WARNING! If you haven’t seen the Torchwood: Miracle Day episode The Categories of Life, this review contains spoilers, so click with care!
Halfway through the series and finally, a shocking ending! Well, at least I was fairly surprised. Perhaps you saw the backyard barbecue of all Category One patients coming a mile away. After all, the foreshadowing was there: Rex pointing out to his camcorder the complete impossibility of a few metal sheds containing the predicted high quantity of “storage units,” the obnoxious-accented camp director Maloney being indifferent to the fact that he’d more or less just tossed Dr. Juarez on the floor and left her to bleed rather than at the very least finding her a bed for an extremely minimal attempt at proper medical care, and of course the oft-repeated concept throughout the episode…
“Category One – there’s no coming back.”
So while the reduction to ashes of Vera Juarez, a bunch of other people, and possibly even Gwen’s dad was an unexpected twist for my easily-amused self, even I could tell that some big bang or other was going to sound at the end of the episode. Upon Vera’s informal induction into the Torchwood team (the ceremony was a fist pump from Jack as he said “Welcome aboard” on a sofa), we had a complete crew of five for the first time since 2008. Someone was most definitely about to die.
But wait – doesn’t the existence of the entire story arc for this season depend on a world where nobody is allowed to kick buckets or buy farms? So what happens when people are burned alive? Do they remain intact but continue to burn until the fire department arrives? Are they reduced to animated ash? Can the remaining pieces of their bodies grow back like an exploded Jack Harkness from Children of Earth? I hope so, because if Arlene Tur has been written out her role as Dr. Juarez, we’ve lost one of a small number of fine performers in this season of substandard acting.
That’s where Miracle Day as a whole, and The Categories of Life in particular, seems to be failing: the acting. This 2011 series seems to be a perfect example of how the actor is only as good as the ensemble. To maintain the audience’s suspension of disbelief, everyone from John Barrowman and Eve Myles right down to the guy playing “News Reporter #2” has to bring their A-Game to the set, and that’s not entirely happening. While the majority of leads were cast well, those with lower spots on the call sheet, like Creepy Maloney the overflow camp dude, Ralph the panicked soldier with him as he gunned down Dr. Juarez, and the girl exclaiming her unhealthy obsession with Oswald Danes on the news, often seemed unrealistic. I feel the same way about Alexa Havins as Esther Drummond; she seems to have this idea that playing Torchwood’s nerdy computer girl, a position once played brilliantly by Naoko Mori as Toshiko Sato, requires her to yank her vocal cords into her nose. Heaven forbid the possibility that REAL geek girls might NOT constantly sound nasally.
A few weeks ago I briefly mentioned that I wasn’t a particularly big fan of Lauren Ambrose as Jilly Kitzinger either, but that may have been too early to call. The writing in her first couple of episodes might have made her appear one-dimensional, but her most recent performances have revealed that there may be a few more layers to her character than what initially met the eye. For now at least, I’m beginning to like her. And I’m very eager to learn more about these “right people” who seem to be keeping such a close eye on her.
“You help me and I promise I will help you to die.”
Overall, The Categories of Life can be summed up as follows: excellent writing/story, substandard acting. But this week’s continuation of the Oswald Danes subplot is just the opposite. Bill Pullman, John Barrowman, and the aforementioned Ambrose all performed at the top of their game, which was mostly to be expected, but the story they were glued into wasn’t especially believable.
It would be one thing if throughout the series we saw Oswald slowly unlocking the gate leading to superstardom, but what we got this week was a murderous pedophile walking onto a stage, deservingly being heckled so much we were just seconds away from seeing tomatoes fly onto the stage, hurling out a two minute speech off the top of his head, and turning the entire crowd in his favor, cheering for him and chanting his name. I hope Russell T. Davies and his writer’s room can forgive me for being one of the all-humans-in-the-world who wouldn’t be so quickly and easily duped, even if we were frightened and anxious about not being able to die and stuff.
There we are then – the series halfway point. Just think, in a mere five weeks we’ll not only have seen three new episodes of Doctor Who, we’ll know everything there is to know about who’s behind Phicorp and the Miracle, and we’ll have discovered whether or not people will be able to start dying again. The question is whether the buildup to the conclusion can be executed better than the so-so introductory half of Torchwood’s fourth outing.
We can only find out by continuing to watch!