Stars: John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Mekhi Phifer, Alexa Havins, Lauren Ambrose, Kai Owen, Bill Pullman, Arlene Tur, Candace Brown, Tom Price, David Grant Wright, Mark Saldana
Writer: Jim Gray and John Shiban
Director:  Billy Gierhart
Network: Starz, airs Friday nights
Original Telecast: July 29, 2011

In the fourth episode of the all-new BBC/Starz co-production of TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY, “Escape to LA,” Torchwood takes up residence at Venice Beach and plans their assault on PhiCorp while Esther (Alexa Havins) and Rex (Mekhi Phifer) wrestle with family problems that don’t get any better in a world where everyone has stopped dying. Meanwhile, Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman) finds his time in the spotlight threatened by a Tea Party pundit named Ellis Hartley Monroe (Mare Winningham), but although he has PR whiz Jilly (Lauren Ambrose) by his side, it’s Danes himself that comes up with a strategy to put himself right back at the center of public discourse. Dead is dead, or life is life: it’s time to choose sides.

Four episodes in, the story has hit its first speed bump, with the interminable telephone calls between Gwen (Eve Myles) and Rhys (Kai Owen) feeling like wheel-spinning to pad things out until they finally have some purpose in the episode’s closing moments. There are also some narrative hiccups, such as the total disappearance of the Soulless cult, which now looks as if it may have been included last week purely for the visual impact. The second half of the episode is an OCEAN’S ELEVEN-style gambit in which Jack (John Barrowman) and Gwen have to infiltrate PhiCorp and physically remove an important server containing high-level data while replacing it with a useless dummy. Even the phone-interception bit from that movie plays out, but it fits in well enough.

Alexa Havins has emerged as the emotional core of this series, a deeply feeling individual whose job as a CIA information gatherer never deadened her soul, perhaps because she wasn’t doing it long enough. But as a good person caught up in Torchwood’s web, Esther is struggling to reconcile her new role as a hero on the run with everything she ever knew, and Havins does a beautiful job of giving us this kind-hearted soul teetering on the edge of madness. When she reports her own sister for possible child endangerment, it’s a moving moment that shows how much she’s caught between love and responsibility, but things get so much worse when her initial concern may have doomed the entire team.

Bill Pullman continues to act rings around everyone by creating a complete, compelling monster in human form named Oswald Danes. From his masterful manipulation of the media to taking pleasure in the simple sound of a fizzy drink being opened for the first time, Danes is someone you love to hate and hate to look away from. By contrast, John Barrowman’s Jack doesn’t have much to do but be the brawn, and over all it has to be said that this series has de-emphasized him so much that nearly everything that made Jack exciting or interesting has been subdued or forgotten. There are hints that he’ll prove to be very important to the central mystery, as he should be, so here’s hoping he gets to take the lead again and soon.

Gwen’s pretty passable but colloquially-challenged American accent is a nice comedic touch, but C. Thomas Howell as the looming threat in the background this week…really? Can anyone take that seriously for even a moment? Strangely enough, Howell acquits himself well enough as a hit man fascinated by Jack’s now unique mortality, although Howell’s bizarre facial gymnastics indicate he’s trying way too hard to convince us he’s a tough assassin. The episode also feature a powerhouse guest star in Mare Winningham, but she doesn’t get much to do as a stereotypical but underutilized Tea Party pundit named Ellis Hartley Monroe.

She does, however, offer a way in to this week’s deeper ruminations about the effects of eternal life on our society. Her character preaches that “dead is dead” and claims those that should not be alive are undeserving of rights and are a drain on our nation’s resources. We even witness one woman dumping her father at a “plague ship” hospital because the prospect of taking care of an elderly relative forever is too much to handle. Echoing a lot of struggles in our own society, their frightening willingness to abandon the sick and old gives Danes the opportunity he needs to take on the role of their Savior. Oswald Danes, 21st century Messiah?

As Danes provides comfort and direction for the growing class of abandoned and forgotten souls, and Esther deals with guilt over her actions, Rex confronts his father and offers us a potent juxtaposition between a young man facing death and an old man living with his own kind of decay for fifteen years. In the midst of a miracle, there is still no easy reconciliation between estranged family members. But the bigger question hanging over Rex’s head is that if death does wait for him at the end of all this, will solving the mystery of Miracle Day only mean the end of his pseudo-life?

So, was it something Jack “gave” our shadowy triangle group years ago that facilitated the miracle? Could be, and we’re only just now reaching the half-way point in this saga. What’s worse, Rhys has just let Gwen’s father get taken to an “overflow camp” set up by – who else – PhiCorp? It never rains but it pours.

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Click on link: TORCHWOOD – “Dead of Night”  – Review #2

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