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A strong start that quickly comes apart at the seams
on February 2, 2012
Torchwood is an interesting show. The premise is essentially "Doctor Who for adults," taking place in the same universe and drawing from the same mythology while abandoning the all-ages demographic for a strictly adult one. After two interesting full seasons and the powerful 'Children of Earth' mini-series, production of the show became a joint U.S./U.K. affair and found a new home on the Starz network. How does this newest series stack up?
'Miracle Day' has a bang-on premise. What if everyone in the world stopped dying? What if you could survive mortal wounds, third-degree burns, deadly diseases and debilitating and chronic conditions? What if everyone could live out their daily lives without fear of dying? Torchwood attempts to explore these questions by focusing on how the world would deal with the sudden panic of a mass population explosion and the realization that there simply isn't enough room on the planet. The first few episodes of the show tackle these events while making the Torchwood team a viable entity again. After a kill-order by the British government during the events of 'Children of Earth,' Jack Harkness and Gwen Cooper have gone into hiding. Someone is looking for them again, and soon the two reunite under force from CIA agent Rex Matheson who is seeking his own answers about the "miracle" after being impaled through the heart during a vehicular accident. After settling their differences, Harkness forms a cohesive, rogue version of Torchwood which includes CIA analyst Esther Drummond. The team's investigations soon criss-cross with several separate plotlines including a convicted child rapist and murderer Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman) whose execution fails due to the miracle. Danes soon finds himself allied with Jilly Kitzinger, a scheming and manipulative PR rep for Phicorp Industries who may or may not be involved in the origin of the miracle. As the tension mounts and world governments realize that the world is headed for catastrophic economic and social collapse, they put into effect several horrible plans that enforce a totalitarian regime and Nazi-esque internment camps designed to thin the population to acceptable levels.
'Miracle Day' is an unfortunate byproduct of a writing team that ran out of steam and couldn't properly finish the storyline. The first few episodes of the series are undoubtedly the best, setting up the kind of tension and action that the series is so well known for. Episode 5 signals the fall for the rest of the series, however. The social and political elements of instability are set up to a fantastic degree, only to degenerate into small-time character arcs that try desperately to tie into one wholly implausible explanation for the whole thing. In fact, the letdown is so great that it feels akin to a classic bait-and-switch technique one would suffer at a disreputable used car dealership.
A major reason for this is director Russell T. Davies' tired and predictable insistence on using Torchwood as a soapbox for his views on gay rights issues and social acceptance. I've seen more subtlety from a firing squad. Jack Harkness is once again exclusively visiting gay bars and dropping his pants for the company of male one-night stands, despite the character's omnisexual personality and the fact that he has fathered a child with a woman in the past. The show explores Harkness' past in a flashback to 1927 where he meets and falls in love with a male Italian immigrant, setting up what is perhaps the most pointless character relationship in all of television history, given the events of the very next episode. Davies' stubborn desire to make homosexuality a major focal point of Torchwood is an altogether frustrating and tedious one that reeks of arrogance and selfishness. What could have been a story focusing on Harkness' fight against 1927-era aliens and shadowy organizations soon dilutes into arguments between he and Angelo regarding the hypocrisy of society and religion regarding homosexual relationships. It derails the entire story to such a major degree, and never fully recovers. By the time the ending rolls around and the "miracle" is explained, I felt like I had just wasted 10 hours of my life on a show that held so much promise, and failed so terribly.
Somehow I knew that the show would take that particular turn, however. I was hoping beyond hope that perhaps Torchwood would begin focusing more on the immediacy of the situation rather than the brooding interpersonal relationships and tragic pasts of its main characters. In fact, every single character in the show gets some sort of half-hearted sendoff before the series has finished, leaving Rex Matheson as the only true interesting character left (with a surprising turn of events for his future). Several elements are not explained properly, such as how old-man Angelo managed to get ahold of a null field generator. The device seems like it was added in last minute as a means for Harkness to escape from his CIA captors. It also steals several elements from other shows, most notably the "mole" scenario from 24, creating a kind of hybrid concoction of things seen before, held together with scotch tape and a prayer. A stellar cast doesn't make up for the bungling of one of TV's most promising new sci-fi seasons, and 'Miracle Day' loses its awe, mystery and wonder halfway through, setting up a pointless foot race that hobbles its way pathetically to the final episode. Anyone looking for a TRUE, definitive Torchwood storyline would be best suited sticking with the amazing 'Children of Earth,' which is far superior in scope, magnitude, and sheer social terror than anything seen here.