Torchwood: Children of Earth was one of the most brilliant pieces of television of the past few years, so maybe we were expecting too much from the followup, Miracle Day. Or maybe showrunner and creator Russell T. Davies was so eager to duplicate Children of Earth on a bigger scale, he lost sight of what made Children of Earth such a compulsive watch: the relentless pacing, the knife-edge tension.
Whatever the reason, now that Miracle Day is complete, we're left looking back at an onion that took too long to peel, and only really had one layer. Spoilers ahead...
So the final episode of Miracle Day supplied us with plenty of answers (well, sort of). And lots of closure — literally, in the case of Captain Jack's and Rex's chest wounds. We now know who was responsible for turning every human immortal, and how they did it, and what their master plan was.
"The Blood Line" is a pretty solid finale, with a good focus on all the major characters and a healthy dose of heroic sacrifice. The final moment of victory, with blood fountaining out of the two male heroes' chests into the abyss, is powerful and amazing, even if everything leading up to it is a bit lacking in urgency.
The good news was, this episode had a number of powerful, beautifully written moments that helped elevate it above being just a made-for-TV spy thriller.
In particular, Gwen's speech at the beginning was absolutely classic Russell T. Davies, instantly transforming Gwen's father from the ailing heart-attack patient we'd seen over the course of the miniseries into a real person — one whom Gwen is determined to give a natural death to. That perfect opening provides an emotional through-line for the rest of the episode, as Rhys manages to get to Gwen's dad's bedside and Gwen remains steadfast in her determination to commit patricide. Rhys made up for being annoying as fuck last week with his great, "You know what? Let him die. The poor bugger, he's had his time." And sitting helplessly by Papa Cooper's bedside as he's first prepped for the ovens and then, instead, slips away.
And the episode did a great job of showing how Rex has softened a bit, showing actual concern for Captain Jack and actual affection for Gwen. And I also loved Rex showing a moment of affection to Esther, sort of kissing her forehead, and finally acknowledging that she's actually pretty freaking awesome, before they go off on their mission together.
I also loved Gwen shooting Captain Jack, so he doesn't have to commit suicide. And Gwen telling Rex to stay on mission — to go ahead and condemn Esther to death — because there's more at stake. Gwen had a lot of the best moments in this episode, and I've gained a new appreciation for her character as a result.
Come to think of it, a lot of the best moments in this episode have to do with how hard it really is to celebrate death, and how important it is that we try. How hard it is to go to your death, and consign others to death, for the greater good. Esther Drummond has to die to bring death back to the world, and she's lucky to get a funeral afterwards — because funerals are how we make peace with all this shit.
I also loved Captain Jack's speech to Oswald about how he's seen the glorious spacebound future of humanity, and he wishes Oswald could see it too... so Oswald could realize how small he's made his life. Absolutely classic stuff. Captain Jack turns out to have had a bit of an arc in this miniseries — when he first realized he was mortal, he was suddenly scared of dying and eager to hang on to life. And now he finally realizes that he's lived long enough, and it's time to let go.
And finally, I love Jilly Kitzinger's final embrace of villainy, when she decides that the current power structure is a sewer, and an evil repressive oligarchy would be a step up. That was a really interesting evolution, that I actually wish we'd seen more of.
If I had a problem with the final episode, it was the fact that it mostly felt a bit prosaic, after nine episodes of build-up. And "Phase Two" of the Families' plan felt a bit generic "and then we take over the world." Basically, now that we know Russell T. Davies' entire storyline for Miracle Day, it feels a bit slight. After this show changed gears from "dystopian social thought experiment" to "conspiracy thriller" halfway through, it never quite got its mojo back.
So in "The Blood Line", all four of our surviving heroes, plus Oswald, congregate at the two openings to the Blesssing in Shanghai and Buenos Aires. Once there, they have two confrontations, in parallel, with members of the Three Families. And all is explained.
Here's what I took away from it: after the Three Families witnessed Jack's immortality back in the 1920s, they kept Jack's blood, and managed to become bargain-basement Illuminati, controlling the media, finance and politics. And eventually, thanks to the Internet age, they discovered these two spots in Shanghai and Buenos Aires where everyone's life expectancy was exactly the average for the human race. This eventually led them to the Blessing, some kind of super-ancient presence in the center of the Earth that could be connected to Silurian mythology or the Racnoss or whatevs. The Blessing exactly calibrates a finely tuned matrix that harmonizes with the human race.
So the families set about experimenting on the Blessing, and eventually they figured out that if they exposed it to Jack's immortal blood in both places at once, the Blessing would interpret this blood sample as the new "normal" for humanity — and thus, it would turn the entire human race immortal. (Except Jack, who would switch the opposite way, for some reason.) And by turning the human race immortal, they reasoned, they could cause widespread chaos and the collapse of society — which, in turn, would allow them to seize absolute power over the economy and everything else, sending anyone who opposes them to the ovens.
As plans for taking over the world go, it's a little bit fancy. And maybe I'd just been expecting too much, but I was sort of hoping the scheme would be a bit more concrete, like there would turn out to be something about Phase Two that would take the immortality concept in a new direction.
We've known about the Three Families since episode three or four, and we've known they were power-hungry fiends. So the big reveal being that the Three Families were power-hungry fiends, sort of fell flat for me. At the end of ten episodes, I sort of wanted a better explanation for why anybody would want to turn the human race immortal on purpose. And as villains go, the Three Families never quite got enough traction, or inspired that much hatred.
Oh, and the ticking time bomb in this episode is just "in a few hours, we're going to bury the Blessing under rubble, so that the Miracle will become permanent." Somehow it feels a bit lacking in urgency. (And why wait? Why not just blow up the facility now, or five minutes from now?)
Meanwhile, the Blessing is just... a plot device. There's no big mystery about it, it's just another big entity that's trying to be kind — sort of like the space whale in that one Doctor Who story. Or the nanogenes that turn everybody into gas-mask zombies in that other Doctor Who story. I really think this miniseries could have worked better with some good honest aliens, or some villains who were a bit more horrible.
The other big problem with this episode was just that things seemed drawn out for no particular reason. Like, it takes Rex about five minutes to explain the basic idea of, "Let's pretend we died in that explosion, so the baddies don't know we're coming." It's as though nobody's heard of that tactic before. (Was anybody else hoping that, when the Buenos Aires baddies are holding Rex and Esther hostage, Rex would at least try not to speak on the audio relay, thus depriving the Families of proof that he's their hostage?)
And then there's Oswald himself. One of the biggest question marks hanging over this miniseries, all along, was why this repulsive criminal was being given such a central role in the story. And now that it's all over, that question only looms larger. The sardonic story, in earlier episodes, of Oswald becoming a quasi-televangelist was fascinating and strange, like a bit of P.T. Anderson had wandered into our science fiction thriller. But what was Oswald's story really about? He winds up being set up as a suicide bomber by Captain Jack, and when he finally blows himself up, he screams that he's going to find the girl he molested in hell and molest her for all eternity. Oswald's character has collapsed back down to being just a scary pedophile, after the show has teased us with all these other facets. I remain unclear on why Oswald wasn't just a minor supporting character in one or two episodes, like the Tea Party lady.
(And for that matter, I remain unclear on why the Torchwood team let Oswald join them on their suicide mission, other than the fact that he's the most expendable person in the universe. Maybe that's enough, but there are other values besides expendibility. Like trustworthiness.)
I haven't even mentioned the subplot where the CIA is trying to track down their mole, only to be blown to smithereens because they cut their security budget along with everything else. I don't really have much to say about it, other than that it felt a bit surplus and I wasn't sure why I should care about it, even before it went nowhere. I did like Q saying, "Oh fuck," right before blowing up, though.
I also won't mention the "many ghosts, bad place" Chinese lady, because... ugh. At least she didn't try and put a spider on Gwen's back.
So in the end, poor Esther has died, not by sacrificing her life but just by being a hostage. And Rex gets shot by Charlotte, the CIA mole, who gets shot in turn. But Rex turns out to be unkillable, thanks to Jack's blood. (Which Esther randomly decided to transfuse into Rex, in a long and probably agonizing procedure, just on the off chance the Families managed to destroy the suitcase of blood without destroying Rex in the process.)
So I guess that Captain Jack's immortality really is magic at this point — the original explanation, that he's a "fixed point in time" thanks to Rose Tyler, no longer really fits. His blood has the power to convince an ancient super-entity under the ground to grant humanity a different form of immortality. And a full transfusion of Jack's blood is enough to turn Rex Matheson similarly immortal, after the Miracle is over. (Would that work any time, or just during a moment when the entire human race is toggling between mortal and immortal?)
Also, are Rex and Jack blood brothers now?
Given that I really like Rex Matheson (unlike a lot of other people, I guess) I'm pretty stoked that he survived this one, and that he's now sharing Jack's indestructible nature. Even if we never get any more Torchwood, I'm imagining the awesome potential in having an ageless Rex turn up, thousands of years from now, in some Doctor Who story. Also, I'd love to see Jack schooling Rex in what it means to be eternally young, like how to keep making new IDs and how to deal with everybody else aging and dying around you. That would be seriously fun stuff.
All in all, this was a perfectly solid final episode, with a few standout moments. It only falls flat because of a larger failure on the part of Russell T. Davies to devise a story arc that could sustain ten hour-long episodes, with enough twists and layers of mystery to keep us guessing. In trying to follow up Children of Earth, Davies took away all the wrong lessons — the key element of CoE, it turns out, was not the "something creepy happens all over the world," thing, but the "single unswerving storyline with horrifying villains, in which you can barely catch your breath and the stakes keep escalating" thing.
The whole thing seemed to be a rebuke to people (like me) who have groused about the endings of Lost and Battlestar Galactica. I'm pretty sure that Russell T. Davies even promised, a few times, that he wouldn't let Miracle Day stray into Lost territory, of spinning out questions for the sake of questions, with no answers. Instead, we got the opposite: an ending in everything turned out to be less than met the eye.
Torchwood has reinvented itself before, and maybe it will again. If it does, there are a lot of elements of Miracle Day that I'd love to see the show build on. Like idea-driven storytelling that trusts the audience to grasp some challenging concepts. Like the sparky rivalry between the two alpha males, Jack and Rex. Like the quintessentially RTD misanthropy of exploring the worst and the most self-deceiving elements of humanity. And like the willingness to mine Captain Jack's ever-bountiful past for horror. Miracle Day did a lot of things right, which the show can build on in future versions.
(As for the hints that the Families are going to go try for Plan B... let's hope it takes them another 80 years to cook it up.)
At the same time, I'm willing to bet that this version of Torchwood, as a set of miniseries about big global events that take five or ten episodes to untangle, is over. Let's burn that Torchwood down, and see what comes out of the ashes.