Torchwood: Miracle Day, “Rendition”

Posted on July 16, 2011

Ah, there’s the Torchwood we remember.

Not that we were complaining about it being missing, but the somewhat wacky hijinks of the original Torchwood crew got lost in a rash of character deaths and the decision to take the franchise in a totally different direction with Children of Earth. And while the gruesomeness of that series is still evident in Miracle Day, with that utterly ridiculous (in a totally awesome way) rescue of Jack from the jaws of death, we got a welcome return to the kind of completely loopy science and breakneck pacing that characterized the otherwise deeply flawed first two seasons of the show.

And that’s good, because when we realized that almost the entire episode was going to be centered around that plane ride, it occurred to us just how much time the creators have to stretch out their story, which made us momentarily nervous that we were going to be subjected to a lot of filler in this series. You can say what you want about the idea of Gwen concocting an arsenic antidote by screaming at gay flight attendants and ripping up carpets, but it sure wasn’t filler. Or if it was, it was damn fun filler. We’ll take more of that.

But there’s a flipside to the idea of the show returning to its roots: it also feels like its recycling some tropes. Watching Esther tap keys excitedly while staring at a monitor and nervously walking down government agency hallways sure felt familiar to anyone who’s seen Children of Earth. Goodbye Lois Habiba and hello Esther Drummond. And let’s face it: the idea of government agencies determined to wipe out anyone associated with Torchwood, while simultaneously dealing with a worldwide crisis of (possible) alien origin (with the possibility that Jack has something to do with the crisis) was a major component of Children of Earth.

Wait, what are we saying? That was the entire plot of the previous series.

But if there’s one thing showrunner Russell T Davies is known for (aside from bombastic storylines, overloud music cues, and deus ex machina climaxes) it’s pulling the rug out from under your expectations. The elements in the first 2 episodes of this series are so similar to the last series that we’re willing to entertain the idea that it’s deliberate and at some point, just when you think the show’s gotten repetitive, it’ll veer off in some completely unforeseen direction. At least, that’s what we’re hoping will happen.

We’ve noticed some comments from British viewers and reviewers bemoaning the loss of the show’s “Britishness,” (or at least, “Welshness”) and that’s not an unfair complaint.  However, if we may speak to that from the American point of view, while the show has gotten bigger and louder and more definably American in tone, anyone paying close attention can see that the series, with its explorations of the death penalty, fundamentalist religious cults, the chaotic, ill-prepared healthcare system, secretive U.S. agencies (and agents) who act like they own the world, and fast-talking amoral publicists who can represent murderers (named “Oswald,” no less) and pharmaceutical companies at the same time, can see that it’s clearly making some rather wickedly delicious commentary about how America is perceived in the rest of the world. Trust us, that’s not something you encounter a lot on American-produced television. In other words, it’s subtle, but the Britishness is all over this one. The show’s creators have embraced the idea of big helicopter explosions while using the opportunity to skewer American culture subtly. It’s clever, and deviously subversive.

As for the actual plot, we didn’t get much movement, really. We got confirmation that elements of the CIA are not as friendly or wholesome as our heroes might like, but it’s 2011; audience members are going to assume the big bad government agency is corrupt before any evidence is presented. And at the end, outside the airport, we got a brief glimpse of what looks like it’s going to be the new Torchwood: Jack, Gwen, Esther, Rex, and Dr. Juarez. That’s not a bad setup at all. Rex is a total dick and acted like one all episode until he realized he was backing the wrong team, but Esther and Juarez are really likeable and smart. It’s practically a given that one or more of these characters will be dead by the end of the season, though.

But shuffling Rhys off the scene so quickly bothers us tremendously. Not just because it makes Rex look so bad it’ll be hard to root for him, but also because we really like Rhys and because it possibly removes one of only two people in the cast who don’t have American accents (thereby offending the British fans even more), and it really makes Gwen’s actions a little questionable. A mother forcibly separated from her baby doesn’t just get over it and get on with it only a couple of hours later. The Gwen we know would have been as feral and frightening as a mad Welshwoman can possibly get until that baby was safely back in her arms. Granted, she was pretty distracted all episode, but it still rung a little false to us. We’re assuming that Rhys’ story isn’t over yet. After all, he and Anwen seem to have been delivered into the hands of the wrong people. Maybe we’ll be getting some parallel action over in Britain with Rhys (and Andy, please) working to get Anwen back while Torchwood deals with the worldwide threat. That would be the best possible development, so here’s hoping.

Oh, and that last special effect with the “Death Becomes Her” pose was cringe-inducing and awful.  They should have shaved some dollars off that exploding helicopter from last week and spread it around the FX budget a bit more.


[Picture credit: Starz]

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