Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Death Shows That "Miracle Day" Might Have Some Life

Arlene Tur as Dr. Vera Juarez in "Categories of Life," the fifth episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day. Photo courtesy of seriable.com.

I may have been a little hasty in my harsh judgment of Torchwood: Miracle Day. While the show still isn't the equal of the superb Children of Earth, "Categories of Life" marked a definite rise in the series' quality. There were some excellent, tense action scenes, real progress in the search for the Miracle's cause, and an excellent cliffhanger that left Dr. Vera Juarez (Arlene Tur) burning to death inside what was basically a crematorium while Rex (Mekhi Phifer) pounded desperately on the door.

The final, climactic scene was probably the best of the episode, and possibly of the series so far. The lead-up to that climax was also nicely tense, as Rex and Esther (Alexa Havins) infiltrated one of the overflow camps that were set up in the last installment, while Gwen and Rhys, now back on their native turf, infiltrated the camp where Gwen's father had been taken. It was nice to see some British accents back in the mix, and the tension of the parallel storylines was effective as both the Welsh and American contingents got themselves into a mess they couldn't escape from. The final realization that Phicorp was using the camps to burn people who were still alive, albeit braindead, was nicely staged as well, with Gwen realizing what was happening just as a desperate Rex filmed the crematorium (or "module") that held Dr. Juarez as it went up in flames.

The exposition in this episode consisted of finding out that governments were now categorizing people into three groups: Category Three, which consists of normal, healthy humans; Category Two, people who have a persistent injury or illness; and Category One, people who are braindead or in comas. The latter category, we learn by the end of the episode, is basically just providing fodder for the burning happening in the modules. While we still don't know why the forced cremations are happening, and who is ordering them, the existence of the modules provides much higher stakes in the ongoing story, particularly for Gwen, whose father has just been reclassified as Category One. These people may not be dead, but we can assume, given what we know about the Miracle, that anyone who is burned to ash in one of the modules isn't coming back out.

The parallel storyline, featuring Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman), was less compelling. Pullman did an excellent job delivering his final speech, in which he asserted that humans had now evolved to become angels, and the speech was nicely cross-cut with footage of Vera's death-by-module. However, it's beginning to seem that the writers are just putting Danes in a holding pattern until they need him for something. His character arc is the same in every episode; he starts out on top of the world and in demand, then his popularity seems to be endangered, and five minutes from the end of the episode he pulls of some sort of spontaneous plan that puts him back on top. While the idea of humans becoming angels will surely throw some nice new crazies into the mix, and while Owald's newfound ideology is sure to come into conflict with Phicorp, the people who are burning these "angels" alive, over the course of this particular episode nothing really changed for him. And since Jack (John Barrowman) was left out of the recon mission, he got to spend the episode doing nothing but trying to intimidate Oswald. The only good scene he got was when, pretending to be Rex's boyfriend, he got to play the "worried lover" role in a completely over-the-top fashion that ended with Rex flipping him the bird. Funny, if a bit juvenile.

While this episode certainly had its problems - I didn't even mention how obvious it was that the camp director was going to snap and do something to Vera, and Esther continues to be boring - it was the first episode since the initial hour in which I actually wanted to see what happens next. If this trend keeps up and Oswald actually gets to take part in the main story, the second half of the season could be a lot better than the first.

Stray Thoughts
  •  The mysterious guy talking to Jilly (Lauren Ambrose) was supposed to come off creepy, but to me he just came off as a douchy frat-boy type. Not intimidating.
  • What was Jack trying to get Oswald to say in his speech?
  • If Phicorp caused the miracle, why are they now trying to get rid of people?
  • The supposed "storage" room that housed people without insurance was a nice bit of commentary on the current state of the American health-care system, as written by a bunch of British people. A little on-the-nose, but well done nonetheless.
  • If Vera was going to die, it's a shame she didn't take off those awesome boots before they too get burned into nothingness. Other people need nice clothes too!
  • Gwen's reaction to her daughter's new, grandma-chosen, entirely pink outfit was awesome, and totally Gwen.
  • More Rhys! I love Rhys.

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