Sunday, July 17, 2011

Torchwood 4.02: "Miracle Day: Rendition"

“Every time you turn up, it always goes wrong.”

I wasn’t quite as enamored with “Rendition” as I was with “The New World,” and even though you should prepare now for me to go off on several rants in the course of the post, it was still overall an enjoyable viewing experience. I just care deeply about the Whoverse, and I’ve been a staunch defender of Russell T. Davies’ place in the Whoverse, so it just irks me when it feels like he didn’t put effort into something. This episode continued to demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of the United States in general. I consider myself an Anglophile for sure, and I’m not the type to be all in your face about the greatness that is the United States, but some of the errors in this episode were just the result of complete laziness. There were errors for which I found the correct information after only about 30 seconds on Wikipedia. Is that really too much to ask?

More broadly, Davies just hasn’t put in the work to make the show truly feel like it takes place in the United States. The character names are all very British, and there really isn’t a sense of place. The sense of place was one of the things I really liked about the Cardiff seasons of Torchwood, and since my life is moving towards Washington, DC, where there series now purportedly takes place, it would be nice to get that same sense when watching it, but about my own city. This is probably a good time for me to put in a plug for a blog I just discovered called “Law and the Multiverse” that is going to be doing legal analyses of “Torchwood” episodes that are more thorough than my rants here. It’s at, and the analysis for “The New World” is already up, so go check it out!

We open the episode on the tarmac at Heathrow, still in the middle of the rendition silliness. Rex has reached a new level of assholishness, actually taking pleasure in dragging Gwen off and separating her from her family. He dictates that Rhys and Arwen will stay in Wales while Gwen comes to the United States, and not one of the police officers tries to put a stop to it. On the not so irritating side, another CIA agent named Lyn, played by “Dollhouse” stand-out Dichen Lachman, arrives to try and take over the mission from Rex. Rex has become obsessed with Torchwood, and he wants this rendition to go perfectly, so he doesn’t appreciate the interloper’s presence.

Across the pond, Esther is acting like a complete idiot. She gets an e-mail that Rex is on his way back to the United States and he’s bringing Torchwood with him, and she goes all doe eyed over it. I wouldn’t mind so much if Rex wasn’t a horrible, horrible human being. I know people complained a great deal about Owen back in the first two seasons, but Rex is miles more of a jerk than Owen ever was. The fact that a smart woman like Esther could be so taken in by him just makes me sad. She’s so taken with Rex that she goes to Friedkin, a CIA big wig played by the legendary Wayne Knight (it’s Newman from “Seinfeld,” people…okay and Officer Don from “3rd Rock from the Sun,” too). She asks about the possibility of a transfer from the Directorate of Intelligence (DI) to the National Clandestine Service (NCS) (although they don’t call it the NCS, but more on that later), because she wants to work more closely with Rex on Torchwood. Friedkin says he’ll consider it, and he seems very intrigued to learn that Esther and Rex have been working together closely.

On the plane, Gwen and Jack have a rather lovely conversation (see, I can be complementary!) about where their lives have gone since the end of “Children of Earth.” Gwen tells Jack that her time with “Torchwood” felt more like a fairy tale than part of her actual personal history. She wants to know if Jack’s time away helped him gain any clarity, but Jack doesn’t answer. Rex interrupts the conversation and starts berating their intelligence. Rex and Jack verbally spar a bit over what Rex is going to do with Jack and Gwen when they get to the United States, and Jack eventually proves that he’s a whole lot smarter than Rex gave him credit for. He has a theory that a morphic field is responsible for everyone experiencing the miracle at exactly the same time, and he tells Rex that the reason the vortex manipulator Rex confiscated keeps bleeping is because Rex has low sodium levels.

In New York, Oswald is getting ready to do a television interview. He’s at the craft services table, and he’s hoarding all the food he can. Seriously. He’s shoveling it all into a trash bag. A poor, hapless PA confronts him about it, and Oswald explains that he doesn’t see himself being able to make ends meet any time soon, so he’s hoarding food while he can get it. The PA confirms that no, she certainly wouldn’t hire Oswald for a job. She’s disgusted by him, actually. So Oswald makes his point and goes on hoarding. During the actual interview, the very blunt and belligerent interviewer shows Oswald a picture of the girl he raped and murdered. Oswald completely freaks out and breaks down, sobbing that he’s sorry over and over. It makes the PA cry, and it starts a nationwide inexplicable wave of forgiveness. On his way out of the building, Oswald is cornered by a PR flack named Jilly who wants to represent him. She points out that Oswald should be getting paid for doing interviews like this. Oswald shoots down her offer, convinced that since he’s booked an interview on Oprah next, he’s doing just fine. Jilly seems like a strange amalgamation of Rita Skeeter (the fake perkiness and venomous smile) and Harriet Jones (a running gag where she likes to give people her business card).

From the plane, Lyn sends a message to Friedkin asking if she should investigate morphic fields. Friedkin consults some higher authority who sends him a return text that looks somewhat like a 21st century version of a magic eight ball. A triangle with the word “remove” shows up on his cell phone. Meanwhile, Rex contacts Dr. Juarez because he wants more drugs, and this time he tries to entice her by offering to let her study Jack in exchange. While she’s speaking to Rex, Juarez walks into several traumas being wheeled into the ER. One of the doctors is shouting out orders about the order in which the patients should be treated, and Juarez realizes they’re doing everything wrong. They should be treating the least injured patients first so they can get them out of the hospital and free up beds. It’s not like the seriously injured are going to die while they wait. Juarez is frustrated that she had to rewrite triage procedures on her own, and she finds out that the Dean of Medicine at the hospital is at a panel of doctors working out how to respond to the miracle. Juarez decides she wants to participate in the panel too. She ends up figuring out that the world is going to have a huge lack of antibiotics problem soon.

Jack is thirsty and is quite whiny about it. Lyn says he and Gwen can have some water, but Jack wants soda. The flight attendant goes to get the drinks, and Lyn says she has to “supervise.” She sends the flight attendant off to see if Rex wants a drink, and while the flight attendant is gone, she puts poison in Jack’s drink. Jack drinks it all down in one gulp and very quickly gets sick. Gwen deduces it was Lyn who poisoned Jack’s drink, because a flight attendant shouldn’t need “supervision” to get a water and a Coke. Rex confirms Gwens suspicion and handcuffs Lyn. A quickly becoming delirious Jack looks at the other pills from Lyn’s purse and confirms he was poisoned by arsenic. Rex calls Dr. Juarez for help, and she consults the rest of her panel. They need a way to neutralize arsenic only using items that can be found on a plane. They clear the table to solve the problem Apollo 13-style.

There’s a bit of suspense as the team struggles to find a chemical that is part of degreaser, but eventually they succeed. I though Eve played this sequence a little over the top. She’s extremely giddy once they find the degreaser. Then Lyn makes one last ditch effort to keep Jack from being cured by trying to fight Gwen. Gwen’s got a great line that showed up in the trailer in response to Lyn asking if Gwen was the best England had to offer. She says “I’m Welsh” and promptly kicks Lyn’s ass. The nasty sounding chemical the team created causes Jack some pain, but it cures him of the poisoning.

At CIA headquarters, Esther is walking down a hallway and sees sinister looking men cleaning out Rex’s office and taking the hard drive from his computer. And I’ve got to pause here for a little rant. On the nameplate by Rex’s door, underneath his name, there’s an office designation that starts with DC. Given the rest of the set design, it’s obvious that DC is supposed to designate Rex’s branch of the CIA. Thing is, there is no “DC.” The branch responsible for clandestine operations (which is what the “C” was probably supposed to stand for) was called the DO (Directorate of Operations) for many years and is now the National Clandestine Service (NCS). As I said earlier in this post, it only took me about 30 seconds on Wikipedia to verify that the sign was wrong. A mistake that easy to fix should never happen- there is no excuse for that level of laziness.

Esther tries to return to her office, but she sees her desk being cleaned out, too. To add to her panic, she gets a phone call from her bank asking her how she wants to invest the $50 thousand that was just wired to her account from China. Esther knows she needs to get out of CIA headquarters as quickly as possible, and she switches badges with a coworker to do it. This is another completely implausible scenario. In a facility this secure, I find it hard to believe that anybody could get very far without an employee ID badge, so it makes no sense that Esther’s coworker would have left her badge in her purse for Esther to take. One thing I did like about this sequence is how Esther gets past the final hurdle to get out of the building, where there are security guards who should be checking everyone’s ID. Esther charms the security guard by asking about his day, and he overlooks the ID. The embodiment of “you catch more flies with honey.”

After telling her panel that they completely need to revamp the health care system (which probably got the biggest laugh from me of the entire episode), Juarez takes a smoke break and runs into Jilly. This scene showed me that Russell T. Davies really does not understand American television at all. You just don’t set a whole scene over a smoke break these days. Anyway, Jilly poses as a pharmaceutical sales rep (complete with appropriate business card), and she warns Juarez that the country’s painkillers have been commandeered for the “civil defense program” (whatever that is), and the current situation doesn’t qualify. Juarez had told her panel earlier that pain killers are going to be of prime importance going forward, as people stay alive no matter how mangled.

Esther calls Rex to warn him that the rest of the CIA seems to be actually working against them, but she’s too late. The plane has already landed, and they’ve been greeted by a bunch of tough looking guys who work for Friedkin. Rex disguises the conversation to keep the element of surprise, and then after a big speech of bravado, Rex and the Torchwood folks start fighting back. They manage to escape, and they run to Esther’s car. Juarez is also waiting there with more pain killers. As the group is leaving the parking lot, they run into Lyn. Whose head is on backwards.

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