Saturday, 6 August 2011

TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY - "The Categories Of Life"

Saturday, 6 August 2011

I wonder if this miniseries would have been better received if it wasn't connected to Torchwood, and was instead just a speculative SF special commissioned by Starz. You could easily replace Captain Jack (John Barrowman) and Gwen (Eve Myles) with equivalent American characters, as so little of Miracle Day relies on things that are unique to the Torchwood universe. Even Jack's signature immortality has been reversed as a result of the story's miracle itself, together with most of his personality when American writers are behind the script. I'm going to try and watch the remainder of this miniseries by divorcing myself from the expectations of the Torchwood brand, just to see if that helps...

"The Categories Of Life" was the usual tangle of good ideas spoiled by implausible execution and annoying contrivances. But the fact it took some significant steps forward with the story, while giving us a pretty dark "final solution" to the endemic of undying people, worked greatly in its favour. It even managed to turn sourpuss Vera Juarez (Arlene Tur) into a moderately less pointless character, before killing her off.

This week, despite being a wanted international fugitive, Gwen both risked and manage to travel back to Wales to help Rhys (Kai Owen) rescue her sick dad from one of the many PhiCorp sponsored "overflow camps" that have sprung up around the world. Governments are now passing a law that says life can be re-categorized into three separate groups—apparently symbolized by the red, white and blue of the US flag. There's Category 1, where you're "fatally" injured or sick and beyond help; Category 2, where you're hurt and would ordinarily die, but can continue living after treatment; and Category 3, where you're fine and dandy. Those in Category 1 are in the greatest danger, as Torchwood come to realize such patients are taken to secret campsite "modules" for processing—which it's revealed means being incinerated alive, in a chilling echo of Nazi concentration camp ovens.

I've actually wondered how Miracle Day would get around the problem that reducing a body to ash must bring certain death, so it seems "the miracle" does have its limits after all. Now the question is: if PhiCorp are burning the people who should actually be dead, aren't they just providing a cruel mass cremation service to the world? It's still hard to see what's in this for them. But incinerating the should-be-dead is apparently enough to justify the cost of setting up all these global camps, even if they're not doing a good job of caring for the people who end up inside them—as Vera discovered abandoned patients who aren't being fed, all sleeping in cramped conditions next to unwashed laundry. Oh, and a pen-pushing racist misogynist called Colin (Marc Vann).

The Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman) story plodded on, but it's still difficult to comprehend why any of it matters. PR whizz Jilly (Lauren Ambrose) has helped organized a Miracle Rally for Oswald to give a key speech at, which requires he read a prepared PhiCorp speech that must include the word "revelation". But why's that? Is "revelation" a codeword for something to happen? Is it perhaps a sign to the people pulling Jilly's strings that Oswald's fully malleable? Jilly herself doesn't seem to know what's going on, as she was approached by a man who praised her and mentioned she's been "noticed"? I assume the people who've noticed her are Miracle Day's architects (the group symbolized by a rotating triangle logo), which suggest she's not working for them already? If so, is everything she's doing on behalf of PhiCorp is a separate issue to the white-triangle group? Oh, who knows, but we need some focus on this matter very soon.

I was intrigued by the possibility that Jack might talk Oswald into working for Torchwood, by giving him a different speech that would denounce PhiCorp as the people behind Miracle Day, in exchange for helping him die, but that didn't come to pass. That would have been a very unexpected twist, but it seems the writers would prefer to go down the Oswald-as-Messiah route... so he finally gave his approved speech about mankind's ascendancy to "angels", like a lapdog. Pullman's performance again oscillating from enjoyably creepy to outright laughable and weird. It often feels like he's not sure how to treat any of this material; with tongue-in-cheek humour or deadly serious? He's fallen somewhere in the middle.

Overall, "The Categories Of Life" wasn't a totally successful turnaround for Miracle Day, as there are still messy areas and ridiculous moments, but some things seem to be developing at last. It's just unforgivable that Captain Jack's almost surplus to requirement. While Rex (Mekhi Phifer), Esther (Alexa Havins), Gwen, and Vera went undercover in two overflow camps, poor Jack was stuck in Los Angeles and only given one notable scene with Oswald at the Miracle Rally stadium? That's an unforgivable, tragic waste of the show's lead character who, at least until Miracle Day, was the beating heart of Torchwood... now reduced to a bit-part player.

What did you make of episode 5? Was there some improvement, or are you on the brink of giving up? Maybe you stopped watching weeks ago?

written by Jane Espenson / directed by Guy Ferland / 5 August 2011 / Starz