Stars: John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Mekhi Phifer, Alexa Havins, Lauren Ambrose, Kai Owen, Bill Pullman, Arlene Tur, Marc Vann, Olivia Hallinan, Tom Price, Randa Walker, Teddy Sears, Sharon Morgan, William Thomas, Bradley Bell
Writer: Jane Espenson
Director:  Guy Ferland
Network: Starz, airs Friday nights
Original Telecast: August 5, 2011

In the fifth episode of the all-new BBC/Starz co-production of TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY, “The Categories of Life,” the pace flags but the story grows much darker as the world adjusts to a new kind of humanity. The Torchwood team launches a risky infiltration of one of the overflow camps, uncovering a horrifying secret at the heart of this strategy to manage the sick and the elderly. With historic overtones that are unmistakably familiar, the saga reaches its halfway point with an ending that will surely give many viewers a reason to stare at the screen in shock long after the final flaming image fades.

I’ve been enjoying this series so far, but as we enter pointed Holocaust territory, with the story making a potent and probably very accurate point about what we as human beings are capable of when faced with insurmountable problems – excessive cruelty to one another – I find myself wondering whether this is perhaps a step too far. While science fiction often takes real world events and reinterprets them for the purposes of allegory, there’s so little separation here between the horrors of the Holocaust and what the show is depicting that it’s truly uncomfortable to watch. You could argue that just means the show is making its point well – on the other hand, maybe it’s not a point that should be made this way. I honestly don’t know right now.

Sadly, before we get to the powerful conclusion of the episode, we suffer through the series’ first serious issue with pacing and characterization. After all they’ve been through, the team commits just about every single member to a hazardous infiltration of this camp, knowing that some or all of them could face…well, not death, but grievous harm. It’s a ridiculous strategy, but the worst offender is Gwen (Eve Myles). Up until now, she’s been shown as strong and focused, but here she acts like a complete idiot. First, she blows any hope of cover by publicly going to reclaim her father from the camp. When that doesn’t work and she’s part of the infiltration, she reveals her relationship to her father to anyone that she comes across, risking not just herself but Rhys (Kai Owen) and everyone else in the team. It’s just lunacy.

The other problem is our main guest character, camp director Colin Maloney, played with wildly over-the-top villainy by Marc Vann. Embodying the most cartoonish racist, misogynistic, middle-management, and Southern American clichés, there is nothing redeeming about this grotesque caricature and nothing believable either.

Phifer and Havins are still handling their characters well, and Pullman’s Oswald Danes remains a fascinating presence, but even his brand of perverse evil is wearing a bit thin. It’s also curious that the episode’s only real moral challenge is when we’re made to wonder: Will Danes choose the PhiCorp or Torchwood path? Did we want him to help instead of hurt? Would it matter if he did, considering the monster that he is?

Virtually every character is left in some form of peril here, which makes sense in the fifth episode of a ten-part story, but as a midway point, this episode seriously loses the momentum for a good half of its run time, and when it recovers with one of Russell T. Davies’ patented multi-pronged cliffhangers, it does so by pushing things so far down the darkest possible path that it leaves a really bad taste in the mouth.

Where will this go now that we’ve reached this point? How can any sci-fi solution to this story mitigate the impact and perhaps even questionable taste of using the Holocaust as fodder for this kind of fantasy show? I have no answers, but I do intend to keep watching to see if they do.

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Article: Review – TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY – “The Categories of Life”

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Comments:

  1. Ive meat people like Colin Maloney, and while I thin its a touch over the top I found it believable.

    bob
  2. I guess sadly the truth is that in this world, yes there are indeed people like him. Good point. :/

    Arnold
  3. I really enjoyed this episode and i think Gwens character change from putting torchwood first to putting her familly first has been a very honest portrayal. I think Gwen was put in the position of not knowing what was going to happen to her father and may have acted irrationaly to try and get him back but faced with the same kind of situation could you honestly say you wouldnt have acted as irrationaly? Also i am really enjoying the character of Jilly Kitzinger and think Lauren Ambrose is doing a good job playing her.

    Lisa
  4. I thought it was a great episode and I am having no such problems with the shows pacing so far…I’m finding it thoroughly engaging, and although I found last week a bit slow, I rewatched it a day later and found no such problems, so put it down to me just not being fully focussed on the episode the first time.

    The end was chilling and unexpected – I think the whole point here is to make the viewer feel uncomfortable. I think the theory of how humans would deal with the issue of nobody dying quite sound actually. Lest we forget, an episode of Doctor Who touched on people being sent to prison camps as well, so it’s familiar territory for RTD.

    I for one can’t wait for the next 5 epsiodes!

    Gabby
  5. I cannot believe where they (RTD)are taking this. I am almost hesitant to watch the next episode. I will most likely watch it because I like what is left of the Torchwood crew. But this is getting way beyond the usual Torchwood type of storyline.

    Sue

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