I’d be tempted to make an analogy about Miracle Day being like a train-wreck, but that would imply that you’d at least be able to sate some morbid curiosity. As it stands Miracle Day isn’t a spectacular enough failure to even be interestingly bad. The nadir of the show, its flimsy and generally confused first season, was at least entertaining in its own unique terribleness. Miracle Day is just shuffling unspectacularly along and I really have to wonder if anyone still cares at all about the overall plot. Last week I wrote about how long-form storytelling like this can end up hindering a show, with the slow drip feed of information over weeks (and in Miracle Day’s case, months) threatening to disengage and confuse viewers. This episode’s pivotal sequence was a massive information dump in the second act and it revealed how little progress Torchwood as a team had actually made in their investigation. The breadth of Captain Jack’s information about the Miracle was that people weren’t dying (duh), PhiCorp was suspiciously well prepared, and that the answer to the overall plan involved Geography. We are now two thirds of the way through the show and our main characters aren’t just in the dark about the main threat, they’re in Plato’s Cave.
In fact despite me referring to that scene as an exposition dump we really didn’t learn all that much and it complicated an already convoluted plot. Whilst I’m happy to see Ernie Hudson getting work (his performance in Oz is enough to have earned my devotion) I hated how his character, ostensibly upper middle-management in PhiCorp, robbed us of an easily identifiable antagonist. Miracle Day has been treading water for a while now and one of its main issues is that it has no clearly defined antagonist, we know there’s some shadowy conspiracy but PhiCorp as a whole were acting as a nebulous sort of enemy for the team. The revelation that even PhiCorp isn’t really involved in the overall conspiracy, or at least the majority of PhiCorp isn’t, adds little to the thematics of the show and further muddies the waters of an already murky plot.
Getting back to the exposition itself all that we learned from Hudson’s character, Stuart Owens, was that there was indeed a shadowy cabal behind the Miracle Day event (well, duh) and that they had been discreetly shifting resources since the 1990s, and possibly before. This exposition was also loaded with the kind of arc-words that RTD got a little too attached to in Doctor Who. In Doctor Who RTD used certain arc-words or themes throughout each of his seasons (Bad Wolf, Torchwood, Harold Saxon, The Shadow Proclamation, The Missing Planets, “He Will Knock Three Times”) to help create a narrative link through episodes which had no real formal connection. As such Stuart spitting out terms like ‘The Pattern’, ‘The Blessing’ and Jack’s inclusion of ‘Geography’ felt less like an actual conversation and more like a random meme-generator. In fact by the time the exposition-conversation was over and Jack Harkness was nodding sagely I had to wonder what exactly he had parsed from all of this. The entire conversation seemed designed to make it appear as if we had learnt a lot more than we actually had.
Then again this episode was kind of like that in its entirety. The first forty-five minutes, with maybe one or two exceptions, played like an extended, and unwarranted, epilogue to the last episode. Characters sort of milled around and acted stupidly so as to facilitate the wheel-spinning of the overall plotline. Like last-week it felt like the episode was simply twiddling its thumbs and making time until it got to the meaty stuff in its last ten minutes. In particular the Rex and Esther plotline was kind of mind-boggling, because there really was no need for any of their plotline in this episode. Any other show would have simply had Rex and Esther appear back at base at the beginning of the episode, taking it for granted that they had left the, not particularly secure, Overflow Centre. As such the increasingly bizarre obstructions inflicted on Rex made it almost feel like Lars Von Trier was dabbling in the writing process. RTD works as a show-runner is often overblown and melodramatic, but his shows always had a sense of purpose and momentum which has just dissipated the longer Miracle Day has run.
The thing that bothers me the most is how inconsistent everything is. In one key scene we have Rex calmly explaining to weasel-like bureaucrat Colin Maloney that no matter how hard he stabbed him with a pen he wouldn’t die. Whilst it certainly looked like it hurt; Colin’s attempts to kill Rex, by stabbing him in THE HEART, were ultimately fruitless. Cut to thirty seconds later and Esther is in mortal peril from being strangled and finally manages to subdue Colin by throttling him unconscious. As such the world of Miracle Day allows someone to remain conscious whilst being stabbed in the heart, but strangulation has a 50% chance to create brain death (two episodes previously a guard was found garrotted and very conscious). It’s just oddly flimsy writing which feels completely out of place coming from episode-writer John Shiban who did exemplary work on The X-Files, Breaking Bad and who penned some of the stronger episodes of Supernatural’s shaky opening seasons. I’m starting to think that the issue with Miracle Day may be down to its format rather than the talents of its respective writers.
I have to wonder if Miracle Day would have been a story better told with either fewer episodes or with singular episodes tying into an overall theme, with Torchwood investigating different facets of Miracle Day and slowly piecing the conspiracy together as a tertiary concern. This way the fascinating world-building on display would have actually been served by a story interested in exploring a world shaped by non-death. There are a ton of elements that have been brought up in past episodes that the show has never bothered revisiting. It feels like a missed opportunity every time we get a new fascinating story about the wider world, this episode had a group called the 45 Club who had theorised that the only way to consistently achieve brain-death was to jump from the 45th floor of a building, and the main story segregates that wider world from the plot.
Still it was fun to see Jack have a little to do this episode. For whatever reason Jack’s been side-lined for the last three weeks, so it was nice to have him be involved in what little forward momentum the episode had. Barrowman managed to make what should have been a fairly rote conversation work, his little flourishes and embellishments picking up the slack of the script. I particularly liked his take on “Limited….LIMITED” which was the perfect embodiment of every worker who has tried to wind up one of their colleagues. The cliff-hanger of this episode, in which the still unnamed antagonists of the show, demanded Jack in exchange for Gwen’s family suggest that Jack’s going to become more of a major player in the last third of the show.
But really Jack is the only positive thing I’ve got to say about the episode, and that’s with me holding back on criticising the characterisation of the entirety of America’s gay population as obsessed with vintage coats. Even characters I liked in previous episodes came across as dopey and unfocused this episode; Rex’s opening statement of intent was in particular kind of pointlessly aggravating. Two thirds of the way through Miracle Day and I’m starting to grow weary of Torchwood’s characters, I’m getting frustrated with the lack of plot progress, and ultimately I’m growing a little concerned at the lack of story cohesion. I’m not even sure if the show can course correct at this point, because if the show does stick the landing it’s going to cast a spotlight on the wheel-spinning which has got us to this point.