Torchwood: "Dead Of Night"
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Torchwood: "Dead Of Night"

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Torchwood

"Dead Of Night"

Season 4, Episode 3

Seems I was generous in my estimate last week that the current Torchwood series would have a couple of tense sequences per episode. I'm not even sure there was one in "Dead of Night." We get a new potential suspect for Miracle Day, and some moderate plot movement, but tension-wise, there's not much at all. If you squinted, you could count Gwen infiltrating Jill's office at Phicorp--she's nearly caught, right up until she isn't. Or maybe Jack's confrontation with Oswald Danes? Although that wasn't suspenseful so much as over-written and kind of odd. The truth is, "Dead" had a few nice moments, but it has the show cooling down after the first couple of episodes, and not in a good way. The problems which came up last episode are only getting worse, and given how many of them have plagued Torchwood from the start, I'm starting to adjust my expectations.

I don't have an inherent problem against an episode that doesn't move the plot forward. It can be difficult to do well, especially with a heavily serialized show like this one; stories in any medium have to make sure to justify every word and scene, and plot momentum is the easiest way to accomplish that. But Miracle Day has ten episodes to fill, and that gives you some space to play with. If "Dead" had dealt more with the impact of humanity's sudden immortality, showing us the actual effect instead of relying on news broadcasts and characters theorizing what would happen next, that could've been something. Or maybe not. That "Dead" stays with our main characters for its running time isn't at issue here, nor is the fact that this episode wasn't wound quite as tightly as the premiere. The issue is, I was bored for a large part of the hour, bored and slightly irritated, and that's just not a feeling one wants from a TV show. 

Besides, it's not like the plot didn't move forward at all. In retrospect, this got about as much done as last episode--more, really, as we now have our new Torchwood team established (Gwen, Jack, Rex, and Esther, with Dr. Juarez running support), so we don't have to deal with a lot of travelling. Rex snags Wayne Knight's cell phone, and explains his new theory that the people on the other end of the phone are responsible for the Miracle. The group finds their way to a warehouse full of pain medication, which means that Phicorp, the company responsible for the drugs, has been stockpiling meds for a while. Which is a pretty good sign that they at least knew the Miracle was going to happen, even if they aren't responsible for it. With Juarez's help, Gwen (wearing the video camera contact lenses which are apparently the only tech Torchwood has left) makes it inside Phicorp headquarters during a panel for medical professionals. She busts into Jill's office (Jill works PR for Phicorp) and searches on her computer, while Jack pays his visit to Oswald.

All of which sounds solid enough, and the episode has some good ideas. There isn't as much attention paid to the consequences of immortality as there has been in previous episodes, but we get a cop talking about how it's impossible to charge anyone with murder anymore, which is interesting, if sort of inconsequential. (Even if an attack is non-fatal, you can still get the culprit for assault, right?) There's also a new cult going around the country--people calling themselves "The Soulless," who believe that humanity lost it soul when it lost the ability to die. Gwen sees a group of them marching down a street at night, holding candles and wearing terrifically spooky masks, but for right now, they're just coloring, another way of showing how the world responds to the crisis. Phicorp's involvement in all of this is still up in the air, but while an evil pharmaceutical company isn't exactly a novel concept (Davies has used it before himself), it makes logical sense so far, depending on the end game. I also continue to enjoy Jill's presence; I half expect her to turn out to be the Devil, given her tendency to tempt and wear red, and that would be undeniably lame, but she's fun for now.

It's just, the rest of "Dead" has that hectic, over-emotional feel that all Torchwood episodes seem to have, only it lacks the immediate urgency to justify that level of intensity. Torchwood is still in danger from its enemies, but the danger isn't as immediate. Rex gets Knight's phone without breaking a sweat, and Gwen gets in and out of Phicorp without any real problem. Jack gets grabbed by some goons at the end of the episode, and they give him a good beating, but they don't kill him, or even hold him in captivity. Since the goons came from Phicorp, shouldn't they know who Jack is? Unless the people who've been running Knight through the CIA aren't directly connected with Phicorp after all. Regardless, this series needs to be on the edge to justify its sloppy emotionalism and hectic pace. We need to believe these people could die (or, in the case of everyone except Jack, get captured and tortured) at any moment. Otherwise, the broad characters start to come across as ridiculous, instead of driven to extremes.

Like tonight, when we get a weird two-fer sex scene, with Jack picking up a bartender at a gay bar, and Rex breaking into Dr. Juarez's apartment, where he orders her to redress his wound, and then they screw. It's a fun change of pace to see a guy-on-guy sex scene in a show like this (I mean in the sci-fi genre in general, not specifically Torchwood), but while I appreciate that Jack may be feeling a little on edge with his newly discovered mortality, this didn't make for gripping television. (Insert awful pun here. Oh god, I did it again.) And Jack's phone call to Gwen in which he nearly expresses his true feelings for her, only to be interrupted when Gwen finally gets a video feed to her husband and baby, doesn't have nearly the emotional resonance I think it's supposed to. That may be because I'm not as invested in this show as longterm fans, but the whole sequence is extraneous, seeming to exist more for titillation and 'shipping purposes than any real dramatic necessity. At least it's believable that Jack could pick up some dude at a bar; the Rex/Juarez relationship continues to baffle me. Is she really this hard up for dates? Is Rex's jerk-off clown behavior really so charming that she can't resist get naked and lying down on top of him? 

Maybe it's a problem of setting; the Torchwood version of America isn't very well-developed, outside a lot of jokes about Gwen not kidding American references. There's no sense of a world in peril here, or even a city. It's more a collection of settings connected by characters, and that's a problem when the show asks us to believe that Oswald Danes has somehow become the face of Miracle Day, an inadvertent prophet for the new world. This... almost makes sense. Oswald is the most public symbol of enforced immortality, and his break-down on television probably helped his image to a certain extent, but the nature of his crime is so heinous that it's hard to believe he'd have as much influence as he appears to have by "Dead." Really, it's impossible to say exactly how people would react in the face of such a bizarre catastrophe, and I don't need realism. I do need to believe that this all holds together, and Miracle isn't quite making it. Oswald's ascension is more dictated by plot than character right now, and while Pullman is still doing what he can, it doesn't entirely play.

Still, it at least makes more sense than Oswald's big confrontation with Jack at the end of the episode. After watching his television interviews, Jack decides Oswald must be up to something, and tracks him down to his hotel room. There, the two have an exchange about killing kids, which is something Jack says he can relate to, given that he's responsible for the death of his grandson. This is a stretch. Oswald raped and murdered a 12 year-old; Jack sacrificed a boy to save ten percent of the children of the world. There's a bit of a gulf there, and while I suppose Jack, in his guilt, might equate the two, there isn't enough of a connection for the scene to really work. Oswald's big speech about how raping and killing a kd was the highpoint of his life was well-delivered, but tonally off. Even with the grimness of the rest of the episode, this is a level of dark comes out of nowhere, and while it's good to remind us just how nasty Oswald is, it's not earned. It's more like the show is daring us to still be interested in this guy. After listening to this monologue, Jack decides that what Oswald really wants is to die. Because I guess that whole raping/killing thing was the highlight of his life, or else he secretly feels guilty about it and wants to be punished. Or something else. It's still not entirely clear.

I want to believe that Miracle can still pull itself together. And really, there's no reason to think it won't. But an episode like this isn't a good sign. Too much time is spent running around and shouting, and the stakes here remain more conceptual than immediate. Also, if this just turns out to be a plot by aliens to get humans to take a certain kind of drug, I'm going to be seriously bummed.

Stray Observations:

  • The head of Phicorp says he wants to make their meds over the counter. I'm not sure he can do that--I assume this is part of some public relations push to force the government to give in?
  • "It's fizzy in the UK, flat in the US." "That just about sums it up." (Why is this even set in the US? It certainly isn't adding anything to the series.)
  • Well, it is nice to see everyone working together as a team, I guess.
  • "You've done that before." "So many times."
  • The magical triangle people call Knight's phone after Rex swipes it, and Rex answers, and gets angry when they don't respond. Ah, Americans--always with the shouting. (At least this means that the MTP now know where the secret Torchwood apartment is, putting our heroes back on the run.)