Sunday, August 7, 2011

Torchwood 4.05: "Miracle Day: The Categories of Life"

“Well that’s the point. People don’t fit categories.”

Russell T. Davies’ “Doctor Who” had some very high highs and some very low lows, and I assume that holds true for his other work as well, including “Torchwood.” This episode, and indeed “Miracle Day” overall, appears to be one of the lows, unfortunately. There were some redeeming characteristics to the episode, such as the fact that it’s getting dark and twisty, and the stakes are being appropriately raised. There was quite a lot of bad that isn’t quite outweighed by the good, though. The worst offender was the character of Colin Maloney, the head of an overflow camp in San Pedro, California. Not only is he a “soulless bureaucrat” (I’d argue that bureaucracy actually has quite a lot of talent, even if it isn’t always used to its full potential), but he’s racist, sexist, and a Southern “good old boy,” too. It felt like a blatant pile-on to make it necessary for viewers to hate him, and it was overkill (pun not intended).

The episode opens with Juarez walking into City Hall for another day of medical panels. She’s surprised to find the place mostly abandoned. Juarez questions a staffer about what happened to the medical panels, and the staffer says the panels are over. A report has already been sent to Congress, and legislation in response to the report is pending. Juarez, of course, wants to see this report ASAP. It turns out that the report contains the new three category system for classifying human life. Juarez is rather appalled by this, and she calls Rex to tell him that she’s in on whatever Torchwood is planning to do about PhiCorp.

Meanwhile, Gwen arrives in the Cardiff airport. She uses her Yvonne Pallister fake identity, and she meets Rhys in baggage claim. He’s dressed as a chauffeur, which is kind of adorable. The family has a pow wow at Gwen’s mother’s house. It’s obvious that the relationship between Gwen and her mother is a bit strained to begin with, and the situation with Gwen’s dad has only made it worse. Gwen’s mother is every demanding about rescuing her husband. She has a sort of conspiracy wall set up at her house and everything. Andy drives Gwen to the Cowbridge Overflow Camp, where Gwen’s father is being held, and they are met by a massive crowd of people demanding news about their loved ones. Gwen manages to cut ahead of them and gets into the tent where people are filling out forms to try and contest their relatives’ placement in the camp. Andy tries to pull rank by telling the military guards that Gwen’s father is to be moved on police business, but the military folks won’t care. Gwen pitches a fit and almost manages to get arrested, but Rhys diffuses the situation. As they all leave the camp, Gwen decides a break-in is their only option.

In LA, Jack and Esther are walking along the beach, and Esther starts prying about Jack’s past. Lucky for Jack, he’s saved by his and Esther’s phones ringing. Both received texts from Rex because Dr. Juarez (Vera) has arrived. Rex introduces Juarez to Jack and Esther, and Jack manages to make an ass of himself by asking about Vera’s sleeping arrangements. It looks like the whole thing was for Esther’s benefit, but it still didn’t work for me. It was extremely awkward and not like Jack at all. Once Vera is settled, the team holds a mini briefing with Gwen participating through video phone. It turns out that the overflow camps are spreading beyond the US and UK to other European countries. Vera is brought up to speed, but it turns out that she already knew a lot, including about morphic fields. I guess Jack is suitably impressed, because he officially welcomes Vera to Torchwood.

In the next part of the briefing talks about how they need to know who is above PhiCorps and why they might need overflow camps. My guess is aliens. With “Torchwood,” it’s always aliens. There’s also a presentation about the new “categories.” Category 1 is pretty much brain dead, Category 2 is persistent illness/injury, and Category 3 is everyone else. Esther reveals that there is a section of each camp called “the Module” that is on the blueprints but can’t be seen on the aerial photos. It turns out the photos were doctored to hide them. Category 1 folks are supposed to go to the module, and the team wonders what PhiCorp might be doing with them there. The team’s first instinct is that it must be some sort of experiment. Gwen and Rhys are going to infiltrate the Cowbridge camp as a nurse and a truck driver, and Esther, Vera, and Rex are going to infiltrate the San Pedro, California camp as a clerk, medical panel observer, and patient. Jack calls an ambulance to take Rex to the camp, and I love the sendoff Jack gives him. He makes the paramedics think Rex is his boyfriend, and it’s hilarious. What’s not so hilarious is that Esther and Vera leave for the camp, too, leaving Jack behind. I thought that was just plain wrong, because Jack should be at the center of anything Torchwood.

The Torchwood “team” (minus Jack and Gwen who are actually, you know, Torchwood), enter the San Pedro camp with gusto. Rex learns about the concept of “pegging” from the nurse checking him in. There are red, white, and blue pegs, and blue are for category 2 and red for category 1. Rex is given a blue peg. Esther meets a fellow clerk, who seems rather listless and doesn’t really care about anything going on at the camp. Vera is greeted by Colin Maloney, the camp’s director. He manages to be both racist (remarking that Vera must not be bothered by the hot weather) and sexist (not realizing that she was actually Dr. Juarez) all in the space of a few sentences. As I said in the introduction, he’s a seriously obnoxious cliché. And he has a customized golf cart where the horn plays “Dixie.” Seriously. It’s.That.Bad. Ralph, Colin’s “personal escort” seems a little more interesting, but he doesn’t really do much as Colin and Vera tour the camp and repeatedly argue about whether efficiency or care for patients is most important.

Meanwhile, Esther changes Rex’s category and gets him taken away to the Module. Esther and Rex have a little scene right before he’s taken away that might have been touching if I actually cared about either of them. When Rex is locked in one of the Module buildings, he turns on a flashlight and starts taping what he’s seeing. There are people stacked up on bunks, all unconscious. Rex can’t tell if they’ve been experimented on or not. Lucky for him, he manages to get out of the Module building, and he starts filming the outside as well.

Juarez is having much worse luck. She demands to be allowed to see a “storage” building, and she is appalled at what she sees inside. People are lying all over the place. Colin claims that they are “pending” status at the camp because they don’t have insurance. The final straw for Vera is when she sees someone who is clearly conscious tagged with a Category 1 red peg. That essentially means he was declared dead when he shouldn’t have been, so it’s a big deal. She is really, really pissed, and when she goes into a laundry room and is overcome by the stench, she goes completely off the rails. Colin tries to brag about how he’s under budget, but Juarez threatens to have him prosecuted for mistreating the patients, using more of this show’s patented pseudo-but-not-really legal mumbo jumbo. Ralph tries to diffuse the situation, but it’s gone too far. Colin shoots Vera, and he has Ralph get a car to take her to the Module. Then Colin leaves her on the floor of one of the buildings. He tries to rationalize it by saying there can be no more murder in a world without death.

In Wales, Gwen and Rhys are able to infiltrate Cowbridge pretty easily thanks to Rhys working for a trucking company. It also doesn’t seem to take Gwen very long to find her dad among the many, many Category 2 patients. She tells her dad that the camp isn’t safe, and she and Rhys bundle him up and head for Rhys’ lorry. As they try to hoist Gwen’s dad up into the cab of the lorry, he has yet another heart attack, and this one is even worse than the first two. Gwen has to admit defeat, and she screams for a doctor. One rushes over pretty quickly. We later see Gwen and Rhys sitting around the camp, waiting for news. Rhys has to go to work, and soon after he leaves, Gwen is told by a nurse that her father is now Category 1. Gwen doesn’t believe he fits the definition, but the nurse says that Gwen has until the morning to get it changed. At dawn, all the new Category 1 folks have to be transported to the Module.

Oswald and Jilly have arrived in Los Angeles for the big Miracle Rally. I’m not really sure what the purpose of the rally was supposed to be. Later, we see a bunch of people in “Dead is Dead” t-shirts, so maybe it is to show support for the overflow camps? Anyway, Jilly gives Oswald a pre-prepared speech, and she tells him that the key word in the speech is “revelation.” When he says it, the PhiCorp logo will pop up on a screen behind him. Oswald is not happy about this- he wants to use his own words. When they arrive at the stadium, Security has to hold back people who are jeering at Oswald, which makes him even surlier. He starts bitching about not having a dressing room, and Jilly walks away from him to take a phone call. Jack appears down the hallway, trying to look iconic, which cracked me up. Oswald tries to follow him, but he doesn’t catch up.

Jilly gives Oswald a new, even shorter speech, and quickly rushes off, probably to avoid more of Oswald’s temper. She is stopped by a man who says she is doing a good job and is being noticed by the right people. I assume he’s part of the “higher than PhiCorp” folks. Just before he’s supposed to go on stage, Oswald finally talks to Jack. Jack has an alternate speech for Oswald to deliver. He wants Oswald to expose PhiCorp. Jack thinks that what Oswald really wants is to die, so he expects Oswald to go along with the plan. Oswald defies everyone’s expectations, though. He doesn’t deliver either of the speeches he’s been given- he gives his own. He says that man has evolved into angels, and the crowd loves it. I’m not really sure why. What he’s saying isn’t all that profound. I also want to know why nobody’s hauled his ass off to an overflow camp yet. Anyway, despite going off-book, Oswald still uses the word “revelation,” and the PhiCorp logo shines brightly behind him.

Rex is outside, still filming, when he sees a light turn on outside one of the module buildings. We see that Colin is behind the building, flipping a switch. Rex rushes up to the building and sees that Vera is inside, begging for help. Esther has also noticed Vera’s absence, and she’s desperately trying to call her to no avail. Then the flames start, and Rex sadly films the proceedings (heartless jerk) as Vera burns to…sort-of-death, I guess. In Wales, Rhys calls Gwen to say he’s been told that the workers at the camp call the modules “burn units.” He figures this means they must be for burn victims. Gwen somehow miraculously, spontaneously puts the pieces of the puzzle together. The Module buildings are all ovens, burning people alive.

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