Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned
Nor hell a fury like a lover scorned.
– William Congreve (slightly emended for the 21st century)
Congreve’s quote is the raw subtext for this audacious and harrowing episode, in which the rages and and furies of love are revealed as the basis for both the Miracle and the treachery of Gwen and Angelo. Add Captain Jack Harkness as a bisexual Christ/Devil figure, with Gwen and Angelo as Judas, and you’ve got a potent dramatic compound. I avoid reading about Torchwood until after I’ve written the review on Fridays, for fear of spoilers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this episode really offended some Christians. Not to mention Italian-Americans.
The episode has a simple and powerful dramatic structure. Gwen returns to the Venice Beach apartment, intent on kidnapping Jack in return for the Illuminati releasing her mum, Rhys, and the baby, Annwen. Which she does, but not before alerting Esther to her strange mood. “Bad day, Gwen?” she says to herself as Gwen lures Jack out of the apartment.
Esther tries to talk to Rex about Vera’s death, but he’s defensive, drinking to numb the pain. A video of her burning to death has gone viral, with over 5 million hits, and the overflow camps are “paused” but ready for when the political climate changes. As we learn from Gwen’s car radio, Oswald Danes is pushing for the return of the Category policies: “A global emergency calls for emergency measures.”
Most of the episode alternates between the car journey to a rendezvous in Mesa, California, with the Illuminati, and flashbacks to Jack’s encounter with a young Italian immigrant, Angelo Colesanto, at Ellis Island in 1927.
Gwen is furious with Jack for putting her family in danger, and with herself for being seduced by the life at Torchwood: “I knew Torchwood was toxic,” but “I loved it, I bloody loved it.” Jack is determined to live. Between the two of them, they get down to the bare, painful bones of honesty.
Gwen: I swear for her sake (Annwen’s) I will see you killed like a dog right in front of me if it means her back in my arms. Understood?
Jack: Understood. And let me tell you. Now that I’m mortal I’m going to hang on to this with everything I’ve got. I love you, Gwen Cooper, but I will rip your skin from your skull before I let you take this away from me. Understood?
Gwen: Understood. I feel like I know you now better than I’ve ever done before.
Jack: Now. Right at the end.
Gwen: Right at the end.
The flashbacks to Jack’s past life begin in 1927, as he’s on a Torchwood mission to America. Angelo, desperate to get in, steals his visa at Ellis Island. Jack catches him, takes it back, and Angelo is put in jail to wait for the next ship to Europe. But Jack is interested in Angelo, forges him a new visa with handy dandy Torchwood technology, and they rent a room together in Little Italy with only one bed. He seduces Angelo, who falls in love with him. Outside, it’s the 4th of July and fireworks are lighting up the sky.
But Jack’s on a mission. They go to a Catholic church, where Angelo reveals his discomfort with their relationship, believing that God doesn’t hear him because he’s gay. Jack goes to confession to meet the priest, who is his contact in New York. The priest sets them up as bootleggers with sacramental wine, but they’re caught by real bootleggers. This is all part of Jack’s plan, because he offers to work for the gang, knowing they need to steal a particular box for their shadowy sponsors. A bit like Phicorp and the Illuminati.
At this point Jack tries to dump Angelo because this is Torchwood business, and because he knows immortality, love, and mortality don’t mix well. Angelo wins him over, even though he feels guilty about their relationship. Jack tells him about the Doctor traveling with his companions. There’s a wistful quality about his, “It looks nice.” By this time, Angelo knows that Jack has secrets and wants to learn them. So they go on the heist together.
The box contains an alien brain parasite destined for Franklin D. Roosevelt, a slow burning fuse that will culminate in his not joining the war against Nazi Germany. The people behind this, Jack tells Angelo, are called the Tracer’s Brigade. “They’re not men at all. They’re not even human.” He destroys the parasite. Mission accomplished, but the police spot their getaway and Jack is shot through the forehead, so that Angelo thinks he’s dead. Angelo goes to Sing Sing for a year.
When he’s released in 1928, imagine the shock when Jack shows up to meet him: “This is so wrong.” Jack has rented their old room and wants to continue the relationship. At first it seems that Angelo does too, but as Jack pulls him onto the bed, Angelo knifes him, calling him “El Diabolo.”
His resurrection is witnessed by the landlady and her husband, a butcher, and this is where it gets thoroughly violent, bloody, and religious. Jack ends up chained with his arms above his head in the butcher’s cellar, where it seems all of Little Italy take turns to stab, slash, beat, and shoot him. Angelo is there in the crowd. It’s brutal and painful to watch. Jack has become a Christ figure, crucified, scourged, mocked as “El Diabolo,” but also a Miracle, with one woman holding up a bottle full of his blood.
Finally, 3 men come to buy him: “What’s the butcher want?” “Ten thousand. Not too much for something with so much potential.” Notice the Illuminati triangle they make when clasping wrists to clinch their agreement. Angelo rescues Jack, kicking up the religious allegory another notch by wiping the blood off his bare feet.
They escape. Jack recovers his gun and the famous blue Air Force greatcoat from his stash on the roof of a building. It’s “time to move on, but not with you.” He can’t bear to see the people he loves die. To escape from Angelo, he falls backwards off the building: “Men like you, you kill me.” By the time Angelo gets to the bottom, there’s only a pool of blood on the ground.
At Mesa, Gwen and Jack spend what they think will be their last moments together, as the Illuminati SUV approaches. “I don’t want to die,” he says. The woman in charge and 2 men get out of the SUV. It appears that all is lost.
Then the deux ex machina, which had to happen. Esther, suspicious of Gwen’s behaviour, looks at the records of the handy dandy Torchwood contact lenses and discovers the messages between Gwen and the Illuminati. Since Gwen is still wearing them, they know she’s heading for Mesa, and get there first. In good time to shoot at the Illuminati and prevent them from taking Jack. Meanwhile, in Wales, the police free Gwen’s family from the kidnappers, led by Sergeant Andy.
Happy ending for the episode? Not quite. The Illuminati woman is unfazed by this turn of events and she thinks Jack will still want to go with them.
Illuminati: Because I can take you to the one man who knows how the Miracle began.
Jack: Who’s that?
Illuminati: Angelo. Angelo Colesanto. He’s waiting for you, Jack. He’s been waiting for such a very long time.
That’s another fine cliffhanger this episode has got me into. I’m guessing the Miracle was created from Jack’s own blood, as collected by the Italian woman in the cellar, or even scooped up by Angelo from where Jack landed after falling off the building. I’m also guessing that Jack won’t be able to resist meeting Angelo again, although he would be an old man. Or would he? Perhaps he’s managed to use the blood to resist aging.
This is a superb episode, combining raw emotional honesty with religious symbolism, to present Jack as an alternative Christ figure whose blood gives eternal life. More than that, he has endured a world of pain and suffering in that cellar, and is now the only true human left on the planet. Except that he doesn’t want to be mortal – he wants his immortality back – as opposed to Danes who hates what he is, yet can’t resist it and can’t die.
The fundies must loathe Miracle Day. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch of people.