“That’s a lie. I know for certain that’s a lie”
Moments like that make me wonder how accessible this new season of Torchwood is to first time viewers. It’s a moment where Captain Jack’s carefully constructed façade crumbles ever so slightly, but I have to wonder if new viewers are going to realise it’s a very specific reference or if they’re just going to assume some previously unstated reprehensible acts on Jack’s part. This episode seemed to have the most overt links to what had come before, with Jack and Gwen’s will they/won’t they romance vaguely resurfacing and numerous references to old Torchwood. The problem was that this episode was largely about seeing the new Torchwood team coalescing into a workable force. As such the episode straddled this middle ground of introducing new team members Rex and Esther whilst reintroducing the core characteristics of both Jack and Gwen. Up until this point both Jack and Gwen had largely been reactive forces and this episode allowed them to slowly move back into their usual characteristics. Jack, in particular, benefited from this as up until this point he had come across as fairly muted. The problem is that Jack and Gwen’s relationship comes across as unnecessary baggage and I’m really hoping that Gwen hanging up on Jack suggests the resurgence is more about Jack’s needs than anything else.
This is the first episode written by Jane Espenson who looks to be getting the lion’s share of episodes to write for Miracle Day. This is the first of three episodes she has sole writing credit on, with a further two collaborations towards the end of the run. As such it’s understandable that this episode felt like the show shifting into gear, this was one of the major creative forces priming the show for the rest of its run. The problem is that once again it cripples any momentum the series had built up. Children of Earth was able to establish a pace and tone from its first episode and then rocket on through its story, with almost double the runtime it feels like Miracle Day is trying to fill the time rather than actually tell a story. Part of this perception is possibly due to the fact that the show still doesn’t have a clear antagonist. Children of Earth was consistently cutting between the actions of Torchwood and their political opponents; Miracle Day in contrast seems to not have an antagonist. Jilly Kitzinger, Oswald Danes and Brian Friedkin (played by Wayne Knight) are all facets of the antagonist, but they’re not antagonists themselves and they’re barely connected. The idea seems to be that they’re all part of a shadowy, pharmaceutically flavoured, conspiracy but none of them really seem to be connected and as such there’s no real sense of danger. As it is the main threat of the season seems to be Miracle Day itself and the effect is having on society. Whilst I’m enjoying the focus on pragmatic reactions to Miracle Day they’re starting to feel a little shoehorned into the overall narrative. In particular two key scenes in this episode, one discussing how murder no longer exists and the other a mini-debate about contraception, did a lot to add flavour to the world but didn’t organically fit within the narrative of the episode. As such it feels like the episode kept grinding to a halt to explore yet another moral conundrum of his new paradigm.
In fact there were a few elements of this episode which I understood the basic concept behind but felt the mechanics didn’t work. Oswald Danes and his relationship with the cult-like Soulless is a plotline that I think I understand the basic conceit, but I think has failed in actually rationalising itself. The way I understand it Danes represents Miracle Day in its purest form, his failure to die playing out on a national level. This, combined with his desire for repentance, struck a chord with a new cult of people trying to find a new place for themselves in the world. This however is fan-fiction when presented with the information we’ve actually give. It is an assumption at best, speculative fiction at worst. Pullman himself seems to be making the plotline a harder sell than it probably needs to be, retreating into a weaselly shell and really not inhabiting any of the charisma that would be needed to create the reaction that has sprung up around him. Compared to the great performances in the first two episodes Pullman seemed to be sleepwalking in this episode, his exchange with Jack at the end almost turning into a competition to see who could spit their lines out faster.
I also found the Britain’s abroad aspects of the episode to be a little overdone, although I did learn that American lemonade isn’t fizzy, largely because it had very little rhyme or reason. The American/British jokes didn’t actually feel like part of a genuine conversation. There’s a pleasing tension at the heart of the new Torchwood team and as such layering on additional, cultural, conflicts just seems to belabour the point a little. There’s far more interesting stuff to be mined from Gwen’s anger at Rex for splitting her from her child and Jack’s ideological clash with Rex than there is from arbitrary cultural differences. I am actually glad that Rex and the original Torchwood members are still suspicious of each other, because it ensures a great dynamic within the team. Some of the best moments in this episode came from mini-schisms within the team and Mehki Phifer manages to still steal pretty much any scene he’s in. In particular his reaction to a newly invigorated Jack were kind of great and it’s fantastic to see someone actually call Jack out on the way he acts. Whilst Jack is a fun character he’s always been the kind of character who caused more problems than he solved. As such it’s nice to have him countered by someone like Rex who is kind of stubbornly pragmatic.
What I’m hoping is that the plot kicks into gear next week because the show has been treading water for two episodes now. I understand the main mystery of Miracle Day is a season long arc, but it might have helped to have made the show feel a little more episodic. As it stands we’re getting very little momentum in individual episodes and the main plot is becoming more and more opaque as the series goes on. I think that once the main-plot snaps into focus and we have a viable antagonist of sorts that the show is going to pick up the pace again. But at the moment Miracle Day is starting to feel like a well-intentioned shaggy dog story.