As this site is all about television, I figured it would be remiss of me not to do some actual television reviews while I’m here (also, I’m apparently a glutton for punishment and my work schedule isn’t crazy enough). So from here on in I’ll be doing a weekly review of a current TV show, hopefully picking apart how things work and what television can and can’t be and, hell, why I like it. We’ll laugh, we’ll cry, we might even learn a thing or two.
I was reading an article about Lost recently, or maybe just touching vaguely on Lost, or perhaps it was all just a fevered whiskey dream inducing flashes of Lost – either way it was something to do with Lost. And the machinations of shows that dole out mystery after mystery after question after question – though people often forget that Lost was a hell of a lot more than that (if you want to watch shows that are just about mystery, pick up the recently cancelled Flash Forward and The Event to see just how badly they misjudged what an audience actually wants).
Throughout Lost there was a lot of wheel-spinning, for sure. Watching some crappy B-movie (possibly starring Josh Brolin) at the weekend I realized I recognized the specifics of the Hawaiian location so readily because I’d seen the various “camps” in Lost traverse the bloody place so often, complete with swooping helicopter shots. And granted, that kind of wheel-spinning isn’t good. After a while, endless footage of people walking from A to B starts to feel like an exercise video, more than likely hosted by a recently svelte smoke monster.
But after a while, fans of Lost began to spread their anger and accusations of wheel-spinning to any episode that didn’t directly involve the answer to a mystery, a main character’s death, and a revelation that instead of watching flash-backs we’d actually been watching flash-dance (SPOILERS). For anyone who thoroughly enjoyed episodes like “Greatest Hits”, or much of season one, that just ain’t the truth. Anyway, it got me thinking about the danger of these mystery shows, that no matter how good the content you put out there, you’re always on the back foot unless you’re dealing with the morsels of “over-arching plot” that you dropped on the fictional yellow brick road a few episodes back.
This all occurred to me, possibly at once as some sort of critique hemmorhage, as I watched this week’s instalment of Torchwood. Miracle Day, as a concept and with “New World” as a pilot, was all about what’s sure to be an over-arching crazy expansive plot concept. Because of this, I’m sure that “Rendition” will represent a sharp change in direction for viewers – a relatively scant plot stretched over an hour with an antagonist introduced and (possibly) dispatched within that time isn’t pushing the world in new directions. There were morsels of development here and there which I’ll get to later on – but mainly our Torchwood crew were confined to a plane, a bad guy, and an escape from shackles that had only been placed on them at the start of the episode.
The Lostpedia obsessive in me was screaming that not much was going on, but I took him outside and dropped him down a magnetically-charged well. Why? Because I was having fun.
Maybe it was spinning wheels, but when those wheels are attached to a plane full of funny and inventive poison mysteries I’m not one to complain. In fact, by episode’s end, the plane journey hadn’t achieved much in terms of plot (bar the ever true “somebody wants us dead”) but had solved niggling character issues that needed to be smoothed out before the story can really move along. Whether it’s Mekhi Phifer toning down the manic (and snapping a neck to boot), the adventures of Esther and her fabulously under-secure government hideout, or just Gwen nailing comedy, action and drama, it was all good.
Even Dr. Juarez got to come into her own, and while it might have seemed a little like talking heads to some people I was entirely enthralled watching the various medical experts extrapolate the consequences of the Miracle.
Also, and obviously, there was the Dollhouse fan squee of seeing Deichen Lachmann a) at all and b) stumbling “Death Becomes Her” style out of an airport terminal (though that effect was a little ropey for my liking). Say what you want about science-fiction, but they have a dedicated fan-base of casting agents. Once you’re in the pool you won’t be short of work.
You could say that the only character who failed to shine was Jack, confined as he was for most of the episode to choking and frantically eyeballing Gwen. We’re still getting flashes of information about his past, the reveal of his longevity and his sexuality deftly handled, but as far as character goes he’s not coming through as strongly as I’d like.
His moments with Gwen were nice, but Eve Myles was really the Torchwood star in this episode, and managed to balance losing her child and berating a sexually ambivalent flight attendant without coming off as schizophrenic. I imagine Jack will be revealed more over coming episodes, and perhaps it’s a mystery hook for US viewers, but I’d just like him to be explored early on so we can quickly get to consequences having, well, consequences.
That said, by hour’s end the characters had begun to coalesce, and we even have a through-line from Jack to Oswald via the mildly creepy PR lady Jilly Kitzinger – played with frenetic glee by Six Feet Under’s Lauren Ambrose. Red-headed agents always remind me of the Faustian Bibi from Frasier, so I hope she’s up to the evil scratch.
I’m still very curious about Oswald – his teary confession and status as a sort of bellwether of public opinion notwithstanding, I’m still having trouble believing he’s just in the story because it’s an interesting concept. And with the added focus on his victim, I’m wondering if the details of the original crime are as clear cut as they appear. Paedophilia aside, Captain Jack was responsible for the death of several children – including the manipulated sacrifice of his own grandson – over the events of “Children Of Earth”. He may be uniquely positioned to ask “why?”.
Then again, perhaps Oswald is just evil, evil, evil. Either way, I don’t buy that confession on face value. Perhaps his agent can get him some acting lessons.
What I do know for sure is that Torchwood’s great concept is now settling upon some strong characters, and I’m curious where this world of antibiotic mutations and nightmare living graves is going to end.
– Many surely screamed “SEINFELD!” with the appearance of Esther’s boss, but I was very much in the Third Rock From The Sun camp.
– The YouTube video was a nice touch, counting US drama’s realization (sparked by The Good Wife) that the Internet does actually exist.
– Free shot for everyone who said “morphic fields” with a straight face.
– Speaking of which, Jack’s speech on aforementioned fields was starting to sound like a paragraph from The Secret.
– Speaking of WHICH, poo-poo on the script editors for leaving in references to Oprah’s recently ended show.
– “You stupid tiny bloody little man”. Indeed.
– The reversal of triage and antibiotic revelation were highlights for me, interested to hear if that’s a shared opinion or if it’s just my “extrapolation nerd” qualities coming through
– “The churches are empty.” Interesting.
– That talk show host was all kinds of creepy. Alien?