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“Torchwood: Miracle Day” “Escape to L.A.” Review (SPOILERS)

by on August 1, 2011

The plot thickens. The Torchwood crew takes their fight against Phicorp out west to Los Angeles.  “Escape to Los Angeles” is the fourth episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day, and while it offers up the requisite amount of action, suspense, and intrigue, it hammers home two more themes to add to its growing cadre of symbols. The first is what it actually means to be alive or dead here in this new immortal world, and the second is family and how it affects each of our leads. More so than even Children of Earth, Miracle Day focuses on issues and not only how they impact the main characters, but also how they impact society. With such thought-provoking questions rattling around, the characters are free to explore their relationships and reflect on themselves.

The episode opens with Esther going to see her mentally unstable sister and the sister’s two children.  She finds the home boarded up and seemingly abandoned, though it isn’t.  Her sister, Sarah, has really cracked and has barricaded herself and her daughters inside and only opens the door a crack to speak to Esther.  (Sidebar: Why would you name one daughter “Sarah” and name the other, presumably younger, daughter “Esther?”  Old-timey names should be paired. Surely “Agnes” or “Mabel” would have been more in the wheelhouse. End Sidebar.)  Sarah is so freaked out about the new world paradigm that she’s sacrificing her health and the health of her children in exchange for “safety.”  With a heavy heart, Esther calls social services to try to get her family help before she heads off to LA with the others.  Unfortunately, this quick jaunt to Sarah’s has drawn the attention of a sinister man in black, played by the actor whose name is a complete sentence, C. Thomas Howell.

Mare Winningham plays Ellis Hartley Monroe, a small-time politician who is spearheading the “Dead is Dead” movement, which believes that the people who ought to be dead need to be separated and cast out from “normal” society and even says things like “Segregation is good.”  She causes a stir in America and also irritates Oswald Danes, who is losing TV time like crazy thanks to her. Monroe brings up an interesting, if pretty heartless debate.  In a world where no one can die, does there still need to be a distinction for those who have “died?” She surmises that once the Miracle ends, we’ll just be left with a bunch of dead people. So what do we do with them? Though people who are forever sick or forever in pain surely need to be somewhere they can get help.  There’s one small scene where a woman brings in her father, who apparently needs constant looking after, to a hospital and leaves him there, not wanting to be saddled with an eternity of dealing with an undying parent. In some ways, I can’t say I blame her.

The Torchwooders get to Venice Beach and say that they need to go some five miles “thataway” (Jack’s likely pointing Northeast) to get to Phicorp’s headquarters.  I don’t know what route they took from Washington, DC, but it must have been one roundabout path to get them to Venice Beach BEFORE greater Los Angeles. They ended up there because Venice Beach is a nicer screen picture and can very easily be identified as “The West Coast.”  Gwen gets a call from Rhys and tries to pretend she’s not in one of the prettiest places she’s ever been.  If juggling family and career was hard on our poor Gwen before, it’s compounded tenfold by being eight time zones removed.  She’s also very worried about her father, who is still in hospital, and doesn’t like the idea of him being around all them sickos.  Rex goes and visits his crazy, nearly-homeless, gun-toting father while in LA and tries to reconnect, i.e. steal the stockpile of drugs he has hidden in his bathtub. His father tells him to shove off, since Rex as all but left him to rot for the last 15 years. It’s nice to see that Rex comes by his dickishness honestly.

See Thomas Howl must have been following them very closely because he’s there now to take photos of Gwen when she’s standing near a tree for his nefarious bosses, The Triangle.  It was the Triangle who were paying Wayne Knight for intel and it was they who Rex spoke to on the girly red flip phone.  Is The Triangle just the clandestine body of Phicorp or, as Oswald Danes supposes, are they the ones in control of Phicorp?  The real plot of this episode has to do with getting into Phicorp using Jilly Kitzinger’s computer stuff from last time and switching out servers.  In order to do this they need to get bypass the voice-recognition, hand print, and retinal scan of this particular scientist, Nicolas Frumkin, who does not look like he should be named that.  Jack and Gwen have a humorous scene where they get the poor guy to say his own name, leave his hand prints on a metal water bottle, and get his eye scanned under the ruse that they’re old friends.  Gwen uses a really phony and hilarious American accent.  That’s one way to get that stuff. See Spot Run employs a much less friendly method.

Jilly Kitzinger, in this episode, has become my favorite character for the simple fact that she absolutely despises Oswald Danes, but she still has to aid him because she’s a ferocious go-getter.  She came off as completely cold and heartless in her first two appearances, but in this episode we see a little bit of her true colors as she knows she’s made a deal with the devil but has to see it through.  Oswald comes up with a brilliant plant to get back in the media’s good graces.  When at a disused hospital that is being outfitted to handle the sick, old, and abandoned, Ellis Hartley Monroe speaks more about her belief in separation of dead and alive, at which point Oswald makes sure he is seen entering just behind her. He tells the sick people that they are not alone and that he’s just like them – graced with life.  He is there to help these people, he is unafraid of them. Dead isn’t dead, alive is alive. This goes over very well and Oswald emerges as the victor, while Ellis gets crushed to not-death in a car-crusher by The Triangle. Tough break.

Having gotten into Phicorp, Jack and Gwen proceed to switch out dummy servers for good ones but C. Tom How gets in too and gets the upper hand. Esther lets it slip to Rex, who, let’s face it, is not the most sympathetic person at the best of times, that she visited her sister and Rex assumes, albeit correctly, that they’ve been followed.  Rex runs up 66 flights of stairs to try to save the good guys.  Soul Man says that he is fascinated by Jack, who in all of this is the only truly mortal man. He’s been paid to kill Jack, but he’s more interested in learning what makes him so special. As he’s about to shoot Gwen, she tries one last time to get him to say the name of his employers, and he nearly does, but Rex comes in and shoots him a number of times… in the throat, wouldn’t ya know it? Even though they’re safe now, Gwen is worried about her father, whom Rhys says is being taken away as they speak. Unfortunately, he’s been taken by Phicorp.

Things are starting to pick up and the conspiracy has gotten even more mysterious while the societal and political implications of Miracle Day have gotten more desperate.  The series thus far is doing a very good, and eerily accurate, job portraying the fallout and aftermath of a global crisis.  Once things become “stable,” the really scary stuff starts and you get people like Ellis Hartley Monroe and Oswald Danes using it as a means to become famous or further their careers, all through inciting more fear or creating new messiahs.  For some people, life just continues as usual, and for others life continues in some kind of endless hell, and that’s true whether Miracle Day happened or not.  Fittingly, next week’s episode is entitled “Categories of Life.”

-Kanderson escaped to L.A. three years ago where he’s been trapped ever since.
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