Torchwood: Miracle Day 9 "The Gathering" ReviewA tv review article by: Paul Brian McCoy
With the whole world in recession, a defeated Torchwood team take their last chance and make a deal with the devil.
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.
Are you shitting me, Torchwood? For the penultimate episode of this piss-poor excuse for a miniseries, we're going to jump two months into the future and have every piece of forward movement that occurs trigger of of events that happened during those two months that we didn't see?
As a writer (amateur, at best) I'm offended.
As a viewer (talented amateur, at best) I'm irritated.
Did we really just spend EIGHT WEEKS flipping and flopping like a dying fish just to establish a "new" status quo for the world, in order to use it as a backdrop for two episodes where we don't even really see it?
Did we really just spend EIGHT WEEKS trying desperately to make the transformation of Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman) into the most famous face on the planet, so he could provide an info-drop (after two months in hiding, mind you) that leads nowhere we couldn't have gotten if the Torchwood crew was actually paying attention.
Jilly (Lauren Ambrose) was under surveillance, remember. At least until the "Two Months Later" jump. During which she has apparently been mistranslating news stories (?) to influence public opinion and hide references to The Blessing?
But we don’t see any of that.
We are told about it. Just like we're told that after Oswald stole Jilly's laptop in the last episode (in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment) he's been "shadowing" her online.
And remember Jack (John Barrowman) getting shot last time? We're told that he and Esther (Alexa Havins) have been on the run. We're told that she's changed, become stronger, more independent and assertive.
We're also told that the camps are reopened. We're told that China closed its borders just after The Miracle first occurred. And we're told that America is getting ready to do the same.
We're told there's a depression and half the world is bankrupt. We're told there are cycling blackouts to conserve resources. And we're told that people everywhere are too busy trying to take care of themselves and pay their bills to worry about what the world governments are doing.
We're told that The Families divided their spheres of influence between Politics, Finance, and Media. In the same breath, we're told that that isn't the case anymore, so nevermind.
And two characters tell Jilly after meeting her that they'll never see her again.
I felt like every guest-star in the show this season should have ended their scenes that way. Except John de Lancie, who only serves as a smoking smart-ass off of whom Mekhi Phifer's Rex Matheson can bounce intense-but-ultimately-empty secret exchanges.
I pity poor John Fay, this week's writer.
He does the best he can with what he's been given, and honestly, the character interactions and the pacing are as excellent as could be expected at this point. As one of the writers behind the truly exceptional Torchwood: Children of Earth, I expect no less.
But he's been given one episode in which to dump at least three or four episodes worth of plot movement.
Honestly, we should have been jumping ahead weeks at a time between episodes when possible from the start, pushing us into this New World Order at around the half-way point. We should have seen Jilly spreading disinformation. We should have seen people struggling. We should have seen the wheels turning. We should have seen Oswald on the run. We should have seen Jack and Esther on the run, too.
The first eight episodes of this series should have been wrapped in four. Maybe five. If I were feeling generous, I'd give it six episodes. That's not bad. Hit the two-thirds mark and shift into the final act with a double length finale.
But we aren't getting that.
We're getting an amateurishly paced snooze-fest with only three episodes, TOPS, being worth the time spent watching them.
I apologize if I sound angry, but I am angry. Go back and read my reviews of this show from the beginning. There are links down below.
Okay. I stood by it from the start. I praised its core concept as something big and important. Like Children of Earth, this series had the opportunity to do something special – to make great, groundbreaking science fiction television – to be a new Quatermass.
And then something happened.
I don't know what. I can only assume that somewhere in the pre-scripting writing room where they hashed out the story (which I praised as a fantastic idea for maintaining focus and matching writers' strengths to the episodes they were assigned) some views were shoved aside. Recognized names took precedence over lesser-known, more-talented names, and the best ideas were ignored for more shallow, more hackneyed approaches.
Those bigger names know how television works, you know.
Especially American television.
Someone said we need guest-stars. Garner some cult cred by stunt casting done-in-one roles that will ultimately add nothing to the story, but will make the audiences feel like they're in on the joke. Look! It's C. Thomas Howell! He was funny in Soul Man. Look! It's that one girl from Dollhouse! This must be something like a Joss Whedon show! Look! It's Ernie Hudson! I loved Ghostbusters!
And not a single damn one of the stunt cast contributed to the story at all.
Everything was smoke and mirrors. The emperor had no clothes.
Now that we've arrived TWO MONTHS IN THE FUTURE the story starts to move. Now we find out things beyond vaguely cool-sounding names ("The Families", "The Blessing") that received no exploration. But we're told these things in convenient little chunks of exposition and nothing is earned.
And ultimately that's what's so disappointing about this show overall.
Nothing is earned.
Everything is a shortcut.
And when we finally to get a few scenes that really work emotionally, like this week's scene where Gwen (Eve Myles) and her mother (Sharon Morgan) say goodbye to dear old dad (William Thomas), it works. It's a great moment.
But we're immediately pulled out of the scene because everything around it rings so false.
Even the nice touch when Jack arrives at Gwen's house and they force the undercover cop watching her to forget he was ever there, starts strong and then falls ridiculously flat. They're on the lookout for Jack, but when the Dead Police show up with a freaking SWAT team, nobody looks twice at him? These police are only interested in the Category Ones – who cares if someone ENTIRE WORLD GOVERNMENTS ARE LOOKING FOR is standing right in front of you.
It's just ridiculous and sloppy and required by the plot so we can move on to the next scene. Where Danes provides no help at all, but has to be taken along on the MISSION TO SHANGHAI so Rhys (Kai Owen) won't kill him.
Really, writers of Torchwood?
That makes sense to you? Every week you've had one character after another mutilated, blown up, and tortured, but they can't figure out a way to silence Danes for a few days?
The story arc for Danes can really be seen as a meta-commentary on the story arc of the entire series, when you think about it.
He's an ugly, horrible man shoved into the media spotlight for no reason beyond he didn't die when he was supposed to. He has no goal. No agenda. He's a prop; An interesting idea that goes nowhere. He never develops. He never grows. He just flits around from scene from scene, acting important because we're told he's important – despite all logic.
When the time comes, and there's no telling how or why that time actually came, he's shoved out into another role. A role that only develops after a TWO MONTH TIME JUMP. And even then, he's got no real information. And for no reason at all, he's included in the final mission where he serves no purpose, provides no helpful skills or insights, and really has no justification for inclusion whatsoever.
He's a walking, talking example of the absolute emptiness at the core of this series. He's only there because the plot says he needs to be there.
He's an idea that could have been something daring and special. He should have been a character that tries to do something that we have to root for, even though he's despicable. He should have been a focal point that would force viewers to feel uncomfortable growing to like.
Instead he's a waste of time and effort.
Pullman deserved better. Hell, they all deserved better.
After Children of Earth, the Torchwood franchise was poised to do something special.
I'm not the kind of viewer who swears off of a show because they've fucked everything up. I like to think that there's always the possibility of salvation in a storyline. A single episode can make a series worth paying attention to. Well, Torchwood has one more episode to avoid ending it all with a total flushing of everything away.
I don't know if there's any coming back from this. If we see a fifth season of Torchwood, I sincerely hope that there were lessons learned here. Names and egos should be checked at the door. The story needs to be the thing.
This one gets from me again, despite my raging, because there are gems buried in there, and Fay does amazing work with the bag of shit he was handed.
Having the clues about The Family revealed in some 1930s pulp fiction was a great touch. I was also entertained by the fact that Torchwood now runs a sort of Drugstore Cowboy organization. That was entertaining and creative. As was the unnerving effect that approaching The Miracle has on people.
Sure, we're told about how wrong it could go instead of shown, but what can you do at this point?
And while I'm thinking about it, I'm really not sure just what I'm supposed to be looking at there. It's a bit of a botched design reveal when you can't really tell what it is you're seeing. Is that the Earth's vagina? I don't know.
Probably not, but it stretches from Shanghai to Buenos Aires.
Torchwood would score some freaky points from me if it were.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot. He currently has little spare time, but in what there is he continues to work on his first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.