Aug 15 2011 5:02pm

Oh Good, the Ghostbusters Will Explain Everything—Torchwood: Miracle Day, “The Middle Men”

After the brutality we were subjected to last week, is it possible to come back to a Torchwood that we recognize? Ryan Britt has already pointed out that while Miracle Day is an incredible concept and seems well-executed within its science fictional premise, calling it by the Torchwood name is becoming a dubious exercise that gets harder and harder to buy.

How did this week pan out? Well… to be honest, it’s too muddled to tell.

Ernie Hudson (I’m sorry, but when he picked up the phone, who else shouted “Who you gonna call?” at the TV) is Stuart Owens, the COO of PhiCorp. But before you bemoan is turn to the Dark Side, take a deep breath and relax. While he may not be the nicest guy (he’s cheating on his wife with his young, hot secretary), he clearly has no idea what the real deal is; he’s calling guys in China, trying to figure out what PhiCorp did with some land they bought there a long time ago. His efforts turn up nothing.

Maloney, the man responsible for shooting-then-incinerating Vera Juarez, is trying to figure out how to cover up his crime. He decides to put the San Pedro camp in lockdown, which will give them a full count of all employees and a solid alibi. Meanwhile, Rex knows that the ovens have to be exposed—it’s only a matter of time before the higher ups find a reason to start burning people beyond Category One. People who don’t belong, people who the government is happy to be rid of. He’s planning on finding the person who killed Vera and making them suffer.

Gwen shames a doctor who refuses to re-categorize her father and save him from the module oven, then calls Rhys and tells him that they’re getting her father out no matter what. Esther can tell something’s up with Maloney and is posing as his new assistant in order to find out where Vera is. Jack gets Stuart’s mistress to help him blackmail the guy after revealing Stuart’s plan to transfer her away, and interrupts the man’s dinner with his wife. It turns out that Owens has nothing to give him: he is a true middle man, not a great guy, not a terrible one either. But he has been just as curious as Jack about PhiCorp, and he knows this—whoever is pulling the strings behind the scenes, they’re playing a much bigger chessboard than anyone has figured on.

Rex turns himself in at the camp, trying to get in touch with the man in charge, not knowing that Maloney is the villain. He tries to convince the man to help him expose the ovens, which provokes Maloney’s crazy and gets Rex stabbed in the chest with a pen. Esther is smart enough to follow Maloney, but also not smart enough to realize that he’s a murderer (because he’s been ever so good at covering it up). By the time she hears Rex’s distant warning to run, she’s already being attacked. She struggles for the upper hand, chokes Maloney to death, and Rex has to try and keep her from shock long enough to get them out of there. Getting the handcuff keys to free Rex almost gets Esther killed when dead-Maloney wakes, until the guy’s righthand man shows up and guns him down.

Rhys drives Gwen’s dad out of the camp while she finds some explosives and destroys the module. Jack records it via contacts-cam and Gwen flies back to the states. A mysterious phone call at the airport instructs her to put the contacts in again. Once she has, she gets a message: they have her mother, husband and daughter. They want Jack.

Okay, let’s start with the most irritating plot development: while kidnapping Gwen’s family has finally upped the series stakes, it effectively made Gwen’s whole side trip back home pointless. The mysterious Miracle Day masterminds could have done this episodes ago. The plotting of that is just plain sloppy.

The categories of life have confused everything. Earlier in the series we saw dismembered bodies with moving parts, but now we have people just plain unconscious being labelled as “dead.” By the time you show disconnected eyes rolling around in a car wreck, how can anyone actually go unconscious in the first place?

Another question: is it too risky to make Jack “omnisexual” the way the character has always been portrayed on the UK show? Because everyone I know who is watching Torchwood now just assumes Jack is flat out gay. It’s kind of hard not to make that assumption since he has spent the entire series winking at every man in a two-meter radius and never once checking out a lady’s behind. In the past, Jack’s preferences have made him an empowering figure for people of alternate sexualities, but particularly for bisexual people who get even less representation in general media. Avoiding that part of Jack when his previous custom has been to hit on every single member of his team regardless of their genders is honestly disappointing.

Then there’s the violence factor. I thought it the moment that Maloney shot Vera: there was no way that man could die as horribly as anyone wanted him to. And he didn’t. Which made the violence he enacted on everyone (and even more specifically on women) that much harder to handle. I do give the episode props for showing Esther defending herself using standard self-defense class techniques—in stories that contain strong female heroines, usually the woman knows martial arts, owns a gun, has the presence of mind to carry a bat when she goes to face off someone squirrely. Esther’s fight was real, complete with eye-gouging, biting, and all those elbows to vulnerable areas of the body. Though I’m really curious as to why anyone with half a brain would walk into a potentially dangerous situation wearing freaking five-inch heeled boots.

On the other hand, it might have been too real; when you’ve got Gwen on another continent gunning a stolen motorbike in a black leather jacket and blowing up an installation with Semtex, it gets harder to believe that these two women occupy the same universe.

Which is where the discomfort lies. Watching the episode, I found myself wishing that we were with Jack and Gwen for the majority because I felt safer tagging along with them. We know they can handle themselves, we know their mode of operation. The show may have managed to make Rex a more sympathetic character recently, but killing Vera and terrorizing Esther to bring him around is just a bit more than I’m willing to swallow on a weekly basis.

Never mind the fact that the line following Maloney’s death read like something out of a badly constructed SNL skit. With the gang back together and the big reveals nowhere in site, I only hope that what comes next... contains more Ghostbusters. Yeah, that was definitely the high point for me.

Emily Asher-Perrin thinks Gwen should travel everywhere by motorbike. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

Paige Morgan
1. paigecm
I want to like this series of Torchwood. I was all in for the first three episodes. But it's becoming increasingly incoherent.

If the point is for PhiCorp to make money, then it would have made more sense to leave people with their families, thus encouraging individuals to buy more and more drugs to make their loved ones comfortable.

It's also not clear what purpose burning large segments of the population serves for the Blessed, or whomever's behind this, or why it was necessary to make people undying first. Is it a Slitheen-style plot to bring Earth to an anarchic state where eventually everyone ends up dead, freeing whomever to sell off the planet? (That's what it sounds like, as improbable as it would be to have the Slitheen on Torchwood).

Now, of course, it sounds like a giant Rube Goldberg plot, wherein the goal is both to destroy the human race AND get Jack Harkness (and for whatever reason, turning the human race undying is the only method to make Jack mortal?)

At the end of The Middle Men, I was left thinking that if Russell T. Davies wants to mount a Torchwood-style critique of American health care, then there are plenty of ways to do so without launching into a fantasy disaster scenario. Bottom line: for as sloppy as that episode was, it needed more shots of Gwen on a motorbike blowing things up.

That said, I'm suspicious about the supposed kidnapping of Rhys, Anwen, and Gwen's mum. The typing of the messages "We have your husband" and "We have your mother" is very smooth. With the last one, there's a distinct pause between "We have your" and "child" -- an indication, I think, that they haven't got Rhys and Anwen at all. They're bluffing. I could be totally wrong, and I don't know why Rhys isn't answering his phone -- but I think this is a set-up.
David Thomson
2. ZetaStriker
There have been a lot of complaints since this new season of Torchwood began airing, and up until now I've disagreed with the majority of them. Likely due to the amount of interest the sci-fi concept was able to instill in me, I was willing to forgive its Hollywood faults . . . for a time. This week's episode, however, proved a little too much to stomach.

After the last episode's slow build into Vera's death, I was ready to bring this act to conclusion . . . and it just didn't want to happen. We got a good forty minutes of useless shuffling back and forth between Maloney, Rex and Esther, and even during the climax I felt every word and speech just took too long. A good example of this issue comes when Reese is escaping with Gwen's father. We see him arguing with a military representative for a good several minutes that he ends up ignoring anyway, and Gwen makes him stop to have a conversation and a kiss while armed guards are approaching.

And I can't mention that scene without mentioning the one thing I did want to see more of, because it doesn't make sense. All the guards disappear, allowing someone not even in uniform to ride in on a motorcycle, pose dramatically, and then blow up the module in plain sight. Which accomplished . . . what? What did it do that Rex's video didn't? Saying, "Hey, Category Ones are being incinerated! And we saved them from incineration by blowing them up! Take that!" doesn't exactly endear thems to anyone.

This is all complicated by the fact that Maloney himself is absolutely the biggest wet blanket of a villain I've ever seen. Rex has to be rendered absolutely helpless to make this guy any kind of threat, and the fact that we waste so much time getting rid of such an incompetent is just nerve-wracking. I actually found myself getting bored just waiting for him to finally get his due, as that all this episode really added to the story outside of the Chineese suicide and the abudction of Gwen's family.

Another question: is it too risky to make Jack “omnisexual” the way the character has always been portrayed on the UK show? Because everyone I know who is watching Torchwood now just assumes Jack is flat out gay.

I've felt that way since Torchwood began, actually; he stopped being omnisexual when he left Doctor Who, in my mind. I can literally count the number of references to him liking women on one hand since then, and I've long since lost count of the number of men he's been paired with. This is par for course in my experience, likely due to the actor's sexual preference.
3. lampwick
My problem with the show is that it's become mostly a thriller, with much less science fiction than in other years. We have the thriller plots showing people sneaking in and stealing computers, rescuing people, recording things, blowing things up, but the only science fiction part of all of this is that people aren't dying -- and we still don't know why that is. Every episode I keep hoping they'll get to it, but somehow they're still sneaking into places and blowing things up. Well, maybe next week.
4. AlBrown
Emily put her finger on something that I sensed myself, but couldn't articulate--this Jack is a very different person from the Jack on Doctor Who that flirts with everyone--and not as likeable. And overall, I am uneasy with this new Torchwood. Way too serious, and like others have commented, while the series has good moments, the plot just isn't hanging together well. Some parts are very realistic and well thought out, while others, like the progression from camps for Category Ones to preparations to gather up illegal aliens, move so fast they don't feel right (kind of like the way glaciers formed in weeks in The Day After Tomorrow). And the new CIA team members are not very likeable. I always felt that the Torchwood team was too small to be realistic, and this new team is smaller still. Quite frankly, can't figure out where they get all their computer gear, and who has the knowledge to set it all up, let alone, who carries it around for them. I feel like I am reading a mystery story where the killer will not even be introduced until the final chapter, at the same time they are revealed, which is a heck of a way to plot a story. I was hoping for this episode to start pulling things together, but I guess I have to hope that the next episode will. I have my fingers crossed that the series will redeem itself with a good ending, but things don't look good at the moment.
William Frank
5. scifantasy
This was the episode that ended with me asking, "why am I still watching this crap?"

I mean, really. Vera saying "I'm going to expose you" last week was bad enough--did she really think that she could just threaten a lawsuit to bring down the obviously creepy/imbalanced/fucking dangerous Maloney?--But she had an excuse. She was a civilian. Rex had no such for basically taking the same tack ("get the police, I want to make a statement"? Dude, you're in chains in a dank room with the person in charge, who therefore has his head on the chopping block. Due process of law ain't happenening, nor is getting yourself freed by saying "look what's happening here." He knows.) Esther did better (marginally; why the hell didn't she call Rex--and don't say "he didn't have a phone," they slipped him a damn videocamera--instead of just trying Vera over and over?) and she's been flogging the "only an analyst" line for weeks.

Same crap with Gwen and Rhys, and Jack with Oswald from last week.

The biggest problem here is that the team are all thinking that the governments--who set up the "categorization" system--aren't going to double down when they get exposed; all they have to do is shine a light (hence, Jack's little speech attempt with Oswald, though why he thinks he can bring that despicable waste of breath around is only surpassed in awful storytelling by the fact that I'm sure it's going to work in the climax and Oswald is going to die restoring death, therefore becoming some sort of weird screwy martyr figure) and magically everything will get fixed up. You would think that Jack and Gwen would remember how the British Government tried to kill them, and Rex and Esther how they had to flee Washington after the CIA tried to kill them, and realize what they're going to have to do. Kudos to Gwen for figuring it out, but WTF to everybody for waiting that long.

And by the way, they need to freaking talk to each other. They're supposed to be a team, right? Allegedly? Then why is it they don't actually stay in contact, instead going off to do their own things without backup, mission control, and the like? (Except for the fact that they suck at those things, hence the server-swipe going south because they can't actually communicate.)

Not to mention that this all happened way, way, way too fast. It made more sense when this was about Phicorp having planned for years. There's no way on Earth that this goes into full-on human ovens within what, two weeks? (Not that we're sure, there's no real sense of time scale at all.) Why is it that bureaucratic red tape only happens when it's to the heroes?

Gah. I think I do have an answer to my question--I'm watching because it's fun to read Law and the Multiverse's takedowns of the episodes.

Not to mention that this all happened way, way, way too fast. It made more sense when this was about Phicorp having planned for years. There's no way on Earth that this goes into full-on human ovens within what, two weeks? (Not that we're sure, there's no real sense of time scale at all.) Why is it that bureaucratic red tape only happens when it's to the heroes?

There's one way to get a sense of time scale: Gwen's baby. I've never had one myself, but I understand babies change quite a bit month to month. This one hasn't changed much at all.

This season started off with such promise, but seems so full of filler episodes that I didn't bother to watch this one (well, I caught the ending), and instead waited to read the recap.
Ian Gazzotti
7. Atrus
You put the finger on what has been bothering me since the beginning: Miracle Day is a good thriller with some sci-fi elements but it just doesn't feel Torchwood. And this bearing the Torchwood title, those dramatic scenes with Oswald or Maloney suddenly feel flat or ridiculous when compared to Gwen blowing stuff up with randomly found C4 when, in all reality, it should be the reverse.

The red tape is also very inconsistent. There's so much bureaucracy that you can't trace back a decision to who originally made it or who put it into action, but the whole world manages to build death camps in less than a fortnight? Please. Even if all the leaders in the world decided to meet and talk about it, their undersecretaries would still be arguing about what to have for entreés.

It doesn't help that most of the team is utterly *stupid*. They got all this big-ass Torchwood technology but, when they have to act without it, they seem to be stuck in 1996. When Rex was caught, everything I could think of was "See, if you brought a videophone all your evidence would be already on the internet and not in the hand of the bad guys."
8. jerec84
RTD should stick to 5 episode arcs. This 10 episode series is getting a bit inconsistent, quality-wise. I feel like we should know more by now than we already do. I'm guessing episode 9 is the big revelations and episode 10 is where Jack and friends fix things. I enjoy the show, but it's a definite step down from Children of Earth.
9. wiredog
"The plotting of that is just plain sloppy."

Or, as was said in season 3 of BSG:
"They have a plan. And someday they're gonna share it with the writers..."
10. Linda Hughes
This is not Torchwood. There is no character development of the characters. Jack is omni-sexual, a flirt and a flamboyant conman with a conscience, In Miracle Day, he is a pussy. Gwen has little to do except blow things up. Overplaying te mother/family aspect. I miss Owen, Tosh and Ianto. I hate these "I've seen him/her before" guest shots like Wayne Knight and that CSI guy. Rex is a complete tool. Too much filler and plot holes. Security is a joke to the writers, I guess. Davies has lost the plot with Torchwood. No humour, no fun.
11. AGrey
I feel like they were expecting another 5-episode season, and when they were given 10, they didn't know what to do with themselves.
Geoffrey Dow
12. ed-rex
"oo muddled to tell" is putting it awfully generously, I think. Truth to tell, it's hard to remember when I've seen a professionally-produced television show be so utterly inept.

The characters are constantly making the stupidest possible decisions because the plot demands it, security guards on Top Secret installations are forever going missing and now the bad guys are just leaving boxes of high explosives (and presumably hot leather motor-cycle outfits - and motorcycles!) around for Gwen to find.

As I've said elsewhere, "The stupid, it burns!" and it's been a bright flame for quite a while. At this point, I'm only still watching because I said I would, and because I'm normal enough that I can't easily turn away from a slow-motion train-wreck.

Television has seldom been this awful.
13. a-j
The strong rumour going round that I have heard is that this was originally written/planned as a 5-parter and was extended to a 10-parter so that Starz could get subscribers for longer (if that's how it works, I'm in the UK) and certainly it feels like there is a vast amount of filler material here. I am reminded of the last Quatermass series which was filmed so that it could be both a 4-part series and a 90 minute film.

As to Jack's omnisexuality, I fear that this may have been the only way RTD could get a gay character into Dr Who (marketed and traditionally a children's/family show in Britain) and was so dropped for the adult Torchwood as this would, sadly, be less likely to cause controversy.

Oh, and ed-rex@12 - you obviously were lucky enough not to see Outcasts.
Geoffrey Dow
14. ed-rex
a-j @ 13, that rumour seems incredible to me - or would, if it didn't, as a hypothesis, so closely fit the facts.

I also miss Jack's omni-sexuality (what a loss: "So many species, so little time"), but have made the fannish decision that it's still there, just coincidentally not on display this time around. After all, there's been so little opportunity to - oh. Wait. Never mind.

Also, you're right about Outcasts. And I do acknowledge that there is a lot of very bad television in the world.
Janet Thomas
15. Taffy
Re the "strong rumour", what, Starz waited for them to turn in a completed five-ep season and then said "Ha! Ha! We meant *10* eps!"? In any case, since these supposedly professional, experienced writers are supposedly professional and experienced, why can't they professionally and experiencedly add in an additional story line that runs through the whole season? Surely at some point at least one of them has had to do that, or been part of a script-writing team on a series that has had to do that. (I've had to do that myself, in writing reports and procedures for my employer. It's not fun, but it *is* possible.) This running around with one storyline, for a couple of episodes then dropping it and running off with another then dropping *that one* and running off with another doesn't say professional and experienced to me. Of course, since the scripts have to be approved by Mr. Davies, perhaps that's where the issue lies - I don't know, but it's beginning to look that way to me.

Seasons 1 and 2 weren't great, but I shouldn't be thinking of them as Oscar material when compared to this season. That's just...appalling.
And even worse, I fully expect the "solution" to come from somewhere that's never been mentioned and to be something that could have easily been done in the first five minutes of ep 1. (Or to have to be explained by the writers, in Twitter. ::eyeroll::)

In MD, I was hoping for something other than "people are nasty, life is nasty, and it's nasty when you die, too. There's no hope, anywhere, ever, and there's nothing good, anywhere, ever. Amen. " Whatever happened to "The end is where we start from" from the end of S2? Oh. Right. Smashed flat by *another* anvil of anviliciousness.

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