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]

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