Mon
Jul 18 2011 2:56pm
Poison on a Plane! Torchwood: Miracle Day: “Rendition”

Torchwood episode

If there’s one overriding feeling one gets from this new Torchwood series it’s the notion of a slow burn. Though there are various characters and plot threads, the larger basic premise of each episode so far, is pretty much the same. Because of this, Miracle Day is probably coming across a little more somber and one-note than the first two seasons of the show. (Let’s face it, that blowfish alien guy who drove the corvette around has no place in this particular version of Torchwood.) But this isn’t a bad thing; because as the drama is slowly unfolding, the big questions are starting to build up in our minds. And blowfish-face not withstanding, the biggest question I have right now: are aliens involved?

The second episode of Miracle Day picks up where we left off last week with Jack, Gwen, Rhys, and the baby (What’s it’s name again? Myfanwy?) in the custody of the CIA en route back to America. Very quickly, CIA agent Rex decides he’s only arresting the Torchwood team; meaning Rhys and the baby are staying in the U.K. Gwen throws a pretty substantial fit, but as it turns out later, it’s probably for the best that she’s not carrying the baby around anymore. Rex, Jack, and Gwen all get onboard the plane where things start to get a little dicey.

Rex’s inner conflict deepens as it becomes apparent that he’s being betrayed by his own organization. Another CIA agent, Lyn, poisons Jack with arsenic, resulting in a frantic dash to concoct the antidote with only items found on a plane. Because the previously immortal Jack is now the only mortal man in the world, Rex is very interested in keeping him alive. When it’s discovered his own associate is responsible for the activity, Rex starts questioning his loyalties.

I liked this poison plotline a lot for a few reasons. For one thing the whole mad-dash to throw together various ingredients reminded me a lot of the scene in the Doctor Who episode “The Unicorn and Wasp” where Tennant is running around creating a random antidote for himself. This scene was also great because Gwen got to take control of the situation with desperate bravery. We’re never really worried Jack is going to die, but the scenes work all the same. Finally, the idea that Jack’s physiology never had to develop any kind of immunity to anything owing to his immortality is also a fun inversion of his lost “superpower.”

Meanwhile, Rex’s CIA buddy Esther (after having her short-term memory erased by Jack in episode one) is still trying to figure out the link between the Miracle and Torchwood. This leads to the introduction of a CIA higher-up, Brian Friedkin played by the always-slimy Wayne Knight. Does Wayne Knight look any different than he did playing Newman on Seinfeld or Nedry in Jurassic Park? Nope. He looks the same and he acts the same too, only now a little scarier. Like Rex, Esther quickly realizes elements inside the CIA are out to get her. Narrowly escaping, she manages to meet up with Rex, Jack and the gang by the end of the episode.

Torchwood episode Perhaps the best stuff in the episode deals with Dr. Vera Juarez as she starts to make connections about the implications of the Miracle throughout the world and what it will mean in terms of everyone needing more painkillers and new kinds of antibiotics. These conversations are some of the best in the whole show insofar as its clear the writers have really thought about the ramifications of what would actually happen if bacteria-ridden corpses didn’t die and if people were in perpetual pain. When Rex snaps the neck of Lyn, she grotesquely doesn’t die, but by the end of the episode is simply walking around with her head on backwards. Like some of the gross-outs from the previous episode, this kind of stuff really explores the notion of immorality without actual healing and how the Miracle is way worse for the world than death. It also serves as a chilling reminder of something we gleaned from the season premiere: That without death, the consequences of the violence one inflicts are far more difficult to ignore.

Ultimately, what actually happened in this episode? In most ways this seemed like more set-up for the adventure yet to come. Oswald Danes genuinely admitted (to most of the world, anyway) that he was sorry for his terrible crimes. This, while interesting, is in my opinion one of the less compelling aspects of the overall story, although there seems to be a connection being made with his immortality and the planet’s ability to forgive him. One could see this plotline playing out in a non-Miracle Day world, however, which begs the question as to its importance within the sci-fi premise of Torchwood: Miracle Day. What I suspect is that the character is there to further mess with the sensibilities of the audience. And while I don’t mind it, it seems a little more direct and on the nose than the other themes and characters.

However, this episode did introduce a mysterious and marvelously creepy PR woman by the name of Jilly Kitzinger (played by Six Feet Under’s Lauren Ambrose) who seemingly wants to represent everyone from Danes to Vera. Here we get more hints that there is a clandestine organization guiding events, and that Miracle Day and Torchwood are perhaps just pieces of a larger scheme. What does this woman actually want? Who does she really work for?

Even with Jack talking about really high-concept science fiction stuff like morphic fields, I can’t help but wondering if aliens are involved in perpetrating the Miracle. And if so, for what purpose? How could permanently wounding a planet full of humans be advantageous to aliens? Or anyone?


Ryan Britt is a staff writer for Tor.com.

22 comments
Keith DeCandido
1. krad
It's worth noting that this medical-neepery-filled episode was written by Doris Egan, whose previous job was the show-runner of House. :)
Samuel Walker
2. lambada
I myself am hoping that Oswald Danes doesn't turn out to be involved (as unlikely as that is).

Why? Because his storyline has forced people to confront some deep questions. Yes, he did a heinous crime, but they tried the death sentence, and it failed - and he appeared to be in quite a bit of pain whilst it was failing. Is that enough? His remorse appears genuine, what else can he do? His point about a mob being outside his house everyday, and being jobless is also interesting.

In a way, I feel that his plotline is in some way, a comment on the media hysteria that occurs whenever some evil crime happens to hit the headlines, for whatever reason.

It's a genuinely thought provoking storyline, that is just about uncomfortable enough to not cause complaints in and of itself.

But.

If he turns out to be involved in this even in any way (or if he becomes involved) then most people will immediately reconcile it and loose all emotions that aren't hatred towards this character. This will undermine the very questions they have prompted the audience to think about.
Jenny Thrash
3. Sihaya
"Even with Jack talking about really high-concept science fiction stuff like morphic fields, I can’t help but wondering if aliens are involved in perpetrating the Miracle. And if so, for what purpose?"

Maybe to keep the larder fresh? Pull off a skirt steak now, get a rump roast in six months? Which would make it a very, very clever twist on a classic alien invasion trope.
marian moore
4. mariesdaughter
I definitely liked watching the various grouping of doctors in different rooms all speculating on a different aspect of Miracle Day. Later, I “worried” about the hospital that our viewpoint doctor left. Now they are another doctor short. Can’t you just hear them griping about her running out on them.

In general, this episode was a good intro to practical science. From Gwen concocting an antidote from household chemicals, to the hospital realizing that minor cases needed to be worked first, to the symposium of doctors following each logical pathway created by the disappearance of death. You could design a general science class around any of those topics or some variation of them.
Ty Margheim
5. alSeen
That was Lauren Ambrose?

She sure has changed since her Can't Hardly Wait days.
Ryan Britt
6. ryancbritt
@4 MariesDaughter
What a nice concept. I hadn't thought of that!
Bryan Price
7. bytehead
"I'm not gay! There was just that one time!"

I'm liking this series.
David Goldfarb
8. David_Goldfarb
When Dichen Lachman appeared, it took me a few minutes of thinking, "I've seen her before! Is she a recurring character?" before I remembered her role in Dollhouse.

Surely aliens have to be doing this somehow -- an effect like this is way beyond what we've seen of Earth technology, even with the occasional bit of scavenged alien tech available. It's occurred to me that it would be cool to have the Master be the big bad; he's had the chance to study Jack, after all. But I think it's more likely that it's some new race.
Ursula L
9. Ursula
While Jack seems to have decided he's "mortal" I'm wondering if he is.

Jack's "immortality" has always been tied to mortality. Jack doesn't live forever, he dies and is resurrected.

Now, if death is truly stopped, then he can't die. which means that he can't resurrect. And whatever healing powers he had were related to his ability to die and resurrect. So they seem to have stopped as well.

Having a simple switch - the mortal become immortal, so the immortal becomes mortal - doesn't make sense to me. A disruption in the dying process, so that it interferes with Jack's abilities, seems more consistent.

***

The backwards head didn't really work for me. The point of the "miracle" is that people are still injured, still suffer. Her neck was snapped. That should mean that she's paralyzed. Signals can't get to the body from the brain - she shouldn't be walking around backwards, she should be on the ground immobile, perhaps unable to breath properly, depending on the exact nature of the neck-breaking.
Karen Lofstrom
10. DPZora
Immortal Captain Jack was pulling healing energy from some universe-wide source. I'm wondering if someone or some group figured out how to refocus this energy -- channeling it first to a man scheduled for death (because they knew exactly WHEN that would happen, and could target it) and from that anchor point spreading it to the rest of the human race. Perhaps that's why Oswald Danes. If he were successfully killed, would that snap the link?
Dominic van Berkel
11. Barometz
After the previous episode I was left somewhat unsatisfied - it just hadn't given me the same thrill I remember from Children of Earth. This second one has taken care of that, largely. Really enjoyed that.

And yeah - Kitzinger is creepy as hell. Lauren Ambrose shows some skill in the ability to switch from a bumbling PR newbie to a cold, scheming potential adversary in very little time.

The one thing I really didn't like was the supposedly gay flight attendant. Not because I don't like gay people, mind you, but because it was so utterly irrelevant to the story. He didn't even get to flirt with Jack!
Ursula L
12. Ursula
One thing I've noticed is that the pacing of this series is really odd. It's a ten episode story, spread out with one episode per week. And unlike Doctor Who, where they've made an effort to combine a series long story arc with episodes that also work as stand-alone stories, there doesn't seem to be any effort to make individual episodes satisfying on Torchwood right now.

So the story feels frustratingly slow. We've seen two hours, and Our Heros haven't even begun to investigate the actual problem directly. Instead, its been about relocating them to the US, which isn't really interesting.

I'm wishing that they'd scheduled the episodes to be done on consecutive days, rather than consecutive weeks.
David Thomson
13. ZetaStriker
I think the pacing is great, actually. Lots of action and snark filling time, admittedly, but the moments spent exploring what this "miracle" means for the world have been priceless. The exploration of that concept is what makes this miniseries so engaging, and even if the cause isn't being addressed yet, seeing the world adjust to it has made for a great show. Even in the action scenes it becomes startlingly different than what we're used to; the lack of death has changed everything, and so far the introductory episodes seem focused on hammering that home while the series antagonists are slowly revealed.
Ryan Britt
14. ryancbritt
@12 Ursula

I hear you. I think consecutive days like Children of Earth may have been the way to go also. However, I think if we give it a little time, the pay offs will be worth it. That might just be blind faith talking though. :-)
Mark Lawrence
15. incurablyGeek
I thought the on-going flight attendant denials were meant to be the comic relief in that portion of the episode. His protestations were hilarious and subversive and gave John Barrowman an opportunity to roll his eyes, despite his pain.
stephenb
16. stephenb
I am very disapponted in the 2 episodes so far. Prior to season 4's launch, we went back and watched some of the original series and the pacing, the action, everything is night and day (in favor of the original series). The original series stories were filled with action, wonder, horror, suspense.

The last episode of season 4 was spent mostly on a plane with Jack being sick. That and the thin blone CIA girl running from her evil boss. Zzzzzzzzz wha? huh? Is this really the best they could do?

We keep getting hit in the face with the concept that "no-one-dies-anymore-we-get-it-people-don't-die". Over and over we keep seeing this. Clearly no one has any idea what's going on so we are just treading water until Captain Jack and team get fully on board and solve the puzzle. Not only that for a woldwide epidemic we seem to basically be stuck in one hospital. Yeah, that's really... global.

In addition to the horrible pacing and boring story line - let's talk about the cringe worth ugly americans. The character of Rex Mathseon is a cliched as he can be. The fast talking, angry, black CIA agent who snubs his nose at anything not American and yet is clueless on his own. I really hope they tone this guy down - he is unwatchable IMHO.

And now enter the ultra thin, pretty blonde CIA female agent who so far has added nothing to the show except for escaping from the parking garage by flirting with the attendent. Stunning! Exciting!

This needs a shot in the arm fast. We need to kick up the pace by an order of 10x and lets spend more time on Jack and Gwen and less on the pretty & obnoxious Americans.

I imagine people waching this for the first time are going "Huh? what's all the excitement about?". Click, delete from DVR.
stephenb
17. TJ_relic
@Ursula

I thought the same thing at first with the agent with the backward head still walking around. After some consideration, it actually doesn't bother me much. It works in terms of the logic of the show. We have already seen the solitary arm on the table, flayed open, still moving supposedly by the will of the mind, wherever it is. Also, in the first episode, something is keeping a burnt body animated when even the head is severed.
Ursula L
18. Ursula
Was the arm moving based on the will of the brain? Or the decapatated body?

Or was it merely automatic nerve reactions, like a chicken running around the marketplace after it's head's been chopped off?

I don't really remember actions that suggested will after the body or body parts were separated from the body. Just movement that might be random. Certainly nothing as coordinated as walking backwards.
Fredrik Coulter
19. fcoulter
@12: Remember that Starz is a commercial service with a monthly cost. If they ran the show over ten days, I would subscribe to Starz for only one month. Since they're running it over ten weeks, they get my money for three months.

Don't forget the economics behind the decision making. Someone's got to pay the bills.
Ryan Britt
20. ryancbritt
@Ursula

I like the idea of the arm moving from the will of a brain really, really far away. I think that makes the whole thing WAY creepier.
stephenb
21. iamnyhtshade
Two comments:
Oswald Danes's remorse, yeah, right. It's an act to get the people off his back.
Spoiler Alert:

Anyone else getting the whole "Face of Boe" thing out of this?
Ryan Britt
22. ryancbritt
@21

I would be shocked if they connected this to the Face of Boe. Not unhappy. Just totally shocked.

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