Torchwood: Miracle Day, Episode 4: “Escape to L.A.”
Written by Jim Gray & John Shiban
Directed by Billy Gierhart
Airs Fridays at 10pm (ET) on Starz
This week, on Torchwood: Esther has a crazy sister, the Torchwood crew each individually become the Worst Agent Ever (Esther by visiting her sister, Rex by calling Vera and telling her their location, Gwen by calling Rhys, and Jack by utterly missing the point of the Eliot line he quoted), they get tailed by the Most Conspicuous Agent Ever, Jilly gets a character makeover, the doctors of DC lose their ethics, Danes visits the hospital, Rex visits family, a Tea Partier leaves the party, the gang has a little heist-y fun, and the episode ends on a cliffhanger- the baddies have Gwen’s dad.
This episode is a mixed bag. Torchwood seems to have decided to in some ways throw away realism in favor of Bondian capers and thrills while in others, investigate and ponder the reality of the world that has been created. The main thrust of the episode, the Torchwood team getting out of dodge and breaking into a secure server room, is full of plot holes big enough to drive a truck through, but the rest of the episode is an interesting, albeit simplistic, look into other ways the world would react to the Miracle. This week the show looks at possible political fallout. While the notion of members of the government reacting with selfish, brutal dispassion is in some ways realistic, it feels false here. There would be people jumping in line to get the kind of publicity and coverage Ellis Hartley Monroe (a wasted Mare Winningham) seeks, but there would be just as many blasting her from the other side and that lack of balance is getting frustrating. The same is true of the Danes arc – the media loves controversy. Every person on TV praising Danes would have at least one person next to them reminding the world of his past crimes. A strictly positive response to a pedophile holding a baby? No way.
What works in this episode is the character drama. Esther’s early scene with her sister is perhaps a bit overplayed, between Havins’ performance and Gierhart’s decision to use so many extreme closeups, but the situation is utterly believable and affecting. Candace Brown is very good in her brief scene as Esther’s sister, Sarah, and Esther’s arc over the entire episode is well played by Havins, particularly her later scenes with Rex. Also worth a mention is the subdued and well-crafted score. Murray Gold doesn’t often underplay the emotion of a scene, but he does here to great success. Less successful is Rex’s visit with his dad and Jilly’s sudden about face, re:Danes. Rex’s father felt completely out of left field; it doesn’t follow that that man came from that home. As for Jilly, her actions in this episode make her a much more nuanced and interesting character, but they weren’t built to at all. Lauren Ambrose is still hitting her notes well, but the side of Jilly disgusted with Danes, or even the fact that she would let him know of this disgust, in no way fits with the character we’ve seen.
Particular performances and a few character moments are strong enough to compensate for some of the problems with this episode, but Torchwood: Miracle Day continues to have too many logic problems and false plot points to work. The season continues to grapple with interesting issues, but it hasn’t done its fascinating topic justice yet. However, despite all of these qualms, the cliffhanger at the end was very effective. If next week’s installment focuses on the personal stakes of the characters and plays to the strengths of the series, it may be a dramatic improvement.