“Torchwood: Miracle Day” Review “Immortal Sins” (SPOILERS AGAIN)
By Kyle Anderson on August 22, 2011
And like a beacon in the night, signaling wayward ships, Jane Espenson writes an episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day that staves off my complete dismissal of the show. Everything that was lacking about last week’s episode was present in this one, entitled “Immortal Sins.” Was it a great episode? No, but it was a very good one, and one that should have happened a lot sooner. It gave us an episode that was about characters and, almost a novelty in Miracle Day, those characters were Jack and Gwen. For the first time this series, we get actual information about Jack and his past and immortality, something that has been almost routinely ignored up to this point. Thankfully, this episode leaves the Categories/Phicorp/Bureaucracy stuff behind and focuses entirely on the science fiction of Jack Harkness. After the nothing-happened-at-all of last week, “Immortal Sins” was a welcome departure.
Much of the episode takes place in 1927 with Jack arriving at Ellis Island under orders from the British (aka Torchwood). He quickly encounters an Italian immigrant without papers named Angelo Colasanto, who tries to pass himself off as Jack Harkness to get into the country. Jack himself quickly proves who he is and Angelo is put in a holding cell until he can go back to Europe. But, wouldn’t ya know it, Jack and Angelo have a little chemistry and Jack uses the vortex manipulator to forge papers so that Angelo can get into Manhattan. They go to Little Italy together and proceed to have some facing-each-other gay sex. What makes Angelo an interesting character is that he’s gay but, being Italian, is also a devout Catholic and feels guilty about the things he does with Jack. The episode does include some very overt references to God loving him despite this, etc., which is, of course, a jab at the church. Miracle Day can never be accused of being too subtle with its views, but in that instance I think the point had already been made and bluntly stating it was unnecessary.
In the present, Gwen has returned to L.A. with her I-5s telling her to bring Jack to “them” or “they’ll” kill Rhys, Anwen, and her mom. She tricks Jack, ties him up, and puts him in the back of the car. At first I was put off by this development. Surely, Gwen would have tried to come up with some plan with Jack or something, but their exchange in the car is very telling. Jack tries to make Gwen think that he can track Anwen with his arm strap and Gwen almost believes him for a moment before realizing he’s lying. They then have a lengthy conversation about what Torchwood meant to Gwen and how she loved it and would put her family to one side for it. She also says that, despite everything they’ve been through together, Gwen will gladly kill Jack herself if it means getting her family back. Conversely, Jack wants to live, knowing he isn’t immortal anymore, and will “tear the skin off” Gwen’s face to stay alive. Well, we know where we all stand, at least. This scene was fantastic and allowed these two characters who’ve been around from the beginning a chance to hash things out and, you know, BE characters. It had become the Rex Matheson Show lately, and he’s just not somebody I care about.
Back in the 20s, Jack and Angelo are working as liquor smugglers for the church and run afoul of a local crime boss. Jack convinces the mobster that he should let them work for him because they’re off the grid. I don’t know if they’d have a saying like that in 1927, but okay. The mobster tells them to move a case from one warehouse to another, but not to look inside or they’re dead. Jack begins packing Angelo’s things and tells him he has to go. They argue about Jack’s inability to commit (essentially that’s what they’re talking about) and Jack eventually brings up a friend of his called the Doctor who travels with a companion and how nice that would be. So Jack and Angelo go to the warehouse and Jack opens the crate to find a parasitic alien creature frozen (more or less) in ice. He explains that the creature is part of the Trickster’s Brigade and would try to change history so that the Nazis would win WWII. So not only do we get a direct reference to the Doctor (the Ninth to be specific), we also get a reference to a villain in The Sarah Jane Adventures and a creature like that which affected Donna Noble in the DW Series 4 episode “Turn Left.” We’ve gone from having zero reference to the greater DW Universe to having three in one episode. Holy cow!
So they kill the creature and, as they’re escaping, the police find them. Angelo is able to hop the fence, but Jack gets shot several times, including once in the head, and dies. Angelo is taken to prison thinking that Jack is dead, not knowing that he’ll gasp back to life moments later. After a year in prison, Angelo is released and finds Jack waiting for him. Angelo is understandably distraught and confused but Jack tries to calm him. They go back to the apartment in Little Italy where Angelo stabs Jack, claiming that he is Il Diavolo (which is Italian for “El Diablo”). Each time Jack comes back to life, Angelo tells more and more people until eventually Jack is hanging by chains in a basement and people are savagely attacking, stabbing, and killing him to spill his, apparently, life-sustaining miracle blood. Eventually, three men making some triangular pact (WINK FUCKING WINK) agree to buy Jack and keep him locked up. Angelo, quite remorseful, sneaks in and frees Jack and thinks they can finally go off together, but Jack knows he has to go alone, like always, because people he loves eventually kill him. Cynical, but with good reason.
In Mesa, CA, at dawn, Gwen and Jack wait for the mysterious people who’ve put these two friends against each other. They talk about firebirds or whatever and then the shady black van drives up. Nana Visitor and two stuntmen get out of the van and tell Jack to get in. But a little red light shows up on one of the stuntmen, then a gunshot hits the ground. Turns out Rex and Esther are better at their job than I thought, as the two of them seem to have very quickly pieced together what was going on and have gone to help. Rex has one of my favorite lines when he says that they could have just asked for help and he’s tired of Torchwood and their secrets. They contacted PS Andy in Wales who’s gone in with a SWAT-esque team and freed Rhys, Anwen, and Mrs. Cooper. Nana Visitor doesn’t think the deal has changed at all, because she can take Jack to the person who orchestrated Miracle Day: Angelo Colasanto! Double-you Tee Fuck… is what they wanted us to say, but it was kind of diagrammed from the start. Sorry, Jane. Still a cool twist, though.
While I did really enjoy this episode, and am glad we’re FINALLY getting to the bottom of the Miracle Day conspiracy, it does raise a number of questions and concerns about the rest of the series. For instance, how are they going to tie in the Oswald Danes/Phicorp storyline to the Angelo-the-scorned-lover storyline? If this has all stemmed from this one incident in the 1920s, why did we spend so much time with people that don’t matter? Yes, it’s interesting to see what the world’s governments might do with such an unprecedented global disaster, but a lot of the focus on it now seems totally trivial and unimportant. It really seems like Vera Juarez’s whole character/death served no purpose to the actual plot besides just raising hypotheticals. I definitely wasn’t bored by “Immortal Sins,” but now the real trick will be if they can tie up all of the threads they’ve got in the next three episodes. I’m hoping so, and I also hope that episodes 2, 5, and 6 will just be known as “The three filler episodes” and not “What the rest of the series is like.”