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'Torchwood' recap: I'm buying stock in Phicorp

July 23, 2011 |  6:00 am

Phifer
With every week it’s on the air, "Torchwood: Miracle Day" continues to expand its scope. In "Dead of Night," the reach of the show’s story gets even larger as the writers begin to draw connections between all of the characters we’ve met so far and a mysterious (probably evil) drug company named Phicorp. (If I were naming a drug company that, I’d definitely spell it Pficor.) Phicorp puts Oswald Danes on the payroll, and he starts talking on TV about how the government has failed us, and we should trust companies like Phicorp to help us out of this "never dying" jam we’ve gotten ourselves into. The company was more than ready for Miracle Day, with drugs stockpiled all over. They’re also the people employing Jilly Kitzinger, and they’ve been making overtures to Vera about helping her get painkillers to the undying who need them. Clearly, they’ve got a lot of tentacles.

But Phicorp was pretty much the one big development in this episode. If the last two episodes kept the tension humming along, then this was an episode in which things mostly cooled down and coasted for a while. There’s nothing wrong with that. But there wasn’t much else slotted in to get through the hour. There were some stabs at character development -– Rex and Vera hooked up, pretty much randomly -– and some nice, soulful, "Captain Jack realizes he could die!" moments, but there wasn’t much of a throughline here for us to hang onto. Once Torchwood found the Phicorp connection, the entire episode became about uncovering more and more dastardly Phicorp deeds. This meant lots and lots of exposition, and exposition isn’t something this show does terribly well.

Take, for instance, the first time that Phicorp comes up. Just the name and the fact that they’re stockpiling drugs would probably be enough to tip us off as to the fact that, y’know, this is an international drug conglomerate. But Gwen has to tell us that they’re all over the world, and the other characters have to react as if they don’t already know that, and on and on. Plus, all of the scenes with Phicorp fell into a predictable pattern, where representatives of the company (mostly Jilly) would say things that were clearly evil and terrifying but then say they weren’t trying to be evil or terrifying. Knowing "Torchwood," Phicorp could be a very elaborate red herring (though one that allows Russell T. Davies and his writers to make some awkward political commentary), but it's so central to this episode that if it is, this one ends up being a bit of a wash.

As mentioned last week, I don’t really buy that the people of the United States would be so enthralled by Oswald Danes’ press tour, no matter how sad he seems when he apologizes. And this week took that to an even greater limit, as he took to the airwaves to advocate for companies giving away free drugs and apparently became such a revered figure that one woman waited outside just to see him, then asked Jack (who’d just gotten beat up by Phicorp goons) if he’d gotten to touch Danes. Creepy, to be sure, but the show plays the Danes character so all over the place that it’s hard to get a bead on him. In one scene, he’s on the run from local bums and police officers who want him dead (even if they can’t kill him), and in another, he’s laying it on thick about how he killed that little girl all those years ago. The first scene obviously wants us to sympathize with his predicament; the second asks us to find him an irredeemable monster. It’s a hard balance to pull off in any case, and I don’t think "Torchwood" is pulling it off just yet. Or maybe Bill Pullman doesn’t have the right blend of charisma and danger for a part like this. (Imagine, for example, Michael C. Hall in this part, and I think you have an idea of what I’m talking about. Not that Hall was available, of course.)

The episode’s midsection was where it was flabbiest. All of that business about poems about death and the various characters either hooking up or finally making contact with their loved ones (as Gwen did with Rhys and their daughter) was meant to be moving, but it ended up a little flat. It made sense for later in the episode that Rex and Vera had hooked up (since it gave her stronger motivation to work with Torchwood), but in the moment, it seemed ludicrously convenient. (Plus, he can perform sexually with a hole through his heart? I have my doubts!) And although I always enjoy seeing Jack’s pansexual pursuits, this one didn’t really add much to the story that we didn’t already know. Only seeing poor old Rhys (holding the baby too low) added much to the episode.

Fortunately, the ending was a bit better, with all of the strands of the various story webs coming together via Phicorp and the Torchwood investigation of same. The sequence where Gwen tried to get all of the information she could from Jilly’s office, even as Jilly was coming back any moment now was pretty solid, and I did like Jack’s confrontation with Oswald (and his goons) at the end. All in all, this was a "putting the pieces in place" kind of episode, and though some of the pieces were moved quite inelegantly -– again, the Rex and Vera hook-up -– much of whether this episode stands out as the start of a decline or a brief hiccup will be determined by where the pieces go from here.

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-- Todd VanDerWerff

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Photo: Rex (Mekhi Phifer) discovers that the Phicorp drug company may be behind Miracle Day.

Credit: Starz

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