Following on from Russell T. Davies’ powerhouse opener, episodes two and three of Torchwood: Miracle Day continue the blazing momentum, alongside the steady and terrifying extrapolation of the series’ central conceit: no-one is dying, but no-one is healing either.
Dark Angel, Smallville and House writer Doris Egan grabs the narrative baton from Davies for the second episode, Rendition, and doesn’t miss a step or a beat. Egan presses the pedal to the metal from the very beginning, and only cranks it up from there. With the barest of outlines — the Torchwood team are on a flight to America, the conspiracy begins to emerge, the consequences of the miracle continue to unfold — Egan busts out a breathless, frantic and engrossing hour of TV. Her screenplay is nimble, dancing furiously between the strands and keeping them all flowing. Whether it’s the desperately improvised cure for Captain Jack, which is a masterclass scene in itself (blending highly technical dialogue with massively high stakes and a relentless supply of quips and one-liners for the cranky as hell Rex Matheson, and geek goddess Gwen Cooper), or the evolution of Oswald Danes, or the CIA conspiracy, Egan keeps it moving, energetic and alternately entertaining and chilling as hell. Egan also gives Gwen multiple hero moments, and verbal punches that hit as hard as the real punches that Gwen throws, including the standout line of the episode, delivered with awesome style by Eve Myles: “I’m Welsh.” Cue right hook.
By the end of the episode the team have landed, fought their way out of a trap, and escaped. In a Mini Cooper. (And to think some fans have been complaining about Torchwood being too American — (a) duh; and (b) trust me, Davies has made this even more Welsh than it was in seasons 1-3. Which is a good thing.).
From there, it falls to geek TV writing legend Jane Espenson (Buffy, BSG, Game Of Thrones) to take us into the Dead Of Night. For the first time this season, the show pauses to take a breath. It’s an interlude of sorts, although, being Torchwood, all kinds of crazy shit still happens. The change in pace is a good thing: it allows the viewers to really catch up, and lets the devastating implications continue to unravel and sink in. Espenson gets lots of juicy scenes to sink her brilliantly geeky teeth into: the bumpy integration of the new Torchwood team as they learn to work together for the first time (which, as Espenson has noted, could serve as a metaphor for the transatlantic writers room that Davies established for this season), the revelation of PhiCorp’s involvement, and Oswald Danes’ disturbing revelation of his true, dark self.
And an eye-popping double sex scene.
Espenson handles these pivotal moments with skill and gravitas, saving her humor, unleashing it sparingly but in the most brilliant of ways. She deserves an Emmy just for Jack’s “you should see the other guy” (it’s all in the context), which may be one of the greatest one-liners in sci-fi TV history. She also does a wonderful job with continuing Gwen Cooper’s ascendancy far beyond official Legendary status. Eve Myles has never had such great lines, has never had so many brilliantly moving, cool and geeky moments as she has in this season. Myles attacks every scene with subtlety, relish, tongue in cheek when need be, and flat-out heartbreaking acting when necessary.
Espenson, as you might expect, weaves the melancholy and the thrilling both expertly and seamlessly. In midst of it all, in the darkest hour of the night, Jack’s lonely phone call to Gwen was a beautiful piece of dramatic writing. Around that, the heavy lifting of the plot was done elegantly, with the haunting, silent march of the masked soulless, and the great reveal of the scale of PhiCorp’s involvement (done with a huge warehouse vista and Espenson’s other Emmy-worthy, geek-legend line of the episode, “bigger on the inside than the outside”). Espenson also made time for Esther and Gwen to discuss the poet Robert Frost, which provided great shading in the episode, and allowed Alexa Havins to develop her tremulous and vulnerable portrayal of Esther.
Mention must be also made of Bill Pullman and Lauren Ambrose, whose characters’ involvement with the miracle and its chaotically unfolding ramifications has been separate and enigmatic thus far, though their paths and significance have been beginnging to entwine. Pullman is truly extraordinary as the insane child murderer, and Ambrose is deliciously deceptive and shady in her apparent role as PhiCorp’s PR, Jilly Kitzinger. Both of them fully inhabit their roles, investing them with magnetism that is both horrific and hypnotic.
Horrific and hypnotic sum up this season so far: the huge, escalating crisis dreamed up by Davies and his team expands with every episode. It’s an incredible story engine, full of mind-blowing, exhilaratingly scary possibilities. From the writing perspective alone, Torchwood: Miracle Day is a masterclass on many levels.