Friday, 5 August 2011

Torchwood Series 4 Episode 4 - "Escape to L.A."

And so Torchwood continues, ludicrously going where no TV show has ever gone before – for good reason.  Actually, that’s possibly a little harsh.  There was a feel to this week’s episode of the original wonder and magnificence of the show, before it was uprooted.  The issue is that it has been uprooted.

I can’t help feeling that if this were still being made solely by a British company, but recorded in America, then this would have been a much more engaging affair.  Instead, there is the necessity to add the Americans into the team – and these two are such flaccid, one-dimensional Yanks that it frustrates and grates.

The scene involving Esther and her sister was nice – and the call to social services really struck me as a wonderfully acted scene.  Indeed, when she was being all Mission Impossible in the van, sending messages and hacking phone calls, the scene was beautifully undercut by the occasional tear rolling down her beautiful, perfect American face.  But all in all, so far her character hasn’t been overly engaging.  Her foolishness leading to the team’s capture was frustrating, as she had promised not to allow her feelings get in her way.  Whilst a character flaw such as this is admirable, it’s also beyond belief that, with the fate of the world in her hands, she would slip up quite so hugely.

Alas, the same cannot be said for Mekhi Pfifer’s Rex, who continues to be so unlikeable that I was cheering for him to drop down on the stairs, tearing his wound open and pumping a never-ending stream of blood down all 33 flights of stairs.  Of course, this is again me being too judgemental, but the man is simply dreadful.  As I mentioned last week, much of this is due to poor dialogue, which simply paints him as an inconsiderate, misogynistic, blackmailing pig.  His phone call to Dr Juarez – who incidentally continues to shine – make my skin crawl, more than when we had to endure watching a convicted paedophile manhandling a baby – and that’s saying something.

The scenes with Rex’s father should have been sad. Moving.  Tragic.  Instead they were easy to shrug off as ‘serves him right’, which is further proof of where this story is going so wrong.  Also, if he’s in so much pain – why didn’t he simply take the drugs from his father anyway?  The lack of compassion that either character showed was undermined again by this vagueness and failure to commit.

Where Torchwood operated best was as an ensemble piece, where, despite his own opinions, John Barrowman was not the main star.  Each character added something, from Owen’s gruff macho attitude and wide-boy accent, to Toshiko’s mild-mannered, heartfelt puppy dog eyes – and those scenes involving the full team were lovely, well-acted by a group of people who clearly enjoyed working together.  Instead, this has been supplanted into America, with two extras from CSI, NCIS, The X Files, or indeed any TV show about the police or CIA taking the place of our beloved Ianto, Tosh and Owen.

Eve Myles’ American accent has to have been the lowest point of the show – it was utterly unnecessary, cringe-worthy and, to be frank, embarrassing.  Whilst I praised the reintroduction of the contact lenses from Children of Earth last week, I am now hugely bored by them.  To suddenly discover that, in addition to the camera and text messaging services, they can alter the retina of the person wearing them is to stretch our best intentions as viewers.   When she turns to Jack, and therefore the audience, saying “I didn’t think that was going to work”, we can’t help but feel disappointed – even the cast aren’t confident in what they’re doing!  

What is quite pleasing is that, up to now, Barrowman has taken a back seat through all of this.  Usually, his ego explodes in every frame of the show – but for this season, he seems somewhat restrained.  And the insinuation that the miracle has something to do with him, and his past actions, is intriguing – remember, he was one of those originally responsible for sending children to the 456 in CofE, allowing them to be used as a drug supply.  Captain Jack Harkness is not a nice person – he never has been.  He uses people, has casual sex at the drop of a hat, makes crude gay jokes as often as possible, and has had a huge amount of dodgy dealings in the past – and this is what makes him such an interesting character.  Not his smuttiness, but the darkness inherent in a wheeler-dealer from the 51st century.  The character really had the chance to shine in CofE, where he dealt with the repercussions of his earlier actions, and sacrificed his own grandchild to save all of humanity.  Now, he has nothing to give, so it leaves me wondering what will be expected of him.

Bill Pullman continues to shine in this new series – although I’m getting a little tired of watching him obsess over food.  The sequence in which he gloried in opening bottle after bottle of soda, sniffing towels and stroking furnishings, is a little ridiculous.  But that said, one gets the impression that Pullman is revelling in the preposterous nature of the work he’s undertaken.  The character of Oswald Danes is disgusting and intriguing in equal measure – we can’t help but watch, and stare, as he becomes the ‘voice of the people’, and revels in the messianic exposition as he wanders the corridors of a ‘plague ship’, shaking hands with the scabby and the wheezing, the old and infirm and the whinging.  As he reaches out and touches these people, it brings back the memory of Jilly Kitzinger’s confession of disgust at the thought of Danes’ hands.

Which brings me nicely onto Lauren Ambrose as Kitzinger.  What is refreshing is that we now understand that she is, simply, an opportunist.  She is taking full advantage of the situation, but doesn’t seem at all responsible for it – and that is good.  For the last three weeks, I worried that this fabulous actress, with her vampy lipstick, flowing red locks and killer dress sense would turn out to be ‘in on it’, which would ruin my appreciation for her performance.  But to find out that she’s simply going along for the ride – that she knows less about her mysterious employers than Danes – is an elegant touch to add to the mystery.  No doubt she’ll be on our heroes’ side by the end of the series, repenting all of that dreadful work that she did for Pficorp. 

The use of Rhys, back home in Britain, seems a little lack-lustre, and it is a terrible shame that Kai Owens, who was outstanding in CofE has taken a back seat in this new series, being bumped down the credits as well.  His performance as the ‘stay at home Dad’ are witty and well-played, and his little asides to baby Anwen are fantastic.  Hopefully, with the next episode clearly having some scenes set in good old Blighty as Rhys races to save Gwen’s father, he’ll have more to work with, and we’ll get to see him shine as he so deserves.

What was enjoyable about the latest episode was that it did not rely too heavily on flashy set pieces – whilst there were several improbable sections, involving acquiring the palm print, retina scan and voice code for a high security door, much of the episode passed along nicely.  The introduction of the “Dead is Dead” slogan was wonderfully handled, and utterly believable – it is easy to imagine both left and right-wing parties coming to the same conclusions and drafting similar proposals in the real world.  It was therefore quite a shame that this little plot sideline was written off so quickly.  Mind you, it led to me turning to my partner, who said “That’s a horrible way to die”, and responding with “It’s an even worse way to live!”

The sequences with the assassin, showing remorse that in a world without death he is no longer able to commit the crime which apparently makes him tick was well performed, but all a bit too clichéd, relying on the ‘I’ll tell you everything before I kill you’ rule of thumb that has kept James Bond in the cinemas for forty years or more.  The repetition of his ‘dying’ words, before he was shot in the throat, to the Tea Party politician on the intercom in her car was a slick touch, but didn’t tell us anymore than we’d already learnt from the sunglass-wearing hitman.

The ‘next time’ trailer struck me as being very reminiscent of the final instalment of CofE, with Gwen speaking directly to camera.  The set pieces from the next episode look thrilling and innovative – although that doesn’t mean all that much, as the same could have been said of every episode of this new series.  Whilst the show seems to be getting back on track, episode by episode, it still seems a frankly shallow exercise, and not even the cast seem sure of what the show is heading towards. 

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