Miracle Day's premiere divided fans, as most tried to reconcile its "Americanisation", but I was entertained throughout and didn't feel Torchwood was any less ridiculous than it's been on the BBC. How quickly forget that Cyberwoman fighting a pterodactyl, eh? I also think the previous miniseries, Children On Earth, is being remembered as a shining beacon of British sci-fi, when in reality it was just a proficient Quatermass knockoff blessed with an effective alien and Peter Capaldi scene-stealing. Miracle Day continues with "Rendition", written by Doris Egan, whose work on House means she's best placed to write an hour with an emphasis on medicine...
This episode was definitely a weaker hour compared to the premiere, but just about managed to pull through thanks to some spirited sequences and intriguing insights into the implications of a medical world without death. Dr Vera Juarez (Arlene Tur) came to realize that diseases that ordinarily feast on the body of the person they kill, before dying themselves, are now free to rampantly spread; and the system of how to treat patients has been reversed, with the seriously injured left to wait (as there's no chance of them dying), while people with minor injuries are given top priority.
These are just a few examples of the fascinating ideas floating around Miracle Day, often delivered in mere throwaway lines (like how the Hindu belief in reincarnation has been thrown into chaos). And then the whole situation worsened with scientific proof that people are still aging normally. So even if the world could somehow find a way to cope with this colossal population boom, everyone on the planet is doomed to become everlasting, shriveled cadavers. Living fossils, a living hell.
What was a little puzzling is how long this episode kept Jack (John Barrowman) and Gwen (Eve Myles) on the backburner, as they were flown back to the USA by CIA Agent Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer). For a big chunk of time, the show's three leads were all contained aboard a passenger jet, which meant supporting characters like Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins), Juarez and Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman) had to pick up the slack. The results were mixed, although it was interesting to discover that Esther's boss Brian Friedkin (Wayne Knight) is perhaps involved in the mystery—as he ordered operative Lyn (Dollhouse's Dichmen Lachman) to poison Jack with arsenic after hearing he's mortal. Is Friedkin involved in whatever Miracle Day is? It would appear so. Was Jack targeted because of who he is (a time-traveller from the future capable of solving the crisis), or what he is (a mortal man whose biology may hold the key to reversing the problem facing everyone else)?
Pullman was great as Oswald Danes last week, but I wasn't too convinced by his heartfelt breakdown on live TV when asked to comment on his murder of a 12-year-old girl. It all felt phony to me, not helped by the wooden guest-star playing the TV host, and I'm not convinced Oswald's tearful apology was emotionally transcendent enough to trigger the beginnings of mass public forgiveness, as seems to be where we're headed. However, it was intriguing to see Oswald approached by a flame-haired PR lady called Jilly Kitzinger (Six Feet Under's Lauren Ambrose) with an offer to represent him, who then later appeared to Juarez with an offer to provide much-needed painkillers to the nation. Is Kitzinger simply a con artist with her fingers in a few pies, or does she have a plan that simply must involve both Oswald and Juarez?
Perhaps the best moments of this episode was seeing Gwen, Rex and the cabin crew try to save Jack's life after his poisoning, by making an antidote using chemicals that can be found on an airplane. This is where Egan's training on House came in handy, as it felt very plausible that you can counteract the effects of arsenic using de-greaser, fuel from a laptop battery, silver, etc. And I like how the roles have now reversed between Gwen and Jack, as he's now the person who can be put in mortal danger and needs her help. The show definitely works best whenever Jack and Gwen are bouncing off each other, as they know their characters inside-out and have a readymade chemistry (whereas everyone else is feeling their way still), although I do wish Eve Myles would calm down. I get that Gwen's a feisty and confident person who's very bossy, but Myles often tips over into petulant hysterics with her performance.
I'm also concerned about the character of Rex right now. He wasn't introduced as a particularly likeable person last week, and he actually became even worse in this episode—taking obvious delight in separating Gwen from her husband and child! It seems a very strange way to be writing that character, even if the intention was to absolve him by the episode's end after he helped Jack and Gwen escape after being warned by Esther that getting Torchwood onto US soil was all a setup. Hopefully now Rex will become more of a team-player than he's been so far, which will hopefully endear us more to Phifer's swaggering performance.
Overall, "Rendition" wasn't great and it marked a slip in quality from last week's rollercoaster opener, but it just about kept itself afloat thanks to a few dramatic sequences/visuals. The fact I'm genuinely interested to see how they're going to explain everything also works in its favour, but I remain unconvinced they can stretch this idea out for another eight weeks.
written by Doris Egan / directed by Billy Gierhart / 15 July 2011 / Starz