The Middle Men
It’s a tighter, more focused episode for Torchwood this week, once again in the scripting hands of X Files veteran John Shiban. Having revealed the new world order’s Holocaust re-enactment plans last week, the team turn this week to action and how best to deal with the new death camps. The only other story strand this time is Jack’s continuing investigation of Phicorp, which means that there’s no room for Oswald Danes or Jilly Kitzinger this week.
But it’s fair to say that there’s enough going on here for that to have little effect; indeed, my other half Barry didn’t even notice their absence, only asking some while after watching if we’d seen Oswald or Jilly this week.
As some consolation for the absence of everyone’s favourite child murderer and PR shark, however, we did get another of those rather good one episode guest shots. This week it was Ernie Hudson, exhibiting considerably more charisma than he did as ‘the forgotten Ghostbuster’ Winston Zeddmore (Winston does actually get the last line in Ghostbusters, yet no one mentions him in the same breath as Venkman, Spengler and Stantz). Hudson was convincingly commanding (and a little sleazy) as adulterous Phicorp chief Stuart Owens; the part effectively required him to appear in only two scenes, but he made an impression.
As did Jack’s sting operation on him, achieved by opening the eyes of his starstruck mistress and secretary Janet. John Barrowman was at his campest here; as he used his insider knowledge of Stuart and Janet’s affair to suss what drink Janet would like in her glass, he offered her the option of getting back at her duplicitous lover, “or we could sit here all night drinking appletinis and discussing men”. Later, he once again displayed his coat’s uncanny ability to woo cute service staff, suggesting to a camp young coat check boy that, “maybe the three of us should get together… you, me and the coat”. Damn. I’ve got two military greatcoats, but I have to say, they’ve never been helpful in the way that Jack’s seems to be. Perhaps he’s sprayed it with alien pheromones…
Fortunately he wasn’t wearing it when he crossed to Stuart and Mrs Owens’ table to put his plan into action – perhaps the coat check boy was sniffing it in the cloakroom. Ably dispatching Mrs Owens in short order by dropping her husband right in it with news of his affair, Jack got to sit down and have a good old chinwag with the bloke who he thought, logically enough, could give him all the answers. But John Shiban used to write for The X Files, and he knows the tricks – you only provide answers if they’re going to lead to more questions. Thankfully Miracle Day only has a ten episode run; after nine seasons’ worth of this in The X Files, it had grown more than a little tiresome.
So Jack’s meeting with Stuart, played as a kind of conspiracy version of My Dinner with Andre, led us to the knowledge that he was “just the middle man”. So Phicorp are only a part of the rotating triangle people’s plan, and it’s much bigger than that. Stuart knew nothing of the “specific geography” mentioned by ‘the Gentleman’ in Episode 4, but he was earlier seen to send a Phicorp operative to investigate some mysterious land purchases in Shanghai. Said operative duly wandered around whichever part of LA they’d dressed up with neon to resemble Shanghai, before peering through a fence and seeing something that apparently motivated him to jump off a very high building in some kind of trance. He seemed to be an early adopter of a new trend known as the ’45 Club’ – people jumping from 45th floors in the attempt to get themselves as nearly dead as is currently possible.
Stuart passed this information on to Jack, along with confirming that this had been in the works for a very long time, “at least since 1990”, and dropping hints about something called “the blessing”. As it seems unlikely that the Catholic Church are behind it all, who knows what this could mean? Certainly not Jack, who decided the best approach to finding out would be to Google it.
With the investigation and exposition falling to Jack again this week, the rest of the team filled us in with some actual action. Rex and Esther were still trapped in the San Pedro overflow camp, under lockdown in the aftermath of Vera’s ‘murder’. And Gwen and Rhys were still trying to get Gwen’s dad out of the Welsh facility before they had to do so in an urn.
With the Holocaust analogy presented so starkly in last week’s episode, comparatively little time was spent dwelling on it this week. We did get an impassioned, and rather well-written, exchange between Gwen and Dr Patel, a medical functionary at the camp portrayed by Hollyoaks’ Lena Kaur. Dr Patel (presumably no coincidence that she was non-white) was yet another ‘middle man’, her “just following orders” philosophy deliberately reminiscent of the defences at the Nuremberg trials. A wordless exchange between Gwen and an obviously conscience-stricken cleaning lady helping her escape was a nice touch, their looks conveying far more of the staff’s moral dilemmas and courage in resistance than any amount of dialogue.
Meanwhile in California, Rex was similarly moved by righteous anger, though Mekhi Phifer’s conveyance of this was rather more overplayed than Eve Myles. Staring into his little camera, he angrily disavowed his loyalty to the CIA in favour of Torchwood – finally. Unfortunately for him, he fell foul of the increasingly skittish Colin Maloney (Marc Vann again superbly loathsome this week). Colin completes the triumvirate of ‘middle men’ to which the episode title refers, and he got a really nasty bit of business in which he decided to downgrade Rex to Category 1 by means of sticking a pen in his still open chest wound – a sequence that actually made me wince.
Luckily for Rex, the redoubtable Esther was on hand to rescue him by killing Colin as much as she could. Which turned out not to be enough, as he re-enacted every Friday the 13th movie’s cliché of grabbing her ankle in a shock moment to reveal that he wasn’t as ‘dead’ as he looked. He hadn’t counted on his aide shooting him though – Fred Koehler did well as little Ralph finally found some balls. Nice move shooting your own boss (and perhaps boyfriend – anyone else get that vibe from the two of them?).
Gwen and Rhys had slightly less trouble escaping from, and somewhat improbably actually blowing up, the Welsh camp. Nevertheless, it made for a cool action movie image as Gwen zoomed away from the exploding hangars on a motorbike, and Rhys charged the gate in an army truck that the sentries seemed unfathomably unable to shoot at with any accuracy. A bit of honest action was a nice counterpoint to all the exposition and moral angst, though it did feel that the tone was veering wildly from ‘dark examination of humanity’s depths’ to ‘let’s blow shit up’.
Finally returning to LA – do these people never get jet lag? – Gwen was somewhat disturbed that this week’s cliffhanger involved the rotating triangle people having hacked into the magic contact lenses to inform her that they had captured her entire family, and if she wanted to see them again, she’d have to bring them Jack.
So Jack’s still instrumental in all this, and as yet we don’t know how. We don’t even know yet (it’s episode 6, remember) whether the rotating triangle people are aliens or some dark conspiracy of humans – though it’s worth remembering the exchange in episode 2 about this involving “no technology on Earth”. Also, we’ve refreshingly seen no more gratuitous sex since episode 3, though I wonder how long that can last. Next week, perhaps more answers. Or more shagging. But hopefully, a definite return for Oswald and Jilly – I would miss them if they were absent for two episodes in a row.