The problem with a serialised story-arc is that if you stretch it out across too many episodes then any forward momentum can become imperceptible. In Miracle Day’s case it’s hard to really realise how much the plot is progressing on a week by week basis because this one storyline has now been told over five weeks. Even shows like Lost which was heavily serialised and mythologised managed to make this long form storytelling work by having necessary breaks in the narrative and condensing plot movement into suites of two or three episodes spread across a season. Miracle Day doesn’t have the benefit of narrative diversions. Even if the overall narrative itself is looking increasingly threadbare this felt like something of a step-up from last week, largely because our characters now seem to have finally aligned themselves into their correct positions.
Most notably Oswald Danes, who has wavered in his motivations for the past five episodes finally seemed to settle down as a non-ambiguous villain. Jack approaching Danes and trying to get him to reveal the truth of PhiCorp’s involvement in Miracle Day was something of a divergence point for Danes. He could have revealed himself to be an ally or an enemy and through the power evangelical speech he firmly rooted himself as a villain of the piece. It’s a credit to Espenson and RTD’s scripting that I could have believed Danes revealing himself as either villain or hero, in a show full of complex characters Danes has perhaps been the hardest to get a true bearing on. As it stands Danes represents brutal self-interest, I don’t think his loyalty lies to anyone in particular but himself, his current alliance with PhiCorp more about facilitating his own needs. He’s a fascinatingly malleable presence in the show and there is a lot to be mined from the public’s relationship with and reaction to him.
As much as I liked Dane’s speech, and I’ll get back to that later, it’s positioning within the episode is part of a frustration I had with ‘Categories of Life’ as a whole. Essentially the episode has every major incident happen in its last fifteen minutes. The problem is that we’re kind of waiting for these moments to happen the entire episode. Danes subplot is ALL about his upcoming speech, with him roving the backstage and being told how despicable people thought he was. Meanwhile Gwen, Rhys and Officer Andy were working their way through Miracle Day’s blunt metaphor for a concentration camp. Here’s the problem with the Overflow Camps in this episode. Torchwood ostensibly splits into two separate groups one based in Wales, one based in the US. You would assume that this would allow the writers a little more autonomy in how they approach a problem. However both halves of Torchwood launch EXACTLY the same investigation and come to the same conclusion at EXACTLY the same time. As such we’re sort of biding our time and wondering about the weird time dilation effect which means that a few weeks in Wales seems to translate into a day in LA and an hour at the Miracle Day event.
In fact the most consistent investigation seemed to be done by Dr. Juarez who found herself roped in as a medical consultant at one of the Overflow Camps whilst Rex wandered around covertly videotaping corpses and learning nothing. Dr. Juarez is probably one of my favourite characters in the run and she’s been involved in the far more interesting bits of the show. Like I wrote last week I’ve often been frustrated by how the show seemed to keep a barrier between the more theoretical concept of Miracle Day and Torchwood’s investigation into the PhiCorp conspiracy. Even in this episode, in which Juarez was brought into the Torchwood fold she was quickly diverted into her own branch of the investigation. Juarez tangling with a William Atherton style bureaucrat was a fun way of getting to the heart of the healthcare crisis that Miracle Day seems to increasingly be about. Having her get shot, and then shot again, and then burnt, by the same middle-management goon felt way to efficient to be properly dramatic, but served as a good way of viscerally introducing the real secret behind the Overflow Camps. With a concept like the Overflow Camps you needed something to palpably demonstrate the sheer inhumanity of the furnaces; otherwise the concept could have come across as kind of abstract. It’s just a shame that the show had to kill off one of its more mature, and interesting, characters to get across that point. In terms of major characters to kill off it made sense as her function in the plot was winding down but she had enough screen time for her destruction to have resonance.
If nothing else it’s a shame to lose Juarez just because she was an effective player in the overall story. Compare Juarez attempting to take the Overflow Camp manager to task with Gwen and Rhee’s attempted escape from the Overflow Camp. Where Juarez was competently trying to argue medical policy and ethical care standards, Gwen Cooper’s plan involved dragging her father out of the camp and then alerting medical staff to their attempted breakout when it all went awry. Torchwood has always been a show suspicious of people who were good at what they do, and it’s a shame to have Juarez get taken down. The problem is that sometimes it’s fun to actually what competent people in action, and now the only person who actually seems to be good at their chosen vocation is Jilly Kitzinger. This is not a knock against Lauren Ambrose, although I do wonder each episode why gets billing as Special Guest Star when she’s practically a regular cast member, but more that her character is essentially a cipher. As it is, Kitzinger seems to be there to remind the audience that people hate Danes and then be won over by Danes as the episode goes on. This has happened at least twice now, and I kind of hope it doesn’t become a recurring theme. As much as it bugs me, I have to admit that it does serve a function; her reaction to Danes speech was a nice way of establishing the power of his words without having to do random reaction shots.
Danes’ speech was perhaps the strongest moment in the entire episode largely because it felt chaotic in a way that nothing else did. There was a sense of danger and suspense in his speech, which was largely down to the way Pullman played it. His initial flubbing of his lines, which I took to be a stage managed affectation on his part, leading to his evangelical filibuster. Miracle Day has done a lot to show Danes increasing power and Pullman is electric in the moments when he really gets to cut lose. I still have an issue with how his celebrity germinated, but Pullman’s great at making his speeches work. Whilst Gwen and Rex got to be largely ineffective, and Juarez got to be shot, Jack was left with little to do other than loom around behind the scenes, imploring Danes, with a mournful look and a titled head, to do the right thing like a confused Labrador in a dapper jacket. I like Jack’s place in the team, acting as the compassionate counterpoint to Rex. It’s also nice seeing Jack a little out of his depth. In previous seasons he was kind of a cut-price Doctor, an encyclopaedia of aliens who was often the pragmatic counterpoint to the more emotive Gwen Cooper. Barrowman’s good with people, and is great as part of an ensemble, but having him detached and mysterious, like earlier episodes often had him be, seemed to be counterproductive to Barrowman’s natural talents. His talk with Esther at the start of this episode really served to show another side of Captain Jack, revealing a maturity and perspective that often eluded the character in previous seasons. The expanded cast has allowed a lot of characters who were forced to be leads to fall into more natural supporting positions and Barrowman is definitely the person who is benefitting the most.
Halfway through Miracle Day and there’s still a frustrating dearth of information and still no real concrete villain. We’ve met so many intermediaries now that I’m actually starting to lose track of who works for whom. Hopefully the events of this episode will kick-start proceedings towards the climax, although I fear we may have a lot more time killing before we get any real momentum with the plot.