Imagine you’re a ten-episode science fiction mini-series. How long do you wait until you start sketching in the main character’s back story and how it relates to the crisis at hand?
The episode opens with Captain Jack Harkness rushing through Ellis Island in 1927, tackling a random Italian man, Angelo, who has stolen his visa. Jack’s tackling of said Italian causes a stirring in the good Captain and he sets up camp outside Angelo’s holding cell, eventually deciding to spring him, ostensibly for the purposes of thank-you sex.
So break out the masking-loud-sex-from-roommates playlist and roll the opening credits, Torchwood: Miracle Day episode “Immortal Sins” is taking you back to its crummy apartment!
Full episode spoilers ahead.
Back in the present day, Esther watches Rex drink to his failure to save Vera a couple episodes ago. She tries to cheer him by saying that the YouTube video of her burning alive is up to 5 million views, far less than Nyan Cat but more than Nyan Cat 2. Esther anticipates the Auto-Tuned version significantly spiking awareness in the next week. She also tells Rex that since he cared about Vera then he should attend her funeral and oh, by the way, she has family and is from San Antonio. To which Rex hoists his Torchwood standard-issue shot glass and says, “Well then, go Spurs!” And the misery that is Rex’s character continues to sit and sit and sit on the viewer’s head.
Despite Torchwood being Torchwood, the show sneaks in a salient point regarding the awareness of Vera’s death and the subsequent glossing over that it’s receiving from the governments of the world. The incinerations have been paused, but only until attention shifts. They haven’t fully stopped. They won’t stop. Because even when death is erased, we still feel powerless against the evil that can occur through authority. The end of death did not mean the end of that very personal, very paralyzing fear.
Gwen appears near the end of this discussion and quietly tasers Jack into her car. The Triangle has her family and they want Jack. While en route, Jack tries a variety of methods to get Gwen to free him, including speaking to the Triangle through Gwen’s contact lenses, and piecing together a story about how his wrist device can detect Gwen’s DNA, including her daughter’s. Gwen is not swayed and gives Jack the Torchwood standard-issue speech about how everyone in Torchwood hates being in Torchwood, except this time Gwen continues on from that point and admits that she loves it. She feels special knowing what no one else knows. She feels that even when they lost teammates, it was always for something big, so it always felt worth it. Gwen reveals that she’s been completely addicted to the self-importance tied to their adventures. “The more people we lost, the more I felt like a survivor.”
But, Gwen stresses, she will destroy Torchwood herself before she allows it to destroy her daughter. Jack responds in kind. He loves her, but he’ll never let Gwen take Torchwood or his new mortality away from him. To which Gwen replies, “I feel like I know you better now than I ever did.” You and me both, Gwen.
During this discussion, we’ve been flashing back to Jack’s time in 1927 with Angelo. When we return to them, they’re renting out a room in Little Italy above a butcher’s shop. Jack warns Angelo about the Great Depression, which turns Angelo on, as of course it should. Soft music plays as he and Angelo seduce each other, then we cut to the two of them romping in bed. Angelo is intoxicated by the freedom that his dalliance with Jack offers but, very adorably, does not know how to properly snuggle.
Jack’s after-sex teasing of Angelo gets to him and Angelo chides Jack for turning something special into something cheap. Fearfully, Angelo wonders if other people will be able to tell that he will gay since Jack figured it out. With a hesitant comfort and a head full of days to come, Jack tells Angelo that “people won’t know if you don’t want them to know.”
Later, Jack and Angelo crash a wedding in a large cathedral and Angelo reveals the conflict between his Catholic nature, the nature of God, and his sexuality. This area is not Jack’s forte, his perspective encompasses the edges of time itself, and it’s not long before he reveals that they’re actually there to meet up with a bootlegging priest. Which in itself is a ruse to connect with a bootlegging distributor that needs underground couriers to handle a mystery box. They’re recruited and Jack promptly starts packing up Angelo’s stuff, as this box is an alien artifact and part of a Torchwood investigation. Angelo has been fun but it’s time for him to go.
Angelo pulls out some heavy emotional turmoil and convinces Jack to let him stay. Then the show just drops all pretense of being its own entity and Jack starts talking about the Doctor, and how he always travels with a companion. With a longing look towards Angelo, he says, “ it looks nice.”
Jack and Angelo head to the warehouse and Jack actually sonics the door open and pries open the box. Inside is an alien parasite and you know what? Screw it. I’m changing the recap’s title to “Doctor Who : Immortal Sins.” Because here’s how the next few minutes unfolds: The alien is a brain parasite! It sticks some dire-looking appendages in your noggin and releases larva that drill into your brain, driving you insane in a few years time. The plan is to seed FDRs brain with them so when he’s a second term president he’ll go batty and pull the U.S. out of World War II, allowing the Nazis to rise and wiping out our established timeline.
The wiping of said timeline will cause chronal chaos, allowing the real men behind the curtain to feed on an entire timeline. And these men? They’re not men at all, they’re a Sarah Jane Adventures villain by the name of the Trickster’s Brigade.
Jack destroys the parasite and an alarm starts ringing. Angelo asks if he can stay with Jack, “ like the Doctor? And his secrets?” To which Jack nods and replies, “Here’s one other secret RUN!”
We’re gonna have to go a long way to get back to Rex being an asshole.
Angelo and Jack scamper out of the warehouse but Jack gets shot in the head and Angelo gets carted away. Once the scene has cleared, Jack revives and goes on his merry way, finally rid of Angelo. Finally rid of someone who got too close in every way.
One year later, in 1928, Angelo is just getting out of Sing Sing Prison. Jack hangs outside to say boo and do the whole “I know you saw me get shot in the head and die but let’s have drinks okay?” second date thing and they go back to their old apartment. Angelo has had time to think, though, and he’s reasoned that Jack is the devil and therefore must be stabbed a lot.
A cool sequence then plays out, with Jack reviving in front of their Italian butcher landlords and getting stabbed to death again, only to come to in the butcher’s basement, strung up in front of a crowd of people. It’s a Miracle, they say with a capital M, and let anyone who likes take a try at killing Jack. Briefly, we’re given a glimpse of Jack’s blood being collected as the screen fades out and in to black, each new fade bringing a new rushing torment to
Suddenly, we’re back in the basement, but with the crowd dispersed and three nameless men standing in front of Jack. The Triangle. They propose a partnership to take advantage of The Miracle aka Jack. As soon as the three men leave, Angelo springs Jack from the basement in apology. “I thought you were the devil but others said you were a blessing ” Jack is happy to released, but knows he has no future with Angelo. “It always ends the same. Men like you you kill me.” Jack drops to his death.
Back in the present day, Jack and Gwen wait in an abandoned field to be collected by, assumably, the Triangle. Jack reveals that even though this is his chance to finally stop, he doesn’t want to. He’s lived a hundred lives but he still wants more. He doesn’t want to die.
Gwen doesn’t know what to do with this, but Rex and Esther do. They’ve been tailing the two of them offscreen for the entire episode and disarm the representatives of the Triangle while Andy and the Cardiff police rescue Gwen’s family. Rex very nearly redeems himself by telling Gwen that next time, “just ask for help. I’m sick of Torchwood acting like amateur clowns.” You and me both, Rex.
The Triangle’s representative, unnamed but played by Nana “Major Kira” Visitor, reveals that even though Torchwood has rescued Jack, he’ll still come with them because they can bring him to the one person who knows how the Miracle has happened. Angelo. “He’s been waiting, Jack. He’s been waiting for such a long time.”
And so ends the best episode that Torchwood: Miracle Day has managed since the premiere. It feels a bit cheap that the Miracle is motivated by something as small as a Jack Harkness relationship but writer Jane Espenson succeeds at selling the enormous impact that Jack has on Angelo, and how that would emanate out into something as large as The Miracle.
My thoughts on the episode as part of the larger series are fairly predictable. I wish this episode had come sooner as “Immortal Sins” is a great example of the emotional weight the show has been missing. This is also the second episode in a row that hasn’t featured Oswald Danes or Jilly Kitzinger, and the first to ax the ceaseless updates about how the world is coping. It feels a great deal more focused as a result, which is something else the show has lacked.
But… the big question going forward is: Did this saving throw come too late?
Chris Lough is the production manager at Tor.com.