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'Torchwood' recap: Make a remedy for arsenic poisoning using only the items on this plane, starting... now!

July 16, 2011 |  6:00 am

Tur If there’s one thing “Torchwood: Children Of Earth” and now “Torchwood: Miracle Day” are very good at, it’s making the story rocket along at a breakneck pace, until it’s all but impossible to not want to watch the next episode. By the end of “Rendition,” it was all I could do to keep myself from clicking forward immediately to the next episode on my screener, the ending was so exciting. Though I had a few problems with the first half of this episode, the last half – which was all about the various doctors investigating Miracle Day learning some interesting things and the Torchwood team finding itself in a few tight spots – was a lot of fun.

Let’s start with what’s up with Jack, Gwen, and Rex. Rex separates Gwen and Jack from Rhys, who gets to stay in the United Kingdom. But on the flight over to the States, after some speculation about Jack’s new mortality, we get a pretty big hint that the true players in this season’s scenario are yet to be revealed, as a CIA Agent played by Dichen Lachman (late of the much-lamented-by-me “Dollhouse”) slips a little arsenic into Jack’s cola, and he starts to die.

The sequence where Jack is slowly passing away and Gwen puzzles out just what’s going on, eventually incorporating Rex and the flight attendants into her crazy scheme to synthesize an arsenic cure using only what’s available on a plane, was the most fun this season has been so far. As Lachman (and apologies if her character was named; the sound mix on my screener wasn’t the best, but I didn’t hear a name) looked on with a sneer, Gwen and Rex cut up the plane’s innards, snatched Lachman’s necklace and used just a touch of cyanide to save Jack from an unprecedented grave.

But the fun continued once the plane touched down on U.S. soil. Esther stumbles upon something even more frightening: Whomever Lachman works for isn’t just trying to take out Torchwood; they’re trying to take out everybody who’s got even the slightest affiliation with Torchwood. She and Rex are being framed as traitors via funds placed in their bank accounts that will seem like bribes to investigators. Jack, of course, was almost murdered. And I guess Lachman’s team will just deal with Gwen however they see fit. (All I can say is, “Look out, Rhys!”)

Anyway, Esther conveys all of this to Rex in a tense phone call as he’s walking into the airport with his prisoners, who now include Lachman, and a couple of black-suited goons. As he talks, Lachman uses a lockpick to unlock her handcuffs. But Rex has the edge here, as he uses this new information to free the only allies he might have: Jack and Gwen. The three face off with Lachman and her goons, and they’re soon making their way to Esther’s car and escape – but not before seeing the horrifying image of Lachman, neck twisted around backward, somehow staggering in front of the car. (You’d think that kind of injury would have more of an effect on basic motor control.) Still, they get away, the four of them essentially fugitives and seemingly the only ones who know that whatever’s going on, it has something to do with wiping Torchwood from the face of the Earth.

So far, so good. But the medical stuff was once again very good. The team of writers Russell T. Davies has assembled this season is very good at coming up with unexpected consequences of having everybody on Earth live forever. Sure, the Earth can’t sustain that large of a human population, but there are other problems as well. For one, with sick people never dying, they’ll become incubators for more and more infections. If doctors use antibiotics to kill those infections, the infections will gradually grow resistant. Where people would once die and the infections would feed on the corpse (and no one would care), the lack of death may be breeding a new brand of super-infection, one that could rip through the human race should the whole “no one can die” thing ever be reversed. Add to that the fact that everybody’s immortal, but they’re still aging, and you’ve got a couple of very intriguing hints about who (or what) might be behind all of this. (My guess? Aliens. It’s always aliens.)

But if we’re being honest, the Oswald stuff just isn’t grabbing me. I like Bill Pullman, and I love Lauren Ambrose (making her first appearance as a crazy-ambitious PR agent), and I’m sure this is all headed somewhere, but it all feels like it’s taking place in some other, lesser show at this point. Oswald’s breakdown on national TV over his murder of the 12-year-old girl wasn’t nearly as moving as it needed to be to convincingly make it seem as if people would be swayed by his contrition. And the show’s use of occasional cuts to Esther to suggest that we were watching this because the CIA was told to monitor all things even remotely connected to Miracle Day felt like retrofitted justification for why we were spending so much time on this. It’s very possible the Oswald storyline will hook up with everything else in an intriguing way (I’d bet anything he’s the key to figuring out why Miracle Day happened, for instance), but it also feels like he’s being set up to be some sort of “prophet” figure, and I’m not sure I buy that either.

But no matter. “Rendition’s” second half was a ton of fun, and let me relax just a bit. Whatever issues I had with some of the clunkiness of getting the Torchwood team to the U.S. last week, they were more than allayed by everything that happened once they were in the air. I still worry that this show is trying to tell too big of a story for a small-cast ensemble drama, but so long as it keeps coming up with ingenious puzzles for the Torchwood team to solve (like tonight’s arsenic remedy problem), there should be more than enough fun to go around.

Photo: Vera Juarez (Arlene Tur) and her fellow doctors make some unsettling discoveries about just what happened on Miracle Day. (Credit: Starz)

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--Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)