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Torchwood: Miracle Day, Episode 6, The Middle Men, Recap and Review

Thompson on Hollywood By David Chute | Thompson on Hollywood August 15, 2011 at 4:10AM

In the sixth episode of sci-fi series Torchwood: Miracle Day, writes David Chute, the series turns mystical. “If schemes and conspiracies are being plotted,” says Stuart Owens (Ernie Hudson), an executive at PhiCorp (big pharma personified), “they must be seen only as patterns, waves. Shifts that are either too small or too vast to be perceived. Someone is playing the system right across the planet with infinite grace.”
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Thompson on Hollywood

In the sixth episode of sci-fi series Torchwood: Miracle Day, writes David Chute, the series turns mystical.


“If schemes and conspiracies are being plotted,” says Stuart Owens (Ernie Hudson), an executive at PhiCorp (big pharma personified), “they must be seen only as patterns, waves. Shifts that are either too small or too vast to be perceived. Someone is playing the system right across the planet with infinite grace.”

Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), a formerly immortal Time Agent from the 51st century, nods over this, as he understands it. “The true face of evil,” they decide, “is the system itself.” Deep.

Thompson on Hollywood

Consolidating the gains of Episode 5, “The Categories of Life,” this sixth installment of Miracle Day, “The Middle Men,” written by X-Files vet John Shiban and directed by Guy Ferland, was the show’s tightest and most suspenseful so far -- although apart from a couple of effective rescue sequences it mostly elaborated on themes already established.

Chief among these edgy themes is the strong likelihood that quite a few of the people we know (those officious snots at the DMV?) would be only too happy to go along to get along even with the ultimate horror of a new system of concentration camps equipped with incinerators. “I do not make policy,” says a tame physician when confronted with the truth. A convincing update of the tried and true “only following orders” formula. Way too convincing for comfort, if you ask me.

One new term has been suggested for the cosmic McGuffin the deep background baddies are looking for: The Blessing. No free guesses as to what or who this refers to, as it became crystal clear in Episode 6 that getting their tentacles on Captain Jack is among the conspirators’ main objectives. So we should expect the issue of Jack’s non-human nature to be a hot topic in the weeks ahead.

Where to begin? It was explained, sort of, in the DW episode “Utopia,” that Jack was not immortal, strictly speaking. Instead, he had become “a fixed point in time” due to an influx of energy from a time vortex that was blasted at him by the Doctor’s passionately attached companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper). (More here.) Which brings us to The Face of Boe.

The Face was already five billion of years old when we first met him, in the Doctor Who episode "The End of the World." He is depicted as a desiccated, disembodied giant head with leathery masculine features.

At a somewhat later stage, in the episode "Last of the Time Lords,” Captain Jack seems to be telling us he will eventually so long that, long after his work here on earth is done, he will become The Face of Boe. (As a boy in the Boeshane Peninsula, Jack’s handsome profile image was used on posters to recruit new Time Agents. “I was known,” he says, “as The Face of Boe.”)

“Torchwood” mastermind Russell T Davies has been cagey up to now about nailing down the connection between Jack and Boe. When the subject came up in a 2009 interview, he dodged artfully:

There was that moment where you revealed that Jack would eventually live so long that he'd become the Face of Boe. Was this something you planned all along with the character?

It wasn't exactly planned. I did spend a long time thinking about Jack's immortality, and one day it occurred to me there was another immortal character on the show. It made me laugh. To be honest, on the screen, it's couched in terms that are not absolute gospel. There are these spin-off books and comic books, and every now and then I'll see a script for one where they say definitively that he's the Face of Boe, and I always stop those from being printed. I have my own personal theories, but the moment it became very true or very false, the joke dies.

My hazardous guess is that Davies is going to pull the Face of Boe out of his hat toward the end of Torchwood: Miracle Day. He’s been saving The Face for this special occasion. After all, the primary Boe-like trait attributed to Jack was that while immortal he continued to age, the secret distributed to every person on earth on Miracle Day.
With respect to death, Jack Harkness and the rest of us have swapped characteristics. Jack, now, is what we used to be, and he has become the only mortal man on the planet. That has to count for something.

This article is related to: Genres, Reviews, TV, Sci-fi


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.