If nothing else I am delighted that this episode finally gave a name to the central antagonists of Miracle Day. It just feels so good to not have to use the term antagonist as a sole descriptor. Despite the formal introduction of the Three Families, I found the rest of the episode to be kind of wishy-washy.
I think the most irritating thing about this episode is that whilst it is still stumbling around with its current plot it also thought it might be a decent idea to reintroduce elements from five episodes ago. I don’t know about you, but I really wasn’t all that interested in the fate of Wayne Knight’s weaselly CIA director. In fact when he was reintroduced I was struggling to remember what his actual name was, it’s Brian Friedkin if anyone cares. With the way Miracle Day has been moving through the plot, and the fact he hadn’t even been mentioned in five episodes, I kind of assumed the show was done with Friedkin and he wasn’t exactly a major enough player to require anymore closure than a perforated eardrum. In fact as Rex and Friedkin had their charming little tête à tête I started to wonder if I’d missed some episodes or some piece of vital connective tissue. A few weeks I was writing about how often Miracle Day felt like a bunch of completely unrelated shows which were bound together by an overarching thematic connection. The CIA subplot which was at the heart of this episode felt like another TV show had spectacularly invaded Torchwood. Whilst I’m all for giving John de Lancie time to chow down on some scenery, and to his credit he did imbue Shapiro with a level of energy which the character probably didn’t deserve, his grandstanding largely helped to dislocate his subplot from the rest of the show. The problem is that these elements are starting to feel recursive now and there’s no reason why Torchwood had to briefly work with and then violently escape from the CIA twice in the same season. Especially because Torchwood’s activities between their initial escape from the CIA and this episodes flight from the CIA were in no way predicated on Torchwood being rogue operatives.
Everything they’ve done could have been done with them working with the CIA, largely because most of their investigation has been into PhiCorp and the larger machinations of the government. In fact having Torchwood still working with the CIA until this point would have made Rex’s continual grumbling actually have heft and weight to it, him caught between his employers and the ‘right thing’. Of course the reason why this wouldn’t work is that modern audiences are kind of scared of government institutions and as such it seems that any shows which deal with government agencies generally follow some rogue element of the agency who is constantly butting heads with the institute as a whole. It is the Jack Bauer archetype in that he both represents conservative needs to have a take charge figure to protect a nation’s interest, but also needs to fight against the structures of ‘big government’. Not that I’m advocating for the media to start portraying the government in a positive light, I just find it fascinating how many shows over the last decade (and probably before, but I’m not going to claim to be an expert on TV history) have adopted the model of the ‘one good man/woman’ within an institution.
Getting back on track Wayne Knight’s reappearance wasn’t the only reintroduction this episode, with all of those CIA agents popping back up and acting like they’d been having WAY more interesting off-screen adventures than any of the Torchwood crew. In fact with the constant reintroduction of characters and the introduction of Shapiro as a growly obfuscating bureaucrat to counter the team this episode almost felt like a soft-reboot of the show, a soft-reboot two episodes before the show wraps up. Reinforcing this reboot notion was the way that the show quickly and efficiently dealt with any tertiary element, in fact the show was in such a rush to get everyone to their next configuration that I’m surprised that they didn’t just shove every character who wasn’t Shapiro or Torchwood into Wayne Knight’s’ exploding car of narrative closure’.
In fact aside from giving a name to the villains and confirming Jack’s theory about Morphic Fields this episode was surprisingly light on answers, but acted like we were getting some sort of deluge of information. In fact Nana Visitor’s, I don’t actually think her character’s name was mentioned in the episode although Wikipedia refers to her as Olivia, rampant exposition at the start of the episode kind of just confirmed what we’d already gleaned from last episode. This was compounded by Jack explaining that his blood would be useless as it had nothing to do with his condition, highlighting that this would be an episode featuring studious Jack rather than fun Jack. We also learnt that the Three Families had hidden themselves in plain sight and had erased their names from all records post 1928, but this was part of what Ernie Hudson info-dumped on us two episodes ago. In fact as Olivia kept prattling on I kept being reminded of how a child tells a story, with elements made up on the fly and odd details given the kind of scrutiny which only makes sense to them. I’m genuinely fascinated in where this series ends up now, because it feels more and more like the script meeting was so impromptu pitch that spiralled out of control.
I’m writing this after having just watched the newest episode of Doctor Who and whilst I don’t want to talk about it too much, that’s what Tuesday’s Tag-Team review is for, I do think it’s interesting how Moffat and RTD handle information. Both RTD and Steven Moffat build series based around mysteries, but whilst RTD drip-feeds information and builds up a mystery with buzz-words Moffat’s style seems to be presenting all of the pieces of his puzzle and then constructing them in a way that you’d never expect. I have to wonder how satisfying the concept of Miracle Day would have been with a bit more openness about the puzzle and its elements, if the show actually gained anything by having its central antagonists reveal themselves in the last third of the run.
Also hilarious was the shocking reveal that tech-operative from the CIA, who we haven’t seen since episode 1, was working for the Family. This sort of ‘Mole in CTU’ situation is kind of funny largely because of how played out it is but mostly because the way the reveal was framed made it seem like we were supposed to feel betrayed by the actions of a third tier character who’d had roughly ten lines in the entire run.
‘Et Tu, anonymous CIA operative’.
More interesting was the reveal of Jilly Kitzinger as someone whom the families viewed as a major asset and her willingness to join up with the higher echelons of the Three Families. Kitzinger has been a little erratically portrayed throughout the season, last we saw her she was practically ebullient during Oswald Danes’ speech, and she flitted between being a working stiff caught up in a hell of situation and a Mephistophelian figure constantly through this episode. In fact despite being a little screechy I actually liked her flipping out on Danes because it resembled something of an even keel for the character and Lauren Ambrose used her physicality to great effect, her arched backed scream down the hotel corridor resembling something more out of a Japanese horror film than anything else.
Last week I was talking about how odd it was that Danes hadn’t been involved in the last few episodes and his presence in this episode made me realise that I like Pullman as Danes, but I actually don’t like Danes at all. I know I’m not SUPPOSED to like Danes, but his character is feeling almost tertiary now. The fact that Danes was absent for two episodes in a row, and it had no real negative impact on the show, probably speaks volumes of how well integrated his story was in regards to the overall narrative. This is a shame because I genuinely think Ambrose and Pullman did great work with their characters and it is frustrating watching two very good performers working on something that often feels like a distraction from the main plot.
As it stands I really don’t know now if Miracle Day can salvage itself in its finale, because even if the next two episodes are mind-blowingly great they’re not going to be elevate the entire season which now feels like a confused, at times almost schizophrenic, mess.