OpinionReviewsTelevision & Film

Mr. Harvey: TORCHWOOD 04.08 Is All About the Families

banner_recap“END OF THE ROAD”

The Torchwood team has decided to accompany the granddaughter of Jack’s old love Angelo to a long-awaited reunion and some answers about the mysteries of the Miracle, but all is not as it seems…


Arriving at the mansion Angelo calls home, Rex has Esther stay outside maintaining a link to their HQ’s computers while he, Jack and Gwen are led inside by Angelo’s granddaughter, Olivia. Revealing that Angelo was inspired by Jack to search for immortality, she takes them to him, but while he found many ways to prolong his life, he has not been able to stop the aging process. When the Miracle happened he was very, very old and barely alive, and despite it’s effects, Jack finds his friend comatose.

Olivia reveals that while Angelo was trying to live forever, he wasn’t the only one: three men, each representing a different wealthy family, the same three men Jack saw when being murdered over and over in the 1920’s. Finally we have names for them: Ablemarch, Costerdane and Frines, also known as the Families. Esther’s attempts to find them electronically prove fruitless though, as they have used their wealth and power to scrub their names from history. She also reveals that while Angelo and the Families were both searching for immortality, they weren’t doing it together, and while they somehow managed to put aside any racial tensions to form their pact, Angelo’s love for another man made him someone they weren’t… comfortable with. Even Angelo’s later marriage and happy life as a husband and father did nothing to bring him into their plans and so he watched them from a distance. He also watched Jack…

But as Esther is finding the Families have covered their tracks all too well, Rex and Esther’s old boss Friedkin returns with a team of corrupt CIA agents. It seems Rex made a phone call to Vera’s brother to express his condolences and the CIA picked it up, leading to agents tracking him down, and Friedkin racing to get there first. Knowing that Rex and Esther can expose him, he’s quite prepared to create a houseful of Category 1’s, but just when it looks like he might get away with it, Rex reveals that this is all part of his plan. Knowing full well that the CIA would pick up on the call, and counting on Friedkin’s attempt to stop him, Rex has used the Contacts to transmit their conversation to every receiver within 100 feet, exposing Friedkin’s betrayal to the arriving Director Allen Shapiro.

Taking control of the situation, Shapiro makes it very clear that things will now be done his way, and while this rubs Gwen and Jack the wrong way, there really isn’t much they can do about it. It does bring Rex and Esther back into the good graces of the CIA, and Rex convinces Jack to work with Shapiro to finally find a way to stop the Families. Their plan to get information from Friedkin runs into a bit of a problem when, knowing that the Families don’t treat failure well, he uses a bomb to blow himself up, taking Olivia with him.

Jack is given a few minutes to say goodbye to Angelo, and while talking to him and revealing he still loves him, something unexpected happens: Angelo dies.

Despite Jack’s attempts to revive him, it becomes quite clear that in this world where no one actually dies, Angelo has, with no clear reason why. Rex quite understandably needs to know if this is a worldwide event, but it’s only Angelo, and the question of how is an answer Shapiro needs to have. Jack denies understanding how, but left alone with Gwen, it’s clear that he knows more than he’s telling.

As Rex reunites with his old team and the quest for the Families kicks into high gear, Agent Charlotte Wills reveals to Esther that her sister is in a secured mental hospital, and contacting her, Esther is horrified to learn her sister has volunteered to be classified Category 1. It seems that there is a growing number of people who feel that this new world is a kind of hell and just want to escape it, and Esther’s sister is one of them, desiring death for herself and her children.

Meanwhile in Dallas, we have the return of Oswald Danes and his PhiCorp handler Jilly Kitzinger. Oswald ignores Jilly’s attempts to plan his itinerary and demands a prostitute, trying to reinvent himself even more. When Jilly storms out, she finds she’s gained a new intern, and tasks her with finding one for him. What she doesn’t know is that her new intern has a full-time job already with the CIA, with Jack’s interest in Danes making Jilly an obvious target for surveillance. When the prostitute arrives she’s surprised to find that Danes doesn’t want her to dress up like a schoolgirl or play the innocent, and repulsed by his desire to just talk and have dinner. Telling him that his illusion of being loved by the world is just that, she reveals that his celebrity status hasn’t stopped people from hating him for his crime, and she refuses to play along. When he loses his temper she warns him that he’s running out of time… soon he’ll be Category Zero.

Confronting Jilly, Oswald finds that she too knows that his time is running out, and she explains that Category Zero is for those whose crimes deserve death, and that he will soon find his way to the ovens. Furious that he’s been used by PhiCorp and Jilly, Oswald attacks her before fleeing the hotel, with her screaming after him that she will see him burn.

At Angelo’s mansion, Jack tries to keep secret that he suspects something about Angelo’s death, but Esther’s conversation with her sister has put her in no mood for such secrets. Forcing him to reveal that there is something odd about the platform under Angelo’s bed, Jack’s attempt to deny he knows what it is brings Gwen into direct conflict with Shapiro and to get the answers he wants from Jack he has Gwen deported. Jack reveals that the technology is a Null Field, somehow affecting the Morphic Field that is behind the Miracle, but denies knowing how it works. Shapiro demands that Jack find a way to move it safely so they can take it back to Langley, seeing in it a way to stop the Miracle. Reluctantly Jack begins work on it, but makes it clear to Rex and Esther that he can’t allow the CIA to have access to alien technology. The risk it poses to the future is too great, and the power it could grant to any government is something mankind just can’t have. He also reveals that it used to be part of the Torchwood Hub, and that Angelo must have recovered it from the wreckage left at the end of the third series of the show. Convincing them to help him remove a critical piece and escape to save the future, they plan to help him to slip away while Rex and Esther stay with the CIA to continue to track down the Families.

At the hotel, Jilly and her intern are on their way to the police when they are stopped by an agent of the Families who reveals that the intern is CIA and kills her. While Jilly reels with shock, he reveals that he’s there for another reason: the Families want her to work for them. Accepting, she goes with him as he makes a call to a contact at the CIA, and we see that Agent Wills is not the friend she appears to be.

Escaping from the house does not go smoothly for Jack, as an agent sees him and shoots, wounding him and seeing Esther helping. Realizing that Jack will need Esther’s help, Rex knocks out the agent and orders her to go, staying behind to try and work from within. Esther drives away with Jack, but her entreaties to him to tell her where to go and what to do get only silence…

The title notwithstanding, this is not, in fact, the end of the road. This is episode 8 of ten, and FINALLY, some answers in this oh so frustrating season of TORCHWOOD. But here’s the funny thing… although when I watched it the first time I was very pleased with this episode, I’ve watched it several times since and well… hmmm.

The good news is that finally the story seems to be coming together, after what can only be described as a very unfocused season. With the last week’s “IMMORTAL SINS”, we saw the beginning of the events that would lead to the Miracle, and here we get a TON of information. From the personal revelations about Angelo’s life after Jack to the fleshing out of the Families, we’re starting to have a story here, and the pace of things these last two episodes has been much more consistent than most of the previous ones.

I was concerned that somehow the Miracle was going to be the result of Angelo’s broken heart, and in a way it is. His fears that led to Jack being tortured and killed over and over, led in turn to the interest of the Families, and thorugh thier actions, the Miracle, but Angelo’s biggest crime there was being human. There’s a certain sadness to the fact that he watched Jack all those years without contacting him, simply because he was ashamed of growing old, never realizing that Jack is long since used to watching those he cares about age. One of the best moments in the episode is where Jack is saying goodbye to him, and the devil-may-care Jack disappears for a bit. John Barrowman can chew the scenery with the best of them, but it’s this quiet moment, and especially his mention of Ianto, that may be his best this series. I’m not sure that’s a great compliment considering some of the writing we’ve seen so far, but there it is. Also good is Jack’s reaction to Angelo’s death, with the shock and frustration of not understanding how he died playing alongside his sadness.

The addition of John DeLancie to our motley crew was something I wasn’t all that sure about, but the arrogant and imperious Director Shapiro was funny as hell. DeLancie is of course best known to a lot of genre fans as Q from STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, and while you can certainly see the same kind of arrogance in the two characters, there is a cynicism here that tones down Shapiro, even as he’s saying some of the funniest lines of the show. I’ve always wanted to see DeLancie play just an ordinary guy, but of course this isn’t the show for that, and that’s ok. What’s unfortunate is how little he gets to play off of Nana Visitor’s Olivia, especially based on the brief exchanges they do have. Both powerful and self-assured, and leading what amounts to a couple of private armies, it would have been nice to see more of them clashing. And no, unlike some of the folks out there in the online communities, it didn’t seem to me like a STAR TREK mini-reunion. Perhaps it’s the years between, or maybe the fact that Q only appeared in one STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE episode, but it felt more like the “Oh Look! American Genre Actors” theme the show is already running with than anything else.

Speaking of which, it’s nice to see some of these actors return for a second episode instead of just popping up to make the fanboys and girls squee… the return of  Wayne Night’s Friedkin especially. Seriously out of his depth, we get more pieces of his character this time around, enough, in fact, to make me regret his self-inflicted demise. His complimenting Rex on his plan and his mention of the times he’s worked against the Families make him a little more of a tragic villain.

Also returning here is Nana Visitor, but she has sort of a thankless role to be honest. There’s a LOT of exposition here, and her Olivia is pretty much Queen Info-Dump. She gets to have the nice bit where she explains that a) Jack isn’t so special after all and b) she’s been protecting him because her grandfather wanted her to, not because she actually wants to, but aside from that she’s more or less here to pass on story points and die.

Eve Myles Gwen gets a weird treatment this episode, and I’m not really sure what they were thinking here. Oh, she’s fine for most of it, and pretty funny, but when Friedkin has his men drag Rex out of the room, even faced with multiple guns pointing at her, Gwen keeps trying to go after him. Yes, yes, we get it, Gwen’s impulsive and stubborn and stands by her friends, but it just seemed like a parody of the character for that moment. That and her somewhat abrupt removal from the episode made her just.. odd… to me this time.

Rex gets to play his own game here, and it’s a pretty neat little sting he pulls on Friedkin, although there is a bit of a problem with it. Ok, I can see that he lifted the Contacts from Gwen, although how he knew which pocket they were in is a bit of a mystery, but since we were shown that they have some pretty advanced lip-reading software because they don’t have audio, the sudden appearance here of Friedkin’s voice seems a little… ah hell, it seems sloppy. Anyway, Mekhi Phifer seems to be enjoying himself here, and aside from the unnecessary comedy with the Null Field, Rex is nowhere near as grouchy or unpleasant this episode.

Alexa Havins gets to do more here with Esther than be the increasingly more important tech and research member, and her performance in the scene with her sister is quite good. Her return to a life within the CIA clearly gives her some relief, but her despair over what the Miracle has done to her sister is her best part of the episode. It’s odd though… while the revelation that her sister wants to go to the ovens is quite disturbing, it’s been so long since we’ve seen or heard from her that it loses any real impact on the overall story. I can’t be sure that I really want more of the Drummond family drama, especially considering how much this show has sprawled in its story, but without more depth to it, there’s something missing from the scene.

The return of Oswald and Jilly after being out of sight for the last few episodes was welcome, especially since we’re running out of story here and we still haven’t seen any real reason for all the focus they’ve had this season. I’m liking Bill Pullman’s performance though, and here his twitchy monster gets the beginnings of his comeuppance as he realizes how disposable he really is. I still don’t buy the whole “Oswald Danes: Superstar” thing though, and between the prostitute and Jilly it’s clear that he’s pretty hated, so why are we expected to believe that the public has been so moved by him? Sure, we have very odd relationships with our celebrities, but off the top of my head I can’t think of any that are pedophiles and murderers. The scenes with Oswald are always good, but I just never understood the importance of the character to the larger story.

I have a similar problem with Jilly Kitzinger, played with great relish by Lauren Ambrose. We’ve established that she’s a pretty capable PR lady, and morally flexible enough to feed the Oswald publicity machine to great effect, but here we find her being recruited into the Families, and I’m not sure why. Aside from being very good at what she does, and feeling disgusted by Oswald, she hasn’t really done anything a real PR person does, so other than more of less keeping Oswald in line, why the interest? It’s odd, but still Ambrose has the most to work with here of any of her appearances, with her disdain and relief that she doesn’t need to keep babysitting Danes quite nice to see. When she’s attacked by him, her rage is something to behold.

So why am I not as happy with the episode after watching it multiple times? I mean, there’s clearly some good performances, more information than we’ve had before and definite movement on the story front, but still. This is episode eight, and now we’re getting answers. The Families still seem to be this weird mix of all-powerful and strangely impotent, especially when it comes to Torchwood, and still the reasons for the Miracle and what the Families could possible gain from it are unclear. Compared to the majority of this season’s episodes, this was practically poetry, but it was also exposition heavy and characters like Olivia and Gwen exited so oddly abruptly. I don’t know… two episodes left and I’m still trying to figure out just what Russell T. Davies and Co. were thinking here.

[photos: Starz]

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

Timothy Harvey

Timothy Harvey is a Kansas City based writer, director, actor and editor, with something of a passion for film noir movies. He was the art director for the horror films American Maniacs, Blood of Me, and the pilot for the science fiction series Paradox City. His own short films include the Noir Trilogy, 9 1/2 Years, The Statement of Randolph Carter - adapted for the screen by Jason Hunt - and the music video for IAMEVE’s Temptress. He’s a former President and board member for the Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City, and has served on the board of Film Society KC.

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