Torchwood: Miracle Day, Ep. 5: “The Categories of Life”

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Torchwood: Miracle Day, Episode 5: “The Categories of Life”
Written by Jane Espenson
Directed by Guy Ferland
Airs Fridays at 10pm (ET) on Starz

This week on Torchwood: Vera joins the team, the gang goes undercover, Oswald gives a speech, Jilly gets noticed, and a tragic discovery is made.

After a string of disappointing episodes, this week Torchwood mostly gets it right by focusing on the personal stakes of the story. Certain elements are unsuccessful, such as the ridiculously foreshadowed baddie Vera has to deal with and Oswald’s unsurprising oratory decision, but overall this was a tight and well paced episode. The action was well executed, with one exception, and the tension was palpable. Espenson did a good job with her script, playing on the audience’s expectation of a supernatural or other worldly reveal when in fact the danger was much more human. Mekhi Phifer ratcheted down the more over the top elements of his performance and made Rex much more interesting and real. Pullman also reined it in a bit, though many of his choices still ring false.

While Children of Earth excelled by introducing an overarching philosophical discussion to Torchwood, so far the strengths of Miracle Day have been the more specific and personal moments. The grand sci-fi commentary has been weak, but what worked in this episode, as well as the season, is the personalization of the story. Showing the audience (admittedly well-designed and made up) Category Ones doesn’t mean anything. Making these Category Ones people that we, or at least the protagonists, care about gives the action immediate stakes and gravitas. It took a while for things to get things going, but once the pieces clicked together, the second half of the episode delivered.

That’s not to say that there weren’t problems. The commentary on health care has ceased to be subtext and has become simplistic, hamfisted soapboxing. Certain character beats also felt off. The normally stoic Gwen goes to pieces when her father’s heart gives out, forgetting her training and losing all common sense in the process. This in no way feels like the character from even earlier this season, let alone seasons past. Jilly, rather than unceasingly competent and wily, came off as screeching and out of control. Her smaller moments were well played, particularly her conversation with the mystery man, and her excitement remains infectious, but her moments of frustration gave her an air of desperation that feels foreign to the character, especially if she’s being noticed for the quality of her work.

Dr. Juarez took an interesting journey this week. Her decision to come out to LA to join the team felt true to the character and made her instantly more likable. Espenson did not, however, do her best work with Maloney, the administrator who all but twirled his mustache while he led Vera around the Overflow Camp. Marc Vann did his best with the character, but he had almost nothing to work with. Revealed as a sexist racist within moments of his introduction, all the audience had to do was count down the time until he revealed what his purpose was going to be in the episode. His final decision was surprising, if only because the premise of the season lends a certain sense of safety to the characters, but that’s about it. This is not the first time Russell T. Davies, the creator, producer, and showrunner of Torchwood, has referenced the atrocities of WWII, but it is the most direct. Right now it feels unearned and a bit exploitative, but hopefully this will be addressed next week.

Is it wrong to wonder at the halfway point of the season where the aliens are? For a show as gloriously sci-fi as Torchwood, it feels strange that at the very least, Jack hasn’t revealed to Esther that he’s an alien, or from the future, or was formerly immortal. It would be very surprising indeed if this didn’t come up at some point, as Jack’s new mortality is undoubtedly not a coincidence. The focus on the human element is a nice surprise, but it feels like we’re treading water until the real villain reveals him or herself and the story finally kicks into gear. In Children of Earth, the audience had a view inside the backroom deals. No such luck this time around and, especially with the extended season, this decision requires the introduction of more red herrings and detours as the team must be delayed from solving the Miracle in order to round out all 10 episodes.  This week, Torchwood: Miracle Day took one step forward. Now we wait for the next episode and see if that trend continues, or if it’s another two steps back.

Kate Kulzick

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