Torchwood: Miracle Day Recap (Episode 4): Escape to LA
The longer Torchwood: Miracle Day airs, the more it attempts genuine social commentary. Highlights from this week’s episode include the role of the news media, in particular pundits shaping cultural media narratives, and the exploitation of the sick, elderly, enfeebled and abandoned when healthcare is run like a business. Of course, mythologizing complex societal mechanisms is probably beyond the scope of an action/adventure story, but I’m surprised they’re even trying. If there’s an aspect to be blamed for Torchwood’s sudden social consciousness, I’d hazard to guess that it’s the decidedly American Starz’s acquisition of the property, and demographic pandering inevitable in transnational network hopping.
As to the content of the episode, though, it opens with Esther making an ill-advised visit to her sister, an excessively paranoid woman, whose parenting technique seems to deliberately be ripped from a manual on how to build a mentally unbalanced child. Understandably but perhaps misguidedly worried, Sarah contacts the authorities. She’s observed by a man in mirrored Ray Ban aviators, who mentions aloud his intent to find Jack Harkness. The scene transitions into another channel-flipping sequence, showing snippets from news programs discussing the ‘miracle’ from every abstract dimension. I kind of like it when TV satirizes TV, but I also kind of hate it.
Anyway, Jack, Rex, Esther and Gwen end up on a beach in LA, where Rex harangues everyone about everything, at this point probably to hammer home the point that he’s detail oriented, as if to emphasize Jack’s maverick qualities. After begging his Doctor booty call to hook him up with more drugs, Rex comes across a wall of fliers bearing the slogan “Dead is Dead,”which has become something of a phenomenon, apparently. There’s a growing movement to quarantine the people who should have died, a distinction that seems murky to me, but I can’t really recall a time when genuine ambiguity prevented the sloganization of political maneuvering.
In that same vein, a detainment facility has been set up for Those Who Should Have Died, whatever that means, which is met with skepticism and moral interrogation by the medical minds they (whoever “they” are…drug companies? The government? The mysterious triangle assassins?) are pitching it to. It’s mentioned that locking away the ugly and weird is a time honored western tradition, to which no one makes the obvious argument that genocide, torture, imperialism and general persecution are also western traditions, but that’s no excuse to knowingly perpetuate them further. Goddammit, guys.
And speaking of accommodations, the remnants of Torchwood and their stereotyped compatriots (tough, belligerent black guy and emotionally fragile, mousy white girl) manage to get a house, mostly on virtue of Jack’s charm. Really, the renegade real estate agent (because again, apparently, that’s a real profession, or they’d at least like us to believe it is) seems quite smitten. “Do you make everyone around you gay?” Rex asks incredulously. “That’s the plan,” Jack replies with that devilish grin. Displaying once more the unprofessional tendencies that boil Rex’s blood, Gwen pops out to take a call with Rhys, and we see that she is under the surveillance of The Sunglasses Assassin. Back at the house, Jack quotes Middlemarch, and my heart flutters.
Next, we see Oswald being pestered by his redheaded publicist, a woman whose allegiance and intention is still foggy, maybe deliberately. But, then, maybe not. He tells her that he’s done some research into Phicorp, and hit nothing but dead ends, since apparently all it takes is a Google search to unearth how shady they are. Elsewhere, Rex visits his father with the intention of stealing painkillers, which is a totally bizarre thing to do, but it’s fitting, because the scene itself is totally bizarre. Nothing comes of it, though, and it’s never mentioned again. Once he returns to the hideout, they begin to plan an Oceans 11-esque heist, and get the ball rolling by having Jack and Gwen use what must be impossible technology to imitate the biological functions of the only man with access to a special part of Phicorp’s infrastructure, accessed by his voice, hand print and retinas.
Back at the plague ship hospital, which makes me think of Michel Foucault’s ‘Madness and Civilization’, the doctor girl that’s inexplicably involved in every medical crisis everywhere in the world always, stresses just how insane this is. The whole thing spirals into a pundit war, with Hartley-Munroe, the spearhead of the “Dead is Dead” thing getting outshone by Oswald Danes, who regains his media spotlight by uttering hollow sentimental platitudes. Mrs. Hartley-Munroe sips on some poisoned coffee at the end of the scene, and subsequently, Nicholas Frankun, the man that Jack and Gwen ambushed earlier, has his biology circumvented in a much more grisly way by our elusive assassin. His voice, his hand, his eye. Ouch.
Meanwhile, Torchwood & friends put their heist into action, which is gripping either from good writing or the great outfits Jack and Gwen are put into. Gwen looks great in business formal and Jack, well, Jack looks great in everything. The whole thing is interrupted when Gwen’s assaulted by the Aviators mystery man, who subsequently manages to subdue Jack. He gives a long spiel about life and death and something or other about his employers that reminded me of 4chan’s ‘Anonymous’ motto. Before he can reveal his employers, and I don’t understand why he would but it seemed like he was going to, Rex bursts into the room and fills the guy with bullet holes. I guess add “trigger happy” to Rex’s unfortunate racial stereotypes.
The episode concludes with Hartley-Munroe being killed (or whatever the equivalent is) by Ray Ban Assassin’s employers, who utter the same comic book-y Raison d’etre that Gwen and Jack were subjected to earlier during the entire sequence, which I found to be needlessly elaborate. Back with our hero(es?), Rhys informs Gwen that he’s put her father into one of Phicorp’s “Overflow Camps”, with this really silly grin on his face, because he genuinely thinks he’s helping. Poor sap.
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