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“Torchwood: Miracle Day” “Dead of Night” Review (SPOILERS)

If anyone was unsure up to this point that Torchwood: Miracle Day was trying to make a topical political statement, you can all rest easily knowing that, yes, they are making a topical political statement, condemning or, at the very least, bringing to light the way American pharmaceutical companies profit from disaster and the hardship of others.  Did anyone need to be reminded of that? Certainly not the nation’s poor sick people.  Still, the on-the-nose approach pays off for the Jane Espenson-penned episode, “Dead of Night,” because now, three episodes in, we have a villain and an actual plot for Torchwood to investigate.  A crisis is one thing, and social implications thereof are another, but a television show needs a concrete focal point, even if it’s just a name. In this case, that name is Phicorp.

The episode begins with Rex Matheson threatening to shoot Wayne Knight in the head. Like ya do.  It seems that, between episodes, they pretty easily discovered that Newman was behind all of them becoming persona-non-grata basically anywhere in America. He doesn’t say a whole lot, but he does give Matheson the girly red cell phone that rings him with instructions. As was expected, breaking into a high-level CIA guy’s house sets off an alarm, but, luckily, Rex has Jack, Gwen, and Esther working with him, and they all easily get away thanks to Gwen’s quite adept use of a road spike thing.  They’re like a team now! Sort of.

Rex Matheson’s nickname at the CIA academy must have been “The Cock,” because he just refuses to be nice to anyone.  How did he get to be the Agency’s “golden boy” if he so clearly has disdain for any form of authority? Generally, big government entities look down on such a trait.  Regardless, he and Jack argue a fair amount about who’s really in charge and whether Torchwood itself even exists.  A valid argument I guess. Gwen and Esther seem to be getting along quite well, though, as they compare notes about UK vs US what-have-yous.  Jack seems to be interested in why Oswald Danes is on TV so much. He also says that whatever morphic field is keeping everyone from dying is also forcing them to live, making it so that even when they should at the very least be unconscious from pain, they are still fully aware and awake.

They get an address to check out, and after Gwen, er, gingerly finds a car for them to take, they arrive at an enormous warehouse (that’s bigger on the inside… joke) owned by Phicorp.  It houses all the drugs they’ll need for this global problem, but they’d been there since before Miracle Day actually happened.  The painkillers are the same ones Rex was given, which take away pain but don’t cause drowsiness or unconsciousness.  Interesting, eh? Looks to me, and everyone watching, that Phicorp knew about Miracle Day beforehand, and maybe even caused it.

Oswald Danes is not a particularly happy guy.  And why should he be? He’s a convicted child molester and murderer.  Yet, somehow, for all his despicableness, Bill Pullman somehow finds a way to make the guy nuanced and sympathetic.  He gets beaten up by cops after almost getting beaten up by hipsters, a fair tradeoff, I’d say.  Just as he drags his sorry, beaten-up carcass back to the cheap motel he’s staying in, who should arrive but PR person for Phicorp, Jilly Kitzinger.  She again offers Phicorp’s help to Danes in exchange for his persona.  This time, broken ribs still throbbing, he agrees. I really liked this scene, and the characterizations by the actors were great. My only complaint, and it’s kind of a big one, was the completely out-of-place music cue that perpetuates the entire conversation. Jilly’s saying things about striding across the skin of the world and we’re getting “doop-de-doop” music that accompanies Danes getting thrown out of the police car. It really took me out of the scene, which is a real shame, I think, because Pullman and Ambrose are acting their faces off.

What of our other new friend, Dr. Vera Juarez? Well, she’s still dealing with all the nation’s medical problems.  People are trying super-duper-hard to kill other people and causing horrible, grievous damage, like the lady whose husband strangled her so bad her brain became soup and her trachea was crushed, but she’s still living.  Juarez also finds out that fetuses that usually spontaneously abort due to deformity and birth defect are remaining alive, causing untold medical problems for them once they’re born.  It’s things like this where, if Phicorp IS behind it, they deserve to be set on fire everyday for eternity.  Juarez also runs into Jilly (she’s everywhere!), who invites her to a meeting at Phicorp.

After the Nouveau-Torchwood disbands for a time, Rex goes to see Dr. Juarez to get some more drugs and Captain Jack goes into the gayest gay bar Starz television could imagine.  Jack’s kind of freaking out because he’s been immortal for such a long time and now he’s not, or at the very least is as immortal as everyone else, which is not the fun kind.  So what’s a centuries-old omnisexual guy to do? Hook up with a bartender.  What follows serves no purpose to the plot and is more graphic than what is being allowed to be shown on the BBC, but is less graphic than what I was expecting based on Starz’s other programming.  Jack gets it on with the barman while Rex and Vera get it on also.  Neither are necessary at all, except that Rex convinces Vera to go to the Phicorp meeting (after being a completely asshole-twat to her) and Jack gets drunk and tries to tell Gwen he loves her or whatever and they talk about Ianto while she’s on the video chat with Rhys and Anwen.  Poor them.

Then everybody gets back together so they can investigate Phicorp.  Gwen wears the contacts with cameras in them and goes to investigate Kitzinger while Juarez allows them to listen to the proper meeting.  Apparently, the Phicorp management, in conjunction with a US Congressman, want to make pharmaceuticals available for everyone.  Not FREE, but available without a prescription, basically what every pharmaceutical company wants right now.  When you privatize medicine and an anomalous, globe-spanning event leaves everyone immortal but in horrible, agonizing pain, this is what happens.

Jack, meanwhile, has left to find Oswald Danes, who himself had just met with Phicorp.  Jack wants to know if Danes was told anything about the name “Jack Harkness,” which he claims he wasn’t.  We also learn why Danes is doing this: he is helping Phicorp because he wanted to be executed.  He claims killing the little girl was the greatest moment of his life and he can’t bear living in a world without death.  But before Jack can do anything with the information, Danes calls in Phicorp goons to beat him senseless and take the recording.  While Jack gets his clocks cleaned, we see Danes on the news Phicorp’s message of healthcare to all without a prescription.

So, there we have it, folks.  We know who we’re fighting, or at least who is benefiting from what we’re fighting.  Phicorp is the evil umbrella corporation, Jilly Kitzinger is its agent, and Oswald Danes is the psychopath turned prophet for them.  This episode is by far my favorite so far simply because Torchwood has a clear directive.  It’s not just “This sucks, huh? Wonder what we’ll do about it.”  Now Torchwood can investigate and get to the bottom of the conspiracy and, as we’ve seen this episode, have a lot of interpersonal squabbling and fucked-up shenanigans like we’ve come to expect.  It took them a couple of weeks, but Torchwood: Miracle Day has more than a concept and characters; it has a story.  I’m looking forward to next week, a lot, this time.

-Kanderson is also immortal, but let’s not test the theory. Just follow him on TWITTER!

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  1. Alexis says:

    While the Jack sex scene may not have been *necessary* to show (I’m not complaining — I think he’s hot and I fully enjoyed it) but the way he’s feeling afterwards was the necessary part – him calling Gwen and talking about Ianto — they just chose to show the fun part that then led to him allowing himself to feel emotions

  2. Mike says:

    Phicorp could have been modeled on any one of a dozen huge pharmaceutical companies in the states (and globally,) but come one, it’s obviously Pfizer.

  3. Poopsie says:

    Mmmm, i think the series is….a’ight?
    The thing is i don’t enjoy the *remainder* of the team in america…its all so glitzy. The actings good, and the story like is interesting, its just that i miss the old days when they were back in Cardiff and all the drama…

  4. funtimevash says:

    Have to say, I was rather impressed with this episode. The plot is really moving along now, and yes, the sex scenes were just a bit of fun, but Torchwood and sex have always gone hand in hand. To me the both scenes were worth it story-wise for the vulnerable character moments both Jack and Vera shared after the sexytimes. I liked it much better than Rendition, because at least they weren’t stuck on a plane the whole time, heh. Overall, I’m quite excited about this new season. Not Children of Earth, not as intense emotionally or dramatically, but I’m ok with that. So far it’s been sort of a middle ground between the daily grind and slow character development of Torchwood seasons 1 & 2, with the polished writing/directing/effects of Children of Earth.

  5. We also felt that the sex scenes were quite unnecessary. I will never complain about seeing lots of Jack, but they did not progress the plot at all. And why is Jack only hitting on men? We thought for sure that he’d be all over Esther by now.

    It seems like they’re going to need to start moving quickly since there are only 7 episodes left.

  6. Jason says:

    Brian Egan,

    Do you read AV Club reviews? Just wondering.

  7. Chris says:

    This might be out of left field and I might be the only one saying this, but it is my belief that Phicorp is trying to get people hooked on the drugs so that when miracle day wears off, EVERYONE will be addicted to the meds Phicorp has made available. And if legislation passes, it will be available without a script, aka prescription. It is unfortunate that if I am right, it all comes down to money. It seems that Oswald Danes was always supposed to be the poster child for Phicorp. Prior to him going to jail, I’m sure he was getting a lot of press coverage and when they save his life, he was going to again be getting a lot of press coverage.

    Do you think I’m right?

  8. interiris says:

    the sex scenes were pretty dismal-the ep was a slight improvement but we basically had a replay of the alien lens as per COE-Gwen continues to dominate and even CJ plays second fiddle-the new charactors just act as foils for Gwen-and the Oswald Danes story is really weak-by far the worst of all three seasons-and the viewing figuires seem to support this.In Australia it has gone down the ratings with each ep and after ep 3 it is no longer in the top 100-

  9. Brian Egan says:

    I, too, am Brian E. But not the same. I agree, the episode, although having many meaningless scenes, did give some direction to the series. However, there are still many more human layers the show needs to pull back in order for me to get nearly the same feeling COE gave me. Will everyone who is mortally wounded drop dead? How will that affect Rex’s involvement. Will the “soulless” form an army and will Torchwood et al. have to stop a war on top of Phicorp? Is Kitzinger the Devil, as she appears at just the right moment and loves to wear red and tempt folks? God, I hope nothing that cliche.

    Trying to unscramble the letters in Phicorp to figure out who they truly are. Not coming up with anything. Davies loves anagrams, surprised it doesn’t spell out anything. Thoughts?

    One final thought, can the writers show what’s going on in the world without just having talking heads on TV? Can’t we figure out another way to move things forward?

  10. Brian E. says:

    Yes! A great ep. Anyone else getting alien-involved vibes from Phicorp? The sex scenes while unecessary were well done. Jack pulled well 🙂

    LOVED the Brit vs US terminology discussions between Gwen and Esther. Hilarious.