Torchwood: Miracle Day: “Escape to L.A.”

Posted on August 01, 2011


A weekend guest coupled with a Macbook meltdown forced this review back a couple of days, for which we apologize, minions.

About halfway through this episode, we sighed and whined as one, “Where are the aliens?” We indicated last week that the need for filler in a ten-hour story had the potential to be detrimental to the series as a whole, and when it became obvious that a good portion of this episode was going to be about family issues that we originally found quite meaningless, we tsked and acted annoyed and put-upon like the drama queens we are.

But then the writing took a rather brilliant turn in the 3rd act, and a lot of the scenes earlier in the episode suddenly became a lot more important. Esther’s need to both connect with and fix her sister ultimately put the team and the mission in great danger and resulted in a potential shift in the status quo for the team. Sure, we can – and did – criticize her for being quite possibly the most naive CIA analyst the world has ever seen, but her fumbling seems to have been a major learning moment for the team, all of whom (besides Jack, of course) had contact with their own family members this episode, a development that makes Rex’s blowup at Esther kind of a dick thing to do.

Like Esther’s family problems, it remains to be seen if Rex’s interlude with his father will have any effect on the plot. We thought it was there to make Rex seem more sympathetic but they’ve gone so far overboard with this character that we’re not sure he can be rehabilitated without making a major sacrifice or turnaround. He walked up 66 flights of steps until his chest literally burst and we STILL think he’s bully and a dick. And poor Vera (what’s with the old-fashioned names for young female characters?) only looks pathetic flirting with and teasing him over the phone like he’s just a charming rogue.

This was one of the problems with the original Torchwood: the characters were so cartoonishly put together that it was extremely difficult to care about any of them. Back during most of the first two seasons, Jack was a cipher (even though he was the one character about whom we knew the most), Gwen was kind of a mess, personally speaking, and took out her frustrations and insecurities on everyone around her. But the real issue as to why the show didn’t really wow anyone in its first two seasons came down to two characters: Owen and Tosh. The former was an unrepentant jerk to everyone around him and the latter was a wimpy, crying, needy mess who was supposed to be very good at her job, as hard as that was to believe. Sound familiar? We said it last week but it bears repeating: Rex and Esther are Owen 2.0 and Tosh 2.0, just without the sexual tension. We don’t think it’s a coincidence that Tosh and Owen weren’t part of Children of Earth, which is almost unanimously considered a creative highpoint and one of the best mid-show retoolings ever seen on television. So why on earth would the creative team try to recreate these failed characters? For us, the show only really gets moving when it’s focused on what we consider the two main characters: Jack and Gwen.

The minute the episode went from family melodrama to a typical caper story, the energy, excitement, and level of entertainment all shot up. Eve Myles and John Barrowman have great chemistry, as well as an onscreen history. As far as we’re concerned, they could have an entire episode centered around Gwen’s cleavage and Jack’s ass, working undercover. Besides, unlike the weepy Esther and the increasingly abrasive Rex, these two characters are just plain fun. Gwen’s attempt at an American accent was HILARIOUS (“Hot diggety!”) as well as her relieved admission to Jack after the door opened: “I didn’t think that would work!” Even tied up and at the mercy of a scenery-chewing C Thomas Howell, they were the kinds of heroes you naturally want to root for in a story like this: brave and funny and full of personality. “Oh great. He’s cryptic.”

As for that cryptic assassin, we have not much to say. He spewed a lot of mysterious factoids that we’re obviously meant to obsess over, but we’re not inclined to try and figure things out before they happen. Whoever hired him and is pulling the strings of Phicor will eventually be revealed, so why waste the energy on so little information? About the only thing that stood out was the line about Jack “giving them” something, which made us groan a little because once again, that was a major plot point of Children of Earth. It could be that they’re tying the two stories together. Are the 456 behind Miracle Day? It’s possible, but we doubt that’s the direction, since it’ll hinge on a story that a lot of the American audience never saw.

Then there’s the increasingly hard-to-accept Oswald Danes. Then again, it seems like the writers haven’t quite figured out how to make him acceptable. From clear out of left field, Jilly Kitzinger gives a speech about how much he revolts her, even though every other scene with these two characters, both before AND after this one, makes her seem like his biggest cheerleader. Watching him get all messianic on the plague ship, we could see how a character like this would be engrossing to the media and the American public, but we still have a really hard time accepting the idea that America as we know it would accept a pedophile as a messiah, let alone as a corporate spokesperson. A desperate America, falling apart and in chaos might do so, but we haven’t seen that yet on this show. We hear a lot of talk about how bad things are going to get, but we haven’t gotten there yet. The only evidence presented to us has been overworked workers in an overburdened healthcare system. That’s bad; but we just don’t buy the so-called collapse of culture that’s supposed to be going hand-in-hand with it.

We think Danes is going to be interesting going forward. The speech he gave this episode was really the first time he was interesting to us at all. We just don’t think the way he was established to the viewer was particularly believable. It was largely the same problem with Mare Winningham’s riff on Sarah Palin. This morose, schoolmarmish personality simply doesn’t fly if you’re trying to make a comment on modern American demagoguery. A female pundit and politician making radically extreme arguments on American cable news isn’t exactly a rarity. In order for this character to be believable, she should have been perkier, prettier, and saying things that sounded more positive than they really were. A political figure like the one presented here simply wouldn’t captivate the American public the way we were supposed to believe she did. And really, if you think about what she was arguing – government controlled healthcare facilities - it makes absolutely no sense to label her as a Tea Party member. Don’t try and do commentary on the American political scene, Brits. Even we can’t get a handle on it most of the time.

Really, once the show stays away from political and social commentary, it goes back to being a lot of fun. We’re not sure why Davies and his team took such an approach this time. The show was never really about such commentary. Even when it was damning the entire British government for its monstrous fictional acts in Children of Earth, it was more about government in general rather than British culture and politics specifically.

So: more scenes with Jack and Gwen; less of the family drama; do something to rehabilitate Esther and Rex as characters, and stick to the capers and not the political commentary. That’s not asking so much, is it?

Still, it was an enjoyable, if uneven episode.

Tags:

  • Anonymous

    Sorry about the meltdown!  But thanks for catching up so fast!

    You two are so on target about this series–Brilliant!

    Rex and Esther are so Owen and Tosh 2.0 (but it never occurred to me that their absence was what made CoE work). They will never redeem  Rex when he does things like call Vera and talk like he has already forgotten the sex till she alludes to the fact that their “relationship” has an added dimension now.

    The Danes storyline where he becomes “the leader of the should-be-dead” is where I thought they wanted to go with him, but the development of his character to get to this stage was really awkward.  I agree that the speech in the hospital was where I thought he had finally found his place i the narrative.  I do wonder how they will identify those who should have died as opposed to those who faced a near miss.  What qualifies you to go into an overflow camp?  I agree that Kitzinger expressing revulsion for Danes was totally out of character.  Her unrepentent commercialism and amorality were some of her more appealing qualities.

    Loved that Gwen had an Irish passport (though she is Welsh) and that she took her heels off as soon as possible and ran around in bare feet.

    Jane Espenson is blogging the show at AfterElton, which gives some additional insight.

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

    The joke among TW fans of the first team was how incompetent the team was, and here team 2.0 turns out to be just as incompetent.
    The idea of the plague ship and Danes’ speech was the first point that I felt that the crisis was going somewhere interesting. I felt with Children of Earth and now Miracle Day, that Davies wants to do these big social crisis what-if science fiction stories, but the executives only trust those stories in the context of an existing series with known quantities, and the mash-up of the two doesn’t always work.

  • Anonymous

    I thought it was a pretty fun episdoe and Torchwood, with a nice carrot of a hint thrown in at the end with 2 exceptions:

    1. The woman in the hospital giving  Danes the baby and watching him hold it up was creepy to the point of being unenjoyable.
    2. Esther’s family mess was stupid to the point of being unenjoyable.

    Ponyboy made it all worthwhile though…hope he’s still able to function for other episodes even with a hole in his neck.  Also, poor MareWinninghajm crushed up in the car. :(

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=768540908 Badriya Al-Badi’a

    I think that Jilly’s statement of revulsion towards Oswald Danes was meant as a big tip off that she is under orders to do what she is doing for him, on a mission for someone higher up.  She would be believable as just an opportunity-seizing carpetbagger, but I think her speech was intended to communicate that even she would have nothing to do with him if she had any choice.

    Rex’s dad–just how did he happen to hav so may Phicor drugs stockpiled in his papartment?  Guessing Phicor already got to him.

  • Anonymous

    Wait…which episode is this? Did we already talk about Capt Jack’s gay sex scene?? 

    • MilaXX

      That was last week. I hate to say it, but I hated it. Not cause it was gay, but it seemed to miss the mark of who Jack is. For example BBCA repeated DW Utopia last week. In rapid succession you had Jack flirting with Chan Tho, Martha and the Doctor. You got that Jack was an equal opportunity flirt. Here’ not only is Jack pretty much just gay, but apparently he’s also a gay magnet. That bear that rented him the room was darn near cringe inducing when he gave them a tip on where to eat.

  • Anonymous

    I thought this was the worst episode so far. Esther is just too unbelievably stupid to have been a top analyst anywhere, much less the CIA. That place is hard to get a job in. You don’t even have to work there to know better than to go visit the family when people with access are trying to kill you. Just watch a few cop shows on the teevee. And Rex isn’t Owen 2.0, he’s Owen x 250. At least Owen’s cynicism and jackassery had some entertainment value in his interactions with Tosh. Rex is just an unpleasant douchbag, with no redeeming social value.

    As for the “Sarah P” character — it’s not unreasonable to assume the Tea Party would throw up a character like her. Their auto-response to anything is to say “No”; so saying no to people living forever would be in character. Not a bad insight for a bunch of brits.

    • Anonymous

      I couldn’t agree more with your assessments of both Esther and Rex. She’s too stupid to have that job and he’s just cringe worthy and not in an entertaining way. Very well said.

  • MilaXX

    Uneven is the best way to describe this episode. On one hand I’ve come to accept that I may just like Gwen this series. I’m not sure if that’s because she and Captain Jack represent old Torchwood, ot their onscreen chemistry together. Whatever it is I like it. I also like the action scenes. Stealing Nicholas Frumkin’s info was pure old TW hijinks. I was kinda hoping we’ve even get a review of Gwen’s office attire. She’s never looked so good, not even on her wedding day.I loved high glam Gwen, especially when she took the shoes off to get down to business. On the other hand, WHERE ARE THE ALIENS! It’s Torchwood and if you are introducing it to US audiences they should know aliens are an integral part of what they do. I don’t care if it’s the 456 evil cousins. RTD heavy handed stab at American politics make no sense. And when the script lags you notice the character flaws. I agree Rex and Esther are just rehashed of Tosh & Owen. Thing is tone the down and I might like them a bit more. There’s no sexual tension between them, not even on Esther’s part so what’s their relationship to each other. Give us a reason to buy they are sorta friends. The annoyance is all the cameos they have saddled the show with. It doesn’t make sense to pepper the show so heavily with the likes of C. Thomas Howell. Mare Willingham, Dichen whatsherface or Wayne Knight. They aren’t blend into the woodworks actors so you know as soon as you see them, they will do something very important.

  • Anonymous

    As for COE, I sure liked the rythm, the darkness and the depth of the story, but I missed the sillyness of the stand alone episodes of the first 2 seasons.
    That’s why I’m fearing the most of MD : 10 episodes of 1 single story ? I don’t think it will work…
    And I don’t think the 2 seasons are tied together. I think it maybe revolves around those damn missing 2 years of Jack working as a time agent and erased from his memory. We never got to the end of that, did we ?
    So my guess is : time agency noticing the immortality of Jack (come on, they’re monitoring the history of Earth since the 51′s century how can they miss him, even if Jack Harkness is not his name), seeing a valuable marchandise and fiding a way to stop some ways of the entropy to catch him. What if the time agency didn’t took those 2 years, what if he gave them ?

  • Anonymous

    As for COE, I sure liked the rythm, the darkness and the depth of the story, but I missed the sillyness of the stand alone episodes of the first 2 seasons.
    That’s why I’m fearing the most of MD : 10 episodes of 1 single story ? I don’t think it will work…
    And I don’t think the 2 seasons are tied together. I think it maybe revolves around those damn missing 2 years of Jack working as a time agent and erased from his memory. We never got to the end of that, did we ?
    So my guess is : time agency noticing the immortality of Jack (come on, they’re monitoring the history of Earth since the 51′s century how can they miss him, even if Jack Harkness is not his name), seeing a valuable marchandise and fiding a way to stop some ways of the entropy to catch him. What if the time agency didn’t took those 2 years, what if he gave them ?

  • Lattis

    Loved this episode. My favorite moment was when Dr. Vera says that Oswald Danes is ”disgusting” (after his speech to the plague ship inmates), and Jilly K delightedly gush-giggles, ”I know!”  (gush-giggle . . . gushiggle. Should be a Yiddish word)   

    Also, I completely agree with  GenXcellent  about Oswald Danes holding up the abandoned baby girl. It certainly was shudder inducing, but IDK, in general, the more I think about Danes as a character, the more I can’t actually believe him. I can’t believe him walking around and mingling, or having a career as plague ship messiah. I honestly can’t imagine – under any circumstances – his being an accepted member of society. I can’t imagine him being allowed to walk free. 

  • Anonymous

    Why hasn’t Jack used his vortex manipulator to time travel and go back pre-miracle–or even on the day of the miracle–and figure things out?

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

      The Doctor disabled it at the end of the episode in which they fought Davros and the Daleks. Jack is stuck on the slow path. (Something about the Whoniverse always brings out the fangirl in me.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Boocat-Butterbee/706619907 Boocat Butterbee

    I keep waiting for someone to bring back Inigo Jones, the coolest of the Torchwood guys.

  • Anonymous

    My interest in this show is really starting to wane. 3 hours of commercial-free shows, and this is all we have? If they’re not going to move the plot along, they need to give us some character insight/development and MUCH better writing. I got up to do a few things while we were watching it on Tivo tonight and told my husband to pause it for me if anything good happened. And that was during the C Thomas Howell scene.

    I came back in to a paused image of his blood on the wall behind his head.

  • Anonymous

    Has Esther learned to speak more clearly yet? I was really straining to pick her up in the last episode.

  • Anonymous

    Okay, back again to articulate something that’s been nagging at me about Esther. She could be a very interesting character: she’s a brainiac analyst type with no survival skills, thrust into a covert operation and running for her life. So many movies have been very successful with this type of premise, but the show has turned her into a simpering idiot. It bugs the crap out of me.

  • Anonymous

    Did anyone else notice Dr. Vera wearing Louboutins? She was in an overcrowded hospital wearing $600 (+) shoes! It completely took me out of the story for a minute. I know, it’s the little things.

  • Anonymous

    And, besides, someone needs to tell the writers that Venice is not a separate city from Los Angeles.  

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_F73LIJ3SJGI5AJQMXMWXCKILHI Pamela

    All this talk about “dead is dead” brings to mind Miracle Max from “The Princess Bride”.  “He’s only MOSTLY dead.”  Hahahaha!
    I wish Rex was more than mostly dead.  And it looks like Rhys will be an ocean away for the entire series, which is disappointing.

  • Anonymous

    I enjoyed last nights epsiode (this one) I found myself quite riveted to it and whereas before I was watching it for it’s own sake, now I’m drawn into the story and where it’ll go, but then I don’t always hook in until a couple of weeks in. Davies’ references to politics and social behaviour have never been exactly watertight, in TW or in Doctor Who. He takes shortcuts all the time, but then he isn’t writing serious drama that’s even attempting to be perfectly researched commentary. I just don’t pay a lot of heed to those aspects.
    A bit of tension, a few laughs and a few chills. That’s what it’s there for :)