The biggest criticism of Torchwood: Miracle Day, now that we're more than halfway through, has been its slow pacing. And after last night's clogged drain of an episode, it's hard not to feel like that's a valid critique.
As long as Miracle Day was raising fascinating issues about politics, society, and our real-life healthcare challenges, it was easier to ignore the fact that the story was moving somewhat glacially. But last night's episode was both devoid of ideas... and largely uneventful. Spoilers ahead...
I don't mean to be harsh, but seriously. We learned almost nothing last night, except a new buzzword to add to the list we already had: "the Blessing." And did anybody really expect that dealing with the awesome threat of Colin Maloney was going to take an entire episode? The business of Rex and Esther escaping from one petty bureaucrat, and Gwen getting her father out of the South Wales camp, seemed almost painfully endless. Meanwhile, we meet a Phicorp executive, who was as curious about the Miracle as our heroes, but who has no actual answers for Jack during their lengthy discussion. (Once again, we learn that the people behind the Miracle are well-hidden and have been planning this for a long time. Not exactly a revelation.)
To some extent, to be fair, the fact that this episode was so bogged down in the vagaries of bureaucracy was intentional. The episode was called "The Middlemen," and that was very clearly the episode's theme, as we met various middlemen around the world. (Sadly, not THE Middleman, however.) Pathetic, badminton-loving Colin Maloney is just a middleman, carrying out the awful policies of the people in charge. Ditto for Dr. Patel, and the obnoxious "one more phone call" guy who kept holding up Rhys in the Welsh camp. And Stuart Owens (Ernie Hudson!), the Phicorp COO whom Jack goes to great lengths to interrogate, actually refers to himself as a middleman once or twice.
It's the banality of evil! Nobody will take responsibility. We're all corrupt and complicit, yadda yadda. As Gomer Pyle says at one point, you can wash your hands, but there are still going to be traces of blood left behind. The drama of these middlemen confronting their guilt — or failing to — could have been compelling and sickening, but somehow it just didn't seem to gain traction. Maybe because we didn't care about any of those characters enough to wonder if they would accept responsibility — none of them was quite as fascinatingly compromised as, say, Torchwood: Children of Earth's Prime Minister Brian Green.
The thing that was amazing about 2009's Torchwood: Children of Earth was the amount of urgency that miniseries packed into every episode. Just the device of having the children's verbal message keep changing, plus all of the preparations for the aliens' arrival, ratcheted up the tension. So by the time the 456 arrived, we were ready to tear our hair out. Children of Earth was five days of propulsive storytelling, let down only slightly by the final episode.
Now that we're six hours into Torchwood: Miracle Day, it's fair to say that the same amount of urgency is not being deployed here. The public health crisis of the undying people, and the immoral steps that the authorities are taking to combat it, do naturally escalate, causing greater and greater levels of horror. But even so, Miracle Day is struggling to do in ten hours what Children of Earth did in five: keep tightening the screws.
It's also true that Captain Jack Harkness has largely been a bystander in his own show lately, except for taking part in the mission to steal Phicorp's server. Otherwise, his activities have been confined to getting poisoned, getting laid, going to visit Oswald Danes twice, and interrupting Ernie Hudson's dinner.
On the plus side, though, the episode did pick up towards the end, and there was a lot of female empowerment, of the ass-kicking kind. Esther first psyches out the repulsive Colin Maloney — pretending she's gotten a phone call from the women he murdered — and then manages to kill him, temporarily. And meanwhile, Gwen somehow discovers that the concentration camp has a nearly unlimited supply of explosives laying around — like you do — and blows up the Modules where they're preparing to incinerate more people. As seen in the clip above. Yay Gwen! And our heroes blow the whistle on the whole "burning people alive" plan, forcing the White House to be mealy-mouthed.
(Also, the line: "I don't care if the whole of society bends over and takes it like a dog, I'm saying no" belongs on a T-shirt. That I own.)
And thank goodness, the episode ends with a genuinely chilling cliffhanger. Not only have the mysterious spinny-triangle baddies kidnapped all of Gwen's loved ones, they've also hacked the super-secret Torchwood contact lens video software, so they can issue threats to Gwen whenever she's wearing her lenses. The baddies want her to bring Captain Jack to them, and Gwen may have no choice but to go along with it.
Anyway, Torchwood: Miracle Day is still a brilliant setup for a story, and it's still true that the series has mostly been extremely clever and thought-provoking thus far. Let's just hope that this latest twist means the bad guys have shown their hand, and we're going to start racing towards a narrative climax. Fingers crossed!