(Index to previous Torchwood reviews here.)
I feel like I’m the only person on the Internet who’s going to say this, but I thought this was non-stop bad-ass awesome. I simply don’t comprehend the level of vitriol this season has sparked, but I more than respect people’s right to feel disappointed when a show doesn’t meet what they wanted from it, so I’m not interested in debating the matter. Such different readings of the same piece can only come from wildly differing starting points that are never going to agree the foundations for a discussion, and even if they did they’d keep tripping each other up when it turned out some other assumption was being made that was not initially acknowledged. Whilst I have never said that this season was perfect (it’s still Torchwood, and it would almost be a betrayal of the programme’s premise if they stopped throwing so many things in the pot that inevitably some would be spewed up as awesome and some painful) so many things have been heart-stoppingly brilliant I can only feel it’s a shame that it doesn’t seem that they will be recognised, from the reception I’ve seen on the net. It’s for this reason I couldn’t bring myself to blog about it last night, and was in two minds about finding the energy for doing it today. But, fuck it, just looking at an image like that to the above is enough to get the excitement juices flowing again.
Having located the Blessing on both sides of the world, Jack, Gwen, and Oswald head for the one in Shanghai whilst Rex and Esther head for the one in Buenos Airies. Rex decides the time has come to call in the CIA, which proves to be a monumental mistake, as they still have a mole, Charlotte. Charlotte shows her 1ee7 traitor skillz by arranging for a suicide bomber to be on the truck of CIA dudes sent to help Rex and Esther invade their Blessing end. He blows up the truck with all the CIA dudes on it, along with a briefcase full of what seems to be all of Jack’s blood that they have on that side of the world. Meanwhile, Gwen sets off to track the Blessing her own and finds it out the back of an old Chinese shop (?) or restaurant (?). Anyway, there’s an old Chinese lady who’s all ‘Noooo, go not into the Evil Alleyway, can you not feel the bad juju?’ and Gwen’s all ‘Got no choice, old Chinese lady, got a world to save. Can I buy my way into this Evil Alley?’ and the old Chinese lady’s like ‘Yeah, sure, OK. But I DID warn you. No idea why I keep my business here when I hate this alley so much, but apparently I make good money out of letting people enter it for dosh’.
So, Gwen goes into the alley and backs straight-the-fuck out. Yeah, that’s one Evil Alley. And the old Chinese lady’s like ‘I told you. Can I get you some tea?’ and Gwen’s like ‘Fuck it, I don’t know how you’re not in the pay of the Families living so close to the Blessing and all, but I’m too freaked to worry about this being poisoned’. (It’s not poisoned, it’s just that I was assuming the old lady was a Families spy, and she totally wasn’t. Maybe they don’t need to protect the Blessing that well – it’s clearly fucking scary.)
Gwen calls Jack and Oswald to get their bottoms in gear and come down to the alley whilst Rex and Esther are busy pretending to be dead and invading the Blessing on the other side of the world. Back in the CIA
Q Shapiro is finally all ‘WTF? Who is my fucking mole?!’ and releases a trace that identifies Charlotte – sadly, not before she can plant a bomb and run away.
Torchwood enters the Blessing from both sides and ends up in a stand-off. In Shanghai they strap bombs to Oswald as a threat to combat the fact that they are extremely outnumbered by people with guns. In Buenos Aires Rex and Esther are captured. The Families try laughing in their faces, as they’re not afraid of death, and the blood of a mortal man needs to go into the Blessing from both sides at once, and Rex and Esther’s supply got blown up. But it turns out that they transfused all Jack’s blood into Rex as a precaution. Rex and Jack get shot at the same time and their blood pours into the Blessing, but not before Esther gets fatally wounded. The Miracle ends and all the category ones die, including Gwen’s dad. Jack and Rex die, but some combination of Jack’s blood and proximity to the Blessing means that they regenerate. Gwen, Jack, and Jilly escape, as does Rex, but Esther is dead, Dave, totally dead.
Some days later, we see a slightly dishevelled looking Jilly waiting on a bench in the hope of seeing her Family contact again. Amazingly, it works, and he reveals that this was just the first run of the Famillies’ plan. They have a Plan B… and they want her in on it.
Torchwood, Esther’s family, and the remaining CIA agents (including Charlotte von Evil) go to her funeral. Data from the exploded CIA trace is recovered just in time to reveal Charlotte’s betrayal as she runs from the funeral. Rex gives chase and is shot and killed. In a (not that shocking) twist, Rex comes alive again, Jack-style. And we are left hanging with the question – what will this mean for Torchwood’s future?
Was it perfect? No, but so much of it was awesome that I don’t care. It was fast paced and dramatic and everyone was playing top form on the acting (except maybe Bill Pullman, who continues to struggle with the nuances the role requires). I don’t know whether I like that the mystery of the Blessing was never solved or not. It raises the very interesting question of the limits of our knowledge in a way that SF shows, and especially Doctor Who and its spin-offs, usually avoid like the plague in the name of making their characters seem cool by spouting techno-babble. Similarly, audiences expect perfect resolutions, and I enjoy it when that’s upset a bit. On the other hand, with so much hanging on this, and with so much excellent, carefully thought out consequences for Miracle Day itself, it feels like a bit of a cop-out. I’m torn. As an epistemologist I’m fascinated by the tension between the human desire to know and the threat of scepticism – the possibility that some things may simply be unknowable. It terrifies me and frustrates me, and draws me to fight it, and I like that the unknown is being displayed in an SF show for our confrontation, and not then immediately fathomed. The Blessing is the ‘nothingness’, the ‘gap’, the ‘unknown’, and Jack cannot explain it. But it’s also an implausible hole going straight through the Earth and everyone’s surprisingly at ease with their inability to explain it.
I also have dual feelings about the Blessing being a thing that reflects your own idea of yourself back at you. It is an interesting idea, but it was more interesting when I first saw it on the Red Dwarf episode, ‘The Inquisitor’, where the crew are each judged by themselves and sentenced accordingly. Doubtless it had been done before that, as well, but for me that’s the classic iconic instance. When Jilly points out that it maybe wasn’t a good idea to bring Oswald in covered in explosives and then show him his soul, it’s an interesting moment, but whilst Oswald’s declaration that he’s ‘used to sin’ works as a resolution of the issue and allows the plot to continue, I would have liked a little more from the interesting questions raised about his possible guilt throughout the season. Everyone finds a way to be at ease with what they see, and it sort of takes the bite out of that aspect of the Blessing.
I’m also not sure how I feel about Gwen’s comment to Jilly as they fight, about ‘how much lipstick can you wear?!’. On the one hand, I’d sort of felt that way myself – there is far, far too much pressure for women to wear make-up constantly, especially as a mark of looking ‘professional’ or ‘taking care of yourself’. I regularly receive derogatory comments of this nature for not wearing make-up, or pressure to wear it more often on the occasions that I do – like I’m finally behaving and people want to reward my good behaviour with positive ‘encouraing’ comments, rather than genuine compliments. It’s always ‘wow – what a difference’ or ‘you should do that more often’ or ‘I don’t understand why some women don’t make more of an effort when you see the difference when they do’. It’s not like I’m a slob when I’m not wearing lipstick. I like that Gwen has looked 100% stylish throughout without ever having to look ‘made-up’. On the other hand, it’s a perfectly legitimate choice for a woman to want to adopt the sort of look that Jilly employs. It’s an expression of herself and how she wants to be perceived. And having one woman bashing another for their choice of lifestyle and expression of self in a way that was entirely besides the point to the action and that focuses on appearance is kind of not cool.
Similarly, I sort of wanted Jilly to come out of it fighting in the sense of still preserving her sense fo style and showing her survivor teeth in forging a new life without the Families. Having her run off after them like a dog, adopting the nude-make-up look endorsed by Gwen, was not at all what I would have imagined she would do. When people make those back-handed compliments about me it makes me want to wear make-up less, in defiance. If someone knocks Jilly’s choice in this area I expect a corresponding defiance in affirming her self-expression.
On the other hand, given that she’s been walking around in full on scarlet being unashamedly morally dubious, I pretty much expected her to be made to die for such behaviour at the end in accordance with TV rules. But she didn’t, and hearing how she had to fight her way out of Shanghai, selling her jewellery and clawing her way back home does speak somewhat to her spirit.
In some ways it’s a shame that we’re keeping Rex over Esther, who was by far the more interesting character, showing more growth across the season. It’s a shame to see the shy girl get killed off once she’s grown into strength. On the other hand, it would have been equally bad to kill off the black guy, and we’ve had plenty of other strong women, some of whom did survive. Whilst I can’t help but feel that having two immortals around will make Jack’s condition much less interesting, it is really cool to have a black person fulfilling this role. Doctor Who and its spin-offs have enough of the whole immortal, powerful, know-it all, wealthy white male who always saves the day, thing. This is not the sort of role that would usually go to a person of colour. Whilst I think a more powerful statement might have come to giving this to Esther, as she had more of a growth story, and I feel like women have an even harder time getting cast in such roles, it’s not the Issue Olympics, and I can’t deny that there are far more white women on telly than black men.
And never let us forget the awesomeness that is Gwen. Gwen and freakin’ Eve Myles. Absolutely flawlessly stonking from start to finish, whether she’s kicking butt or despairing or having quiet moments with her husband – every second of her screen-time was wonderful, and I want to make the BAFTA-or-similar call-out again. Also for the writers. With the exception of a couple of really rocky episodes early on, and a somewhat awkward tendency to highlight Jack’s homosexuality at the expense of his omnisexuality, this has been a tour de force. It’s been a long time since I saw original science fiction like this on British TV. I hoped that Outcasts would form the back-bone of a resurgence in original SF drama on British tellies, but I can’t deny that it did not fulfil my expectations. Torchwood: Miracle Day on the other hand has been full to bursting with original ideas fully explored. I thought I was someone who thought about apocalypse SF a lot. I thought I was a person who explored the boundaries of immortality in fiction. Torchwood: Miracle Day has taken me through so many different things I never thought of. Wonderful.
I also want to praise the political science. Absolutely on the fucking pulse. And given that this will not have been written to coincide with current events, praise should be given to the writers for reading the times and projecting what would strike a chord. Even in the last few episodes where the tightened focus on the main plot reduced screen-time for the global consequences of Miracle Day, a few comments here and there have kept the economic and political issues in sight. The attitude of the Families, anticipating the financial breakdown but predicting with confidence that a new world will surface to their satisfaction. Sure it will hit the poor hard, literally killing them off, but won’t that just make the world a better place anyway? Can’t help but feel the thrumming accord with austerity measures to cut the deficit. Especially as balance is maintained. The Famillies are unquestionably evil, the governmental measures are undoubtedly harsh and disturbing, and yet, floating in the background, raised especially by the health workers in the camps, is the question: what else could they do? Maybe the answer is ‘Something not quite this extreme, surely’, but there’s no doubt that it’s simply naive to think they could have gotten away with doing anything that wouldn’t hurt a lot of people.
All in all I have to say that despite its rocky moments, this season of Torchwood has been the most original, most strongly acted and scripted, most gripping and exciting. I know that puts me in the minority, especially as I’m praising it over Children of Earth, and that’s widely excepted by even most Torchwod-sceptics as being Good. Oh well. I can only report on how I saw it, and I feel there are a lot of things that deserve praising somewhere, even if it’s only on this blog.