Sunday, July 31, 2011

Torchwood 4.04: "Miracle Day: Escape to LA"

“We’re traveling circus folk.”

“Escape to LA,” as you can probably tell from the title, saw most of the action of the story move from Washington, DC to Los Angeles. What I really noticed about the episode was that with the setting change, a lot of the problems the show was having with establishing a sense of place went away. I mean, I understand that much of the series was shot in Los Angeles, so it was easier to do establishing shots, but I’ve seen the crew of “Lost” do an amazing job at making Honolulu look like different places all over the world, from London to Seoul. It can be done. They could have at least sprung for a few stock footage establishing shots of big DC landmarks. Not doing so is just plain lazy, which is kind of a recurring theme this season. There was a bit of a caper near the end of the episode, which was kind of fun, but I still don’t think “Miracle Day” has risen to the level of “Children of Earth.” But that’s okay, I think. I don’t know if I would want to watch something as dark as “Children of Earth” on a regular basis.

The episode begins in Washington, DC, where Esther makes the really incredibly stupid decision to pay a visit to her sister, Sarah. I thought this neighborhood looked more like New Orleans than DC. The houses just didn’t look right at all, and I would know considering I spent much of yesterday afternoon driving through DC suburbs. Anyway, Sarah’s house is all boarded up, and Sarah only opens the door slightly when Esther knocks. She tells Esther that some men had been by asking questions about Esther. She also won’t let Esther see her nieces. Sarah is afraid that her children will catch one of the many diseases going around if they set foot outside. Back at her car, Esther reports her sister to CPS, which can’t end well. Also, as was easy to predict, a guy is watching Esther. In his car is the triangle symbol that showed up on Friedkin’s cell phone, so this is a PhiCorp guy. He’s going to follow Esther to get to the rest of Torchwood.

We next see the Torchwood team in Los Angeles, and now we finally have an attempt at creating a sense of place with some fun establishing shots of Venice Beach. It just makes me even more sad that there was no attempt to really showcase DC. Anyway, as the team is getting out of the car and enjoying the sunshine, Rex places a quick call to Dr. Juarez. He wants to know if she has any LA contacts who can provide him with pain killers, of course. As he’s talking, somebody places a flyer in Rex’s hand that says “Dead is Dead.” Rex asks Juarez if he’s heard about this before, and Juarez says it’s a movement that was started by a small town mayor trying to make a name for herself. The idea is that society should treat those who would have died but for the miracle as if they were actually dead.

Meanwhile, in DC, Dr. Juarez is touring an abandoned hospital. The plan is to turn the hospital into a place that can house the very sick and the should-have-been-dead. One of the other doctors on the tour compares it to a plague ship and thinks it’s horrible. Actually, all the doctors think it’s horrible, really, but it’s still going to happen. When the hospital is finally set up, it’s an absolute mess. People are so crammed in that the doctors can barely walk around, and the second floor doesn’t even have electricity. More hospitals have dumped off patients on the “new” hospital than anticipated, and people are also dropping off relatives they don’t want to care for anymore. Dr. Juarez describes it best when she says it’s disgraceful, because it really is.

In Los Angeles, the Torchwood team is getting settled in their new apartment. Gwen runs outside to take a phone call from Rhys, and in a fairly amusing scene, she tries to make LA sound horrible, when it’s really beautiful and sunny and people are running around enjoying the beach. She desperately wants Rhys to get her dad out of hospital, because she’s heard that MRSA is running rampant in hospitals. Rhys says he’ll try, but he’s not really sure if there’s anything he can do. While Gwen is enjoying the sun and talking on the phone, the PhiCorps guy who was following Esther takes pictures of her, too. Guess he followed them all the way across the country.

We next check in on Oswald, who is at a hotel. He’s taking bottles of sparkling water out of the mini fridge and is opening them just to hear the satisfying hiss of carbonation. I guess it reminds him that he’s finally free from prison or something. It was a good character moment for Oswald, at least. Anyway, Jilly interrupts his raiding of the fridge. Oswald tells Jilly that he used the internet to try and find out who is above PhiCorps, but he had no luck. The way information disappeared reminds him of what he would do to hide his own identity when he was on the run from the law. He gets ready to leave for an interview, but Jilly informs him that the interview has been cancelled. Ellis Hartley Monroe got the interview instead. Jilly informs Oswald that Monroe is a Tea Partier, which isn’t surprising given the bile she spews in her interview. I’ll admit, what she says is not an accurate portrayal of the Tea Party at all (she thinks government should come up with a solution to the should-have-been dead), but the selfishness behind the sentiment is spot on. And I’ll stop being political now (it’s hard, considering I’m a public policy student, but I don’t want this blog to erupt in hatred on either side).

There’s a brief interlude where Rex goes to visit his dad, who happens to live in Los Angeles, although he hasn’t told the rest of the team that. Rex’s father lives in a run-down dump of an apartment, and the man himself looks quite disheveled too. It screams cliché, but because it was a short scene, I was willing to look past it. More interesting is the fact that Rex’s father has a massive stash of PhiCorps pain killers. Rex palms a box of them before leaving, of course. I’ll be very interested to know how the pain killers got there. Is Rex’s father a dealer, perhaps?

Anyway, PhiCorps headquarters is in Los Angeles, and the Torchwood team decides they need to steal the company’s most secure server. From the information Gwen stole from Jilly, they know that to get into the secure area where this server is housed, they need multiple biometrics from one man named Nicholas Frumkin. To obtain the necessary voice print, palm print, and retina scan, Jack and Gwen pose as an American couple cooing over Frumkin’s child as they walk by the ocean. I thought Gwen’s American accent was hilarious, and I love that Gwen is mortified by it. It was an admirable effort by Eve Myles, truly. The creepy PhiCorps guy gets to Frumkin, too, however, and he’s not so nice about how he’s going to obtain the biometrics. We hear Frumkin scream in pain as the palm of his hand and an eye are cut out.

Back in DC, Ellis Hartley Monroe is giving a speech in front of the house of horrors that is the abandoned hospital turned should-have-been-dead holding pen. She thinks the project is wonderful, and she thinks more facilities like it should be created. She doesn’t think drug companies like PhiCorps should profit from disaster. And that’s where she really differs from the Tea Party. Okay, I really will stop being political now, I promise! Oswald and Jilly pull up, and Oswald is pissed that Monroe has stolen his thunder yet again. This time, he takes matters into his own hands. He walks up to the hospital, puts on a mask, and goes in. Reporters instantly want to know why Monroe won’t enter the hospital. Inside the hospital, Oswald gives a Messiah-like speech, talking about how he’s one of them (the hospital detainees) because he was supposed to be dead too. He holds up a little girls who has been abandoned there, which is super creepy, considering why Oswald was sentenced to death. Monroe decides to leave the hospital, and when she gets into her town car, she’s drugged. A triangle appears on the dashboard, which makes it evident PhiCorps is behind this.

Right before the big infiltrate PhiCorps mission is about to start, Esther makes another call the CPS. She wants to find out what’s going on with her nieces, of course. The woman she speaks to informs her that the children have been taken to a group home, soon to be placed in forster care. And Sarah is undergoing a psych eval. Even though she called CPS because she was worried about her nieces, Esther is still surprised by this. What did she really think was going to happen when she called CPS? Anyway, Esther is teary while directing the mission from the van because of this news, and when Rex sees the tears, he naturally wants to know what’s going on. He is extremely pissed when he finds out that Esther visited her sister’s house, and rightfully so. Especially considering a PhiCorps goon did actually follow them all to LA thanks to finding Esther at Sarah’s house.

Jack and Gwen get to do the actual infiltration of PhiCorps, and the beginning of the mission is quite fun. Gwen’s dressed up as an extra-glamorous HR executive in Los Angeles for training, and Jack’s a delivery guy. All phone calls that PhiCorps personnel make to verify Jack and Gwen are authorized to be on the premises get rerouted to Esther. Gwen is furiously hooking up a fake replacement server (Jack took the real one) when the PhiCorps assassin (the guy who has been taking all the pictures) sneaks up behind her and knocks her out. Jack sees a man strangled in the delivery bay and runs back up to Gwen, only to get knocked out too. It’s a comedy of errors, really. Rex sees this happening through Gwen’s contacts and decides he needs to save the day. Which means running up 66 flights of stairs. With a huge hole in his chest. I thought that was just dumb.

Lucky for Rex, the assassin hasn’t killed Jack or Gwen yet. He’s too busy giving an Evil Speech of Evil and demanding to know why Jack is mortal. The assassin tries to motivate Jack to spill information by holding a knife to Gwen’s throat, but Jack honestly doesn’t know what is going on. Gwen persists in asking the assassin who he works for, and he finally gives in and starts going on about how they are “everyone” and “always.” He is about to refer to his employer by name when Rex arrives on the scene and shoots him in the throat. I thought that was lame. It’s obvious that the powers behind the Miracle are familiar with Jack, and the big speech the assassin gave makes me think they could quite possibly be alien. Which would make sense, considering this is “Torchwood” and all. This is reinforced when Monroe is crushed alive in her car while a mysterious voice gives a similar “everyone” and “no one” speech as the assassin did and says “the Families will rise.” That was super creepy, especially since an old episode of “Mathnet” from “Square One” has given me a long-time fear of car crushers.

The episode ends back in the Torchwood apartment, where Esther is going through data from the stolen server. She can see that PhiCorps is planning to run something called “overflow camps,” which I presume are slightly more put-together versions of the converted abandoned hospital we saw earlier in the episode. Just as Esther is talking about this, Gwen’s phone rings again. Rhys says he has succeeded in getting Gwen’s father out of the hospital. He’s so proud of himself that he managed to get Gwen’s father at the top of the list for some new scheme called “overflow camps.” Gwen is horrified and demands that Rhys stop her father from being transported, but it’s too late.

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