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Mr. Harvey: TORCHWOOD Goes Out With a … Meh

Opinion, Recaps, Reviews, TV 2 Comments 2

Not with a bang, but with a… well, it’s better than a whimper, but only just.

With “The Blood Line”, we do get an ending, and it does wrap up the story and answer most of the questions, and overall it’s not a bad episode. For all the fuss and bother to get us here though, it’s an ending that lacks quite a bit, and if you’ve been dissatisfied with TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY so far, you’re probably not going to be overwhelmed.

So what happens? Well, our two Torchwood teams move into position at the polar ends of the Blessing, fighting their way into the Shanghai and Buenos Aires facilities, and confront the Families. There they get the answers of why and how the Miracle happened, defeat the villains, and save the world from the curse of immortality. The end.

Not thrilled by that summary? Well, it’s actually better than that, quite good in places, but after watching it all, I admit I was left with a definite sense of “Meh.” It really has been a “too little, too late” season for TORCHWOOD, and while they try to make this last episode big and grand and powerful, there are a few things that just make that impossible.

Let’s start with the Families and their plan. See, way back when, they saw the repeated resurrections of Jack, and while he escaped them, they kept large quantities of his blood and used them in their quest for immortality. Realizing that they would need more power than they currently had to make that happen, they moved into politics, the media and the financial worlds, gradually taking them over and preparing for the day when they would have the chance to rule the world and live forever. The discovery of the Blessing gave them the final piece they needed, and they used its unique properties to make humanity immortal so they could take over the world after the chaos collapsed society. Yes folks, the Families are James Bond villains.

I mean really, that’s it. The big plan? Watch the world burn, then step in and pick up the pieces and rule. Sorry, but isn’t that the plot of MOONRAKER and THE SPY WHO LOVED ME? I’m not saying that John Barrowman couldn’t play Bond, but is that really what we tuned in for? And as for the Blessing itself, we got a lot of “That’s what makes it magical” to try and cover for the fact that they never actually tell us what it is or how it manages to be apparently alive and still run through the molten center of the earth, and its apparent control of the morphic field of the Earth really just comes down to “because it does”.  That it somehow made humanity immortal to be “kind” also makes little sense, as does the whole damn premise because Jack’s blood isn’t what makes Jack immortal.

In DOCTOR WHO’s “The Parting of the Ways”, Rose Tyler uses the power of the Time Vortex to resurrect him, and leaves him a fixed point in time: while Jack can be killed, he will always come back to life, wounds healed and never aging. That’s what he is. What he’s not is a man carrying around immortal blood with its own unique properties that can be passed on to other people, and yet ignoring what he himself created, that’s what Russell T. Davies has given us here. The interaction between the Blessing and Jack’s blood and it’s creation of an immortal humanity makes no sense whatsoever, and less so that Jack would become mortal in response. It’s something that comes across purely as story mechanics, and when you have the character say, in this season, more than once, that there’s nothing special about Jack’s blood, and still the plot hinges on there being something special about Jack’s blood? Rubbish. And don’t get me started on Rex’s resurrection and new-found immortality because of a blood transfusion…

We do finally get a resolution to Oswald Danes’ arc, or rather, his complete lack of an arc. Oh they implied he was something of a changed man, for a moment or two, but here we have the unrepentant monster, the murdering pedophile, larger than life and twice as repugnant, and I just have to ask… what, exactly, was the point? Don’t get me wrong, I really think Bill Pullman has been excellent here, but it’s the character and his arc that just doesn’t work. From the world-wide celebrity that never made sense all the way to his human bomb exit, we’ve never really been given a reason to spend all this time with Danes, and we end without one. Was it to set up Jilly and bring her to the attention of the Families? Can’t be, since she already worked for PhiCorp, and that brings me to Lauren Ambrose, and I repeat the question, what was the point?

Her Jilly Kitzinger ultimately brought, um, what exactly to the show? Again, Ambrose performed great, and I liked a lot of the moments she was on camera, but in the end, she was just an unethical self-serving PR hack, and aside from the fight scene between her and Gwen here, I can’t see what point the character ultimately serves. And to make matters worse, we get an epilogue with her and Blond Family Lackey that teases that this was all a trial run. I don’t know, like Oswald, Jilly got a lot of set up for not a lot of payoff.

That’s actually a problem with the whole show by the way. After 9 episodes, the climax feels flat, and for such an earth shattering premise, the resolution is pretty banal. And no, let me add, no mention of the complete and utter collapse of society at the end, or any kind of political fallout for the leaders of the world who all jumped headfirst into fascistic territory. Not. One. Word.

Let me also take a moment to both praise and condemn the CIA in this episode. John De Lancie’s Director Shapiro returns, making the longest run of the American-Genre-Cameo brigade, and steals the scenes he’s in. That he gets the sendoff line he gets is pretty awesome, but at the same time, one has to ask how a building full of spies misses the “I’m-clearly-hiding-something” behavior of Marina Benedict’s Charlotte Wills, and it’s a little hard to believe that running a trace on the Families phones would be such a resource drain, budget cuts or not, considering what the CIA’s budget is in our world. It’s a nice explosion scene, but it really does seem like they were missing the extremely obvious, and surely the CIA has some protocols in place to track down moles. I mean, they are a spy agency after all.

Our Torchwood team is back, front and center here, and for the most part, Jack and Gwen get treated pretty well. Eve Myles gets to open the episode with a really nice speech about Gwen’s father, and for a character that has spent most of his airtime playing dead-ish, what she has to say brings him to life as a person the way nothing we’ve seen has. And it brings the actual stakes to the fore as well, acknowledging that saving the world from the Families means Gwen will be responsible for killing her dad. Her interactions with Jack feel like TORCHWOOD of old, and her beat down of Jilly was, as I said, fun to watch. Her being the one to kill Jack, because she knows he’s not a suicide, her commitment to the horrible yet necessary goal… I’m thinking that Gwen finally got to be Gwen here, and it’s a shame that she was, like Jack and the others, written so poorly this season.

The same holds true for Barrowman’s Jack Harkness. His speech to Danes about the glories of the universe and Oswald’s insignificant place in it is quite good indeed, as is his “death”, and while I doubt that anyone thought Jack would stay dead, the buildup was nicely dramatic. Jack gets to be the hero again, and like Gwen, seems like himself here. He has been written pretty well these last few episodes overall, but here he’s back in form.

Rex gets to finally show his humanity here, treating Esther like a real friend, and aside from his rather odd reaction to her being shot… OK, look. They all knew they could fail, they all knew that the Families could cause their true death, they knew the stakes, and while Rex reacting to Esther being shot should certainly have been one of horror and outrage, his questioning what to do seems out-of-place considering the fact that he and Jack were prepared to die to save the world. That Rex wouldn’t think that Esther would be prepared to make that sacrifice too doesn’t really make sense. Mekhi Phifer has had a sort of thankless task this season, playing such a ill-tempered man, but here he shows that Rex really does care, and it would have been nice to see more of that. Unfortunately, we got the magic blood solution to Rex surviving the return of death to the world, and that seems something of both a cheat and a contrived resolution.

Oh, poor Esther. We’ve watched her be somewhat useless and then grow into a pretty good field agent, and if we had her family subplot handled clumsily overall, we did get enough of her character developed into something real that by the end her death had some weight. That we got some resolution with her funeral at the end was nice, even if the appearance of her sister and her nieces avoids the question of their mental illness. I’ve liked Alexa Havins’ performance throughout the series, finding fault with the writing but not what she’s done with it, and while I don’t have any problem with main characters dying if they are written out well, I did hate to see her be the one to go, especially after losing Arlene Tur’s Vera.

There were other good moments, as well as other bad… Good was the time Rhys and Sgt. Andy spent with Gwen’s father and the nameless Category One girl, and Rhys’ talk with Gwen. Also good was the air of superiority the two Family Big Bads displayed, but bad was the “Talking Villain Syndrome” they both had, and the rather arbitrary midnight deadline to blow up the entrances to the Blessing. Again, very James Bond, and the story suffered for it. Bad also was the pace of things, because while it was better than a lot of the other episodes, that’s not saying much, and here too it was very uneven.

So, it’s over, and despite having a truly horrific premise and vast potential, this season seems like a LOT of wasted opportunity and filler. I think there was a really solid 6 episode story here, but at 10 it just dragged on. I think we spent a LOT of time with characters we didn’t need to, and worst of all, we had villains who ultimately had a fairly dull reason and over-complicated plan. I wonder if TORCHWOOD will be back to be honest… the reviews have not been kind and the ratings haven’t been much to get excited about, so we shall see. Let’s just hope Mr. Davies is listening and it’s better next time.

[photos: Starz]

[Official Show Site at STARZ]   [Official Show Site at BBC]

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2 Comments

  1. Robert Hubbard September 12, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    American writers + TORCHWOOD = mediocre TV. If they get a go ahead for Season 5, (a) don’t farm it out to so many writers. Keep it to 2 or 3 at the most (Davies, Espenson and whoever else was responsible for a strong episode) and (b) don’t take 10 segments to tell a story that easily could’ve been done in half that time.

  2. Diana L September 12, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    You’ve pretty much nailed most of my own gripes with the series. I love RTD’s ideas but his execution always seems to fall so short. I love the premise of Torchwood but only a deep, insane fangirl love for Captain Jack Harkness kept me watching more than three episodes of Series 1 of Torchwood. I Miracle Day after Children of Earth (which I did like A LOT MORE) but it fell so very short. Slow to start, sputtered in the middle and just got WTF at the end. It all felt so cobbled together, the good mashed between nearly unwatchable with confunded subplots and underutilized characters. It felt a lot like RTD’s Doctor Who run just with a bigger budget and tons of excuses for explosions. Sorry, bitter. I wish it was better, it could have been so much better.

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