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Torchwood: "The Categories Of Life"

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Much thanks to Myles for covering for me last week. His review was a bit harsher on the show than I've been so far, but I can't say I'd argue with the majority of his arguments, and I definitely agree that last week was a step in the right direction for the show. "Categories of Life" continues making those steps, and while Miracle Day still hasn't lived up to its premise, there's at least a sense after tonight's episode of forward progression. That's been lacking from the series' worst moments, and it's crucial if this story is going to survive all ten episodes without collapsing under a lot of hysteria and overheated emotion. We also, apparently, lost a character tonight. That's a good thing; I'm not in the school that thinks character deaths are the best way to create tension (I studied at Joss Whedon University, but I failed to graduate), but Torchwood needs to appear dangerous to justify all of Gwen and Jack's desperation and shouting. So somebody had to die. It's just a shame that somebody couldn't have been Rex.

Of course, we don't know for an absolute certainty that Vera Juarez is dead. If Special Guest Star Mare Winningham can survive getting cubed with her car, who knows what effects immolation will have; maybe Phicorp engineered all of this in order to make use of some kind of magical living people dust. Besides, as far as I can tell, we didn't exactly see her die. We saw her in the Module, bleeding from multiple gunshot wounds; we saw the flames ignite, heard her screaming in terror; and then it was just fire, fire everywhere, as Rex looked on helplessly. I don't need to see her roasted, though, and I'm reasonably confident she's been Iantoed. She had the sort of arc in "Life" that often invites mortality, first deciding to hitch her wagon with the Torchwood gang, then ignoring the fact that she's woefully unqualified for field duty and going into the field on her own. And then, in a remarkable display of the power of righteousness over the need for self-preservation, the good doctor vociferously threatens a creepy administrator at an overflow camp. Juarez was operating under the assumption that laws still existed in this new world, and, just to prove to us she's wrong, she had to die.

It's too bad. I liked Juarez; of all the new characters introduced this series, she was the only one who was at all adult or even vaguely sane. Her relationship with Rex notwithstanding, Juarez didn't do anything profoundly stupid or foolish right up until the very end. In retrospect, though, she makes the most sense as a sacrifice. Much as I dislike Rex, if (and when) he dies, he's almost certainly going to go down fighting, probably in a way that's supposed to redeem his assholery. Esther's arc with her sister and her sister's kid is still running, and she's too smart to risk herself the way Juarez does here. Oswald, like Rex, won't die till the end, and we don't know enough about Jill yet for her death to mean much of anything. And it's not like Gwen or Jack or Rhys are going anywhere. Juarez was expendable from a plot standpoint, because she existed mostly to give us access to exposition. The fact that she and Rex were a couple (for no reason at all I can see) just means that Rex is going to take her immolation personally.

Vera's death was easily the most shocking moment in "Life," but it wasn't the only good scene the episode had to offer. Phicorp's plan—whatever the hell it is—is proceeding accordingly, as governments have now universally agreed on a new way to define life itself. There are three categories: Category Three is a normal, living person, Category Two is someone with a persistent condition (like Rex's slowly healing gaping chest wound, or Gwen's dad's heart attacks), and Category One is anyone with no brain function, someone who would've died under other circumstances, but, well, you know. As Jack helpfully points out (twice!), this allows the people in power to effectively decide if someone is dead or alive, which seems like a bit more power than anyone should have. Hospitals are dumping their Category Ones and Twos at overflow camps all around the world, and those camps have special areas called "Modules," specifically designed to contain the should-be-deads. Whoever's in charge of all this (Phicorp) clearly has plans for whoever's inside those modules. Plans which involve flash frying, apparently.

This doesn't make a lot of sense just yet (maybe this is some kind of mass sacrifice?), but it at least feels like an escalation from "Phicorp wants to make money off people using pain meds!" While Rex and the others are trying to investigate an overflow camp in California, Gwen goes back to Wales to reunite with Rhys and try and rescue her father. It's interesting—Juarez's behavior clearly leads to her death. (Not in the sense that she's morally responsible or deserves it, of course. More like, "I stuck my face into this open flame, and was utterly astonished when my face melted off.") She gets in over her head by relying on an emotional response to override logic or common sense. Thing is, though, Gwen does that all the time. Hell, everybody on the show does! That seems to be Torchwood's only real on-the-job training: if it feels good, do it, and hope for the best. Gwen tries to force her way into the overflow camp, shouting at an officer because she wants access to her father, and she nearly gets herself arrested in her frustration. Then, she and Rhys come up with a plan to get her dad out, failing to take into account that her dad has a weak heart. When they try and move him, he has another coronary event during the escape, falls unconscious and gets reassigned to Category One. So I guess Vera's mistake was not having someone else take the fall for her rash behavior.

After his bravura performance last week, Oswald is back on top again, but it's a perilous position; people don't tend to forget the rape and murder of children. There's some question as to whether or not Oswald will keep toeing the Phicorp line, or if he'll read the speech Jack gives him before he goes on-stage for a big Miracle Day rally. He's a wild card, after all, and Jack does make a decent case, promising he'll make sure Oswald gets what he wants (death), if he only reveals Phicorp's actions to the world. The Oswald/Jack scene works better here than their last encounter, as the episode goes light on the melodrama between them, but I'm not sure I really needed yet another Oswald speech where he manages to turn the crowd around to his side. He gives Jilly and Phicorp what they want by using the word "Revelation" in his speech, and he calls everyone who got a dose of immortality on Miracle Day an "angel." The character's growing mania gives Pullman something to do, but there's nothing new here—it's mostly just window dressing to kill time and remind us Oswald is a force to be reckoned with.


By the end of the episode, Vera is (almost certainly) dead, Rex and Esther have embedded themselves at an overflow camp, and Gwen is forced to deal with the knowledge that she may have sent her father to be burned alive. We're at the halfway mark, folks. Let's hope things get worse for everyone soon.

Stray Observations:

  • The administrator at the overflow camp who kills Vera was awful. The actor was fine, but the character was a kind of generic jerkwad: hatefully sexist, contemptuous and inept. And murderous, of course. (I'm not sure his claim that "There is no murder anymore!" holds much weight once he turns on the incinerator with living people inside.) I don't mind that he's an ass, but at the very least, you'd think he would've taken more pains to hide his more unsavory qualities from a stranger. He even does the "Wait, you're a woman and a doctor?" gag, and that went out of style in '60s.