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Torchwood: “The Gathering”

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There are a few cool moments in tonight's penultimate episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day. Rex's method for tracking down Aber, Crombie and Fitch was, for him, fairly clever. Even better, Jilly's story, as she continues to rise in the estimation and employ of the three families, had an actual weight to it; ever since the character first appeared, it's been obvious she was ambitious, and to see that ambition come to fruition in a way that could very easily result in something awful—well, it felt like there was some tension there. Jilly only gets a few scenes in "The Gathering," but those scenes are the episode's strongest. She learns she's been called to Shanghai (Her "One way?" when she read the airplane ticket was great), she meets with someone from the three families who tells her what they want of her (to "write history") and finally, she gets taken to The Blessing, which turns out to be a giant fleshy crevasse running through the center of the Earth from Shanghai to Madrid. What does this presumably malevolent immortality vagina have in store for Jilly? What are its plans, and where did it come from? We don't know yet. But it looked neat.

As for the rest of "The Gathering," well, it was what we've come to expect from Torchwood this series, which isn't much. Gwen continues to be a self-righteous ninny—after defending her at the start of the current run, I've finally come around to realizing what the haters were saying from the start. Although my problems with her have nothing to do with Ianto or anyone else. Gwen's back home, stealing drugs for her father (and anyone else in the neighborhood who needs them), doing research on "The Blessing," and generally shouting down anyone who gets in her way. We spend far too much time getting worried about the police coming from her dad, giving up two whole sequences to long, protracted house searches, and while I appreciate that the personal connection helps make the crisis seem more real, at this point, that crisis is so confused and ill-explained it's difficult to care much what happens. Why are the police so hell-bent on finding Gwen's father? If we knew why the three families created the Miracle—presuming they're the ones responsible—we might have some idea why they want to burn living (ish) people. Maybe it's a giant sacrifice, maybe it's some way to balance all the life they've had. But we don't have that information, which means that the comically evil official who goes full Ahab on the Coopers serves no purpose. (And he's really comically evil, too; at one point, he makes a joke about how Gwen's dad will be burned alive.) Given the chaos we're repeatedly told the world has fallen into, does it make any sense that a bureaucrat would be so obsessed over a single elderly man that he'd come back to the Cooper house after presumably being satisfied it was empty the first time? Of course it doesn't. We're supposed to accept it because, oh no, Dad's in danger, and because everything has become very Nazi-ish, which is, of course, the natural tendency of government in any global crisis. It's just silly.


Really, it's very silly. (Oh look, the authorities have given themselves extra powers to deal with the crisis! It's like the Homeland Security Act in the states, which means this is all trenchant satire.) "Gathering" jumps ahead a few weeks from the end of last week's episode. It's not a bad move in most respects, although it does mean shrugging off the "Jack's been shot!" cliffhanger from last week with minimal fuss. He's still injured, but Esther nursed him back to health, in Scotland, of all places. How did they escape the States, you ask? "Some people" smuggled them out of the country. Never mind that they're both wanted by the CIA at this point, and that it must be nearly impossible for anyone to fly anywhere at this point, given the problems the Miracle has been causing. It happened, they're out, so shut up and deal. And if you still have doubts, well, Oswald used the same group when he fled the US, so clearly, they do good work, right?

On the run from the organization which had used him to accomplish… something, Oswald arrives at Gwen's doorstep, offering information in exchange to see Jack. Rhys and Gwen are both heartily disgusted by his presence, but he manages to talk long enough to convince Gwen the bring Esther and Jack over, putting them both in considerable danger on the word of a pedophile rapist murderer. This whole sequence, and Oswald's new role as a sort of Torchwood-adjunct, is clearly an attempt to pull a classic "The bad guy and the good guys team-up in order to deal with a greater threat." But Oswald is not Dr. Doom or Cobra Commander or Hannibal Lecter. He is, as the show continues to remind us, a pedophile rapist murderer. There's no equilibrium in which he can exist under the power of the show's heroes and have it make any dramatic sense. By the end of "The Gathering," he's quipping and tossing out observations, and while Rhys continually threatens him with physical violence and Gwen keeps telling him to shut up, that's not sufficient. That's the way you treat somebody who stole a bunch of money and shot a security guard in the process. Characters like Oswald are sort of like a bet the writer makes with the audience. "Here's this asshole," Davies told us, "and I'm going to make him so monstrous that you can't imagine him fitting in to the rest of the story." But Davies overreached, and the result is someone who's only believable if you forget the one thing that's supposed to define him.

Meanwhile, back at CTU—I mean, CIA headquarters, Rex is fighting crime in his inimitable way. Like I said, the way he locates the families, through a pulp fiction and a murder weapon, is actually interesting. It's just, we've spent so much time away from the CIA, for the agency to suddenly figure so largely into events, including the presence of Charlotte, world's worst double agent who still manages to be surprisingly effective, increases the disjointed feeling of the entire episode. Of the entire Miracle Day arc. "The Gathering" makes the expected overtures towards a final confrontation. The Torchwood team finds out where the three families and the Blessing are most likely located, and the group splits up, with Esther and Rex headed to Buenos Aires, and Gwen, Jack and Oswald (sigh) going to Shanghai. We know more now than ever did about what's going on, which still isn't all that much, and clearly, there's supposed to be the sense that everything's right on the edge of falling apart entirely. How do I know this? Because a couple characters tell us the government is turning into a dictatorship, and because Gwen's father is finally taken away by the authorities. It's hard to get too excited about any of this, though, apart from relief that it's nearly over. There are good ideas here, seeds which, had they been properly cared for, might have yielded some terrific, engaging drama. Instead, we've got a lot of forced attempts at drama, a lot of irritating stabs at relevancy, and a whole lot of nothing at the center.

Stray Observations:

  • I was tempted to make a "This show is Category One" joke, but decided you deserved better. Still, feel free to imagine!
  • Gwen gives a big speech about how Oswald is a monster. Thank goodness, because for a second there, I almost forgot.
  • One episode left. I'm sure next week will fix everything.

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