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.