This review of episode two of Torchwood: Miracle Day contains some mild spoilers – if you haven’t seen the episode yet, please tread carefully!
“You know the way it works, Jack. Every time anyone ever gets close to you, nobody has a normal life again. And you know it really, and I mean really, pisses me off.”
After last week’s bangs, booms, and woah-did-they-seriously-just-blow-up-a-helicopter-on-a-beach-that’s-awesomes, the precedents set in Children of Earth might lead you to believe that the follow-up episode to one whose climax was an assassination attempt on Torchwood would be one that increases pace, suspense, and the audience’s desire to find out what happens next. As it turns out, that expectation is not completely fulfilled in Rendition.
While the story does further explore the mysteries surrounding Miracle Day and begin to answer questions about who’s out to murder everyone’s non-UNIT alien-fighting organization this time, it does so in a slightly low-key way, focusing less on the characters we know and introducing more characters that we don’t, while further fleshing out the plot for those we’ve just met.
I’ll tell you up front that I had mixed feelings about this episode, and I’m still trying to decide whether or not I like it. As such, I’m writing the cons first and the pros second, and there’s a fairly equal number of both.
The bad stuff: acting. Particularly guilty of this is Wayne Knight. Apologies if you like this actor, he does after all have a high profile for his roles in Jurassic Park and 90s American sitcom Seinfeld, but his performance as what is apparently a rogue CIA division leader of some sort just isn’t very believable.
Less so is Lauren Ambrose’s too-pretty PR girl Jilly Kitzinger and Dichen Lachman’s arsenic-toting Lyn Peterfield. In the case of the latter, smirking evilly behind Jack as he sips his Coke proves not the way to create a particularly complex antagonist like those we might have come to expect after Children of Earth. Several minor characters seem fake as well, notably the stewardess who complains about messing up the floor while Gwen rushes around saving Jack’s life, and that one “doctor” at the conference flashing his iPad about who looks like he’s 17.
One other minor issue with this episode is the lack of a real climax. There’s no doubt that the concept behind Lyn Peterfield walking around with her head on backwards is pretty cool, and it’s clear now that our four finally-united leads will have to go into hiding (sound familiar?). Despite those things, I for one found that for the first time since well before Series 3, I wasn’t absolutely salivating to see the next episode.
“If you’re the best England has to offer then God help you.”
The good stuff: acting. Yes, Rendition proved to be an interesting mish-mash of great performances and not-so-great ones, each often taking place together in the same frame. Among the greats were Mekhi Phifer’s Rex Matheson, who with his great one-liners and bad attitude continues to be THE best new character, though he seemed to recover his ability to walk normally a bit too quickly after he spent most of The New World hobbling around everywhere.
It’s also nice to see that Arlene Tur’s Dr. Vera Juarez, a newbie who hasn’t quite been hyped up by the press as much as some of the others, is turning out to be fairly likeable. I especially enjoyed seeing her completely reverse the standard procedure in her hospital’s emergency room by raising the excellent point that if the dying can’t die, it’s probably best to tend to the less-seriously-injured first to make room for more extreme cases.
John Barrowman, Eve Myles, and the briefly-seen Kai Owen are all at their usual gold standard. But it’s Bill Pullman’s performance as convicted rapist Oswald Danes that takes top prize this week. A good actor can convincingly sob on camera; a great actor can convincingly pretend to sob on camera. As a side note, did Russell T. Davies and the Torchwood team forget that The Oprah Winfrey Show no longer exists?
Despite what Barrowman and Davies and many other Torchwood vets have been saying about it being the same show as ever, it feels just the opposite. This Americanized take on the series so far doesn’t resemble Children of Earth at all, let alone the first two seasons. What I’ve always liked about certain British shows like Doctor Who and Torchwood is the fact that they rarely fall prey to the American standard of poor writing and fake, Hollywoodesque acting. If Miracle Day keeps up in the direction it’s going, it may become less easy to make that argument.