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.
Torchwood bungled the “Dead is Dead” and Soulless plotlines, throwing them in with no buildup and then, in the case of the Soulless, dropping them completely. The introduction of these two plot ideas are also nearly identical in their respective episodes- one character asks another character about them and then the Exposition Fairy comes to visit, giving backstory and info dumps to all. Any visit of the Exposition Fairy is a bad sign. The medical reaction continues to be discussed, with Dr. Juarez as the viewer’s link, however, as with the Soulless and “Dead is Dead” movements, this plotline is utterly unsuccessfully portrayed. Too many of the baby steps are cut- the audience is asked to accept that the medical community would agree to lock away and forget about the sick. Perhaps, if under enough strain, this might begin to happen, but it would take much longer and be a much more gradual process than is shown. By skipping these tiptoes down the path of good intentions, the medical reaction subplot loses the sense of frightening realism it seems to be going for. For a show that has so much filler (the Soulless come and go, “Dead is Dead” comes and, based on Monroe’s last scene, presumably goes), doing such an unspecific, broad investigation of societal response is a poor choice.
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.
As ever, Jack and Gwen are great, with Eve Myles and John Barrowman almost always stealing the show. The brief scene of them as an American couple was a lot of fun, as was their side of the showdown at the end with the Most Conspicuous Baddy Ever (seriously, who wears a black suit to do surveillance at the beach?). The trouble with the Torchwood scenes is that the show can’t decide whether it wants to be logic-free escapism or hard, gritty realism. These supposedly world-class spies make too many stupid mistakes to be taken seriously but the show has not embraced superficial whimsy and pulse-pounding action in a way that lets this be overlooked. The frequent switch between these two tones robs both of their power- Jack and Gwen are cracking jokes while Esther is weeping over her sister. The audience won’t care equally about both.
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.