The Blood Line
So, that’s that then. All those answers we’d been working towards for the past 9 episodes, in the end, boiled down to “What is it?” “I don’t know.” As our heroes finally reached the planet straddling pink lined cleft that was The Blessing (already likened elsewhere to a ‘planetary vagina’), you couldn’t help feeling a real sense of anticlimax. Not since the end of Lost have I felt an ending to be so unsatisfactory, though at least with Lost we had six years of involvement with likeable characters to sew up, making up for the lack of resolution to the actual mysteries.
Not that this should be particularly surprising. As I’ve mentioned before, Russell T Davies seems to have a real problem with writing satisfactory endings. It’s the hallmark of a writer who cut his teeth working on neverending soap operas, I suppose; he does characters, dialogue and ongoing plotting very well, but when it comes to wrapping things up, he’s more often than not written himself into a corner. Hence the frequent ‘Davies ex machina’ endings to various Doctor Who seasons, in which, basically, magic is used to extricate our heroes from the insoluble; or even the endings to both series of Queer as Folk – one ends with numerous unresolved storylines, the other with the heroes inexplicably jetting off to the US in a flying Jeep.
It’s also, perhaps, another indicator of how much this series of Torchwood has tried to be like The X Files, a series not renowned for its episodes’ satisfying resolutions. “I know it probably doesn’t have the sense of closure you’re looking for,”says a weary Dana Scully to author Jose Chung in Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’, “but it has more than some of our other cases.” Even by season 3, The X Files had established this trope well enough to be self-referentially mocking about it; Torchwood, sadly, does not have that luxury, and as a result, you’re just left gaping at the screen, saying “But… but…”
To be fair, the episode did entertain if not actually thrill. There was some good character stuff, hardly surprising in a script co-written by Russell T Davies and Jane Espenson; the subplot of Gwen making peace with her dad’s inevitable death was very sensitively handled, and a well-played scene between John Barrowman and Bill Pullman gave real insight into the characters of Captain Jack and Oswald Danes. That scene, in which Jack expressed his admiration for how magnificent humanity would become in the future then gave Oswald a Total Perspective Vortex moment by showing him how small he’d made his life, also served to defuse one of the show’s very real contradictions. If Jack is from the future, surely everything’s bound to turn out ok; after all, he’s seen it. ‘Borrowing’ from 1976 Doctor Who story Pyramids of Mars, the script then has Jack explain that, “the future can be changed. It’s being written right now.” As good an explanation of the paradox as we could hope for, and certainly better than many of the other ‘explanations’ we got this week.
Indeed, nods to Doctor Who were all over the place this week. Perhaps recognising that, given Torchwood is set in the Whoniverse, fanboys would immediately rush to the internet to query how come The Blessing hasn’t intersected with all those other things we know to be lurking beneath the Earth, Russell had Captain Jack specifically mention both the Silurians and the Racnoss as he speculated on what The Blessing could be. A nice moment, to be sure, though some concrete explanation of what it was rather than sub-X Files waffle would have been nicer. Later, Jack referred to the Blessing sites having been sealed up by UNIT; that was another nice nod. Less nice was an unwelcome return of what Russell presumably believes to be much-loved catchphrases from his time on Who. As Rex is shot, Jack gets a chance to annoy like Tennant by saying, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry”. Followed immediately, as Rex wakes up, by Russell’s default season ending line – “What? What? WHAT?” I think I could have lived without hearing that one again.
But I could have lived with some credible resolution to the plot(s). Ok, so, The Families were trying to gain control of the world by using The Blessing to control when people live or die at their whim. All right, I’ll buy that. Except that, given the century spanning conspiracy we’ve already seen and the pseudo religious fanaticism displayed by The Families’ many catspaws in positions of power, they basically already do control the world. Do they just want more publicity about it? Also, if this is “phase one”, or a “trial run” as Mormon-missionary guy explains to Jilly later, just what are they planning for an encore? All right, I’ll grant you that this may be a teaser for a subplot in a later series (which may not be entirely welcome given the general reception of this one), but having massively shaken up a world they effectively already control and seemingly virtually own, it’s hard to see what more The Families are hoping for. After all, once you’ve got immortality, everything else falls into place, given time; what else could you need?
Then there’s the numerous contradictions implicit in the torrents of exposition we were given to explain the nature of The Blessing itself. For a start, there’s the surprisingly laborious means by which our heroes locate it. It’s a neat idea that Jack’s blood rolls towards it (though this presumably means that it has an inherent desire to return humanity to its normal state, despite Jack’s assertion that it’s trying to be kind by granting everyone immortality). But having established that the direction in which the blood rolls must point to The Blessing’s location, why on earth do our heroes than decide the best way to find it is simply to walk in that direction until they encounter something weird? These are supposedly professional intelligence agents (well, Rex keeps telling us that he is, anyway). Have they never heard of triangulation? Simply try the same thing in a different building, plot the two blood rolling directions until they intersect on the map, and hey presto, you’ve got the exact location. Perhaps less dramatically weighty than Gwen’s encounter with the improbably English-fluent old Chinese lady, but so obvious that it made our heroes look a bit silly.
As The Mother and her Buenos Aires counterpart The Cousin (does Russell have something against families in general, or did he just think such cryptic monickers were apropos of the recurring ‘homage’ to The X Files?) defused the tension with their mountains of inconsistent exposition, it became hard to care what was happening. Nonetheless, it became apparent that The Blessing had always been under the Earth (“the most terrestrial threat we’ve ever faced”, Gwen noted sagely), and via the scientifically dubious means of morphic fields had always controlled humanity’s average lifespan. OK, despite the New Age bollocks of morphic fields, I can buy into that within the rules the show has established for itself. But even here, it didn’t have any consistent logic. Given that The Blessing apparently controls the entire population’s lifespans rather than specific individuals, how were The Families planning to achieve the targeted control the Mother referred to? And leaving aside the question of how, despite previous assertions that this was impossible, it used Jack’s blood as a template for immortality, why did The Blessing’s change to humanity affect just him in completely the opposite way, and why was this reversed when humanity became mortal again? No explanations were offered, and by the time it became clear that Rex had caught immortality himself, it was as if Russell had just thrown in the towel as far as contradictions of the show’s internal logic were concerned, and fallen back on “What? What? WHAT?” Let’s be clear about this; I can suspend disbelief in any which way a sci fi or fantasy show demands, providing it’s consistent with the internal logic the show has established for itself. Lost cheated somewhat here by never actually explaining the rules of its universe, but Torchwood clearly has, and retconning them without a damn well-explained reason totally takes the viewer out of the drama.
There was some drama and thrills, but even these were not particularly well-handled. The idea that Rex had used his immortality to absorb all of Jack’s blood, thereby becoming a walking weapon, was a good one (and nicely signalled by Rex’s twinges throughout the episode, as The Blessing tried to drag his new blood towards it). Having established this trump card for our heroes, it was also dramatically rather good that the only way to return humanity to normal was for both Rex and Jack to sacrifice themselves by spewing all their blood towards The Blessing simultaneously. The fact that both were willing to do so (even after Jack’s recent assertion that he still enjoys living and will fight to carry on) was an excellent moment. Unfortunately, it was then totally undermined by the fact that, having made the heroic sacrifice, both were not just ok, but better than ok – immortal, in fact. The hard-hitting, no compromise approach at the end of Children of Earth was totally lacking here; it’s as though, in that show, Jack’s grandson appeared to die but was then shown to be fine. Drama that, in fact, totally pulls its punches.
And then there was Oswald. Bill Pullman was more naturalistic than usual here, but there was no revelation as to why exactly he’d been made out to be so important all the way through the serial’s run. I don’t mind a bit of misdirection, and the dialogue even spelled out earlier how insignificant he really was. But when The Mother dismissively told him that he was an “irrelevant by-product” of The Miracle, again I felt somewhat cheated. After all, if you’re going to have one of your story’s central characters be a murdering paedophile, there’s usually some kind of plot point reason for it, and you’d be expecting to see that at the story’s resolution. What we got here felt, again, like The X Files – and not even good X Files, but the terrible recent movie I Want to Believe, in which Billy Connolly’s psychic priest was, for dramatically spurious reasons, a convicted paedophile. It served no real story purpose there, and neither does it here; in fact it makes one feel a little queasy at having invested so much time in such a nasty character for no particular reason.
Oswald’s ‘heroic’ sacrifice, blowing up himself, The Mother and the pit of The Blessing, was not at all unexpected either. It felt dramatically pat that the character had been on a path of redemption all along, so kudos to whichever writer – my money’s on Jane Espenson – managed to make his ’noble gesture’ consistent with his character, as he looked forward to Hell because “that’s where all the bad little girls go”. So a mixed moment there – I always expected something like that to happen at the end, but I didn’t expect that they’d manage to keep Oswald consistently vile even up to his death. It’s one of the episode’s nicer touches that it can make you muse on how bad people may do the best of things for the worst of reasons.
Also dying this week was John De Lancie’s CIA boss Shapiro, which was a shame; if we must have another season, I would have liked him to have been in it. It wasn’t a particularly well-written part, but De Lancie seized on the character handles he was given to charismatically portray a believable and likeable boss figure in (inevitably) the Walter Skinner style. Great death line too; now that I’ve heard Q out of Star Trek say “oh fuck”, my life seems complete. It also seemed consistent with the (actually fairly believable) earlier portrayal of the CIA as some kind of CTU-like department of incompetents who would not only not spot an incredibly shifty mole, but also completely miss that she’d somehow managed to hide an incredibly powerful bomb in the back of a filing cabinet. Sherlock Holmes these guys aren’t, but they’ve been enjoyable in the same way that Jack Bauer’s compatriots were. And at least shifty mole Charlotte eventually got her comeuppance, through the incredibly contrived last minute data transfer to Rex’s phone (it even zoomed in on her name without him having to touch a thing, as though the phone itself was trying desperately hard to increase the tension).
Actually, Esther’s funeral was like some kind of reunion for all the major characters who’d survived. We saw Esther’s sister, who had rather implausibly been given back custody of her children; but it was a measure of how little I cared about that character’s unnecessary subplot that it took me a few moments to even remember who she was. And Rhys was there too, in LA for the first time – storywise anyway. Contrary to my theories last week, I’ve been told that, barring the exterior shots, all the Welsh material was actually filmed in LA too; so Gwen’s frequent and increasingly irritating phone calls home presumably weren’t charged at international rate. Still, more kudos to the production team for making the sets and costumes convincing enough that I actually believed those interiors were in Wales, a feat not many US TV productions would pull off given the depictions of the UK I’ve seen in the past.
I’ve been quite harsh on this episode, harsher in fact than I have on any of the others despite their perceived flaws. That’s simply because, with this being the end of the story, I can no longer live in hope that the flaws will be explained or ironed out later on. Or perhaps I can; the fact that Russell has left story plots hanging and his main villains uncaught and unpunished presumably means that he, or network co-producer Starz, is hoping for another season. Unfortunately, given this season’s lukewarm reception, I’d be surprised if that happened. That’s actually sort of a shame, because despite the numerous flaws in Miracle Day, it’s never been less than entertaining – for me at least. Despite all the holes I’ve picked in this last episode, even that was entertaining even though simultaneously disappointing; though again, I think Russell had written himself into a corner that was impossible to get out of. But it’s worth remembering that many of us weren’t too impressed with Torchwood’s first season either. After that, though, it gradually realised its potential, and possibly could again. Even with a multitude of flaws, there was much to like here, and I’ll post a short review of the series as a whole at some point. For now, though, unfortunately the best I can say is that this finale entertained without actually satisfying.