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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Torchwood: “The Blood Line”

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Finales are always a good chance to make up for past mistakes. Oh sure, they’re also a good chance to screw up whatever positive feeling a series still has going with its fans, but let’s look at the other side of the coin for a moment; if you have a crappy season or two, but manage to go out with a bang, history will remember you better than it otherwise might’ve. If you’ve been keeping up with Todd VanDerWerff’s Rescue Me reviews, you know that show came to an end this week, and, at least in Todd’s opinion, that ending was pretty damn effective, especially when considered in the light of the disappointing seasons leading into it. Just because a series isn’t doing so well—like, oh, say, a sci-fi show whose inability to handle its running time graceful has been rendering its already existing flaws even more apparent—doesn’t mean the final episode has to be terrible. I kept telling myself this going into “The Bloodline,” although I didn’t really believe it. I mean, apart from the premise and that one episode where Jack had all that sex with that one guy, Miracle Day has been a steady stream of irritating mediocrity. I figured, the lower my expectations were, the less painful this was going to be.

The verdict? It was slightly better than it might’ve been, had some interesting ideas, still had no idea what to do with Oswald (even screwing up in the process of giving him a standard bad-guy-self-sacrifice death) and, in case there was any question, proved once and for all just badly screwed Torchwood is when it has too much time on its hands. Because, look: The Blessing is an inexplicable crack running through the entire planet which is responsible for maintaining the morphic field that Jack mentioned much earlier, the field which is the reason why every single human being on Earth became immortal at the exact same time. The three families have spent a long time studying Jack’s blood, but it wasn’t until the information revolution that they were able to locate the Blessing (based on certain statistical anomalies), and actually get some use out of all that plasma. By applying Jack’s blood to the Blessing, they shifted the morphic field of everyone on Earth, creating the effects we’ve spent a bit over nine episodes exploring. But now that Jack and Gwen have fought their way through to the Blessing’s access point in Shanghai, and Esther and Rex have been immediately captured and then brought directly to the Blessing on the other side of the world, Jack can use his reversed blood to reverse everything back to the way it was. Oh sure, that means he and Rex (who “cleverly” transfused all of Jack’s blood into his own system earlier) will probably die, but Jack has a tendency to bounce back from mortal wounds, and Rex—well, who cares if he dies? Seriously, does anyone?

This could’ve worked. There are holes, of course. It seems odd for Jack’s blood to suddenly be so important after Jack himself has spent the last three episodes telling us that his blood isn’t important at all. (Maybe there’s a subtle irony going on—Jack says the Blessing shifted morphic fields because it thought it was being attacked when the families flung his blood at it, so maybe any blood would’ve done the trick? Nah, that doesn’t make any sense.) We don’t know what the Blessing actually is, and it’s odd that it’s never come up before; the mystery is fine, but at this point, you’d think between the Doctor and Torchwood just about ever Massive Freaky Science-Magic Thingy on Earth would’ve been discovered by now. But at least the basics make enough sense to hold together passably well, and on a better series, there might have been something here. Like, if the series had spent more time developing the post Miracle world, so that the families’ subtle manipulations would play as more Machiavellian than cartoonish. “Bloodlines” opens with a Gwen monologue, and yes, the show has gone down this route before, but it’s not a bad little speech—she talks about what kind of man her father is, building to the understanding that if she succeeds in her mission, she’ll effectively be murdering her dad. This idea, that the conclusion of the Miracle means a lot of corpses, comes up a few times in the episode, building to the moment when one of the bad guys shoots Esther to try and prevent Rex and Jack from going through with their plan. It’s a good idea, and a better show would’ve spent more time with it before the end. One of the defining qualities of Children Of Earth (still the show’s highwater mark) was its complexity. It was a story with a lot of tough questions, and Miracle Day, aside from the occasional clever tidbit of how a world without death might operate, didn’t bother with questions. Jack and Gwen and the others ran around looking for answers, and there was a lot of story flailing to make sure all ten episodes were full (remember Dr. Juarez?). And that’s it. This could’ve been better, but it wasn’t, and that’s always frustrating.

Also frustrating: Oswald Danes. But it’s doubtful Oswald could have ever worked, at least not how he’s envisioned here. The character is a baffling misstep, and he left the show as he entered it, being profoundly, unsettlingly creepy in a format that didn’t seem to really grasp either quality. Most of the episode, he’s stuck in the “sniveling, powerless villain” role, taking orders from Jack and cringing away whenever Gwen threatens to either shoot him or hit him. Then Jack wires him up with explosives to use as a bargaining chip against the Families during the final assault. Which is odd; Jilly points out that the Blessing tends to show people their souls, and Oswald isn’t going to be the most stable person after seeing his, but even ignoring this (which Jack couldn’t have known anyway), Oswald is, well, a monster. Why give him that kind of power? But okay, it’s not like they had many options at that point, so let it pass. What I can’t let pass is Oswald’s finally speech before detonating himself, Frances Fisher, and the room. He says: “All the bad little girls go straight to Hell and I’m following! Susie, keep running, I’m coming to get you!” Seriously, what the hell is this? I grasp the impulse to give a colorful villain memorable last words, but this is too dark for camp, and too ridiculous to be taken seriously. Russel T Davies had no idea how to handle Oswald, and instead of letting him fade into the background, Davies kept dragging him front and center and reminding us off his worst impulses. Oswald couldn’t fit the role he was intended for, which made every scene he was in just wrong, to varying degrees. He was far from the show’s worst sin, but he does seem to be the most easily fixed, simply by softening his crime. And yet there he stayed.

Apart from that, I’m not sure I have many final thoughts to impart about Miracle Day. Yes, there was a lot of ridiculous to parse here, although it was made less painful by heightened stakes. Poor John De Lancie could blowed up good by the villainous Charlotte, who finally met her own end outside Esther’s funeral. Jilly survives, and is going back to work for the three families, who have a “Plan B,” which I think is supposed to sound threatening. (Really? You have something that tops “worldwide immortality?”) Because of Jack’s blood, Rex is apparently immortal now, which is… awesome. Of course Jack doesn’t die, because he’s Jack. And of course simply undoing the Miracle means that everything goes back to normal without much fuss or mess. I had high hopes for Miracle Day, which quickly became hopes, before finally evaporating into long, aggravated sighs. I suppose the odds were against the series from the start; no matter how good Children Of Earth was, it didn’t suddenly mean that Davies had mastered the tics which are such a distinctive part of his style. Miracle Day was full of Big Moments, and attempts to yank on the heart strings, as well as attempts to shock us with sudden darkness. Sometimes these attempts were successful, but most weren’t, and without any strong sense of purpose, those failed moments led to a permanent impression of emptiness. Great shows—great art—can convince us there’s more than what we see; but all I got from this Torchwood was less, and less, and less.

Stray observations:

  • At the start of this series, Starz sent out a press kit with the first screener to promote the show. I’ve only gotten a few of these, but this one was very impressive—and it included a smaller version of the mask the “Soulless” wore back in the second episode. It’s such a neat design, and featured so prominently in the promotional material, that I assumed it would have a greater presence in the show. And yet, all we got was that single scene. Which, really, was Miracle Day down to the bone: plenty of strong concepts, but no patience or focus to use them.