Sure there are some new TW fans, but the majority of us are diehard Doctor Who/Torchwood fans and we’ve learned these things long ago.

      I’m really boggled as to how Davies think we would compare Jack sacrificing his grandson to Oswald, especially considering Oswald has not one bit of guilt or remorse. Considering we have 10 episodes to play with the leap from Oswald being chased and beaten to have a cult following of worshipers was also handled awkwardly.

      Surprisingly Gwen is still not annoying me. In fact I kinda liked her last night.

    • Anonymous

      I’m on board with most everything that has been said. It’s possible that the sexual relationship of Rex and Juarez had been telescoped from the beginning, but it was done in such an “I’m not buying this” way that I found it befuddling and quite icky. My dislike of Jilly is growing by each episode. It seems like Jack becoming mortal has also made him quite a bit more stupid. His confrontation with Oswald would have had him on high alert in the past, wouldn’t it? He shouldn’t have been taken by surprise like that. But I liked getting the insight into his continuing guilt over his role in the death of his grandson. Delighted to see Gwen connect with Rhys and Anwen, I do hope Rhys comes back into the story to play an integral part. Jack really is alone isn’t he? Could he possibly reconnect with his daughter? It would require a ton of forgiveness on her part, but would add a valid touching aspect to the story. Perhaps she and Rhys would have to connect. Perhaps I’m trying to be a screenwriter!

      Too many cliches. I like that so many people are pointing them out. I’m now on high alert for them. It takes away from really getting into the story though. Great recaps TLo, even if the story falters further, I’ll come here just for them.

    • Anonymous

      The funny thing about the concerns of stretching out the plot over too many episodes is that I think what needed to be longer was the lead in to the situation. i finally figured out that the problem with the Danes plot is that his path to “messiah-hood” needed to go like this: Danes survives his execution against all odds. Scientific investigation shows levels of drugs in his bloodstream that no normal human could survive. He becomes famous because he is an unexplained phenomenon, immortal for no explainable reason. Another execution is attempted. He survives. A movement develops to release him from prison because of “divine intervention” which prevented his death. Some greater power wanted him to survive, to be redeemed, to show the possibility of transformation for even the worst human being. after his release it becomes slowly apparent over weeks or months that others are cheating death. Somehow perhaps Danes knows something. Perhaps he can help because he was the first. Is that too trite? flipping a switch on immortality all at once makes it hard to work the mechanics of the plot. I am afraid they did it because they wanted to hook the audience fast.

    • Anonymous

      Oh, and I am so relieved to see you both thought Torchwood’s sex appeal was overrated. I totally agree with your assessments of Owen and Tosh and the only sex/romance I ever liked was between Jack and the original Jack Harkness. That was one of my favorites.

      • http://twitter.com/Razorqueen Razorqueen

        “Captain Jack Harkness” was a lovely episode. 

    • Anonymous

      The Oswald storyline is just an annoying distraction as far as I’m concerned. Now they’re tying him into the Phicor storyline he makes even less sense. What the hell does a pharmaceutical company need a convicted pedophile and murderer for? Hell of a marketing campaign.
      I’m liking Rex less and less each week. Owen was an asshole, but at least he was an entertaining asshole. Rex is just an asshole; full stop.
      And I still don’t understand why they had to move the whole story to the US. Granted there’s no capital punishment in Britain, so the Oswald storyline would have to go — no loss there — but the main story would still play in Wales.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, this episode didn’t do it for me either. The writers are doling out the plot development at a ridiculously slow rate, with no good character development to takes its place. I do love that Rex has a hole where his heart should be. That’s pretty funny.

      I honestly thought that when whatsername was giving Gwen the American terms for things, she was helping her blend in, in case she went undercover or somthing. But in retrospect, that seems dumb.

    • Anonymous

      Haven’t seen this episode yet. One point though: I’d totally take the points on RTD’s writing weak points, the views of the US etc. However this episode was written by Jane Espenson (Buffy, Battlestar Galactica etc) who is American. She’s down as writer for about half the series and RTD is down as creator. So surely she should be correcting any misrepresentation of US systems.

      • MilaXX

        Just read that Jane wrote this ep.still RTD is the showrunner and a lot of the weak points about this episode are pretty much the same weak points about Series 1 & 2. Who knows? Apparently RTD has found his US counterpart.

    • Anonymous

      This show…where to even start.  When Davies wildly got our brand of insanity wrong in the old Torchwood, it bothered me less because I just didn’t expect the BBC to get us right.  But this is basically Torchwood USA now and it’s god-awful.  I guess if we’re on board with people not dying we should be on board with the totally BS ways our legal system and Congress are behaving, but it’s just not working for me.  I’m disappointed because there’s good ideas here but they’re just really being pulled off in a believable way.  I don’t think I’m going to carry on watching this series.

    • foodycat

      I thought the parallel sex scenes were to make the point that Rex and Jack are really similar characters.

    • Lattis

      I find I do better with this show, and like it better, if I mentally disconnect it from Doctor Who. Like watching Ed Asner in Lou Grant and the Mary Tyler Moore Show (I’m so old) – looking for continuity in the character cross-over is just confusing. This is the most I’ve seen of the Torchwood series (despite being a rabid fan of the Doctor), and I am reserving judgement on whether or not I like it. So far I’m not loving anyone – even Jack – as much as I thought I would.

    • Anonymous

      Ok, three random thoughts I had while watching:

      1. I hope that cut to Gwen when they were talking about how Oswald was a childkiller wasn’t some kind of foreshadowing…but I guess that could bring Rhys back into the mix. 

      2. Rex is so unlikable with occasional moments of mild charm thrown in, but I guess once the “miracle” is reversed, he’ll probably die immediatly, so that won’t be a huge loss. 

      3. The whole “ZOMG things have different names in US vs Wales!” was hard to buy and annoying to boot. 

      And one for good measure: even though she’s great, it’s disconcerting to watch Claire Fisher be villainous! 

      • Lattis

        On your point #2. . . Yeah, I think that they are setting Rex up to be a hero at the end of the day. And – you know – even though he’s been a total ass crack the whole series, his one act of selflessness will redeem him. Not.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IJ4OVNTLDQY6XNJESI2DAHIGWI Connie Nicholson

      So disappointed in Miracle Day. Such a mess. So this is what happens when you try to extend a franchise beyond its sell-by date. At this point the only characters I find interesting are those played by Eve Myles and Lauren Ambrose. 

    • Anonymous

      I agree with most everything that’s been said. Here we are in the third episode and I find myself liking Rex and Esther even less. Rex is such a grating ass and Esther is just annoying beyond words. Maybe it’s because they’re making her out to be a bit like Tosh, who I could hardly tolerate. The whole thing with Oswald was almost more than I could take. It just doesn’t make any sense for anyone, much less an entire nation, to listen to anything that comes out of his mouth. C’mon! And the whole “this is what we call crisps in America” was very eye-roll inducing. This episode certainly showcased the weak points of the entire TW series. 

      Hope we get back to some of the TW fun without ALL of the TW stupidity.

      • Anonymous

        The only way the Oswald character could have attracted a cult would be if he a) were believed to be innocent by a somewhat big group of people (think Mumia) or b} if he were a mass murderer who had killed an awful lot of people, not just one.  As it stands in the show, nobody thinks he is innocent ; and he is too small potatoes in terms of child rape/murder to appeal to the kind of would be brides-of-a-murderer that were attracted to Ted Bundy and the Hillside Stranger, for example.

        99% of every discussion of this event would involve religion, even on television.

        The fact that they have already introduced a cult of “death survivors” in masks EXACTLY like the cult in Flash Forward does NOT bode well for the next few weeks.

    • http://korilian.livejournal.com/ korilian

      I’m glad they addressed the similarities between Jack and Oswald actually. Their motives aren’t remotely the same, but the fact is that they both murdered a child. And let’s not forget that Jack handed a bunch of other kids over to aliens who are similar to Oswald, when he was ordered to. They can’t ask us to cheer on Jack and revile Oswald without addressing that.

    • Anonymous

      Can we get some aliens already? Isn’t that the point of Torchwood?

    • Scott Hester-Johnson

      Bitch, bitch. Moan, moan.

      TW is still way better than Falling Skies.

      Am I the only one who noticed that Jack and the bartender were almost twins?

    • http://www.facebook.com/carl.rood Carl Rood

      So the human race essentially has 4 months until complete societal breakdown and somehow profit is the motive?  First of all, the idea they could get the law passed in so little time is ludicrous, but then so was the idea that threatening a lawsuit could get a condemned man released.  What exactly would Phicorp do with there profits once the civilized world ends in 4 months?

    • Anonymous

      I’ve been sceptical about the length of the series. I wouldn’t want it to be turned into an endless, resolutionless, tangled mess like Lost! But so far I’m enjoying it. I took last nights (UK) as a breath-catcher to establish the characters and the relationships. 

      Is it me or is Esther really hard to pick up? I had to really strain to hear her lines sometimes.