Mon
Sep 12 2011 3:07pm

Torchwood Brings Death Back to the World, Itself. Torchwood: Miracle Day: “The Blood Line”

Torchwood: Miracle Day: “The Blood Line”

The final installment of Torchwood: Miracle Day opens with Gwen telling a story to the camera about the day she first realized that her dad was a good and honorable man. She laments that her saving the world from the Miracle will kill him, and perhaps rob humanity of a million more just like him. But with a cock of her gun, she leaves to do just that.

The scene is a marvelous encapsulation, one which Russell T. Davies employs consistently and well. Gwen has suffered loss, is suffering loss, and will spread that suffering to others. But she’s moving forward, using the darkness that being in Torchwood has instilled within her to make the hard decision. Gwen’s emotional resolution will echo through the entire episode.

The impact of this scene is marred by the mismanaged series before it, though, and that carries through the entire finale of Torchwood: Miracle Day.

Spoilers ahead.

Gwen, Jack, and Ianto Oswald are in Shanghai following the path of Jack’s blood to the Blessing. On the other side of the planet in Buenos Aires, Rex and Esther do the same. They’re both using computers to follow a drip of blood, somehow, because even during a global Depression, there’s an app for that.

Torchwood: Miracle Day: “The Blood Line”

The precise locations of the Blessing are pinpointed and Rex mobilizes the CIA in Buenos Aires, which in turn mobilizes Charlotte, the mole that the Families have within the CIA. Charlotte eats up a lot of time in this episode, doing things that she imagines are delaying Torchwood but really aren’t. It gets a bit meta, as your frustration over having to watch her instead of the actual conclusion to this series begins to transfer to the character herself. This does pay off by the end, but it’s an annoying, distracting slog.

Meanwhile, down inside the Shanghai Blessing, the woman from last week’s episode (who isn’t named but is definitely a higher up in the Families, so we’ll call her Family Lady from here) is explaining to Jilly Kitzinger how the Blessing works: They don’t know what it is, but thanks to the marvels of the information age, they long ago figured out that anyone living around the Blessing dies at what would be the average age of death for humanity at that time. “The Blessing is calibrating a matrix in harmony with humanity!” she says, going moon-eyed. The Families caused the Miracle by rebooting the Blessing’s matrix with Jack’s blood, making immortality the new average. The Families had two amazing artifacts, Family Lady explains, gave them the chocolate-and-peanut-butter treatment, and ended up with a Miracle.

Before Torchwood heads out to the Blessing, they send each other some halting, awkward good wishes. Rex in particular is having a hard time coming to terms with how much he’s enjoyed being in Torchwood, even if Torchwood is particularly amateur. Even Gwen has become fond of Rex. The lot of them promise to stay friends after graduation.

In Shanghai, Oswald is feeling the weight of being able to die, and, having long since seen a kindred spirit in Jack, asks Jack who he really is. Jack comes clean and tells Oswald that he’s from the future, but that he doesn’t know how the events of the Miracle play out.

“One thing I do know. I’ve seen the stars. I have seen the universe, I have seen the human race become vast and magnificent and endless. And I wish you could see it, Oswald. I wish you could see that, too, because then you’d know how small you’ve made your life.”

Torchwood: Miracle Day: “The Blood Line”

There’s a bit of plot-mopping that occurs as the teams head for the Blessing. In Wales, Rhys gets access to Gwen’s dad and tells him goodbye from the rest of the Cooper family. The truck in Buenos Aires containing the CIA team and a briefcase full of Jack’s blood gets blown up. And Charlotte herself blows up the DC CIA office, turning John de Lancie to bits (boo!) and damn near knocking herself out for purposes of credibility. Oh, and speaking of bombs, both Blessings have been outfitted with them to bury the exposed portion of the Blessing and prevent anyone Torchwoodish from ever tampering with them.

Jack, Gwen, and Oswald finally reach the Shanghai Blessing and the Family Lady tells Oswald that he’s not relevant. (We know!) Jack has suited Oswald up with a bomb, which makes little sense considering that the Family is already going to blow the place up. Considering that we’ve already seen the Family blow up its own in this series, Jack’s utterance of “Advantage: Torchwood” feels premature.

The three of them in Shanghai face the Blessing and Gwen asks Jack what exactly the Blessing is. He drops some Doctor Who terms but, laughing, admits he doesn’t know. The trio’s emotional arcs come to the fore as they face the vista in front of them. Gwen feels tremendous guilt over her actions in Torchwood and Jack initially feels the same for several lifetimes worth of actions, but is pleased to see that the good he’s done weighs evenly with the bad. Oswald makes a show of repenting for his actions, but quickly recovers. He is more accustomed to sin than even he realized.

Family Lady reveals that the Miracle is just the first part of a new world order where the Families determine who lives, who dies, for what, and why. She’s not worried that Jack will be able to wipe immortality from The Blessing, as he’d need to bleed out completely at both ends of the Blessing, both in Shanghai and in Buenos Aires. And considering that Rex and Esther have since been captured and all of Jack’s blood disposed of, this looks very unlikely.

A flurry of reversals occur. Rex has been transfused with Jack’s blood and the Families can’t shoot either him or Jack or risk the Miracle being nullified, so they shoot Esther. If the Miracle is reversed, Esther dies. Rex dies. Jack dies.

Gwen steps up. She’ll be shooting Jack herself. Rex has to carry on. No one should be able to decide who live and who dies, because the result are monsters like Oswald and the Families. With Jack’s near-gleeful acceptance, Gwen shoots Jack and Rex rips open his wound. They both bleed out into the Blessing and the Miracle ceases. Gwen’s dad dies, his daughter having brought death back into the world.

Torchwood: Miracle Day: “The Blood Line”

The Blessings are covered by explosions and Oswald gets his redeeming act by keeping the Family Lady down with him as Shanghai ignites. Jack is immortal once again, and wakes up just in time to escape with Gwen and Jilly. Rex and Esther are carted out of Buenos Aires and the screen goes white….

We’re in a church and a hymn is being sung. Down along a pew in the back the camera pans by Rhys, then Gwen, then Jack, then Charlotte, and then Rex. All five of them are singing at Esther’s memorial service.

Torchwood: Miracle Day: “The Blood Line”

Jilly, meanwhile, reconnects with the Families, who reveal that as far as “trial runs go,” this one wasn’t bad. They almost succeeded. Time to move on to Plan B, is Jilly still interested?

After the service, Rex asks Gwen and Jack if Torchwood will continue, adding, “Say no, please.” Suddenly, Rex gets a message revealing Charlotte as the Families mole. Nearly as soon as he finds out, Charlotte blows a hole in him. This being a funeral for a CIA agent, Charlotte doesn’t get far before being gunned down herself. So that’s the end of her.

And the end of Rex. Or so we think. After a few moments of lifelessness, his wound begins to close, and he jumps to life with a gasp of air. He looks to Jack, “…what the hell did you do to me?”

Torchwood: Miracle Day: “The Blood Line”

 

Chris’s Response: What is it about Torchwood that actively defies consistency? Seasons are wildly different in quality, episodes even more so, and characters and motivations always seem to change without reason. With Children of Earth, Russell T. Davies solved this issue by bringing a single authorial voice to the proceedings. So why didn’t that approach work here?

To be sure, “The Blood Line,” penned by Davies and fellow scribe Jane Espenson does give us some nice character moments, some reminders that, oh yeah, we actually care about these people and what they’re going through. But the mess we have to wade through to get to these moments dilutes the power of these characters. This is a shame when you’ve got actors like Eve Myles, Arlene Tur, Alexa Havins, Daniele Favilli, John de Lancie, and others delivering powerful and engaging performances. (How infuriating was Vera’s death? It was a dumb move on the part of the show, but we cared. Who cared when Wayne Knight got blown up? Seinfeld fans?) I’ve never really been a Gwen fan, but Eve Myles knocked it out of the park in this series.

Torchwood: Miracle Day: “The Blood Line”

And that’s the quintessential problem with Torchwood: Miracle Day. There’s a lot of engaging elements mixed in with a lot of boring, borderline confused plotting. Most of Emily’s list of useless plot strands here still stands. Why did we need Oswald or Jilly? Why was Angelo introduced so late and then disposed of? Why did we get no character development of the main villains: the Families? All we found out was that they’re all-powerful and pretty fascist. You know what would have been interesting? If they had good reasons for kicking off the Miracle.

Why spend so much time building up smart characters like Esther and Vera, only to use them as sacrificial lambs to poorly developed villains? (The stereotypical ol’ boy running the camp for the former, and some guy we’d never even seen in the case of the latter.) Why didn’t the Families kill Jack when they had the chance earlier in the series? Why did we have an entirely circular plotline with rescuing Gwen’s dad when the point of his character was to be sacrificed, as well? What was the point of PhiCorp playing so heavily in the plot? Why are we watching what feels like a first draft?

When a TV show kicks up that many questions about its own plot, the sheer volume of inconsistency gets to be too much. You can’t stop thinking about why characters and motivations don’t make sense, and that has always been a major weakness of Torchwood. The characters aren’t strong enough or engaging enough to overlook the flaws within the show itself. (Shows like Buffy and Doctor Who excel at this. Plotholes are legion in both shows but you’re usually having too much fun to care.)

After the stellar Children of Earth, and a hell of an opening episode, Miracle Day fell into old patterns. In the beginning, I was excited about the possibilities. By the end, I was just waiting it for it to finish.

 

Emily’s Response:

Let me get this straight... the whole Angelo ploltline existed to show that the Families had Jack’s blood. Angelo himself was a useless character. The null plate under Angelo’s bed was a plot device to get Jack out of the mansion, even though he made it sound super important. Nice.

Also, what was the point of PhiCorp and stockpiling medication? As far as I can tell, here is the sequence of events leading up to Miracle Day: the Families found The Blessing. They figured out what they thought it did for the people living nearby. They guessed that maybe if they used some immortal blood it might make The Blessing do something wonky. Based on that intuition they started preparing with PhiCorp meds and various other schemes because they... had a funny feeling they could make everyone immortal using Jack’s blood? Because that’s more than a shot in the dark. That’s completely insane as far as reasoning out cause and effect goes. Good thing it served them so well.

And if the endgame was having the Families in charge of life and death in the world, then what was the use in having this whole fortune from selling PhiCorp medication anyway?

What did Oswald want again? Because Jack seemed to think that he wanted to die, but then it looked like he didn’t, but by the end he did again. I think. His motivations throughout the entire series were foggy at best. I sort of liked the fact that he went out showing that he was every bit the monster we knew he was, but there wasn’t enough of a build to give it that punch it needed.

And my personal favorite — there’s a mole in the CIA, so why don’t we tell someone working in the office that we know how to track the mole and get blown up for our trouble? Looks like the CIA needed to be this stupid in order to get Charlotte to Esther’s funeral so that Rex could get shot by her, and the audience could find out he was immortal. As narrative choices go, there has to be a way all of that could have come about without everyone being so willfully moronic.

Okay, I can’t help it: I like that fact that Rex lived. The idea of having another immortal around is kind of great, especially as it implies The Blessing sort of got confused and handed that immortality back to anyone possessing Jack’s blood. Rex doesn’t seem like the sort of guy who will handle it well, and maybe that will make it a good starting ground if Torchwood comes back and we get to see the team again. It gives Jack someone to look after, to guide through all the hardships that he has suffered through. That has potential. Then again, an eternity with Jack and Rex... that’s not the Batman-Robin duo I’d want guarding the Earth forever.

But the fact that the Families are still around? Not so much a fan of that. I’ll be real disappointed if Torchwood becomes a show about the team battling the Families. Torchwood doesn’t need one opposing team of baddies to fight each week. That’s was never the concept, and most shows that change to that format halfway through suffer and die miserably for it. Go away, Families. You do not get to be the Trickster’s Brigade of Torchwood.

 

Ryan’s Response:

Ten weeks ago, I had a lot of enthusiasm for Torchwood: Miracle Day, mostly because of my faith in Russell T. Davies and the near perfect-slam dunk that was Children of Earth. However, now with the conclusion of the mini-series, my disappointment is complete.

When SF enthusiasts talk about the latest installment from their favorite fictional series, we often focus heavily on plot stuff, red herrings, and things that didn’t make sense; inconsistencies with the fictional world. Torchwood certainly needs to taken to task for its violations of not only its disregard of Doctor Who universe continuity, but how serial plotting normally works. But there’s a deeper sin here.

And I think that sin is thematic confusion. What is the point of Miracle Day? I suppose it’s this: human beings who attempt to manipulate their fate or elevate themselves out of mere mortality will become power-hungry monsters. To put it another way, absolutely power corrupts, absolutely. To put it yet another way: snooze fest 2011. This theme has been visited by Russell T. Davies before. Many times.

In the final moments, Gwen says “no one should have the power to decide who lives and who dies” and we’re supposed to buy this because she’s staring at child-rapist/killer extraordinaire Oswald Danes. Even in this scene, this notion is contradicted, because Gwen decides for everyone right then and there. So, the writing allows Gwen to be paternalistic, but only to a point. This makes sense insofar as the origins of the Torchwood Institute itself are fairly paternalistic; their motto was once “if it’s alien, it’s ours” but really should be: “we know better.” Later, as everyone in the cast got killed off, it practically became “Jack and Gwen know better." Though Davies and Espenson try to spice this up by having an insane killer/molester blow up the bad guys, that’s still what happens, Jack and Gwen fix everything for everybody else.

Speaking of Oswald, how are we supposed to feel about Oswald yelling “keep running!”? I bet the writers thought that was really edgy, but it comes across dumb. By dumb, I mean, it’s transparent what they’re trying to do thematically insofar as they’re just spelling out character traits. Gwen is GOOD, therefore she is allowed to decide when people live and die. Jack is also GOOD, and so he can, too. Oswald Danes is okay with being evil, so he’s EVIL. (Though useful for a second.) What about all those guards wandering around The Blessing all the fucking time? How do they feel about their “true selves?” I guess they’re just sort of okay, or NEUTRAL. The reason this kind of thing is so bad is because thematically all The Blessing really does is tell us how to feel about all the characters. The thematic core of the story is about people getting too much power, and yet The Blessing casually gives power to a few select characters and tells us that’s okay, because they’ve seen their true selves.

In the previous seasons of Torchwood, I didn’t mind this sort of thing too much. But, that’s also because the stories didn’t rely too heavily on the themes of conspiracies or ethical questions about decision makers. Miracle Day pretended to pose hard questions about ethics and in the end rendered those moot with The Blessing.

I’ll say one thing for it. For a show that tried to remind us how much humanity needs death to function, I couldn’t have been happier to see a lot of those characters get blown up. Except Esther. And Vera. Probably the only truly likeable characters in the whole show had to die horrible and ultimately meaningless deaths. Thematically, Miracle Day pulled a Tasha Yar on us with these two characters. Oswald Danes died doing something useful, Vera and Esther were killed for fun, by the writers. This kind of random plotting ended up being the ultimate theme of Miracle Day: nothing really matters.


Emily Asher-Perrin is the editorial assistant at Tor.com. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

Ryan Britt is the staff writer at Tor.com.

Chris Lough is the production manager of Tor.com. You can read the entirety of the Tor.com staff’s revolving Miracle Day recaps at this link.

11 comments
David Thomson
1. ZetaStriker
Well, I'm glad that's over. Which is a really sad thing to say. Here's hoping Jack gets back to Doctor Who at some point, so Moffat can get a shot at giving Jack a good showing.
Dave Parker
2. parkdr
Another thing about Children of Earth was it was 5 episodes long.

If Miracle Day had been reduced to 5 episodes (or preferably 3), they would have had to cut out all the dead wood.
Improbable Joe
3. Improbable Joe
The length seems to be the cause of all the problems, right? If nothing else, even a badly scripted and plotted story can get by on action, pacing, and enjoying being with the characters. That's sort of half of the success of Doctor Who, which rarely slows down enough for you to ask "...wait, what, why? That doesn't make any-- new shiny thing! Allons-y!"

At five episodes, we could have skipped most of the dreck. We could have had the flashback spread across 2-3 episodes. We could have just started with the Families from the beginning instead of PhiCorp for the first half. No mucking around with Gwen's dad forever. No Rex's dad at all. As it stood, half of the story was throw-away and filler, and it dragged down the other half by killing the pace and diluting the impact of whatever bits were supposed to matter.
Improbable Joe
4. AlBrown
There were some good moments, and good subplots involved with this show, but also a lot of inconsistent mishmash mucked up the works throughout the entire series. There was so much I liked about this series, and the end was much better than the middle, but it ended producing mixed feelings in me.
I do hope it is not the end for Torchwood, as there is a lot of good stuff about the series that I would miss. I am sure they could do better next time out. How about not killing off some of the best new characters, for starters?
Improbable Joe
5. kid entropia
Going through some sites, there´s one general impression which seems broadly accepted: Miracle Day had very intriguing ideas which got lost in useless plot threads and undercooked, pointless unlikable characters. Even caring for Jack and Gwen seemed a little difficult, with their incessant goings and comings which in the end, just like essentially everything else in this season/miniseries, felt redundant and meaningless. A lot of people have said that someone could edit this into a more interesting 5 hour story; i´d actually be surprised if there are three hours of really solid storytelling here. And mind you, yes, it gave us a lot of great things to ponder, but... after all is said and done, it´s an extremely flawed story, and its high points are so difficult to reach and are submerged in so much filler that you wonder whether it´s really worh it. i think not.
Improbable Joe
6. AGrey
I wonder if some enterprising individual can take the 10 hours of television we've been given and edit it down to 5?
If someone were to remove all the redundant stuff (remember the half hour wasted on the airplane? the two episodes in the camp? the two episodes in a row Gwen does the same thing?)

There's at least 5 hours of filler in this season, I wonder if it'd run any better with a severe editing job.
Improbable Joe
7. Peter Tupper
Here's what I think was really going on:

The Families existed long before Jack met Angelo. They had a particular interest in life extension, but were primarily about economic and political power. Jack's blood was one of many artifacts they encountered over generations of research and exploration.

The Blessing was another. Put the two together and they realized what would happen, a very flawed form of immortality. They decided to go ahead with this in order to create a planned massive social upheaval they could take advantage of, "Shock Doctrine" style. This would give them more power and enable even more research and development of immortality.

That said, this is still a mess on so many levels. Jilly and Oswald could have had some kind of character arc, but they don't. Huge chunks of time go by without any actual progress. Plot threads like no more drug prescriptions or the "soulless cults" amounted to nothing.

I agree with the people saying that this reads like a first draft.
Improbable Joe
8. maria rose
humannow that Torchwood Miracle Day is over and i went back and reviewed the storylines of the previous shows that preceeded it, i offer this conclusion this is just one stop point to the story. Remember Jack is a time traveler and has gone back and forth many times. I haven't figured out why he is immortal or if he is still completely human at this point. Some where in his travels he is trying to change the time line for the better or something else. I hope they continue the series but speed up the sequence of events ( this is like trying to figure out Lost)
Improbable Joe
9. JohnInCambridgeUK
An alternative viewpoint: I enjoyed this series BECAUSE of all the diversions and plotlines, not DESPITE them - since what they did achieve was to keep me guessing! Just like a classic detective novel, I was constantly trying to sort out the red herrings from the genuine clues to put together a consistent story. Having plot strands which didn't tie together neatly seemed to be to make the overall series more "real" - life is messy, and it's not the case that everything is connected together and can be sorted out in a neat resolution.
s lussenburg
10. Grubnessul
Well, that's a bashing review of the series. Not sure if there was anything you liked at all.

Admitted, there were some 'useless' story threads, although this did make the series more realistic. Too often, everything the main characters of a series do directly pushes the plot forwards, it's nice to see them try something and fail. It makes them more human and less superman. Which was a good move since team torchwood (mostly Gwen) started to move a bit too much into the superhero direction. Torchwood was getting a bit too much action series like and the 'deadwood' slowed it down and gave it more humanity.

As for being paternalistic. Yes, to a certain degree. However, the fate of category 1's was to be burned alive. I can fully understand Gwen not wishing this fate to anyone. Gwen did not as much determined the fate of all category 1s, but she set the natural order back. Now, the 'natural' is not necessarily good and immortality might not be bad, was it not for the untold suffering we've seen. We've seen people whose bodies were broken, but could not die. Yes, we've been told Gwen is good from day 1, but she made the most humane decision to let the suffering end.

Another thing I've missed in this discussion is how brilliant Davies shows Hannah Arendt's Banality of Evil. This seems to be a favourite theme of Davies, as he did the same in Children. Not the absolute power absolutely corrupts is the moral of the story as Ryan says, but that faced with a serious problem, all morality goes out of the window and we're even prepared to burn people alive like it's 1943 again. Now wanting to rule the world is bad (and this was one of the more elaborated attempts I've seen so far, even all the money the families had wouldn't be enough, but making the whole world depend on medicines they had would), but the response of the world (at least of the UK and USA which we've seen) was truely EVIL.

(That powerful cooporations are bad is a lesson we've learned a 100 times and should not be dicussed again.)

Oswald was an interesting introduction as he seems to fit very well in this new inhumane world, yet he's hardly worse than those in power who are eager to burn the weak and the sick alive. He was able to abuse the system, showing how easily people are manipulated by the media that they would even cheer someone who shows no regrets for murdering and raping a little girl.

In this aspect, team torchwood was hardly the topic of the show, but they were merely there to move the plot along. The real topic was power and how thin our morality is. Not to mention that we're merely fold animals. It's a shame that these glimmers of brilliance were not noted in this review, which seems to be mostly 'WE WANT MOAR ACTION.'
Improbable Joe
11. tato
i’ve got question?
what‘s name of hymn they sang on Esther’s memorial service?

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment