Saturday, July 9, 2011

Torchwood 4.01: "Miracle Day: The New World"

“What, you mean Wales is separate? It’s like the British equivalent of New Jersey!”

While there were definitely some problematic elements in the first episode of the new series of “Torchwood,” which has moved to Starz and taken a more US-centric focus, I was so happy to see the show again that things which should have irritated me just didn’t. As an attorney, I tend not to watch shows that involve anything legal, because the inaccuracies make me irrationally angry. And boy was this episode chock full of inaccuracies. I managed to just let it go, though, because the episode was good fun. A macabre premise, for sure, but there was a lightness to the presentation. It felt thoroughly like typical Russell T. Davies work, for all its good points and bad. I realized just how starved I was for Davies’ particular brand of television since I had finished watching all of his episodes of Doctor Who and Torchwood. Davies’ work can be cheesy, but it’s cheesy in a rather entertaining way. It was incredibly good to see him put his unique spin on the Whoverse again, even if this plot is only really tenuously connected to the Whoverse. Hey, there was a mention of UNIT, at least!

The episode opened with a rather grim sequence. Oswald, a convicted child molester and murderer, is on death row in Kentucky and about to be executed. Oswald is played by Bill Pullman, who was a favorite actor of mine back in the late 90’s. He’s completely different here from any other role in which I’ve seen him. I thought that was a good thing, because it’s always nice to see an actor get the chance to stretch a bit. Anyway, the lethal injection drugs enter his system, but things don’t go as planned. Instead of dying, Oswald starts convulsing. Now when I was in law school, I had to read and evaluate 65 journal petitions all about the constitutionality of lethal injection, so I think I’m right when I say that this could probably never happen in real life. One of the three drugs used in lethal injection is a paralytic, so he would have been perfectly still while his body was going through whatever it was going through. Which could have been even more horrifying, come to think of it.

We next meet some more new American characters, two CIA agents named Esther and Rex. Esther is at CIA headquarters, and Rex is in his car, and they’re talking over the phone. Someone just sent everyone in the CIA an e-mail that says “Torchwood,” so of course they’re all curious about what the heck Torchwood is. As Esther is searching for information, all references to Torchwood suddenly disappear. Seconds after that, Rex gets into a car crash, and a spiky looking metal pole goes into his chest. Later, Esther is at the hospital waiting for news about his condition. She meets Doctor Juarez, who tells Esther that not only is Rex going to survive, but so are the rest of the patients at the hospital. Everyone’s calling it a miracle.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, in middle-of-nowhere seaside Wales to be exact (or “the back of beyond” as Rhys puts it…I liked that), Gwen wakes up from a bad dream about her Torchwood days. Later that day, she’s feeding her young daughter, Anwen, and telling her stories of her Torchwood adventures. Anwen is an interesting name choice (in a good way). I’m sure it’s a legitimate Welsh name, because Gwen and Rhys (and Russel T. Davies) are very Welsh, but it sounds like something out of Lord of the Rings. I really liked this scene of Gwen with her daughter, because Gwen was telling her Torchwood stories to Anwen as if the stories were fairy tales, and I thought that was really sweet. Rhys didn’t think it was so sweet because he doesn’t want Anwen to get mixed u in the Torchwood life in any way, but who ever listens to Rhys, anyway! The Williams-Cooper family is in hiding, because apparently people want to kill Gwen following the events of “Children of Earth,” so they have a bit of a scare when a helicopter flies past their house and there is a knock on the door. Luckily, the knock is just from a couple tourists wanting to know the best way back to town from the beach.

Back in Kentucky, Oswald is still in prison, and he has a rather ridiculous conversation with one of the Governor’s staffers. Because Oswald was killed and came back to life, he wants out of jail now. Oswald threatens to sue the governor personally if it doesn’t happen, which is just about the dumbest thing I’ve heard on television. But like I said, Davies tends to just write what he wants without evidence of research (and boy howdy was there a blatant “I didn’t research” message with this episode), but it was water off a duck’s back. Somehow, I managed to get past it and enjoy the episode because that’s just the sort of charm Davies works when he’s on his game. Later, Oswald is indeed let out of prison, and he is met by a jeering crowd. The newscaster said that a “force majeure ruling is responsible.” Which also took a prize as one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard on television. I’ve heard of force majeure (“act of God”) in the contract law context, but never in the criminal law context.

In a Washington, DC hospital, Rex watches news reports about Miracle Day, and it really upsets him. He asks Doctor Juarez what she knows about it, but it doesn’t seem like she knows much. She does mention that she’s called doctors at a bunch of different hospitals, and all have reported no deaths. Rex, showing some smarts, wants to know what will happen to him when the miracle wears off, considering it was the miracle that kept him alive. Doctor Juarez doesn’t know, but she’s optimistic. She sees the miracle as something that just gave her more time to tend to Rex’s injuries. Rex doesn’t seem especially happy with that answer, and he’s seriously restless in the hospital. He’s kind of an annoying character in that sense.

Esther is feeling guilty about having been talking to Rex on the phone when he got in his accident, so she’s taken to investigating Torchwood. Somebody high up in the CIA has declared Torchwood so classified that only his office can have access to the files, but Esther decides to go looking in the CIA archives. She finds what she’s looking for under the “456 designation,” which is a nice little shout-out to “Children of Earth.” In the file, she sees photos of Captain Jack (Harkness, not Sparrow) and Gwen, and she looks up from the file to see the real Jack standing in front of her, partially obscured in the dark archive. This seriously freaks Esther out, so she runs for the entrance to the archive. She sees that the security guard has been shot, and Jack, who has been following her, shoots the assailant. That doesn’t get them out of trouble, though, because the assailant has a bomb strapped to his chest. Jack and Esther jump out a window and land in a fountain as the building explodes. This was one of a few really great action sequences in the episode. As the fire trucks arrive, Jack and Esther sit on a nearby bench and talk about Torchwood, then Jack breaks out the Retcon to make Esther forget everything she just learned. I liked that it was very reminiscent of Gwen’s introduction to the Torchwood world back in series 1.

While things are already tense, Gwen gets a phone call from her former police partner, Andy, back in Cardiff. Andy’s speaking in code, but Gwen understands the message. Her dad is in the hospital, and she needs to get to Cardiff in spite of the danger. At the hospital, Andy gives her the scoop on her dad’s condition and tells her about Miracle Day, which is pretty much the reason her dad is still alive after two heart attacks. Gwen is upset when she hears about Miracle Day because it’s the sort of thing she used to be able to help solve as part of Torchwood, and now that life is gone. After paying a visit to Gwen’s dad, she and Andy start doing some internet searches about Miracle Day, speculating what the consequences of overpopulation could be. I liked that Davies really seemed to put a lot of thought into the consequences of their show’s premise. Rhys gets extremely upset when he sees Gwen kind of getting into the research, because he is worried that she’s going to get mixed up in dangerous things again. He asks Gwen to think about how great it would be if Anwen could live forever, and that convinces Gwen to agree to go home without continuing the investigation with Andy.

Back in the United States, Rex is still belligerently questioning doctor Juarez about Miracle Day. She can’t give him any answers, but she tells him something cryptic that Rex eventually figures out means he should check the hospital’s security cameras. On the video, he sees Doctor Juarez attending an especially gruesome autopsy. It’s the autopsy of the bomber from the CIA archive. He’s burnt to a crisp, which doesn’t make sense. He should be, as they said on “Grey’s Anatomy” way back when, “pink mist.” Jack’s in the room too, impersonating an FBI agent. He uses some psychic paper and says his name is FBI Agent Owen Harper. I appreciated the shout-out to old school “Torchwood,” back in the days when it was more supernatural CSI: Cardiff. Jack wants to know if the bomber, who is still alive despite being crispy, will survive decapitation, and we see it proven that indeed he does. It’s pretty gross.

Esther wakes up really confused and sees she’s got a massive burn or bruise (it was hard to tell) on her side. Jack, across town in his own run-down apartment, sees that he has one too. Esther gets to work late, but a colleague, played by the actor who played Calvin on “Greek,” hands her the last copy of the Torchwood file. He had to pull some serious strings to get it. Esther discusses what she learns about Torchwood with Rex over the phone, and Rex obnoxiously decides he’s heading to the UK to find Gwen immediately, hole in his chest and all. He flashes his CIA badge all over the place to get what he wants. Considering CIA agents are supposed to be able to go undercover if necessary, and Rex wants an overseas posting so badly that he was happy when a coworker’s wife got leukemia, loudly announcing his identity doesn’t seem so smart.

Rex flies to London and drives to Wales from there. He’s able to find Gwen’s house by having his CIA coworkers trace the call Andy made to tell Gwen about her father. Rex goes into the house and threatens Gwen and her family. He’s going on quite a tirade when the helicopter appears again. This time, it shoots something explosive at the house. Everyone gets out of the house unscathed, but the helicopter is still a threat. Jack shows up just in time to help- he flew over to the UK on the same flight as Rex. An awesome chase ensues, with our gang in a Jeep and the helicopter chasing them. Gwen is appropriately badass, ending the chase by using a grenade launcher to bring down the helicopter. It’s clear what she really wants out of her life- she thrives off the Torchwood adrenaline.

After the threat has passed, Gwen starts happily chattering about possibly getting Torchwood back up and running, which pisses off Rhys, of course. Jack isn’t especially happy, either. He’s upset because he still has a cut on his arm. He thinks that means he’s not immortal anymore, which I think could be a great arc for his character this season. Rex is ready to return to the United States, and he’s going to do so with the Torchwood folks. He’s commandeered Andy and his group of police officers to conduct a “rendition.” Rex can’t even cite the United States Code properly (title first, then USC, then the chapter…there are numbers before and after, not just after), which irked me slightly. But I’m definitely intrigued to see what happens to Gwen and her family once they arrive on our side of the pond.

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