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“Torchwood: Miracle Day,” “The Categories of Life” Review (SPOILERS)

All right, Torchwood, we get it; things are bad all over. We’re all on board with you now, thank you. Miracle Day’s fifth episode, “The Categories of Life,” shows that the lowest depth humanity could possibly sink has a subbasement where they cut bunnies in half with butter knives. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

After five episodes, which I’ve more or less enjoyed, mind you, I’ve decided that the series’ creators must have operated under four basic tenets: 1) Raise as many interesting hypothetical points as possible per episode, 2) Every character must have overwhelming naivety and behave as though they never thought anything bad could ever happen and are surprised when it does, 3) Be so cynical and bleak that even Friedrich Nietzsche would say, “All right, you’ve gone too far,” and 4) In the rare moments when nothing fucked-up is happening, fill it with unnecessary silliness. That, my friends, is Torchwood: Miracle Day in a nutshell. But, like I said, I am more or less enjoying the series as a whole, which I guess must mean something is off about me. I’m fine with it.


The episode opens with Gwen arriving back in Wales. Now, I feel the makers of the show missed a golden opportunity to show us, nearly minute-by-minute, what happened to her aboard her very long overseas flight. Episodes one and two show us that there is nothing about traveling places that need be left out. I’ll forever be left wondering if they offered everyone a complimentary full meal or if it was snacks only. And what was the in-flight movie?! Regardless, Gwen arrives back in Wales to attempt to break her father out of one of Phicorp’s mysterious “overflow camps,” for people who are sick, nearly dead, or should-be dead. Rhys meets her at the airport and goes to the trouble of wearing a chauffeur’s uniform only for the twenty seconds before the entire ruse is spoiled by the two of them kissing. Couldn’t he have just been a guy picking up his wife and not a driver behaving incredibly unprofessionally? Upon returning to Gwen’s mom’s house to spend less than a minute with Anwen (who looks like she couldn’t give a shit about anything), Mum shares the intelligence she’s gathered about the camps, culled from the years of MI6 training we didn’t realized she’d received, and we learn that humans have now been broken up into three categories.

The bloody news reports (where, let’s face it, the people they hired to be anchors sound like they’ve never even read the newspaper let alone spent years in broadcasting school) tell us that the category system has been immediately enacted in the UK, would very shortly be implemented in the US, and other countries had begun to follow suit. Though China’s holding off, it seems. Wow, China? They have overpopulation as it is, you’d think they’d be busting a gut to get rid of their sick people, or at the very least their unwanted female children. Too far? I apologize. The three categories are as follows: Category 1 means you’re “alive” because of the miracle but you have no higher brain function, Category 3 means you’re perfectly fine and healthy and haven’t died once, and Category 2 means EVERYBODY ELSE IN THE WHOLE WORLD. If you’re sick at all, you’re Category 2. Surely there needed to be a few more categories. Delineate a little bit. For instance, Category 9 would be when you’re walking funny because you stubbed your toe really hard on the coffee table leg and it hurts to put your shoe on right now.

While Gwen’s doing that bollocks, Dr. Vera Juarez has decided to fly out to Los Angeles (another long flight we didn’t see one second of. Ugh!) to aid Torchwood in their whatever-it-is-they’re-actually-doing. Esther’s convoluted intelligence tells us that there are things called “modules” where they take the Category 1 patients and while they show up on the official map, they’ve been removed from photos, except that Esther found a photo where they do exist. Shouldn’t this have been t’other way around? Shouldn’t they not have been on the map but shown up in photographs? Wouldn’t that have cut out a whole step of Esther having to find a photo where they do actually exist? I don’t presume to tell Jane Espenson how to write, because clearly she’s friggin’ great at it, but all that bit of thing added to the story was an extra 30 seconds of explanation. Just saying. At any rate, they decide they need to break in to one of these facilities and see exactly what’s going on. Rex forces himself to be the obvious choice because he’s an oughta-be-dead with a big, gaping chest wound. Jack calls the ambulance and pretends to be Rex’s very distraught boyfriend, which was funny, and they take Rex off to the overflow camp.

When Jack goes back upstairs, he finds that Vera and Esther have decided to go in as well. Vera says she’s “pulled some strings” and that she’s been granted access to the camp as an inspector and Esther’s going to pretend to be a new office worker. Jack doesn’t get to go because he’s very valuable and people will recognize him on sight. He’s his own category, Esther says. Category Jack. I’m really appalled at Esther. Doesn’t she know this is serious? There’s a global crisis happening which may or may not have been started by a nefarious, money-hungry corporation; this is no time to make horribly un-funny not-jokes and smile about them like she’s George Carlin at Carnegie Hall. So what’s Jack supposed to do while everyone else is off going to camps and what not? He’s going to Generic Arena to watch Oswald Danes, who’s set to give a big speech to thousands of people in attendance and millions watching worldwide. And to say the ol’ murderer is nervous is putting it mildly.

The ever-persistent Jilly Kitzinger is having cats about the speech. She demands Oswald say the word “Revelation.” For the love of God, if he doesn’t say “Revelation,” there will be all kinds of irritated looks. Oswald is put off because Jilly keeps handing him a speech to say full of Phicorp rhetoric and he thought he’d just be saying whatever came to him, like some kind of crazy religious zealot. Oh wait! Oswald gets distracted while waiting to go on by Jack who has decided to play everybody’s favorite game, “How Quickly Can You Get To The Other End of A Ridiculously Long Hallway?” Oswald tries to follow him, not realizing Jack is the HQCYGTTOEOARLH champion of the world.

In Wales, Gwen, dressed as a nurse, and Rhys, dressed like Rhys, get into the camp where Father Cooper is being held. Gwen goes in and searches for her Category 2 father. There’s no way I believe that Gwen wouldn’t immediately have been spotted by somebody who said “Hang on, that woman is practically marching around doing nothing.” Hasn’t anybody ever tricked their boss? You always have to look like you’re doing something. People can spot wandering, even forceful wandering, a mile away. But of course, she finds her father who seems to be in good spirits if not good health. Rhys and Gwen covertly move an old man who can barely walk to Rhys’s lorry, or “truck” as we call them here in ‘Merica, but the poor man has another heart attack and Gwen calls for help. Bad move, of course, as her dad is now reclassified as Category 1.

In the American camp, Vera is being shown around by the man in charge, Maloney, the skeeviest human being who isn’t Oswald Danes I’ve ever seen. This guy makes several lewd remarks about her and acts like he could not give less of a shit about all the sick and disfigured people around him. While this is happening, Esther finds a way to forge the paperwork to make Rex a Category 1 so he can see what it’s all about. He gets taken to a module, which is really just a ceramic storage area where people are put on racks, and waits til everyone is gone, then gets up and starts filming it. Vera, meanwhile, uncovers the horrible mistreatment of people under Maloney’s care. He quotes Vera’s own triage method of treating the less sick first and says he’s under budget. She tells Maloney that he’s going to get prosecuted to which Maloney promptly takes the pistol off of Ralph, his completely ineffectual military escort, and shoots Vera in the leg and then the hand. He then forces Ralph to help him take her to the modules and they load her in.

Back at the thing, Jack confronts Oswald and offers him a chance to be a “hero,” and to finally be able to die, if he reads THIS (Jack pulls out another speech) instead of the Phicorp one. Jack’s speech, which I can’t imagine would be very well written, lays out all of Phicorp’s wrongs and all the evidence that Torchwood has uncovered. Oswald seems very unsure of what he will do, even upon going up to the podium. He starts talking and saying how humans have evolved thousands of years ago from animals and now they’ve evolved again to…Angels. Luckily, he’s talking to the most easily-led crowd of all time, because they start cheering and applauding like they have any idea what the fuck he’s talking about. In the end, though, Oswald says “Revelation” and Phicorp saves the day, much to Jack’s chagrin and Jilly’s the opposite of chagrin.

The modules are furnaces and Vera gets cooked alive. Phicorp’s the Nazis. Get it? The world has become Nazi sympathizers, GET IT?!

This show is enjoyable and entertaining but also really dumb and makes me hate human beings. Perhaps I shall become a bird. Next week there’s another episode and in three weeks there’ll be both Torchwood: Miracle Day AND Doctor Who to watch and review. Oh me oh my-oh.

-Kanderson may have lost faith in humanity, but he still has faith that you should follow him on TWITTER

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19 comments

  • Is it just me or is everyone pretending that “Children of Earth” never happened? I agree that everyone seems surprised that the world is as dark as it is, but if we’re following events that have happened on previous episodes of Torchwood, there should be no surprises that humans are seriously screwed up.

    Also, Jack seems to have forgotten about that horrible thing he did in COE, and that’s really bugging me. I think it would be interesting if he hadn’t seemed to have gotten over that so quickly. Yeah, he’s done some awful things, but not as awful as that! (Forgive me, here, trying to avoid spoilers for those who still haven’t seen COE). Especially when he’s looking at Oswald with disdain for what he’d done.

  • I was kind of iffy with the new season (TORCHWOOD WITHOUT IANTO…) but this episode totally changed my mind COMPLETELY! I love the new series. It was pretty suspenseful.
    Heh, i love how you included “bollocks” in your review, very brit ;)

  • I wanted to know about that Doctor of his. The man who appears out of nowhere and saves the world. Except sometimes he doesn’t. All those times in history when there was no sign of him, I wanted to know why not. But I don’t need to ask any more. I know the answer now. Sometimes the Doctor must look at this planet and turn away in shame.

  • fun review. :-)

    I miss the days when torchwood didn’t take itself quite so seriously. Even the dr takes an occassional break from the end of days nonsense.

  • Really been loving your reviews! This one was absolutely hysterical, which is funny, considering it was by far the darkest episode of Torchwood since the last two of Children of Earth. Brilliant episode that made me scream at the TV and clutch my hubby in absolute panic.

  • If I weren’t a fan of Torchwood and John Barrowman in particular, I don’t see how I’d still be sticking with this show. I’m pretty sure it’s just brand loyalty at this point. COE was a nice tight well paced five episode arc. This feels like they maybe had enough story for five episodes, but decided to stretch it to ten, because that’s how American television often works. Plus to top it all off, for us Torchwood fans, there hasn’t been nearly enough Captain Jack to overcome all the other issues. I’m also not loving the decision to make Jack homosexual instead of omnisexual like he has always been in the past.

  • Agreeing with @Max.
    Five hours of Torchwood USA = 3 hours of plot and two hours of fillers.

    The best thing about british drama is there’s no money in the budget and usually a minimal amount of episodes so scripts have to be tight and fast paced.

    Torchwood MD has been brilliant, slow, brilliant, filler, brilliant, yawn.

  • Liam – that scene is, in particular, what I was thinking about. And I didn’t see anything in Jack’s face that gave him away, except his self-righteous indignation at what Danes had done in the past. Maybe I need to re-watch the episode, but I was like “huh?” at that point. It made no sense that Jack would look down on Danes so much, considering his own past (granted, Danes character’s crime was much worse than what Jack has done and Jack did it for certain reasons – trying to be non-spoilery here).

    I don’t know, something with that scene didn’t work for me, considering Jack’s past.

  • I agree that they seem to be shoehorning Jack into being gay instead of omnisexual. It’s more interesting when he’s interested in anyone and everyone, instead of just guys, but I guess there are fewer chances for jokes and camp that way.

    I thought this episode seemed more like the British shows than the rest of this series has. Everyone’s getting a chance to act like an idiot, and make us wonder how any members of Torchwood ever survived past their first day. The end always seems to bring it around to the big, American ending, though.

    I don’t think I’ve read the recaps in the reviews before this episode, but there was a lot of funny stuff in there this time. Maybe this episode just lent itself to incorporating the review into the recap more than earlier ones.

  • If this was a network show and they were stretching this plot out for a 22 episode run, I’d be banging my head on the table in frustration at the molasses-like pace….as it is, I’m not that far off from that anyway….

    I feel almost ashamed that I recommended this show to my dad after 2 episodes of enjoying the show, and now I feel we’ve really gone nowhere since then….

    I’m hanging in there, but uggg….it’s getting annoying. Everyone exists solely for exposition. There was that lady in a hallways that randomly told Vera everything she needed to know about category people AND randomly gave her a portfolio of information on it….HORRIBLE…..

    Oh well, still in for the long haul, like some kind of sad drug addict….

  • (SPOILER FOR COE FOR THOSE CONCERNED)
    I think people forget that being omnisexual allows for Jack to flirt with – and have sex with – MEN. If he was having sex with women in this season would people be whining because they made Jack “totally straight”? Kind of a ridiculous complaint.
    Also, I think it’s safe to believe Jack is not “ok” with the things that happened in Children of Earth. But what is he to do? Run around lamenting while he’s trying to fix the problem at hand? It’s also reasonable that he would look down on Ozwald. Definitely. Jack made a sacrifice, a gut-wrenchingly horrible sacrifice in order to save every other child on the planet. Danes raped and killed a girl he claimed should have run faster. I think pretty much any person can look down on him.

  • Wow, it’s sorta crazy how close this review is to my feelings about this episode, and MD as a whole so far. As much as I’ve enjoyed Doctor Who and TW S1 and S2 under RTD’s watchful gaze, I feel like he’s turning into some kind of misanthropist. Honestly! Maybe he feels like this is “compelling storytelling,” but to me, it’s just depressing as hell. As much as I think there are all kinds of crap wrong with the world today, I still cannot reconcile my world with the utterly hopeless world portrayed on MD (not just the government, but the general public who just go about following orders like brainless monkeys?). This was my main problem with the end of Children of Earth, and it remains in this new series.

    Also, I had the exact same reaction regarding Rhys’ unprofessional behavior as a chauffeur. What a pointless (and thoughtless) choice. :D