Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia

When I think of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, I now think of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.  That these two actors have so thoroughly eclipsed their predecessors obviously has a lot to do with the medium of television, but it’s mostly due to Steven Moffat  and Mark Gatiss’s brilliant reinvention of a Holmes and Watson for the 21st century.  They set the tone in the first episode of the first series (2010) with  A Study in Pink, and carried it through to A Scandal in Belgravia.  As with Moffat’s other project, Doctor Who, I have to watch each episode twice to get catch everything the writing and acting has to offer.

In A Scandal in Belgravia, Sherlock meets his match in the supremely intelligent and beautiful dominatrix, Irene Adler, played by Lara Pulver.  Her clients from the upper reaches of the British establishment tell her everything, and she has it all stashed away in her cameraphone, protected by a passcode that takes Sherlock almost the whole episode to discover.

This duel of minds and sexual attraction (“Brain is the new sexy”) is the core that runs through A Scandal in Belgravia, relegating the serious business of why these secrets are so important to the subplots that weave around it.  Irene’s first meeting with Sherlock, when she walks into the room naked, was stunning.  It set the agenda for her plan to seduce him into complicity, something she seems to have accomplished until he confesses to feeling her pulse at that opportune and tender moment.  So deducing that she was in fact aroused, and extrapolating from it the passcode for the cameraphone.  What else but SHER?

But Sherlock is also smitten enough to rescue Irene from terrorists about to cut off her head.  “The Woman.  The Woman” says it all.

There is so much to enjoy.  A jumbo jet filled with dead people, so terrorists don’t realize that their plot to blow it up has been discovered, is wonderfully Gothic.  The kicking the CIA agents get is thoroughly satisfying – couldn’t happen to more deserving characters.  I particularly like the way their leader falls out of a window several times after brutally interrogating Mrs Hudson.  And it’s heartwarming to see how Sherlock reacts to her being in danger.  He’s a good boy, and he protects the people who care for him, despite his offhand manner.

That said, he’s also cruel in his honesty.  Poor Molly is humiliated at the Christmas party when she turns up dressed to seduce, armed with the knowledge that she’ll have Sherlock to herself when everyone leaves.  Sherlock’s dissection of her behaviour, and discovery that the present was meant for him, is painful to watch.  His apology is even more surprising.

Then there’s the assumption that Sherlock and John are a couple.  Even Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) accepts that John is now part of the family and can be trusted with emotional secrets.  Irene thinks they are, and so does John’s date at the Christmas party when he stays behind to keep an eye on Sherlock after Irene’s purported death.  At Mycroft’s insistence, no less.  Only John is convinced he’s not gay, and they’re not a couple.  Yet there’s a whisper of jealousy in the way he asks Sherlock if he’ll see Irene again, when she’s revealed as still alive.

John’s blog is a great joke, and making it the reason for Sherlock’s runaway success as a consulting detective is inspired.  Leading as it does to them fleeing the paparazzi in a hasty disguise, which of course means Sherlock grabbing a deerstalker.  What else would he wear?

Terrific stuff.  Can’t wait to see what Mark Gatiss makes of the Hound of the Baskervilles next week.  Robert Downey, Jr. can take his action/adventure, CGI-enhanced Hollywood Sherlock and stick it where the sun don’t shine.

Torchwood: Miracle Day (10/10)

Torchwood: Miracle Day (1&2/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (3/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (4/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (5/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (6/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (7/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (8/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (9/10)
BBC Torchwood website

The Families have just been waiting.  Now we can step in to control the banks, the banks control government, the government controls people.  Soon, we’ll be able to decide who lives, how long, where, and why.
– Families Woman in Shanghai

Brilliant ending for Miracle Day.  Good must triumph over Evil, at least temporarily, so it was no surprise to see Torchwood reverse the Miracle and bring death back into the world.  No surprise, either, to see Jack regain immortality – he wouldn’t be Captain Jack Harkness without it.  The brilliance was in all the twists and turns of how it happened, along with the surprises and revelations.  Not least in discovering which characters die.  Given the cull in Children of Earth, they got off lightly this time, although it was a pity the sacrifice had to be Esther.  I liked her.

As I predicted in last week’s review, Oswald Danes played a major role as a de facto, if reluctant, Torchwood member in allowing himself to be wired up as a suicide bomber.  Not exactly a redemption, because he knows that “whatever happens tonight, there’s no place on earth that I can go.  And I wasn’t planning on coming out of here alive.”  Indeed, his reaction to the self-knowledge brought by the Blessing is first shock, then acceptance of who he is.  “The Blessing feels like sin.  I guess I’m accustomed to sin.”  That gives him the steadiness to help bring about the reversal of the Miracle – the only way his life can end.  I’ve said before that he’s the mirror image of Jack, and that’s why they’re together at the end, and why Danes helps Jack.

Jilly got better and better – by which I mean worse and worse – in wholeheartedly accepting the Families plan for world domination.  “About time.  The families, they want to make the world fitter, more compact, more disciplined.  I like the sound of that.  That sounds like salvation.”  Amoral, self-serving, and idealistic, all in one petite, beautifully wrapped, fascist package.  I’m glad she survived to fight another day.  If there’s another Torchwood series, I hope she’ll be back.

Rex and Esther have been getting closer and closer, ever since Vera’s death, and in this episode they were working very well together.  I predicted then that Rex would fall in love with her, as much as she loves him, and his reaction when she’s shot bears this out.  He’s almost ready give up the mission, because in bringing back death he’ll condemn Esther to die.  His anguished, “What do I do?” says it all.  It takes Gwen’s determination to get him back on track.

Gwen was magnificent, as usual.  She brings all the ambiance of the old Cardiff Torchwood into this series just by being herself – Welsh, bloody minded, violent, unreasonable, passionate, devoted to her family, and beautiful.  There’s something about that gap between her teeth.  It was also a good move to switch scenes back and forth between Wales and America, and now Shanghai, so we can see why she cares.  Gwen is as important a character as Jack in the series.  Russell T. Davies always seems to give her speeches when a point needs to be strongly made.  As here:

And that’s what I did in a pit in old Shanghai.  I brought death back to the world.  They said it was like a breath, a breath that went around the whole wide world, the last breath.

This, after she has just granted Jack the honour of being shot by someone who loves him rather than committing suicide.  And her words sound out against the background of her dad finally dying in Wales.  Even Danes is impressed.  “You’ll kill them all?  You are magnificent.”

Jack is Jack, a known unknown, central to Torchwood and a friend of the Doctor.  There’s a lot of scope there to more fully explore the consequences of becoming mortal, but I don’t think he went through much character development in the series.  It was painful, inconvenient, and unpleasant to be mortal, dangerous sometimes, and that’s all.  There’s no sense of him changing as a person.  Everybody else was irretrievably altered.  And it must be said that John Barrowman was out-acted by everyone else in the cast.  So far he’s a character actor, rather than actor.  I’d like to see what he does with another role, in which he has to get under the skin of someone completely unlike himself.

Their reaction to what the Blessing reveals to them is revealing in the different ways they approach the world.  For Gwen it’s “enough guilt to last me a lifetime.  But that’s OK.  I’m a working mother, I don’t need the Blessing to tell me that.”  For Jack, “I’ve lived many lifetimes.  And now I can see them all.  Hey, not so bad.”  Jack might be a lot older, but he seems much younger and less-burdened.

The Blessing turns out to be what?  Jack waffles.  It’s not the rock, but “the gap in between.  Nothingness.  The space, it’s alive.”  Gwen knows bullshit when she hears it. “You don’t bloody know, do you?”  “No.”  One one level, I find the idea of a fissure running through the earth from Shanghai to Buenos Aires jarring.  It’s as if a flat earth were part of the plot.  Ridiculous.  I’m really good at the willing suspension of disbelief thingy, but it just isn’t true.  That’s why aliens are so necessary to science fiction – they can be and do anything they like, and I don’t have go, “Eh, what?”  The only writer I’d trust with a flat earth (or similar nonsense) is Terry Pratchett, and that’s because of the internal consistency of Discworld.

I loved the way the plot unfolded in this episode.  It never occurred to me that Rex might get a complete transfusion of Jack’s blood, just in case their precious “weapon” was destroyed, as happened in Buenos Aires.  Or that Rex would balk at carrying out the plan when Argentinian Families Guy shot Esther.  But the transfusion resolved the problem of getting Jack’s blood into both the Shanghai and Buenos Aires ends of the Blessing.  A visually spectacular scene.

Superb plotting, too, in the way we were kept in the dark about whether Rex and Esther were still alive.  We saw Argentinian paramedics working on them, and I thought both would live.  Usually there’s scene where the person to pop their clogs gets to say a few last words.  So I assumed everything would be all right.  Then cut to the funeral in Chapel of the Gardens.  Must be Gwen’s dad, right?  But as the camera pans from left to right, we see Rhys, Gwen, Jack, then Charlotte, last seen blowing up the CIA office to avoid detection as a mole.  Not expected.  Followed by Rex, and no Esther.  Cut to her picture by the coffin, then to her sister and nieces.

The scene where the creepy Families suit makes contact with a fugitive Jilly was sort of expected.  Every science fiction film has the thwarted menace growing again in the shadows.  This time it’s “Plan B,” and Jilly is definitely interested.  Miracle Day is about corporatocracy, which is actually a present reality – the background events reflected realpolitik.  But the Torchwood concept of the Families, as in the Illuminati, is a tin foil hat obsession that’s alive and well on the internet.

The best surprise came at the end, another one I didn’t expect.  Rex turns out to be immortal, after the blood transfusion from Jack.  Great dialogue, worth repeating.

Jack: I’m so sorry, he’s dead.  (Rex revives.)  What?
Gwen: What? (Wide-eyed.)
Rex: What? (Trying to work out what just happened.)  What? (Sees wound healing.)
Gwen: What the hell…
Jack: That’s impossible.
Rex: You, World War II, what the hell did you do to me?

There’s an entertaining thought – Rex and Jack, the only two immortals on earth, having to put up with each other for eternity.

A lot to mull over, and you don’t want me blathering on forever.  But leave a comment if you feel so inclined.  The sign of a good show is that you keep thinking about it afterwards.  I hope there’s a new series, one with a thoroughly pissed-off Rex, and Jilly doing her thing in that red coat.  At least I can read other blogs and reviews now, without worrying about spoilers.  Still, a big gap left in Thursday night.

Torchwood: Miracle Day (9/10)

Torchwood: Miracle Day (1&2/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (3/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (4/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (5/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (6/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (7/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (8/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (10/10)
BBC Torchwood website

Once upon a time there were 3 wise Families.  One Family took politics, one Family took finance, and one Family took media.
– Nerdy Families Guy in Shanghai

What better way to control people, even outside of a science fiction show?  I love the way Torchwood pays attention to realpolitik and works it into the plot.  A mea culpa before we start.  I was under the impression that the Families did not have any of Jack’s blood, but another viewing of last week’s episode showed me the bit I’d missed.  They did have what was collected in the butcher’s cellar, so some of my assumptions were skewed.

Smashing start to this week’s episode, with Gwen driving a car into the front window of a chemist’s shop to steal drugs.  I get the impression she quite enjoys that sort of thing.  We’re back in Cardiff and Gwen’s living with Rhys, Annwen, Mary, and her dad.  They’re hiding her dad in the cellar because, in the 2 months since last week’s cliffhanger, the British government has re-opened the Overflow Camps and they’re once more burning people in Category 1.  Probably a measured response to the Great Depression.  The authorities suspect Gwen’s harbouring him, and a Jobsworth with police backup has already been round to check the place, but they miss him this time.

Jack is in a cottage in Scotland, almost completely recovered from his gunshot wound, after being nursed back to health by Esther, who has turned into a really efficient field operative.  Rex would be proud.  She’s been drawing Jack’s blood in the hope that it will have some part to play in reversing the Miracle.

They all come together again at Gwen’s house, when Oswald Danes appears disguised as a bread delivery man, apparently invited by Jack.  He and Esther follow.  Not a happy atmosphere with Danes there.  Gwen whacks him upside the head with a saucepan when he picks up Annwen, and Rhys hates his guts so much that Danes isn’t safe alone with him.  As for Gwen: “For the first time in my life I’ve met a monster.  Is that clear?”

Danes bargaining chip is Jilly Kitzinger’s stolen laptop, by which means he has shadowed her movements and found frequent references to working for Harry Bosco, a generic name for someone who falsifies media information.  Danes doesn’t know this, and assumes Bosco is the man behind the Miracle.  And he knows Jilly’s online presence has just disappeared, as if it had never existed.

The information is enough for Esther to discover that the Blessing is probably in Shanghai, but it could also be in Buenos Aires, based on Jilly’s mistranslations for the media.  They can’t see what possible connection there could be although Rhys, looking at a globe, has already worked it out.

Before Rhys can say anything, Jobsworth is knocking their door down in search of her dad, who he finds using a thermal imaging app on his cell phone.  Gwen begs for his life.  “He’s warm, feel him.”  To which the bastard replies, “Not as warm as he’s going to be.”  Mind you, it’s all according to the law of the land.  Mary even has to sign for her husband’s removal to the Overflow Camps.

Now there’s nothing to do but go in search of the Blessing.  Rhys has worked out that Shanghai and Buenos Aires are antipodes, “two massive population centres balanced on either side of the planet,” as Jack puts it.  Which ties in with what the assassin said in the 4th episode: “They’ve been waiting for a long time, searching the world for a specific geography.”  And explains the Phicorp logo – a circle with a line through the middle.  Jack, Gwen, and Danes go to Shanghai, smuggled in because China has closed its borders.  Esther to Buenos Aires, where she will meet up with Rex.

Rex is still at Langley, trusted by Shapiro, and heading the investigation into the Blessing.  He doesn’t know that Charlotte, Esther’s friend, is working for the Families, although he suspects there’s a mole.  Charlotte has already thwarted one promising line of enquiry by using DNA specialists in the pay of the Families.  But Esther’s call for help with translating the news broadcasts that Jilly worked on prompt him to go off the grid, with Shapiro’s permission.  “This could be it, sir, this could be the Blessing.”  Charlotte, however, finds out from the Embassy notifications that Rex is in Buenos Aires and alerts the Families.

The lovely and amoral Jilly, meanwhile, is offered the chance to see the Blessing.  Her creepy Families Guy contact hands her a one-way ticket to Shanghai and a new name.  Her official identity as Jilly Kitzinger is wiped from the records.

Jilly’s met at the site of the Blessing – a warehouse – by a creepy Families Woman with a crazy cult-like smile and a line in conversation that would have most people running a mile in the opposite direction.  “It’s exhilarating, the damage it does.”  I’m not sure what I was expecting the Blessing to be.  It looks like a cross between the inside of an artery, with nameless particles flowing into it, and a bloody rock fissure.  And it goes right through the planet, ending up in Buenos Aires.  Definitely dangerous.

But Jilly Kitzinger isn’t most people.  Despite “feeling terrible” – one of the side-effects of exposure to the Blessing, another one being the occasional impulse to kill yourself – she wants in.  Families Woman says it’s because “the Blessing shows you to yourself.”  Jilly actually hurries, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, towards it.  Families Woman asks her, “What can you see?  What does the Blessing tell you about yourself?  Jilly’s reply: “That I’m right.”  And she smiles the crazy smile.

Esther meets up with Rex in Buenos Aires.  She has brought Jack’s blood with her, just in case.  I will be be very disappointed if it isn’t used in the final episode.  Disturbingly, Rex’s wound begins to trouble him, as Esther talks to Gwen in Shanghai.

In Shanghai, Jack’s gunshot wound is also beginning to bleed again, after appearing to heal.  “I’m tired, Gwen.  This mortal life, it hurts so much.”  A drop of blood falls onto the floorboards and runs off in a straight line, as if it were drawn to something.  What else could that be but the Blessing?  Gwen has the last word, as usual.

It’s your blood.  No wonder it’s killing you.  I think it’s showing us the way. (Going to window).  It’s the Blessing, it’s somewhere over there.  And I think, whatever it is, it’s calling you, Jack.

No doubt, Jack will follow it in the final episode.

I’m delighted to see Jilly Kitzinger getting more screen time.  Her character is fascinating, and she’s one of the reasons I look forward to Thursday nights.  I did think she would put up at least a token resistance to the Blessing, given her moral revulsion against Danes.  Never mind, Jilly is interesting whatever she does.

Danes packed much less of a punch in this week’s episode.  He was more interesting as an evangelist for the Miracle.  I don’t quite understand the rationale for the Families wanting to get rid of him, when he is such a cynical and charismatic figure.  I still think Danes is Jack’s mirror image, and that’s why their stories are converging – he will play an important part in the reversal of the Miracle.

Until next week.

Torchwood: Miracle Day (8/10)

Torchwood: Miracle Day (1&2/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (3/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (4/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (5/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (6/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (7/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (9/10)

They said you were the Devil, but other people said you were a Blessing.
– Angelo

The quote flew right over my head in the last episode.  Watching it again, I understand the significance.  It must refer to what Stewart Owens told Jack in episode 6, when he talked about “the Blessing” being found in Italy in the mid-1990s.  And so it is.

This Torchwood episode was generally low key, with a lot happening.  Last week, the woman behind the kidnapping of Rhys, Mary, and Annwen, offered Jack the chance to meet Angelo Colesanto, “the one man who knows how the Miracle began.”  It was an offer he couldn’t refuse.  So this week saw them driving to Las Vegas and Angelo’s mansion – he’s obviously done well out of the information Jack let drop about the future.

The woman is none other than Olivia Colesanto, Angelo’s granddaughter.  And she’s not Illuminati (my useful label for the people behind Phicorp), as I thought.  Olivia is carrying out her grandfather’s request bring Jack to him.

Angelo is a very old man, unconscious, and on a life support system.  He could be anywhere from 100 to 110, kept alive this long by a strict health and medical regimen, all in the hope of meeting Jack again.  And now kept alive by the Miracle.  Bit of a disappointment that Angelo wasn’t even conscious.  I expected more sparks to fly at the reunion.

Olivia tells of how it began in 1928 with men from 3 families – the ones Jack saw inspecting him before the purchase – Ablemarch, Costerdane, and Frines.  Unable to use Jack’s blood because Angelo freed him, they hope to find the key to immortality through other avenues of research – in the 1990s it’s stem cells.  Angelo is kept away from the project, not respected because of his relationship with Jack.  But they’re all searching for the same thing.  Then, in 1998, word reaches Olivia that the “Blessing” has been found, obviously Jack’s blood taken by the Italian woman.  Esther’s search for the family names reveals the astonishing fact that nobody has those names, and there are no public records of them.  So put a line through Illuminati and write in Families.

As Esther waits outside in the car, in phone contact with Rex, Friedkin and his CIA division capture her and everybody in the house.  They’re all arrested under the Miracle Security Act – “this is the same as treason now, folks” – and Friedkin takes Rex off separately for some private revenge.  But he doesn’t know that Rex is wearing the handy dandy Torchwood contact lenses, which are playing the scene on Angelo’s monitor.

Rex: How much did the Families pay you?
Friedkin: It wasn’t about the money.  You can’t escape them.  The Families don’t just pay me, they own me.  They are everywhere.  They are always.  They are no-one.
Rex: And they are listening.

Friedkin’s boss, Alan Shapiro, has followed him, and is listening to the confession in the other room.  He arrests Olivia and Friedkin, but as they’re about to be driven off, Friedkin blows himself up, and everyone else in the car.  So now Rex and Esther are vindicated.  The CIA and Torchwood form an uneasy alliance, which is not helped when Shapiro really pisses Gwen off.

Shapiro: You’re that English girl, Cooper, have I got that right?
Gwen: No. I’m not English, and I’m not a girl.

Jack finally gets some time alone with Angelo when everyone rushes outside for Friedkin’s detonation.  He talks about Ianto and promises to take care of Angelo.  “See you later, old man.”  Then he kisses Angelo on the lips.  At which point, Angelo dies.  Really.  Jack thinks the monitor is faulty, but it’s true.  He’s dead, Jack.  The kiss must have something to do with it, considering what his blood can do, and nobody else in the world is dying.

Shapiro wants to know why, and orders Torchwood to stay in the house until he does know.  I like this Shapiro.  A curmudgeon’s curmudgeon.

This lull in the action allows other bits of the plot to catch up.  Jack and Gwen talk about the implications of Angelo’s death.  “Are we in trouble?”  “Yes.”

Rex and Esther are happy to be back in the CIA family and talk to their friends in the office.  Charlotte offers to help Esther’s sister in the psych ward.  They get news that Danes is in Dallas, playing the Cowboys Stadium.  “He’s preaching hellfire and salvation, which makes Oswald Danes the most popular man in the world right now.”  This is against the background of a plunging stock market and the threat of economic collapse.  Rex tells them to get a spy close to Danes and Jilly.

Esther calls her sister.  She knows Esther called Child Protective Services.  But it doesn’t matter because she wants to volunteer for Category 1, and put Esther’s nieces on the list as well.

Gwen talks to Rhys.  Her mum’s pissed off about being kidnapped, but wants Gwen to “go get ’em.”  Her dad is “not good.”

And then it starts again.  Esther notices that the floor beneath Angelo’s bed looks different from the rest of the room.  Shapiro has the floor taken up, revealing a strange grid underneath the bed.  Jack doesn’t want to tell him what it is, supported by Gwen, so Shapiro has her deported.  All Jack will say is that it’s a morphic field transmitter.

He needs to get himself and the alpha plate, the critical part of the device, away from the CIA and any government.  This piece of alien technology used to be in the Torchwood Hub in Cardiff, so Angelo must have retrieved it from the ruins.  It’s null field stealth technology, which would be too much of a temptation for any government to have.  “This timeline would be terminal.”  That’s why Torchwood was secret.  They steal the alpha plate, but Jack gets shot in the getaway.  Esther drives him away while Rex stays embedded within the CIA.

Back to Danes and Jilly Kitzinger in Dallas, who I have missed horribly.  From now on we shift back and forth between the 2 locations, but I’ll focus first on Las Vegas, then Dallas.

Jilly is back on cracking form, talking about Danes sharing a stage with the Bisected Bride.  “You know, car accident sheared off everything below the bikini line.  Got married a week later, propped up in a box.  Basically, she’s made up of positive thinking and colostomy bags.”  Jilly gets some brilliant lines.

But Danes isn’t interested, turns the music up loud so he can’t hear her, and demands a woman.  The CIA spy, turns up in the form of Shawna, an irritatingly positive and cheerful intern, who attaches herself to Jilly.  There’s a foreshadowing of Danes’ eventual fate, when Jilly reveals that she won’t have to put up with him.  “Not for much longer.”

Jilly orders up a woman for Danes.  It doesn’t end well.  She is freaked out by Danes wanting “a date,” meaning a meal, a show, that sort of thing.  She’s prepared for almost anything except this.  “If you want to pretend that you’re normal, no way.”  And before leaving, she reveals something she’s learned from another client – a senator – that under an Emergency Mandate a new classification is going through Congress.  Category Zero.  Jilly explains – it’s the ovens for those who should die for moral reasons.  “What you had was a wonderful delay, and now it’s time for that adventure to come to an end.”  Danes beats her up and goes on the run.

The creepy Families suit, who previously told her she was doing so well, now offers her a promotion.  This after shooting Shawna dead in front of Jilly, because he knows she’s a CIA spy.

Families Guy: Way above Phicorp.  We’re Families business.  Interested?
Jilly: Yes.
Families Guy: (On phone to Charlotte) She’s with us now.

Yes.  Charlotte, Esther’s best friend and CIA colleague, works for the Families.

Another cliffhanger.  Jack is on the run with Esther, and dying from a mortal wound, while Gwen is on a flight back to Wales.  Torchwood is scattered and broken.

One puzzle solved.  The creepy Illuminati (now Families) triangle comes from the curious way the 3 original Families  businessmen sealed the deal in the cellar.  Each one clasped another man’s wrist, forming a triangle.

For the rest, I’m content to wait until next week.

Torchwood: Miracle Day (7/10)

Torchwood: Miracle Day (1&2/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (3/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (4/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (5/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (6/10)

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.

Torchwood: Miracle Day (6/10)

Torchwood: Miracle Day (1 & 2/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (3/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (4/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (5/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (7/10)

Most of this week’s episode is concerned with events at the two overflow camps, in Cowbridge, South Wales, and San Pedro, California.  Gwen and Rhys in Wales, and Esther and Rex in California, provide most of the excitement, while Jack pursues Stewart Owens, Phicorp’s chief operating officer, to find out who’s behind Miracle Day.

We’re introduced to Owens in his LA office, asking his administrative assistant and mistress, Janet, to be less familiar at work.  Owens is also trying to find out about Phicorp’s involvement in Miracle Day.  This particular morning he’s talking to a contact in Shanghai about a land purchase Phicorp made there in 1999.  The contact breaks into the guarded site, and the next time we see him he’s on top of a skyscraper.  He denies seeing anything, his message to Owens being “dead end.”  Then he throws himself off the building, presumably hoping this will end his consciousness permanently, as the “45 Club” believe.  They think 45 floors will do the job.  Which begs the question – has he seen something even worse than what we already know about?

Jack gets to Owens that evening through Janet, showing her an email Owens sent to HR transferring her to Cincinnati.  Believing Janet to be held hostage, Owens reveals all he knows.  And it’s nothing.  Nothing that can be traced back to Phicorp, or to anybody else for that matter.  There is no focal point for the evil, unless it’s “the system itself.”  But “someone is playing the system across planet Earth with infinite grace, beyond any one person’s sight.”  Owens and Phicorp are just middle men making a profit on the mysterious transaction.

I think we’d already guessed that Big Pharma wasn’t the Big Bad.  This segment felt like a filler with set speeches, designed to get everyone up to speed.  The only new information is the phrase, “the Blessing,” referring to something found in Italy in the mid-1990s.  From a dramatic point of view, this segment could have been drastically shortened, although the set-up between Jack and Janet was entertaining.

The real action is at the overflow camps.  At Cowbridge, Gwen confronts Dr Patel, who is only doing her job and doesn’t want to think too hard about the consequences.  But she already knows that what Gwen tells her is true: “This isn’t a hospital, it’s a concentration camp.”  So Gwen arranges for Rhys to pick up her father at 5:00 am the next morning, before he can be taken to the Modules.

Rhys is delayed by a jobsworth with suit and clipboard, who wants to know who gave him authorization, but drives off anyway to pick up Gwen’s dad.  Pursued by jobsworth and guards, he smashes through the camp gates.  Very satisfying.  I like the way his relationship with Gwen is portrayed, with Rhys not very adventurous but so in love with Gwen that he’ll do anything for her.  You can tell who wears the trousers in that family.

In California, Rex has become a convert to Torchwood, after seeing the horrors his government have connived in.  Like someone caught in a nightmare Big Brother house, he tells the video camera containing all the evidence of the atrocities: “I’m not with the CIA or a US government authority.  I’m with Torchwood, and we’re going to expose everything that’s going on here, everything that I just witnessed.”

Trying to get out of the camp with the evidence, he pretends to be Category 1 to draw a soldier’s attention, knocks him out, and puts on his uniform.  Only to walk into the place where all the military nicotine addicts are congregated, and of course he’s arrested.  Even in hell there’s a no smoking policy in the workplace.  Colin Maloney, the administrator who burned Vera, comes to interview him, telling the guards to leave them alone together.

Meanwhile, Esther has been trying to find out what happened to Vera, listening at Maloney’s office door, and inventing reasons to go inside and gauge what’s going on.  A lot.  Ralph also wants to know what happened to Vera and he’s appalled to discover the truth.  The Modules are for “storage” until legislation is passed to allow cremation.  Maloney’s rationale doesn’t convince him:

Maloney:  The Modules were designed to kill.  Therefore death within this compound is legal.
Ralph (incredulously): How’s that work?
Maloney: Because I say so.

Maloney alternates between panic attacks, bluster, and trying to cover up the murders.  Ralph is sent to drive Vera’s car to a shopping mall parking lot in San Pedro, while the camp is put in lock-down mode to give them an alibi.

When Maloney goes off to interview Rex, Esther finds out from Ralph that they’re in the generator room.  She follows him.  Just in the nick of time, too, because the situation is getting really painful for Rex.

He doesn’t know that Maloney is the man who murdered Vera, so he tries to enlist his aid in exposing the truth.  He even points out the video camera with the evidence on it.  In an echo of Jack’s offer to Danes of becoming a hero, Rex offers the same chance to Maloney, who looks at the film and realises that unless he kills Rex, he’s toast himself.

In a brilliant scene where Rex asks Maloney to unlock his chains, he appears not to have the key.  In fact, he’s looking for something with which to kill Rex: “I wonder what I can use.”  Then, finding his pen, “That’ll have to do.”

And he sticks it into Rex’s wound.  This was excruciatingly painful to watch, even though it only showed Maloney positioning the pen and the first tentative probing of the wound.  But the screams tell the rest of the story.  Even then, the passive aggressive bastard is making excuses: “I’m very sorry. It’s been such a long day.  All I want to do is go home.”

With Esther’s arrival, he goes out into the corridor.  She makes the mistake of saying he has a call from Vera.  Rex shouts out for her to run, and they fight.  This is also extremely violent, with Esther eventually getting the upper hand.  I think she strangled him, but I might have heard the crack of his neck being broken.  Then she has to find his keys.  Maloney, of course, revives and is strangling her when Ralph shows up and shoots him:  “This has got to stop!”

Rex and Esther understand each other better in the aftermath.  I think the dramatic reason for killing off Vera, as well as exposing the real purpose of the overflow camps, was to free up Rex for a relationship with Esther.  It’s been foreshadowed from the first episode.

In Cowbridge, Gwen has one more thing to do before leaving for LA.  She puts in the handy-dandy Torchwood contact lenses and tells Jack, back at Venice Beach, to open a radio link while she tells the world what she’s seen.  Not quite sure how that worked, but I’m willing to suspend disbelief.  I enjoyed this thoroughly forthright Gwenism: “I don’t care if the whole of society bends over and takes this like a dog.  I’m saying no.”

Then she goes off to find some plastic explosive and wire the crematoria complex for detonation, which doesn’t seem to take long because in the next shot she’s on a motorbike and blowing it all up for the cameras.  There’s a moment when you see Gwen on the bike, with the crematoria exploding behind her, which I immediately converted it into a frame from a comic.  It had that quality.  Then she roars off.

Back at Venice Beach, Torchwoood have become whistle-blowers.  The world is outraged.  But it’s not enough, as Rex points out.  The White House is unrepentant, except in calling for an investigation into Vera’s death: “There will be no apology for the Category 1 process.”  So if “Torchwood wasn’t designed to fight politicians,” then they need to find out about the Blessing.

There’s a sting in the episode’s tail.  As Gwen is walking through LA airport, she’s paged to a courtesy phone, told to put on the contact lenses, and given this message from the Illuminati: “We have your mother.  We have your husband.  We have your child.  Bring us Jack.”  No word about her dad, who is presumably back in an overflow camp.  Judging by the excerpts from next week’s episode, she will try to bring them Jack.

I didn’t find this or the previous episode as enjoyable as the first four, quite apart from the subject matter, which isn’t exactly laugh out loud.  It’s because a big part of the attraction of Torchwood is the way the characters interact with each other, one of the many good things in the previous series.  When they’re all separated it becomes much more of a generic science fiction adventure thriller.  That said, Colin Maloney is a terrific character – a whining, blustering, passive aggressive coward who you love to hate – and superbly played by Marc Vann.  I’m almost sorry he’s out of the picture.

And the subtitle, The Middle Men, is an accurate description of the way people are willingly used as part of this conspiracy that seems to know no bounds.  Owens, Phicorp, Dr Patel, Maloney, and everyone else who refuses to look beyond their jobs or narrow self-interest are middle men.

I hope the Torchwood team stick more closely together and play off each other in the next episode.  I don’t want the series going generic.

Torchwood: Miracle Day (5/10)

Torchwood: Miracle Day (1 & 2/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (3/10)
Torchwood: Miracle Day (4/10)

Review of latest episode at Torchwood: Miracle day (6/10)

All the misgivings suggested by the phrase, “overflow camp,” were fully justified in this episode, as the Torchwood team discover the heart of darkness at the centre of the Miracle.  It starts with Vera arriving at Washington City Hall for the Medical Panels, only to find that a report has already been sent to Congress.  There are now 3 categories of human, and the Emergency Miracle Law is about to be passed, putting categories 1 and 2 into overflow camps.  An American news broadcast quotes the PM, talking about “a new age of care and compassion.”  Well he would, wouldn’t he?

This development is enough for Vera to sign up for the cause, and she joins Torchwood in Venice Beach, where  the system of categories is explained.  One is “bad” – no brain function, or people who would normally have died.  Three is healthy people with no illnesses or injuries.  Two is all the rest, sick people who might get better.  So under the Emergence Miracle Law, and similar legislation in Europe, only the healthy have civil rights.

Meanwhile, Gwen has flown back to Cardiff in an attempt to get her dad out of the South Wales Overflow Camp.  Her mum’s ready and waiting as she walks through the door, with an operations board set up in the living room.  Good to see PC Andy back on the right side, as he tries to get Gwen’s dad out through his authority as a policeman, but the Army’s in charge.  So Gwen infiltrates the camp as a nurse, while Rhys has access as a delivery driver.

Torchwood in California are trying to get into the San Pedro Overflow Camp to check out the existence of “Modules,” which appear on the Phicorp plans, but have been hidden in official photographs of the camp.  Esther will go in as a clerk, Vera as a government inspector, and Rex as a Category 1 patient, so he can photograph the inside of the Modules, final destination for these patients.

This leaves Jack with nothing to do, so he tracks down Oswald Danes, one of the warm-up acts at the Miracle Rally in Los Angeles, where the President will speak.  For the Illuminati/Phicorp, Danes’ speech is crucial.  Jilly has a carefully written script for him, which contains multiple repetitions of the word, “revelation.”  Each time it’s used, a huge Phicorp logo will appear behind him, probably flashing out subliminal messages.

But Danes wants to know who is behind Phicorp, and doesn’t like being used as a tool.  He has already tried to bond independently with the crowd when he arrived at the stadium, only to have a hostile response caught on camera.  Jilly gets the footage destroyed.  It’s frustrating for them both.  Danes isn’t allowed a dressing room because the other speakers don’t want a murdering pedophile near them.  And Jilly has a lot to lose if he screws up.  A creepy Illuminati/Phicorp suit tells her, “Just wanted to say, you’re doing a very good job.”  She is being noticed by “the right people.”

It’s a complex plot, cutting repeatedly between these 3 main strands, with an increasingly irritating soundtrack.  28 Days Later used something similar to generate unease, specially written for the film, but it worked then.  Here it distracts from the action.

Gwen and Rhys do indeed get her dad out of the South Wales Overflow Camp.  In an unforseen consequence, he has another heart attack as they try to get him into the truck.  Now he’s Category 1.  Gwen’s told that she has until next morning to do something about it, because then he goes into a Module.

In San Pedro, Rex is at first put into Category 2.  Esther, working from the office, gets him reassigned to Category 1, and slips him a camera.  Vera, under cover as a government inspector, meets the racist, sexist, violent, and thoroughly incompetent good ol’ boy who runs the heavily guarded camp.  The character must have a name, but I didn’t catch it, so hereafter he shall be known as Good Ol’ Boy or GOB.  Unless I come across the  name.  He drives a golf cart round the camp, and is psyched by the possible visit of Hilary (Duff, not Clinton).  If all this isn’t enough to make you hate his guts, he’s also a Genesis fan.

Despite asking for a tour of the Modules, Vera’s fobbed off with a general tour of the tent city that comprises most of the camp.  GOB even has a military escort in the form of lower ranks Ralph, who is appalled by his boss.  In a well-deserved swipe at the American health care system, the patients with no insurance are housed in the most disgusting conditions, with Category 2 patients pegged as Category 1.  Literally.  They use red (1) and blue (“rhymes with 2”) clothes pegs to identify them.  The banality of evil.  GOB responds with, “I’m under budget.”

Vera goes ballistic and threatens to prosecute him: “I guarantee you’re going to jail, you stupid little man.  I’m going to see you inside a prison cell, you limp-dicked little coward.”  Bad move.  He grabs Ralph’s gun and shoots her twice.  Then panics and gets Ralph to help him dump her in one of the Modules she so wanted to see.

Rex, meanwhile, has found out for himself the reality of the Modules.  It has no heating and is fitted up with bunks that could have come straight out of a Nazi concentration camp.  They’re stacked with Category 1  “patients.”  He gets outside and notices there are only 3 Modules, far too few to cope with the influx of Category 1 people.

He relays this information to Esther, who is worried about losing touch with Vera, last seen in the golf cart on tour with GOB.  Looking inside the window of a Module, Rex can see her on the floor, but he’s unable to get in.  Then we find out what these things really are.  GOB sets the controls to burn, and flames incinerate everyone inside.  The Modules are crematoria.  Rex can only look on in horror, and when he can’t do that, film it.  Because he’s a CIA agent and he has to fulfill the mission of gathering evidence.

I never expected this to happen.  It was genuinely shocking.

The scenes in South Wales and San Pedro are interspersed with Jack’s attempt to get Danes to “do the right thing” at the Miracle Rally.  Confronting Danes, he gives him an alternative speech that tells the truth about Phicorp: “What if you became a hero instead?”  Recognizing that Danes is sick of his own life, Jack says, “You help me and I promise I will help you die.”  At this point, Jilly comes looking for Danes.

It’s as if Danes has the devil in a red dress on one shoulder, and Jack in a blue greatcoat on the other, each one vying for his soul.  Now Jilly knows about Jack, and takes his picture on her camera phone.

So what will Oswald Danes do?  He starts hesitantly, as if not sure which way to turn.  He even discards both speeches.  But it becomes clear that he wants to engage with Phicorp on his own terms.  He talks about a great leap forward 50,000 years ago, when we changed from animals to humans.  Miracle Day was the next great leap.  In full evangelical mode, he fires up the crowd with this:

Man has risen again.  Now he has a new name.  And his name is Angel.  Angel.  Angel.  We are angels.  We have been helped.  We have been purified.  We have been given life unending.  We are the first angels on Earth.  And I promise you this, there are even those who have been planning for this – the agents of angels.  I’m telling you now, they stand amongst us.  Yes, for this is my revelation.

Cue huge, brilliantly lit Phicorp logo behind him, triggered by the word “revelation.”  The crowd goes wild, and Jilly jumps up and down for joy, just as she did when Danes stole the show from Ellis Hartley Monroe.

In South Wales, Gwen now understands what the Modules really are.  As she watches plumes of smoke rise into the sky, she tells Rhys:

They built ovens.  They built ovens all over the world.  That’s what the Modules are – they are ovens.  They’re burning them.  The patients, they’re burning them alive.

This is what good science fiction should do – take on the big issues.  Russell T. Davies’ wit, pitch-perfect dialogue, cultural references, and portrayal of human interaction are good reasons for watching anything he produces.  Couple these things with a dark drama that goes to the heart of the human condition, and you have really powerful television.