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

by on July 25, 2011

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!