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Mr Harvey: TORCHWOOD Has Escaped Logic

Episode 4.04: “Escape to L.A.”

Right, well, here’s where they blew it. Oh probably not, they can still make it all work I suspect, but this episode has so many problems that I’m going to go with a slightly different format to talk about it. Consider this review ONE BIG SPOILER.

Where to begin. Let’s see.

Politics. There’s a lot of it in this episode and most of it is screwed up. It’s made pretty clear here that there has been NO message on the subject of the Miracle from the White House, science organizations, the Vatican or other major religions.  Could it be a bit of exaggeration here? Well, it’s actually the second episode this has been talked about, and in the context of the show it seems to really be the state of things. That this could possibly be the case is frankly unbelievable. Even if you have no interest in politics you can’t have missed the President on TV whenever there is a major disaster for oh I don’t know, THE HISTORY OF TELEVISION? And there have been LOTS of TV “clips” in this series, but a suspicious lack of politicians or theologians. It’s clearly something the writers have chosen to NOT do, and that, that is kind of insulting to think we wouldn’t notice.

And there’s a new movement rising, to accompany the Soulless. “Dead Is Dead”: Treat those who should have died and didn’t because of the Miracle as if they did die. Spearheaded by Ellis Hartley-Monroe, the “darling of the Tea Party”, the movement wants the should-be-dead to be segregated from the just-became-immortal, in part because they are a drain on the medical resources that have become so important in this post-Miracle world. Moreso though, it’s because people like Hartley-Monroe think that they can create a paradise on earth if only they can get rid of those pesky unwanted people who just won’t die. I’m no fan of the Tea Party, and outside of this context I’d be happy to tell you why, but if you’re going to make a point of having a character who is a member, do try to make them something other than a caricature won’t you? Her talk of segregation is pretty heavy-handed, as is the shot of Rex watching her on TV. Racial overtones anyone? Does that mean I can’t see that happening? Sadly I can, but still. Then there is her opinion of the drug companies, or “drug dealers” as she calls them. Agree with it or not, conservative thought is generally quite supportive of corporate profits, and to have a conservative rail against them is newsworthy if nothing else. Surely there would be some fallout? And when Oswald Danes steals her thunder at a press conference, she’s promptly disposed of, quite permanently, by the mysterious villains behind PhiCorp. Which, while dramatic, is STUPID. The idea that she could be a threat to the Triangle, with all their power and resources and their control of the media and now the medical community simply makes no sense. Could she really have no more use, or did the writers just want to make a point?

As for the time thing, which I’ve mentioned before, it’s really starting to bother me. Sure, telescoping events down happens all the time in television and the movies, but it really is starting to seem like our Torchwood team is running on a different time track than the rest of the world. It’s odd how events following the Miracle can have time to develop celebrities like Oswald, movements like the Soulless and Dead Is Dead, and yet our heroes seem to be taking their sweet time putting things together. Or is it the reverse, where outside events are moving at a pace we almost never see in this modern world of ours? It doesn’t seem to add up.

Let’s talk about Oswald for a moment. Last episode we established clearly that his talk of forgiveness and redemption was all an act, designed to ensure a place for him in this new world.  So when PhiCorp offered to take him on as a spokesman it makes perfect sense for him to accept. And here we find that he has begun looking into the people behind PhiCorp, which as an act of self-interest also makes sense. What doesn’t is how he does it. “Last night” you see, Danes went online and tried to find out about who is behind his benefactor. What he finds leads him to believe that PhiCorp is hiding something, something big. All well and good, but really? One man, who hasn’t been online in years, can look at the information available on a company, ALL the information on a company and determine that the owners are shadows. And no one else has noticed this? No one but a convicted murderer and pedophile? Not one government agency? Not one business rival? With all the hacking that has revealed corporate information in the last few years? Um… right.

Then there is his speech in the hospital that D.C. has dumped all their should-be-dead in. I’ll talk more about that in a minute, but like I said in an earlier review, humanity is acting really weird when it comes to Oswald Danes. Of course the people quarantined in the hospital are feeling abandoned, of course they are looking for help, but their reaction to Oswald’s speech doesn’t work for me. Somehow humanity is suddenly ok by being championed by a monster, and while that is sadly not without the precedent of Hitler and Stalin among others, again, it’s all happening so fast. Only one old man objects to Oswald’s call to unity, and only for a moment. Sorry, but when a convicted pedophile and murderer asks for forgiveness, I really can’t see it happening so quick, and I can’t see that his saying “We’re the same”, no matter the circumstances, is going to make people view him as their leader. As Dr. Jaurez says witnessing this, “This is disgusting.”

That leads me nicely into the medical side of things, and again, I have a problem with the timetable. Suddenly quarantine is the preferred option, and I do mean suddenly. With other members of the panels addressing the changed medical system, Dr. Vera Jaurez finds herself touring an abandoned hospital. The proposed facility where the should-be-dead will be housed is empty and structurally unsound, but the decision HAS TO BE MADE NOW! Really? Again, bureaucracies don’t often move like that, and even when they do it always ends badly. Remember New Orleans and a certain stadium? And it better be a bloody HUGE hospital to take all the cases from the 15 hospitals mentioned. There are what, a few million people in the greater Washington Metropolitan Area? How many thousands fall into the should-be-dead category? So of course it leads to a disaster, and another weird compression of time, because when we see it next it’s overflowing, with conditions worse than if the “afflicted” had stayed where they were. These things really do take time people. Really, they do.

And what about our Torchwood team? Oh my dear and fuzzy lord. Ok, so you’re on the run from the authorities, trying to figure out a way to infiltrate the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, and yet your individual members keep wandering off to do their own things? Gahhh!!! First we have Esther going to visit her sister before the team heads to California, in what has to be one of the stupidest things someone trying to stay out of view could do. Has she never seen a thriller? Does it really never occur to her that her sister’s house wouldn’t be watched? Or Rex sneaking off in LA to see his estranged father? With the resources the bad guys have, could he really think they wouldn’t know about him? Or Gwen wandering about outside talking to her husband on the phone? Yes, yes, it’s an encrypted phone, and can’t be traced, but SHE’S WALKING AROUND IN PUBLIC TALKING ABOUT PHICORP. And really? With the global reach of PhiCorp, is it really possible that her house back in Wales isn’t bugged? Maybe, but why on earth take the chance? It’s pretty amateur behavior from people who should know better. Even when they work out the plan to sneak into PhiCorp and steal the data they need things don’t quite work, although it’s more on the bad guys side than on Torchwood’s.

Yes then, about our villains. We get a lot of hints here, and that’s somewhat intriguing, but our most public face of the Triangle is The Tracker. I actually found myself liking this character and I really shouldn’t, because he has a bad case of Talking Villain Syndrome. If you’re not familiar with this condition, it’s when a bad guy doesn’t do the logical thing and just kill the hero when he has the chance, but instead engages him/her in conversation, usually revealing the Master Plan in the process. Think JAMES BOND movies. I think I like him for two reasons though, the first being that he is played by C. Thomas Howell and it’s nice to see him in another genre piece. The second reason is that here we finally get some information about our Big Bads, however cryptic. Ok, there’s another reason, and that’s the wistfulness he displays about facing someone who can actually be killed, as being a hired killer isn’t the same in the post Miracle world. Capturing Jack and Gwen, of course he gives just enough information to raise more questions before Rex rushes in to save them, unfortunately shooting the Tracker in the throat. Of course he isn’t dead-dead, so there’s a chance he could return, but our heroes made a real error by not taking him with them.

Ok, but did I like ANYTHING? Yes, I did actually, but it’s pretty much the performances. John Barrowman’s Jack Harkness is of course always on, and his frustration at not knowing about what group from his past is behind all of this plays real. And Bill Pullman’s Oswald Danes is still fascinating, even more so now as he questions the motives of those who have seemingly given him everything. Esther may be the worst spy ever, but Alexa Havins is dealing with how her character is written, and when she gets to play the analyst or the concerned sister she’s good, but the writing has her do it at all the wrong times. And as annoying and difficult as Rex is, Mekhi Phifer does get the nice moments where he confronts his estranged father, and we get to see where he may have gotten his abrasive personality. Not so keen on Eve Myles’ Gwen this episode… but more than anything it’s the writing, again, letting her down. And even though she’s in this episode only briefly, Arlene Tur’s Dr. Vera Juarez is still my favorite new character, and among all the characters this episode, she’s the one who does the logical thing over and over.

So while I haven’t given up on TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY, I am really disappointed with this episode, especially after the nice build I think the series has had until this point. Here though, I think they took all the little problems of the series and decided they needed to be writ large. Hopefully they got it out of their system.

[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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