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'Torchwood' recap: Bad habits

August 27, 2011 |  6:30 am

After last week’s episode of “Torchwood” went out of its way to reconceive the entire storyline of the season so far and give it a much more personal hook into Captain Jack’s backstory, this week's episode immediately started going through the motions that have made this season so dreary. Political commentary that doesn’t make a lot of sense? It was there. The American characters doing stupid, dunderheaded things to drive the plot forward? That was there, too. Oswald Danes being a character that makes no sense? You’d better believe there was plenty of that. And then when we seemingly got the first big, key piece in the puzzle of just why everybody’s been made immortal? It turned out that the ... big ... metal thingy in the floor of Angelo’s mansion was generating a morphic field (which is this show’s preferred form of techno-babble) that nullified the effects of the Miracle for reasons that are yet unclear.

If nothing else, this episode provided “answers,” of a sort. It would seem that Angelo was less important than he seemed last week. He turned out to be an old man dying alone in his mansion, now unable to do even that because of the Miracle. But he’s also a link to the three men we saw discussing Jack last week when he briefly resurrected. Three men who apparently took some of his blood and used it to build whatever force created the immortality miracle. And we have to assume Angelo knew what they were up to and built his field to avoid their diabolical plans. (Conveniently, and in reverse fairy tale order, he dies after Jack kisses him on the lips.) Jack’s a bit stymied, though he obviously also has some sense of what’s going on. The only other tech like this that he knows of on Earth is buried in the ruins of Torchwood back in the United Kingdom. If the plotting and character work were at all effective, this would be much more intriguing.

But, as you’re probably aware by now, they’re just not. You’d think this episode, which reunites Jack with a long-lost love, would be slightly better in that regard. Instead, it turns into a strange mishmash of everything this season has done poorly. We’ve even got Esther freaking out about how she doesn’t know what to do and being worried about her sister (who now wants to be re-categorized as a Category 1 just because). We’ve got Rex coming up with an incredibly elaborate plan that’s meant to make him seem super smart and, instead, makes him seem a little dumb (since if even one tiny thing went wrong, his plan would have resulted in all involved ending up in prison). We’ve got grand conspiracy theories that suggest the Families have been controlling world events for years and may have been responsible for the economic collapse of 2008.

If that’s not evidence enough that the poorly timed political interludes are back this week, well, I don’t know what would be. When Wayne Knight and his squad of goons burst in and he blathers about being authorized to do this under the “Miracle Security Act,” I rolled my eyes and howled at the screen. And when the characters yet again talked about how the government shouldn’t get to decide who lives and dies (after considering just how powerful Angelo’s field could be in the wrong hands), I sighed in irritation. But, as always, the truly terrible political stuff was saved for Oswald Danes and his pointless parade of preposterous plot points.

The problem with Oswald is that the show seems to believe simply having a character who’s done bad things in his past is enough to create a compelling character. But it’s not. And you’d think the writers of this show would know that, because they have a compelling character who’s done bad things in his past on this show. His name is Captain Jack Harkness, and his immortality means that he frequently has to hurt people he loves very much. Oswald, however, raped and murdered a child, and now he’s been manipulated by the forces behind the Miracle to become a massive, public sensation. (Do you buy this central plot point? I don’t, but let’s go with it for now.) Now, he wants to be with a woman, one with red hair (causing Jilly to recoil) and one of legal age. So she procures a prostitute for him, thanks to her new intern, who’s actually a CIA plant, and the prostitute refuses to do anything but sleep with him. She won’t talk with him or go on a faux date or what have you. And I think we’re supposed to feel sorry for Oswald, but because he’s a poorly conceived character, we just don’t. There’s no complexity here. There’s a bunch of people pushing a button meant to make you feel sorry for someone who’s done despicable things and pushing it too hard and too often.

Anyway, Oswald learns from the prostitute(!) about the upcoming decision to create a “Category 0,” a category that would allow certain people who deserve punishment to be shipped straight to the ovens. And he’s going to be on that list, because Phicorp needs to make sure no one questions any of the show’s plot points, and, thus, it will be better to have him out of the way. He storms off to join the Torchwood effort (or so the cut from Oswald to Jack would have you believe), Jilly gets a promotion, and the CIA intern plant gets a few bullets in her (which I bet will sting in the morning). This plot isn’t just ill-conceived, it’s a colossal waste of time.

So the episode ends with the two characters worth caring about being taken off the playing field –- Jack by a bullet to his gut that could kill him and Gwen by, uh, a deportation order from John de Lancie (guest-starring as a CIA bigwig, his performance one of the few things I liked in the episode) –- but I don’t terribly care about either of these developments. On a better show, I’d be on the edge of my seat, wondering if Jack would survive (even while knowing there’s no show without him). On a better show, I’d be anxiously awaiting ... well, a better show wouldn’t stoop to so blatant a plot stall as deporting Gwen, actually. Instead, we’ve got “Torchwood: Miracle Day,” which abandoned the more personal turn of last week’s episode in favor of a bunch of stuff that just sort of happened.

Photo: Esther (Alexa Havins) and Rex (Mekhi Phifer) find themselves abruptly reemployed by the CIA. Credit: Starz


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-- Todd VanDerWerff