Saturday, 13 August 2011

Torchwood – Episode Five – “The Categories of Life”

And finally, it begins to get interesting!  After four episodes of below-average fare, the story has begun to evolve, with the darker themes taking centre stage, much like Pullman’s Oswald Danes does at the Miracle Rally.  Of course, it’s still very by-the-numbers, and awfully predictable.  But where the interest lies is in watching the characters slowly come to realise that which we already know.

Of course, it’s rubbish.  I mean, it’s really, really bad.  The over-the-top acting and preposterous plot holes are as frustrating as anything previously seen.  But at least it’s going somewhere now.  For weeks, we’ve had trivial and uninteresting exposition, followed by ludicrously unnecessary scenes of explosive set-pieces which belong in a film by Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich.

One of the very first lines put my teeth on edge from the outset – “They’re taking control of life and death!”  Now, it’s true that Dr Vera Juarez has, at no point, been an interestingly written character – which is what makes it all the more frustrating that she is the victim in the so-called ‘cliff-hanger’.  But such ham-fisted dialogue can only lead to hammy acting, and Dr Juarez gurned her way through every scene she was in, as she was finally welcomed to the Torchwood fraternity – only to declare that she isn’t a member and as such doesn’t need to listen to Jack’s orders.  That stand off must be ringing in her burning ears now.

Further plot holes gaped through in the scenes with Gwen travelling back to sunny old Wales.  Whilst it was nice to see the series return to its original roots, it struck me as peculiar that it was so simple for the hunted vigilante to return to Wales with just a fake passport.  Considering that they were mercilessly hunted throughout episodes one and two, why was it so simple for her to return to Wales under a new guise, and then utterly undermine it when being picked up by Rhys?  And speaking of Rhys – last week I said that it was a shame that he was being underused in the new series.  Kai Owen has often been the heart of the show, particularly in scenes in Children of Earth,  but he now seems utterly redundant.  It would appear, despite being under police protected custody and having changed his name, as we were told in the second or third episode – he is still working under his real name.  Every scene featuring him had him telling armed military personnel or the like that he was “Rhys”, whilst Gwen maintained the name “Yvonne Pallister”, despite then going crazy about her Dad, in front of said personnel.

There was a strong sense of Mission: Impossible throughout this story, with the Torchwood team splitting into three groups on their own improbable missions.  Whilst Gwen and Rhys  cavorted around Wales, searching for Gwen’s father, only to make him relapse and have him upgraded to category one, Esther, Rex and Vera went undercover in the overflow camp in California, whilst Jack continues to stalk the obscure and mysterious Oswald Danes.  Each of these threads fed into one another relatively easily, yet didn’t work to gel the show – no-one bothered to communicate their findings, leading to each of our misfit heroes discovering the same information over the last fifteen minutes.

Indeed, the army continue to be useless throughout – not only do they fail to arrest Gwen, but they look on blindly during one of the most frustrating moments of exposition – as Dr Vera and Esther pull up outside the overflow camp – and I mean literally outside – they discuss how they will pretend to not know each other, and then Esther leaves their car pool and walks up to an admin desk, only to be permitted entrance to this high security facility.

Similarly, other staff within these facilities are as clueless – the confrontation with the exhausted medic was a nice touch – discussing a better system for classifying patients considering the number of patients in need of care – but the fact that the pegs were left hanging from Rex’s drip in the tent, meaning anyone could have readily reclassified themselves anyhow, means that Esther’s function on this mission was pointless.  Esther’s line “Do you think I’m useless?” was telling of the characterisation that she has so far been given – even attempts to make her more than a two-dimensional whiner have been pointless.  Last week, we had an interesting subplot wherein she reported her sister to social services.  This week, that had been totally forgotten.  She had returned to simply being extraneous to the proceedings, looking at photos on ‘google earth’.  By gaining access to the overflow camp, she puts her foot in it by directly asking how to gain access to the most secure and top secret of all of the facilities – whilst her fat, lazy co-worker simply shrugs, and turns back to her computer, which will presumably say ‘no’.
John Barrowman continues to grate as ever, camping it up to the max, and making ridiculous statements whilst not actually doing anything.  Indeed, further to his emasculation by removing his immortality, the team apparently no longer even refer to him as ‘Captain’.  Poor Jack – the only person to pay him the respect he feels he is owed is the notorious celebrity paedophile, Danes.  Of course, Jack gets his own back, by outing Rex as he is bundled into an ambulance, as he hams up with “That crazy old boyfriend of mine!”  Rex responded by sticking his middle finger up – I’d have decked the smug turd.

Indeed, Alpha-Male Rex also continues to be an enormous tool – his pouting, slimy lop-sided grin at the phone call from, and the arrival of, Vera made my flesh crawl.  Mekhi Pfiffer is still dealing with the exposition given to him by making his character the most unlikeable TV character I’ve seen in a very long time – the first ‘real’ acting we’ve seen so far is when he stood outside the module, screaming at a porthole whilst his girlfriend burned alive inside.  Even then, however, he is made out to look even more despicable – rather than trying to save her, he decided to record it!  His stupidity was once again confirmed earlier in the episode, whilst inside the module, as he pointed out that the walls were ceramic, that they could be locked from the outside, and that there were only three of them – nowhere near enough for all of the Category Ones.  And yet – somehow – he still didn’t join the dots.  He may as well have stumbled across a huge gas bill and shrugged!

Colin Maloney was an interesting addition to the cast – instantly dislikeable from the outset, as he made his casual comments of sexism and racism, whilst weaselling around the office.  The statement that Vera could ‘take the heat’ better than him was laughably bad writing, and the extent to which he went, simply to keep a job, was beyond ridiculous – shooting a woman in the leg and chest, before bundling her into a gigantic oven does seem a little bit ‘overkill’ to me.  Added to this his appreciation and excitement over Phil Collins, and you’re looking at a bone fide villain. 

Whilst on the inspection, Vera stumbled across a room filled with the moaning, groaning bodies of the sick.  Like the ‘plague ship’ of the episode before, these poor helpless people had been abandoned, a move justified by Colin as these people “don’t have insurance”.  Much of this episode, in fact, can be seen to be a sly satirical dig at the state of the health system – when the American TV News broadcaster comments that the Prime Minister of Britain has called it a “new age of care and compassion”, it troubles a British viewer that we could quite easily see David Cameron making a similar statement, whilst tearing the NHS to pieces, as the current Government has been doing since coming into power.

The most interesting points in this show, still, are those involving either Oswald Danes or Jilly Kitzinger.  The trouble is that they, too, are becoming as ridiculous as the rest of the acting.  Lauren Ambrose has been brilliant up until now, and the loathing which she clearly feels towards Danes is outstanding – despite her desperation to progress further and further up the corporate ladder, she takes great pleasure in moments that she gets to put the paedophile in his place.  The scenes in the hallway, where Danes has not been granted a dressing room as the other celebrities refuse to be near him was well-thought, and is a reminder to the audience that not everyone in the world has turned into a Danes fanatic.  We must also now think about how much she knows, and how involved she truly is in this ‘miracle’, as she is approached by the mysterious blond-haired man, who informs her that people are watching, and that she is impressing them.

Bill Pullman’s performance this week suffered something of a blip – up until now, he has been a shining light in this dark drudge, and yet this week he became terribly over-the-top.  His speech from the stage was exhilaratingly shot, but was some of the tritest scripting imaginable.  As he paced around on stage, like some twisted televangelist on a mission from God, I couldn’t help but shudder, as the crowd somehow turned to his cause.  Interestingly, on the news broadcast, the tagline scrolling across the street was that Danes would be starring in the Miracle Day Rally, and yet the second mention went to the Vice President and the President.  Somehow, this convicted child rapist and killer has now taken over news broadcasts as the most news-worthy presence.  It lends some reality to the fact that the public were so quickly swayed by Danes, chanting and cheering him on – but further distances the show from any actual reality.

And so, we come to the suggestion that Pficorp are the modern equivalent of Nazis...  Which is interesting, if predictable – I can’t believe anyone hadn’t already clicked as to the purpose of the Modules – but it leaves yet more questions unanswered.  The biggest of which is why?  There’s still no aliens, no sci-fi.  Why is it that Pficorp are bothering to invest so much time and effort into this Miracle?  If they are involved in the Miracle because it will increase their profits, then it’s understandable – albeit unbelievable.  But now that it has been discovered that all that they have been working towards is a series of Final Solution style ovens, to cremate the remains of still-living people, then what is the point?  Why go to so much effort to help whatever is causing the Miracle, only to burn up those that are Category One?  The only explanation I can see so far is that maybe some alien race is interested in the cremated remains of humans, possibly as some form of interstellar cocaine.  If this truly is the explanation, then it’s something of a cop-out, since that’s precisely what CofE came down to – aliens plumbing themselves into children for the drugs released by their prepubescent brains.  But, again, CofE did it so much better.  It was so dark...  So gritty...  So bloody troubling... that this is just a poor man’s copy - and, in the words of Oswald Danes – “This is my revelation!”

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