Torchwood: Miracle Day episode 2 review: Rendition

There's lots of character work in Torchwood: Miracle Day's second episode. But the global threat is never far away...

This review contains spoilers.

2. Rendition

Certain things needed to happen in Torchwood: Miracle Day to help get the narrative moving. This second episode? It gets through a reasonable amount of business with this in mind, and serves up another entertaining hour as it does so.

It picks up after the opener, with Jack and Gwen taken by CIA agent Rex Matheson, and pretty much dragged onto a plane. In the process, Gwen is separated from her husband and child, and Rex Matheson comes across as a complete bastard. Full credit to Eve Myles, too: not for the only time this week, her acting is quite, quite brilliant.

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What the episode does, by the time it gets to its conclusion, is twist the relationship between the opposing sides who take their seats on that plane. Jack, Gwen and Rex spend most of the hour on it, and they’re joined by Dollhouse alumni Dichen Lachman, as Lyn. And, at first, it’s Rex and Lyn versus Jack and Gwen.

But over the course of the journey, assisted by events happening on the ground in the US, that mechanic begins to alter. The edges hardly come off Rex, but when the quartet touch down in America, it’s fairly obvious fairly quickly to him that he has to change sides. He still gets to spend the episode smacking out the occasional one liner (and how good is Mekhi Phifer at doing that?), but for all his veneer of unpleasantness, Matheson is nobody’s fool. That much is clear.

Pulling the strings, then, is Wayne Knight, and it’s great to see him on our screens. The nerd in me would have love to have seen him channelling a little more Dennis Nedry, but as the cold as steel CIA boss, he’s clearly not a character to be meddled with. And it’s Alexa Havins’ Esther who finds that out the most.

Esther is another character who has to change her position this week. At first, she’s come across as a little two dimensional, an intelligent yet straightforward soul who’s keen to impress. But Havins invests plenty in her character, and when Esther realises that the CIA is turning on her, too, she’s quick to react.

Thinking about it, right now, Esther is the most clean-cut character in the show. We’d wager that might not be the case come the end of episode ten.

Next on the list is Oswald Danes. When we were introduced to him last week, it was utterly clear that he was the lowest of the low, and a thoroughly nasty piece of work. It was a point that was hammered home well. This week, though, Torchwood: Miracle Day begins to play with the changing media perception of him.

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This is done, first and foremost, through a television interview, where we’re asked to take a leap of faith and believe that Danes apologising for his crimes and sobbing a bit, live on air, is enough to start turning some people to his side.

Given the nature of his crimes, that’s a big ask, I thought. But it’s a catalyst for the entry of Lauren Ambrose as Jilly Kitzinger, and this is where things started to change. Kitzinger sees the media potential of Danes (she’s a “talent spotter”, she tells us), and it’s going to be interesting as she presumably goes about making him a celebrity.

I should point out, as a matter of courtesy, that Lauren Ambrose is awesome. But you already knew that.

All of this character work – and there’s lots of it – is efficiently handled, even if it’s hardly hitting dramatic highs. Doris Egan’s script crackles along, and while the sequence where Gwen tries to save Jack on the plane seems to outstay its welcome a bit (although it does enhance the idea that Captain Jack is vulnerable, aided by some terrific work from John Barrowman), the episode does get through a lot of that aforementioned business.

Similar observations to last week still apply. Miracle Day is making the most of having a longer run than Children Of Earth, and by virtue of that, and the more ambitious store, it’s taking longer to put things into place. It’s still moving along at some pace, mind, with some punchy dialogue, too.

I couldn’t help noticing, as an aside, that a lot of the technology appears to have been zapped in from 90s movies, with e-mails that instantly pop up all graphically refined on screen, and phone screens that show pictures of spinning triangles. Throw in the little beepy noises that everything computer-y makes, and you’ve got a good set of the technological conventions that have fuelled blockbuster movies for a good 20 years.

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Anyway, the highlight of the episode for me? I loved the chat on the plane between Gwen and Jack, with the former dealing with her family being ripped away from her, and clearly torn between blaming Jack, and being delighted to see him. Their conversation, right near the start, was one of the episode’s quietest moments, but basically put the two stars who we keep coming back to Torchwood to see, talking about Torchwood-y stuff.

Plus, I really liked Dichen Lachman. She was one of the highlights of Dollhouse, and she’s, for me, the most menacing character we’ve met in the show so far, Danes included. The effects work at the end, with her neck broken, didn’t come off too badly, either, and I hope that Miracle Day keeps finding work for her. She’s good at this.

Going forward, we got a hint at the answer to the bigger question of what exactly is causing everyone in the world not to die, when Captain Jack threw the idea of morphic fields into the pot. I do like the idea of a Groundhog Day approach, though, where the phenomenon is never really explained, but I suspect I’m in the minority here. Expect more on this soon.

Overall? This was a tidy episode, although not a massively exciting one. It’s still keeping interest levels high enough, to be fair, and there’s a real sense of building up to something. And from the look of the trailer to episode three, we’re going to see the world of Oswald Danes cross with Torchwood for the first time. That’s going to be interesting…

Read our review of episode one, The New World, here.

Torchwood: Miracle Day airs on BBC1, Thursdays at 9:00pm.

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Read more about Torchwood: Miracle Day here.

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