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Torchwood: Miracle Day, Episode 7, “Immortal Sins,” Recap and Review: Tightly Plotted, Romantic

by David Chute
August 20, 2011 5:59 AM
13 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood

Animatronic aliens hit Torchwood: Miracle Day, reports critic David Chute:


After episode seven, no one will be able to argue any longer that Miracle Day “isn’t Torchwood” -- not without revealing themselves to be terminally full of shit. There’s even a small and memorably nasty animatronic alien on display, which is supposedly an iron clad indication or orthodoxy – although, thankfully MD seems to be stopping far short of pinning the underlying global health care conspiracy on aliens. Resorting to that creaky SF equivalent of a deus ex machina would be an act of desperation unworthy of a creator and showrunner as cool as Russell T Davies.
“Immortal Sins” is the most tightly plotted T:MD episode so far, and the most romantic. Its centerpiece is a beautifully staged time travel flashback to New York’s mobbed-up Little Italy circa 1927 – it’s Once Upon a Time in America with gay sex and Arthur C. Clarke references. It’s also a horrorshow: Captain Jack’s pre-Miracle unkillability becomes a bloody carnival act, with Catholic stigmata undertones, as he is chained up to be slaughtered and resurrected repeatedly in an Eastside tenement basement. (“Story of my life,” he says, “in a slightly different context.)

In this scene the words “the blessing” are associated with the image of a jarful of Jacks’ blood. Not an accident, presumably.

The present-day action of this episode is driven by Gwen, abducting Jack at gunpoint on the orders of the miscreants (as yet unidentified) who have imprisoned her family. But the heart of it is the flashback, which is a self-contained classic Torchwood adventure for Jack Harkness, Time Agent, saving mankind from an unthinkable alternate future in which the Nazis win WW2. (The perpetrators “create chaos and then feed on it,” he explains.)

Despite the world-saving storyline, the most important thing you can say about the flashback is that it’s a love story. We are never told exactly where Jack was coming from, where he was in subjective spacetime before he used his portable Vortex Manipulator to hop to Ellis Island in the 1920s to meet Angelo Colasanto (Daniele Favilli), a recent immigrant on the fringes of the Black Hand. (Colasanto could hop a ferry to Atlantic City and walk into the middle of Boardwalk Empire and feel right at home.) This may well have happened hundreds of years ago form Jack’s point of view – which would help to account for his stunned response to the present-day reunion promised in the episode’s final line.

That a cross-time romance could turn out to be the key to entire mystery is echt Torchwood. The harrowing events of the last couple of weeks on T:MD faded so far into the background while I was watching this episode that, in spite of its intensity, “Immortal Sins” felt like an interlude, a vacation in the sepia-tinted, lamp-lit past. It’s a nice touch that Rex’s video of Vera’s death, replayed endlessly on YouTube, has transformed her into a martyr, an icon whose sacrifice brings to a temporary halt the incinerations in the overflow camps. It’s also cool that The Doctor has finally been mentioned -- and while The Face of Boe has not been mentioned, yet, Jack does explain to Angelo that “time itself changed me into a fixed point,” so we’re not ready to abandon our rash predictions quite yet.


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More: Reviews, TV

13 Comments

  • DavidC | August 23, 2011 5:34 AMReply

    The "Torchwood charm" is John Barrowman, pretty much. Not a great actor but certainly a star. This episode swings from intrigue to romance to horror of SF, a seeming betrayal, a reconciliation, a return from the dead. How can you demand more from an hour of entertainment than this?

    As I'm about the plug in my screener of episode 8, I'm wondering: What will Angelo look like when he reappears? My assumption is that he'll be old. That's what we're being encouraged to assume...

  • Chuck | August 23, 2011 3:25 AMReply

    Romantic? The man he loved killed him, handed him over to be tortured and then wanted him to take him back? How the hell is that romance?

    Plus the time setting is all wrong. Jack never knew he was a fixed point in time until he met the Dr. at the end of season 1. Plus his Vortex Manipulator is broken, has been since he landed on Earth and never got fixed.

    How can anyone forgive Gwen for handing Jack over to the bad guys? How about the fact that she feels she's superior because everyone else died and she didnt'?? How can anyone like her?

  • artvandalay | August 23, 2011 1:03 AMReply

    Ditto w/ Icerose's comments. Found the pacing of this episode to be all wron; the intimacy scenes to be too stretched out to which they became tedious, while other interesting plot points weren't given their due. This might have fit better within the scheme of the whole season if the flashback sequences had stretched over two episodes and some better continuity could have been maintained with the other characters; namely Danes, Esther, and Rex. Dane was non-existent and the others felt like they were shoe-horned into the episode. For me this subjugated any "classic torchwood" feel that was introduced. While I loved the inclusion of the Doctor, this episode felt rather disjointed with respect to the sum total of things thus far. Introducing Angelo out of left field doesn't seem to provide the effect they might have been going for.

  • DavidC | August 22, 2011 9:08 AMReply

    A Facebook commenter suggests that Jack "met Italian Guy during his first trip through Earth's history. He was subsequently buried alive for thousands of years before coming to the point where we are now. So it's probably understandable that the connection slipped his mind."

  • Mark | August 22, 2011 8:58 AMReply

    David Chute has obviously never seen any of RTD's Doctor Who episodes. He dispensed at least one deus ex machina for every season he worked on.

  • icerose | August 22, 2011 6:34 AMReply

    well i guess i must be "terminally full of shit" although i am trying to work out exactly what that means.The only definition i can find that kinds of fits the analogy is "Of, at, relating to, or forming a limit, boundary, extremity, or end."
    So having said that -yes it was CJ and Gwen centric and we had a bit of CJ in a sexual encounter but from the perspective of wit,dialogue,acting and charactor interaction it does not live up to the original.We do have a lot of repetition in themes,plot devices etc but it lacks the innovation and a sense that this is actually exciting.The ending was pathetic and lacked credibility for what preports to be a serious drama.Still missing that Torchwood charm.

  • DavidC | August 22, 2011 4:10 AMReply

    Seen them all, actually. It depends on the terms of the story you've set up whether a given development feels like a DEM of not. DW has a lot of past storytelling to draw up; if the drawing is done elegently enough, and with relish, I'm there.

  • Slowman | August 21, 2011 10:06 AMReply

    What are YOU talking about, Mark C.?

    Jack went straight from the year 200,100 to 1869 after he became immortal in nothing but a white t-shirt and a black leather trouser/waist coat combo. There was no way for him to get another World War Two coat until World War Two happened again. So either Russel T. Davies has made one hell of a fudge up with the established continuity, or he's attempting to be clever. Sadly, my money is on the former. But I hope I am wrong.

  • David Chute | August 21, 2011 7:45 AMReply

    Jack's stunned reaction in the final scene suggests strongly that the flashback occurred quite a while ago in subjective time. It's different foe us because we've just finished watching it. In fact, the flashback might have work better if it had been positioned earlier in the series -- so that our reaction when Angelo's name is mentioned (by Nana Visitor; how cool is that?) would be more like Jack's. The only detail that might qualify as a true spoiler in that case would be if the word "blessing," which I doubt would be a big deal to snip.

    In truth, I think RTD believes that he has bigger mythological fish to fry and that small contradictions that others regard as major continuity errors just don't matter. I'm inclined to agree. It never bothered me on "24," either, that Jack Bauer never seemed to have a problem finding a parking spot in Los Angeles. Why slow down for something that mundane? Of course, your milage may vary.

  • Farsighted99 | August 21, 2011 6:04 AMReply

    actually, we don't know where Jack was in his timeline when he went there. He could have went there at the end of COE when Gwen gave him back in Vortex Manipulator, all fixed.

  • Mark C | August 21, 2011 1:18 AMReply

    What are you all talking about?

    Jack joined Torchwood in the late 19th century, which was well after his experiences in WW2 in his personal timeline. he'd travelled in night from the far future to Victorian Britain before his vortex manipulator broke, plenty of time to get the coat.. Admittedly he hadn't yet met the Doctor again, so the 'fixed point' comment was a bit unlikely, but Jack was a Torchwood agent throughout the 20th Century.

    Of course he was ALSO buried under the Hub all that time, and during WW2 there were 3 of him in existence at once! (time -travelling conman + Torchwood Agent + imprisoned under Cardiff)

    Wibbly-Wobbly, timey-wimey

  • Tomalak Geret'kal | August 20, 2011 5:44 AMReply

    Um, actually, speaking of which... how the hell does he have that coat? This is pre-WW2.

    The only thing he should have already had that comes even close is the fluffy one from The Empty Child, but that was on the TARDIS when he was stranded on Satellite Five.

    ARGH NO LOGIC!

  • Tomalak Geret'kal | August 20, 2011 5:32 AMReply

    I found it enjoyable too, but the confusion over where Jack was in his personal timeline was distracting.

    He only ever spent time free in the 20s *between* The Parting Of The Ways and the start of Torchwood. But at that point he didn't know that he was a "fixed point", and he also hadn't yet lived for "700 years".

    He *was* alive again in the 20s, but buried under Cardiff and only let loose briefly so that he could beg the contemporary Torchwood team to seal him up in a stasis pod in the morgue.

    So it all seems like a huge contradiction to me. But, then, RTD loves to ignore the little details like this: even when they're frakking critical to the foundations of the plot actually making sense.

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