Saturday, September 10, 2011

And in the end, it's all about the blood

Lauren Ambrose in "The Blood Line," the season finale of Torchwood: Miracle Day. Photo courtesy of doctorwhotv.co.uk.

Torchwood: Miracle Day is now over, and just in time; I never thought I would say this, but if the show had continued into the start of the fall TV season, I would have been forced to jettison it in favor of something with a coherent plot and decent pacing. (On that note, The Vampire Diaries returns in less than a week! Hooray!) The season finale was, unlike various episodes throughout the season, not terrible (I'm looking at you, "The Middle Men") but it wasn't great either. After so much build-up I was expecting to find out more about the three Families and their motivations, or at least to find out that they had motivations that ranged beyond a generic let's-take-over-the-world plan. I was also hoping to see more of Lauren Ambrose's Jilly, a woman whose transition from bubbly publicist to fascism would have been extremely interesting if it hadn't happened so abruptly.

But let's start with the good. Eve Myles' Gwen was really the star of this episode, and she got to do more in this one episode than in the preceding nine put together. Her speech at the beginning about her father was reminiscent of the Gwen speech that opened the final episode of Children of Earth - and by "reminiscent" I mean "Russell T. Davies did the exact same thing he did in the last series" - but Myles gives a great speech, and this one really helped illuminate her personal motivations. Gwen's emotional phone call to Rhys was another highlight, as was her determination to kill Jack so he wouldn't have to commit suicide. All in all, it was a fantastic episode for Gwen, who even got to change out of her usual action clothes and into a great-looking dress for Esther's funeral.

Speaking of which, Esther died. Since Esther has generally been about as boring as drying paint for most of the series, I wasn't particularly upset at her death. I was expecting more resolution to the story about her sister and nieces, but I guess something good happened with that, as they were all alive for her funeral. It speaks to the general unimportance of her character that her death isn't big or heroic; she's shot in an attempt to keep Rex from ending the Miracle, which underlines her role as a person who helps define Rex, rather than an independent character. Although the idea she had to switch Rex's blood with Jack's was pretty clever, so I guess she wasn't completely useless.

Speaking of which, the solution to the Miracle - the introduction of Jack's special immortal blood to either side of the magic Earth vagina also known as the Blessing (and if you didn't think that's what it looked like, you have an admirably clean mind) was nifty and also frustratingly vague. I've mentioned this before,  but the idea of Jack's blood being special does not seem to fit with the established explanation for Jack's immortality. The explanation of the Miracle was equally vague - apparently, since the Blessing thought it was under attack, it decided to give a gift to humanity by making everyone immortal - although I did really enjoy the way Jack rattled off a few Doctor Who events (the Silurians, the Racnoss) as possible explanations before Gwen pointed out that he had no idea what he was talking about. It was a nice way to remind everyone that this show takes place in the Whoniverse.

I also enjoyed the twist at the end in which Rex becomes immortal, just like Jack (although once again, I'm not entirely sure how Jack's blood made him immortal, since it took the full strength of the TARDIS matrix to do the same to Jack). I really disliked Rex throughout the first half of the series, but by the end he had begun to grow on me. I'd like to see him learn to cope with immortality in future seasons, and having an immortal friend for Jack might lead to some interesting developments for his character.

This being Miracle Day, however, there were quite a few problems that distracted from the main plot. The Charlotte-is-a-mole plotline was glossed over throughout most of the episode, making the resolution of that story seem like an afterthought. The Families also came across as cartoonish rather than menacing, and the reintroduction of the blue-eyed frat boy at the end implied that they might come back, which... let's not bring them back. Please? If you're going to bring back anyone, bring back the 456. They were some scary bastards.

The biggest problem with the episode - as well as the season as a whole - was Oswald Danes. It was never entirely clear what purpose his character served, and the writers never seemed to know what to do with him. In one episode they would try to make him a broken man trying to make something of his life, while in the next he would return to being a monster. It seems clear that, in the finale, Oswald was supposed to have something of a subversive redemption arc, but the grating contrast between the classic redemption storyline and his final rant about chasing down the girl he molested in hell was too jarring to be subversive. Oswald's character has always suffered from the fact that he is completely unsympathetic; the man raped and murdered a little girl, and that fact hung over everything he did in the series. His arc showed some promise in the beginning, at the very least as a commentary on the state of the media, but that never went anywhere, and in the end all the audience was left with was a bad taste in our mouths.

Stray Thoughts:

  • The caricature of the old, superstitious Chinese woman really rubbed me the wrong way.
  • The scene of Rhys finding Gwen's father to say goodbye was lovely, as was the image of P.C. Andy Davidson sitting by the side of the dying girl with no family. Can there be more Andy next season? Please?
  • And while we're at it, more Rhys would also be appreciated.
  • The shots of Jack and Rex spurting blood into the Blessing contained some special effects that looked more appropriate for an Evil Dead movie than Torchwood.
  • Speaking of that scene, how long to do you think it will take some film studies major to write a paper about the significance of two men giving up their blood to the mystical Earth Vagina?
  • Torchwood might not be back for a while, so let's just hope that Jack returns to Doctor Who soon. Maybe Rex could come with him?
  • Gwen looked fabulous at Esther's funeral, but could Jack not have put on a black coat for the occasion?
  • For more about the giant problem that was Oswald Danes, check out the excellent recaps over at the A.V. Club and io9.

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