There were moments in this finale episode that almost made me forgive Davies everything.
Then there was the ending.
There were definite problems with Torchwood this season, chief among them the format. If Miracle Day showed nothing else, it’s that Torchwood doesn’t work in a one hour-once a week format. It didn’t work when it was a monster-of-the-week show during the first two seasons, and it didn’t work here as a single arc serial. It’s striking to compare Miracle Day with the previous single arc, Children of Earth. They are the same length–CoE done as 5 two-hour episodes, MD as 10 one-hour ones. CoE was praised for its tight story-telling and its quick pacing, where Miracle Day has been berated as slow, redundant and meandering. But if we were to take Miracle Day and re-imagine it into five two hour episodes, nearly all the problems would disappear. Instead of four episodes of Dr. Vera at endless conferences with Doctors philosophizing on about our health care system, it would all be condensed into the first. The three weeks spent agonizing over the Death camps would be over by the third, and not feel like a distantly pointless and hastily dropped memory in favor of the “This is all about Jack” revelation later on. The fact that this was all about Jack would come out much sooner, while having enough time inside the episode that the flashback sequence wouldn’t feel like a complete plot momentum stopper. The list goes on. There is a damn fine story inside Miracle Day, one that is on par with CoE. It’s too bad that it got lost in a format that allowed too much space for the story while not providing enough detail per episode.
But enough about what could have been. Let’s discuss the fact that in the end, we are the evil aliens we seek.
Torchwood, like nearly all modern television science fiction, is a show heavily based on “aliens.” Aliens are always invading or hiding in the shadows, when it’s not another damn weevil in the sewer. The mystery is usually solved by uncovering some piece of alien technology and destroying it, or cataloging it and putting it away for when we need it the next time an alien race shows up with one. The genius of CoE was that the bad guys were utterly alien. The 456 were nothing like us–not in physiology, behavior or ability. They were evil children-abusing drug addicts, holding the human race up in an alley for a fix. But within that story, Davies told another–one of the banality of the evil of our own race, sitting around board rooms, dividing rich from poor, reducing human lives to units. We accepted that sermon story, because the true bad guys still weren’t us, they were the aliens.
In Miracle Day, Davies attempts to tell a sister story to that one. This is a story of human greed, of lust for power. This was a story of a few rich families who discovered something they didn’t understand and mixed it with something else they didn’t understand, and then tried to use the results for their own gain. There was no alien technology. As Gwen said as she stood in front of the Blessing, this was the most terrestrial thing they’d ever seen–the earth itself, in symbiosis with the human race. This was a story about few rich and powerful people who didn’t know when to stop digging and found something they weren’t ready to be humanely responsible for. One that Davies dared to tell without the fig leaf of the “other,” the “evil” or the “alien.”
Of course it’s been a colossal flop.
Format issues aside, the real complaint I saw around the web somewhere around the 2/3 mark was “where are the aliens??” There were none. There were never any aliens. Davies gave us a true old-fashioned science fiction story, one where we discover something we don’t understand and it breaks the world when we mess with it. This is the sort of story now left to genre of fantasy novels, science fiction having left such “scientifically unexplained and therefore impossible” ideas behind. The last time I read this story of the powerful who dug too deep and tapped into something that destroyed society as we know it, it was the back story for Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time epic. Science fiction doesn’t tell this story anymore, not since people started to imagine we could go to the moon, or explore strange new worlds and civilizations.
So Gwen, Jack and company follow the trail of Jack blood being sucked towards the Blessing in Shanghai, while Rex and Esther follow it in Buenos Aires. There’s some odd filler dithering where Rex brings in the CIA, and Evil Lesbian
Walls Wills gets to blow up CIA boss Q sky-high. At the same time some guy in Buenos Aires also blows things sky high where Rex and Esther are, taking the briefcase full of blood with him. But all of this turns out to be a red herring. Rex is in fact playing 11th dimensional chess with the Families in order to get into the Blessing Room undetected. Meanwhile Jack has forced his way into the Blessing Room on his end, by having Oswald Danes play suicide bomber. There was a lovely nod to Dr.Who crossover fans where Jack tries to bullshit what the Blessing might be, nattering on about Silurian lore, and what the Doctor might say if he were confronted with this amazing sight of the Big Pink Crack. A transatlantic confessional conference call between the two ends of the Crack ensues, ending with the revelation that Rex has been fully transfused with Jack’s blood (the briefcase of blood that was blown up was all Rex’s blood), and both are ready to end their lives and bleed out together into the Blessing and heal the world.
In a last-ditch effort to stop Rex from bleeding himself into the crack, the Families shoot Esther. Rex, who has lorded himself over Torchwood as this bad ass professional, loses his mind for a moment, holding Esther’s body and begging: “What Do I Do?” Gwen brings him back to his senses in a wonderful speech by reminding him of the true meaning of professional–You Get Up and You Go On. I’ve had my issues with how Gwen has been written many times, but this was not one of them. Her speech on losing the people you love, the people you work with and the people you know, but that you get up and KEEP GOING was a lovely unspoken tribute to all the deaths she’s seen in Torchwood’s employ, and the survivor’s guilt she carries. I agreed whole-heartedly with Danes, as he looked at her almost tenderly: “You are magnificent.” In that moment, as she pulled the gun on Jack so that he didn’t have to commit suicide, she was.
The sequence where Jack and Rex bled out into the Crack together was fantastically done, and I found myself moved, even with the sonorous Gwen moralizing voice-over. (I also didn’t mind her sonorous moralizing voice over in the beginning either. I must be getting more Gwen tolerant in my old age.) The scene that followed was also blood-poundingly awesome, as Danes pumped himself up for the kill, allowing his rage and madness to take over, as he sent himself to hell to follow all those bad little girls who gone there ahead to await his arrival, and taking the representatives of the Families with him. “Run Faster! RUN FASTER!” he screamed as he blew himself up, and took the entryway to the Blessing with him. I loved it.
Then there was the coda.
The other thing about CoE that made it as good as it was is Davies knew when he wrote it, it would be the end of the series. Let’s be frank, the first two seasons of Torchwood really didn’t go anywhere, and CoE was essentially a way for the BBC to fill the order of the commissioned third season without devoting an actual season of mediocre ratings to it. The ending for CoE was really written as an end of Torchwood.
Sadly, Davies didn’t do that here. The critical reception for CoE gave him the opportunity for another go. So this time, he wrote in a cliff hanger so they could keep going with another one.
I knew when we saw Rex stand up in the Blessing room–right after we saw Jack do his standard issue “Immortal Gasp Wake Up”–that The Blessing had accidentally granted him immortality in the morphic field flip as well. I almost hoped against hope that somehow we would close out the series without Jack or Gwen noticing this before they took off. But after we saw a makeup-less jeans-wearing Kissinger (who had indeed run fast enough) follow after her Family Agent off to help start “Plan B,” and we found ourselves sitting at Esther’s funeral with Evil Lesbian Agent
Walls Wills, the dénouement was inevitable.
And so Torchwood leaves us on a cliff hanger. Rex Matherson is now an immortal like Jack, an odd mutant destined to live forever as a fixed point in time. What does that mean?
Considering the ratings flop and the critical failure that Miracle Day has been, the world may never know.