(Index to all Torchwood posts here.)
Talk about pay off!
Torchwood are taken by
Kira Nerys Angelo’s granddaughter, Olivia Colasanto, to his swanky mansion. Angelo’s managed to extend his life by eating right and ‘keeping his temperature down’ or something, but he couldn’t halt aging. He’s an old, old man, and not even conscious. Apparently he has nothing to do with Miracle Day, but he does know the people who are involved. Three families – those of the three men we saw ‘buying’ Jack in the meat locker: Ablemarch, Costerdane, and Frines. As I speculated, they didn’t have Jack, but they did collect his blood (although Jack is convinced his blood is normal). Angelo’s been watching Jack for years – apparently Olivia didn’t get Gwen to kidnap Jack to kill him, but to keep him safe (Gwen and me both think this is a bloody crazy way to go about it). With the names, Torchwood hopes to find the Families, but there’s no trace of those names anywhere (incidentally, I looked, this is not true of our world).
As this is resolved, the CIA arrives – Rex has engineered to make a ‘slip-up’, letting them know where Torchwood is. Brian Friedkin (Wayne Knight) charges in and Rex catches him admitting he’s working for the Families on the lens cam. Allen Shapiro (John De Lancie) is the man in charge, he arrests Friedkin and ships both him and Olivia off to the ‘safe house’… or he would have done, if Friedkin hadn’t triggered a bomb once he was in the car (apparently the Families have his family). Much verbal sparring occurs between Shapiro and Torchwood -i t was a thing of beauty to watch! But alas, Gwen loses this round and winds up getting packed off to the UK.
While Jack is paying his respects to Angelo, though, Angelo unexpectedly dies. It turns out that Angelo has obtained a ‘null field’, which can cancel out the morphic field that caused Miracle Day, and placed it under his bed. Naturally, the CIA are very interested in this thing, but Jack refuses to tell them what it is, knowing its potential uses. He persuades Rex and Esther to help him escape with the ‘Alpha’ panel. (There’s some hint that the null field requires both this panel and Jack’s DNA to make it work, but it’s not clear.)
Meanwhile, things aren’t going so well for Oswald Danes. Oswald requests a prostitute: an adult one. He wants to change. But she freaks out when he wants to talk rather than just engage in something more mechanical. She reveals that there has been talk of classifying Oswald ‘category 0’ – i.e. a bad enough criminal to burn alive with the category 1s. Oswald confronts Jilly about this and she admits it, revealing her personal disgust with him. He hits her and she responds in kind, fighting him off. She chases him from her room, promising revenge. A man from the Families then shows up to praise her and shoot her assistant, who was a CIA spy.
Back with the CIA, we learn that Charlotte Wills, Esther’s friend, is a Family spy, although Torchwood doesn’t know it yet. Jack et al make their move, but Jack is shot and Esther is seen helping him escape. She has to go with him, and the episode closes with her driving through the desert, not knowing what to do next, as Jack lies dying in the seat behind her.
So how was it?
Stonking. Let’s start with the awesome SF alumni that has passed through Torchwood: Miracle Day. In order:
Wayne Knight – Brian Friedkin (Torchwood)/Denis Nerdy (Jurassic Park)
Dichen Lachman – Lyn Peterfield (Torchwood)/Sierra (Dollhouse)
Nana Visitor – Olivia Colasanto (Torchwood) Kira Nerys (Star Trek)
John De Lancie – Allen Shapiro (Torchwood) Q (Star Trek)
And I gotta say: John De Lancie was the icing on the cake. Him and Nana Visitor facing off against each other was electrifying. I am in full geeksquee mode, my friends.
Apart from that, though, I have to say that the episode generally held together exceptionally well. Good dramatic tension throughout. I even enjoyed the Oswald/Jilly plot. The moment with the prostitute was very nicely handled. Bill Pullman is still struggling a bit not to make Oswald a caricature, but the script is doing very nicely in handling something extremely complicated and controversial. The category ‘0’ element could feel gimmicky or obvious, but the way it’s introduced, presaged by an under-breath comment by Jilly about not having to deal with Oswald much longer, worked for it. It’s melding in with carefully developed layering of character. Jilly is so much about image and polishedness, the hints to the under-surface and what she really feels, yet is prepared to ignore to get the job done, have always been so fleetingly handled that they did not impair her immaculate veneer. But there’s always the hanging question: ‘If she really feels that way, why is she doing this? What’s under that surface that makes this possible?’ And here we get another hint – she does have her limits, she’s clearly disgusted at the thought of getting Oswald a child, but prepared to do it – unprompted, she asks ‘how old?’, and clearly doesn’t believe him when he says he wants a woman. But when we find out that she knows there’s only so much longer she has to do this we see just a crack further into her psyche. Somehow the timeframe allows her to excuse it to herself… yet that’s not much of an excuse. She genuinely seems prepared to procure an under-age girl for him.
Oswald is also proving interesting. We see that he unquestionably does have a violent rage – in particular, that he expects women to be cowed by it, as though he has a right to expect them to bend to his will, and any knock to that sense of entitlement nearly drives him over the edge. Yet he, too, has been restraining himself. He does not attack the prostitute. That the anger and entitlement is there is evident, and, however much he may want to change, those attitudes emerge in his inability to refrain from the body-language and tone of intimidation. But Jilly, he cannot restrain himself from. Her calm assumption of safety in his presence has been impressive throughout. Despite being beautiful and coiffed within an inch of her life, Jilly walks at all times in Oswald’s presence as though it is simply taken for granted that her beauty is not for him. In every moment where she refuses to behave in a way that acknowledges his threat she robs him of power. It’s quietly awe-inspiring, especially when contrasted with the behaviour of the prostitute, who is firm in her client-boundaries, but cannot conceal how uncomfortable and afraid interacting with him as a human being makes her feel. Where at first Jilly felt like a cookie-cutter evil corporate redhead, I now think she’s a bit of a feminist icon – not least because her moral ambiguity as a character is not compromised for the sake of showing her strength as a woman. She manages to control and display her beauty without, at any time, using it to manipulate her charge with sexual power.
Not that this doesn’t have an effect. Jilly’s attitude has clearly created an interest and frustration in Oswald, as evidenced in his preference for a red-headed prostitute as well as the way he cracks and responds violently when he learns that she has known he was to be categorised ‘0’ – a sort of betrayal, although she’s correct that he should have seen it coming. The thing is, Jilly has in no way provoked him with her sexuality – she has never used it to try and control him, she has not ‘led him on’. Even when he breaks and attacks her she responds not by cowering, but with rage. She fights back – first physically, and then with words, as he flees both her and his own aggression. Her veneer is bloodied, but it does not break her – she is not cowed, she reveals the strength that accompanies the emotion she usually keeps so carefully contained.
In other words, she responds in the way a male character would, without ever once having to present as ‘unfemale’. Reread as male actions: the aggressor attacks and he responds with violence, giving as good as he gets; having fought the monster off he voices his rage at his foe’s fleeing back, promising revenge. Even the fight is good: it is neither a hand-bags-at-dawn cat-fight, nor a super-polished when-exactly-did-she-learn-a-martial-art stunt-artist showdown. She neither has to be Harmony flailing comically at an equally skill-less Xander, nor a Buffy empowered with physical abilities beyond the ken of normal women. Don’t get me wrong – she doesn’t have the physical strength or skill to hold off a sustained attack from a man the size of Oswald, but she doesn’t have to. The mere fact of her unrestrained resistance is enough – as the prostitute says: he’s not used to women who fight back.
So anyway – you remember when I said I didn’t think I could ever be interested in these two? Well, yeah.
The rest of the plot is also well-handled. I love the contest of force-of-personality. I love that Angelo has not stayed young, and Jack doesn’t care. I love Jack using the null-field to have a private conversation with Esther and Rex, thrumming with tension because we know that at any moment someone could notice that their mouths are moving and there’s no noise coming out. I love that Jack could say ‘You have to get me out of here’ without losing his machismo. Very rare that a male character gets to say that without seeming impossibly weak, but in this situation it’s a must not only because Jack is mortal, but also because his being there is a danger to others as well, because he can be exploited. He is both expressing his vulnerability and his wish to protect. Nicely done.
And in the background the world is in an economic melt-down that’s eerily familiar.
People often tell me that they find immortal characters boring – that they would neither want to read, nor write about them, nor would they want to play them in an RPG. I love that Torchwood: Miracle Day has taken this much maligned trope and proved that it is anything but dull. Just takes a bit of imagination, that’s all, and these writers certainly have that.
This episode was also great for the hints and speculations. Couldn’t miss hearing the Master’s drums in the beeps of the machines registering Angelo’s death. But, of course, they’re not really the Master’s drums, they’re the sound he heard in the time vortex. Then there’s the fact that the badies are called the ‘Families’. ‘Family of Blood’, anyone? They were looking for immortality, also. And we saw in the trailer for next week further talk about feeling like something there but being unable to see it, which makes me think ‘Silence’ again, but it’s not really their MO. I dunno if the writers are just playing with us or if any of this connects. I’m sure we’d have heard about it if the Master were coming back, but the sound of those drums is certainly a very Time Lordish thing.
Guess we’ll have to wait and see!