Torchwood: Miracle Day 4 "Escape to LA" Review

A column article, Shot For Shot by: Paul Brian McCoy
Torchwood relocates to LA to sneak into PhiCorp's headquarters to find some useful information, unaware that their mission has been compromised. Elsewhere, Oswald and Jilly face a new adversary in Ellis Hartley Monroe, who is using the Miracle Day for her own agenda.

Torchwood airs on Friday nights at 10PM on STARZ. In a bizarre marketing move, the BBC will air the episodes the following Thursday nights, with the cable channel's naughty bits cut and replaced with longer character bits.

Oh what a difference a week makes!

Well, a week and a much better writer with a firm grasp of what makes a story move without relying on shock value and out-of-character stupidity.

John Shiban is responsible for this past week’s “Escape to LA” episode and he nails it in just about every possible way, and in doing so rescues my rapidly fading interest in the whole Torchwood universe. Looking over his resume, it’s clear he has a handle on how to make a show like this work.

He was a writer/producer of X-Files from 1998 through 2002, as well as the creator of the spin-off The Lone Gunmen (I don’t care what you people say, that show was awesome!). He did some good work writing and producing Star Trek: Enterprise, too.

But he really hit his stride working as writer/producer of Supernatural during its first three seasons, and more recently producing and writing for the best show on television, Breaking Bad.

So yeah, he knows how to make good TV.

All in all, this week had the most plot development, the most action, and was the most satisfying installment so far. And I’m one of those people who really enjoyed the first episode!

I was initially a little worried that Esther’s (Alexa Havins) relationship with her sister and Rex’s (Mekhi Phifer) relationship with his father would be too melodramatic and cheesy for me, but I think they played it just melodramatic enough without going too far. Of course, Esther’s attempts to help her nieces would backfire.

And of course, Rex would take her to task for doing something that he also did. He just didn’t get caught. That’s the kind of dick he is.

I’m concerned about Esther’s state of mind by the end of this episode. If she keeps making amateur mistakes (which is totally understandable, given that she is an amateur), somebody’s going to die. Or almost die. Or whatever.

You know what I mean.

Shiban’s script did three things in particular this week that impressed the hell out of me. The first was making Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman) more than just a conglomeration of ticks and weird creepiness. Pullman is moving farther and farther away from the oddness of Oswald, and in doing so, is making him a much more interesting character.

And the performance is enhanced by having interesting psychological things going on with his behavior without dumbing it down with too much explanation. Danes’ sheer enjoyment at listening to the air escape the drinks in his hotel refrigerator was a very nice touch.

I assume he was enjoying not having to worry about piss in his drinks, but I really don’t need much explanation. The scene was very well played and did wonders to make Danes seem like a real person instead of a caricature.

The second thing the script did was provide Jilly (Lauren Ambrose) with some much-needed character development, making her a little more interesting. Her honesty with Danes about what most bothered her about him, combined with her “just following orders” mentality about representing and assisting him was a subtle and enjoyable moment.

It was balanced out by her disturbing exuberance when Danes takes the initiative in his own Brand-Building and gave us a look at just how her mind works. She may be the most evil character in the show so far, just because of her clear excitement when confronted with horrifying media grandstanding and the underlying banality of it all.

The third impressive thing Shiban did was make me interested in what C. Thomas Howell was doing. His assassin character, “The Gentleman”, wasn’t particularly clever or original, but he was definitely threatening and brought a wild-card element to the story that I wasn’t expecting. His observations about how “Miracle Day” had changed his profession was a nice touch and helped to make the episode, and his character, that much more enjoyable.

Seriously. I enjoyed a performance by “Soul Man”. I never expected that to happen. The only other thing I’ve ever liked him in was The Hitcher, and that was 1986. So, bravo, gentlemen.

Well played.

But Howell wasn’t the only star stunt-casting this week. We also got Mare Winningham as Ellis Hartley Monroe, the founder and face of the “Dead is Dead” movement. They’re a group of people who think that if you’ve “died” but haven’t really died, you should still be treated as though you’re dead. You know, loss of basic human rights, getting walled up in modern variations of plague ships, and whatnot.

And she’s got a bit of a point, really. A point that turns out to be something that our Triangle friends don’t want drawn out into the light just yet. And unfortunately, that means Monroe has got to go. They have Danes, after all.

But what do you do when you can’t just kill someone and make them disappear?

Isn’t that why God made Car Crushers?

I thoroughly enjoyed that moment. Sue me.

It wasn’t just a horrible way to “go”, but it also gave us out first real glimpse at the minds behind “Miracle Day”. A voice with a very peculiar accent claimed to be “no one” and told her that soon “the families will rise”.

I don’t know what that means, but I like it.

It’s suitably creepy and when tied into a bit of information The Gentleman parceled out (before being shot in the throat, of course), that Jack has had dealings with them before, we’re getting into narrative territory that hearkens back to the most disturbing part of Children of Earth: Jack’s complicity with horrible events in his past.

So there you have it.

Saved from inanity and stupidity by putting the story in the hands of a writer who knows what they’re doing, this week’s Torchwood: Miracle Day hauls the whole mess back from the brink and has me looking forward to next week! Good writing finds ways to motivate and inspire action while revealing character. Good writing moves the overall story forward while finding ways to spiral off side-narratives that broaden and enhance the main themes and events.

This week was all about Good Writing. Period.

This episode bounces back and gets .

‘Nuff said.

For more Torchwood action, check out our previous reviews:
Episode One, "The New World"
Episode Two, "Rendition"

Episode Three, "Dead of Night"

Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to What Looks Good and Shot for Shot. He currently has little spare time, but in what there is he continues to work on his first novel, tentatively titled Damaged Incorporated. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, sci-fi television, the original Deathlok, Nick Fury, and John Constantine. He can be summed up in three words: Postmodern Anarchist Misanthropy. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.

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