TV Review: Torchwood: Miracle Day – “The Blood Line”
It seems incredible that this season of Torchwood: Miracle Day was just ten episodes long. So much happened and the action took us to the four corners of the Earth, yet paradoxically the pace was painstakingly slow at times. The season opened with a miracle: one day, at precisely 10.36 pm, people stopped dying. What seemed to be a blessing quickly became a curse as the true implications of The Miracle became clear. The Earth began to edge towards overpopulation, resources became scarce, markets destabilised and ultimately, the global economy collapsed, leading to a great depression.
The governments of Earth responded by declaring three categories of life. In retrospect, it was only really one category of life that they were interested in and that was the category of people that should have died, but didn’t as a result of The Miracle. Those people were declared Category 1 and by the time we reached the latter part of the season, these people were earmarked for immediate transfer to overflow camps where they would be destroyed in mass ovens in a process described by detractors as “institutional murder”.
A red herring ran through much of the season, leading the audience to believe that a pharmaceutical company, PhiCorp, was behind The Miracle but that idea was laid to rest midway through the season.
The last remain members of the Torchwood team, Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) and Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), were reunited in Torchwood: Miracle Day. They were joined by Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins) and Rex Matheson (Mekhi Pfifer), both C.I.A. agents who joined the Torchwood team when they become the targets of a growing conspiracy at the agency. Throughout the Torchwood series, Jack was famously immortal but this was reversed by The Miracle, making him the only mortal man on Earth.
Following a flashback sequence in the seventh episode, “Immortal Sins”, it soon became apparent that a sinister group known as The Families were behind the Miracle, that it somehow all centred around Jack's blood, and something known as The Blessing was at the bottom of it all.
Jack formed a theory that The Miracle was triggered by a morphic field but he did not know who or what was behind it, how they had manipulated it or what they wanted.
At the end of “The Gathering”, the Torchwood team was split between Shanghai and Buenos Aires. In Shanghai, The Mother Colasanto (Frances Fisher) showed the Blessing to Jilly Kitzinger (Lauren Ambrose), warning her that it showed people their soul and had been known to lead to suicide. Kitzinger was duly impressed by the Blessing and convinced of her own righteousness. Across town, Gwen tended to Jack’s gunshot wound as Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman) noticed Jack’s blood being drawn across the floor. In Buenos Aires, Esther Drummond and Rex Matheson met up and Esther was carrying several pints of Jack’s blood.
“The Blood Line” opens with Gwen telling the story of the day her father was accused of theft. She recalls how he told her that he couldn’t stand anyone thinking he wasn’t an honest man. “So that’s my Dad”, she says, “Geraint Wynn Cooper, the nicest man in the world, and today’s the day that I kill him”. The episode begins on a high emotional note and it remains that way right to the end, assisted by Murray Gold’s excellent score.
Having realised that the Blessing has the same drawing effect on Jack’s blood in Buenos Aires, the team wastes no time in narrowing down the location of the Blessing in both cities. The C.I.A. sends out government forces to assist Esther and Rex but they fall victim to a saboteur suicide-bomber that blows up the blood. As the C.I.A. begin to trace what can only be a mole in their department, Rex and Esther make their way to the Blessing, only to be captured by The Cousin (Chris Butler) and his forces. Meanwhile, Jack, Gwen and Oswald are captured by The Mother Colasanto’s forces in Shanghai.
Oswald Danes emerges wearing a bomb, telling The Mother Colasanto that he will kill her, that he will not let her escape. As the Torchwood team comes face to face with the Blessing, they see lifetimes of sin and guilt. Gwen states that she is working with it, that she doesn’t need the Blessing to tell her that; Jack says that he can see all of his lifetimes and that they were not so bad; and Oswald states that the Blessing is sin but that he is used to sin.
They cannot figure out what the Blessing could be, although Jack rambles of a list of possible suspects including Silurian mythology, human particles, Racnoss energy, and an expansion of the hibernation matrix. He just knows that it is indeed a morphic field around the planet, binding us together like magnetism. When the Blessing absorbed Jack’s blood, it absorbed it, copied it like a template and changed the settings of life on Earth.
Jack and Gwen remark that the only problem was that the Blessing felt it was under attack and it took the blood pattern and tried to make it a gift. It tried to be kind and used the blood to sustain everyone on the planet. The Mother Colasanto brags that this is where the Families stepped in, that they had to tear down to rebuild. Kitzinger exults that the Families wanted to make the world fitter, more compact and more disciplined and she likens this to salvation. The final step in the plan must surely be to kill Jack and The Mother Colasanto orders his execution.
Jack pulls his trump card and states that all the Blessing needs is his blood and that will reverse the Miracle, much to the amusement of The Mother Colasanto and The Cousin. No, they say, on account of the polar dynamic field, the blood needs to be introduced simultaneously on both sides of the planet and they wish Jack luck as he scrambles to get his blood to the other side of the planet now that Esther’s supply was blown up.
It is the darkest moment in Torchwood: Miracle Day and the darkness deepens as we realise that this is the true end for the Torchwood team. I’ll stop short of spoiling the ending though, leaving just this powerful statement by Gwen Cooper as she spurs the team to action: “Because I’m standing here and I’m staring at Oswald Danes. And he chose when that girl lived and he chose when that girl died. And no one should have that power, not the rich, not the mad, not anyone”.
Suffice to say, I was ultimately satisfied with how things turned out and gave a huge sigh of relief in the end. Well, for a couple of moments, anyway.
At first glance, “The Blood Line” was an excellent episode and it appeared that all of the questions were finally answered. As the final credits began to roll however, I began to experience serious doubts. It seemed that “The Blood Line” raised more questions than it answered and that several storylines had been left hanging throughout the season. Furthermore, as much as science fiction requires that we suspend disbelief, much of Torchwood: Miracle Day was simply implausible and improbable.
Before tackling those questions, I still maintain that Torchwood: Miracle Day moved far too slowly and that the story could have been dispatched in half number of the episodes. By excluding some of the storylines that simply went nowhere, the first six episodes could have been condensed into two episodes and the final three episodes could have been condensed too.
I’m not saying that all television should be served in bite-sized chunks, heaven knows that 24 managed successfully (and repeatedly) to stretch one day out into 24 episodes and I never felt that should have been condensed. There was simply too much scene-setting and posturing in the first half of the season and the story didn’t go anywhere for too long.
Perhaps my biggest complaint was the character of Oswald Danes. Despite some fine and creepy acting from Bill Pullman, his character never got the chance to delve below the surface. In his final scenes in front of the Blessing, Danes calls out to his victim, whom he molested and murdered, shouting that he would see her soon. I personally found that quite offensive and wanted to strangle the writers but I’ll move on swiftly.
Oswald Danes went from having the gall to demand he be released from prison following his botched execution, to breaking down on national television and begging for forgiveness, to becoming a voice for the new world and leading the Life is Life movement, to showing his true colours to Jilly Kitzinger and attacking her, to putting his curiosity before self-preservation and following the trail of Jilly Kitzinger and Jack Harkness, to finally agreeing to die but telling his victim he’ll meet her in heaven?
The man was obviously a predator and remained openly so, so the idea of him breaking down on national TV is a load of rubbish and while he might have appreciated the adulation of the masses, he certainly wouldn’t have chosen to die in the end. If he remained a predator right to the end, he would have taken the first opportunity to disappear and establish himself in a position close to his next victim.
The whole behaviour of the Families confounded me too. Why did they not just kill Jack as soon as the Miracle occurred? Better yet, why not get him into captivity before the Miracle was enacted and then kill him? I appreciate that they did not know how the Miracle would play out (more on that later) but surely they had 80 years to plan this a little better?
While we’re on the subject, why wait 80 years? They had no idea until 1998 what they were waiting for and yet we’re expected to believe that they simply sat patiently, accumulating wealth, waiting to discover something like the Blessing? Why not incorporate some notion that they were behind other conspiracies in the 20th century. The sole action attributed to them is the 2008 financial crisis, which Gwen and Rhys imagined to be a trial run in “End of the Road”.
Another factor that irked me was the need to remain truly anonymous. What of other immigrant families who made it huge in the 20th century. They didn’t need to wipe out all trace of their existence, yet they did land up in charge of banks, crime syndicates, technology, and even countries. I guess the Families were meant to appear as some sort of parallel Illuminati but, once again, that should have been supported by a deeper storyline, one that delved into the idea that they had been active throughout the 20th century.
Perhaps it was initially intended that this would be explored. At the end of Escape to L.A., a disembodied voice states that “We are everywhere, we are always, we are no one. And soon, the Families will rise”. Without the benefit of a background story, the idea was poorly executed as they weren’t always and they certainly weren’t no one. They were the Ablemarch, Costerdane and Frines families and for all the viewer knew, they had never met each other before 1927.
There were so many lose ends left across the season. What was the point of PhiCorp, the Dead is Dead campaign, the visually stunning and powerful protest marches in “Dead of Night”? I understand the notion of red herrings but I would have preferred fewer threads if the ideas had been better executed.
A common theme in Torchwood: Miracle Day was the power over life and death. This was really interesting but then in the final calculation, the major enemy in the series was not the Families but the governments who jumped on the Category 1 bandwagon and implemented institutional murder. This notion was neglected in the end and in fact, there is absolutely no mention of how the planet recovers in the aftermath of the Miracle. Compare this to the rations and austerity measures in England that lasted far longer than the either of the world wars. The global economy is said to have completely collapsed in Torchwood: Miracle Day and we didn’t have any fancy time machine to simply reverse the entire event.
“Immortal Sins” was my favourite episode in the season but I still don’t understand the point of Angelo Colasanto living to present day and I certainly don’t understand how he knew to steal the null field from the rubble of the destroyed Torchwood hub in 2009. With no evidence of significant Families activity over the years, they couldn’t have had any idea whatsoever what would happen once the blood was introduced to the Blessing. I also don’t understand how Angelo said he was excluded by the Families yet in the final event, Mother Colasanto is very much a part of them.
In the end, Jack and Gwen even remark that the Blessing went against plan, sensing it was under attack, and tried to present a gift to the world. The Families could have had no idea how this would pan out, much less suspected that it would undermine the world order and create an opportunity for them to step in and take over. There is no mention of what they were intending for the Blessing to actually do, yet they were intent on taking over the world. Surely maintaining a state of readiness while they experimented on the Blessing (if that is indeed what they did in the 13 years since discovering it) would have cost huge amounts of money?
I felt that the entire storyline featuring the C.I.A. was flawed. Much has been made of the scripting and the fact that C.I.A. agents don't run around identifying themselves as such and they don't operate locally but internationally. In my opinion, the very nature of the C.I.A. means they would have been far more likely to have worked parallel with Torchwood than against it, perhaps referring their own extra-governmental teams to them in the past? Of course, this is all just speculation but it didn’t seem likely that the C.I.A. would pursue the Torchwood team so relentlessly.
Of course, there was the matter of agents Brian Friedkin and Charlotte Wills. It requires too much of a suspension of disbelief to expect that the Families would have such well-placed moles in the C.I.A. and on the basis of what? That something significant enough would happen and that they would be able to draw Jack out by searching for him? How did they know that Esther would try to trace him? Friedkin remarked how many times the Families had tried to involve him in their plans, how many times he’d refused them but they had no idea how the miracle would play out, and couldn’t have had any idea of what possible role the C.I.A. would have in it.
In addition, what was the point of Jilly Kitzinger? I understand that she had a role in getting Danes to act as a spokesperson for PhiCorp, I loved the Blue Eyed Man and I appreciated that she was needed as a plot device to introduce him again in the last scenes, but it is cheap and she wasn’t actually needed.
My biggest query with the Torchwood: Miracle Day plot is the nature of Jack’s immortality and how this was used in the season. It is true that Jack is not subject to death (the definition of immortality) because Rose / Bad Wolf gave him life. He was fixed in a specific point in time and space and his condition was characterised by an ability to heal, for his body to recover from serious injuries. He knew that he aged, but very slowly. If the Families fed his blood into the Blessing which subsequently interpreted it, why were people not given the ability to heal from their injuries? Surely the inhabitants of Earth should have been spontaneously recovering from wounds and gasping back to life?
It also does not explain why the Miracle made Jack mortal, much less why it took away his ability to heal. That is how his mortality manifests itself, after all. The scratches from his wrist, sustained after jumping two stories into a fountain from an exploding building, do not heal. If the Blessing was benevolent, why would it have done this? Moreover, how could it have been predicted? The Families wanted Jack right from the beginning, how could they have known so early on that he would have been made mortal? What possible leap of logic tells us that Jack’s blood would lead the Blessing to make the inhabitants of Earth immortal and him mortal?
One thing is for certain, the writers of Torchwood: Miracle Day intend for the series to return and the Families will very much remain a primary enemy of the Torchwood Institute. I cannot stress enough how carefully this needs to be written. If Russell T. Davies is going to insist on using a different writer for each episode then it would make sense for each writer to make his or her own mark not by leaving storylines hanging but by returning to an investigative format with a different arc per episode. I don’t mind if the Families are the “big bad” in the next season but I certainly wouldn’t be interested in watching another ten episodes based solely on this arc.
So what do you think? Have I totally missed the point and somehow failed to pick up on the answers that were handed on a platter to viewers? Or did you also begin to feel somewhat dissatisfied as you began to process the final episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day?
All images © 2011 BBC Worldwide Limited.
Article first published as TV Review: Torchwood: Miracle Day – “The Blood Line” on Blogcritics