Torchwood: Middle Men

(Episode number 6 in the series Torchwood – Miracle Day)

Torchwood – Miracle Day is rather like an Onion, each episode a layer of peel removed to reveal some new element that, we hope, will eventually make sense of the bizarre goings on. In The Middle Men the first reference to the Blessing is made, no doubt heralding a brand new set of worms to be let out of the can. Perhaps “worms” is an especially appropriate word?  The wormlike alien creature seen in the end of the episode trailer seems to have a modes operandi that is reminiscent of The Hive in TV Series Dark Skies, but perhaps I shouldn’t jump the gun?

As well as developing the plot the episodes also include critical elements of our society. in the case of Middle Men (an appropriate enough title since we’re in the middle of the series, more or less) it is how corrosive government secrets have become in Western Democracies and how the antidote to this may be organisations that specialise in whistle blowing.  Torchwood takes on this role in episode 6, but with limited results, which may also reflect something of the weakness of this process. The population can simply be overwhelmed by a continuous flow of government secrets, most of which seem to have little impact on their own lives. This makes it easier for the Spin Doctors to do their work. The Torchwood team takes the high moral ground, that incinerating category 1 humans is equivalent to the gas ovens of the Nazi regime, yet offers no practical alternative to the problem of what to do about people who are essentially dead, but whose bodies continue to live and present a genuine threat of incubating new more potent diseases. Their stance seems to be life in any state rather than trust a group of appointed medical and other experts to come up with a definition of category of life. Granted this gives Governments potential power to eliminate particular groups, but the chances of them getting away with an abuse of that system seem no more likely than using some other available method. They also seem to reinforce the idea that whistle blowers are subversive and criminal and, bearing in mind how Wikileaks have been denounced and attempts made to secure any sort of conviction against its founder, Julian Assange, it begs the question, have they become more vulnerable or is this the future Journalism? A question asked by an edition of Al Jazeera’s Inside Story aired in 2010.

We’re all cogs in a machine in one way or another and just because you might be a bigger cog it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a better understanding of what’s really going on. Stuart Owens (Ernie Hudson) illustrates the point. He is a senior executive at PhiCorp who doesn’t understand what’s behind Miracle Day or why PhiCorp is benefiting so much from it. Companies, by their very nature, exist to make profit and if the prevailing circumstances change in their favour they will exploit the situation to their benefit. PhiCorp is like some huge lumbering beast grazing for profit that has presumably be cultivated by an entity that is advanced and far seeing enough. And we’re all waiting to see what that entity is.

Written by Peter Grehan

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Torchwood: The Categories of Life

It has often been said that “Capitalism Thrives on Crisis” you only have to see the increase of production and consumption during a war to realise the truth of this.  In our modern globalised, complex, rapidly changing world, Governments seem unable to cope without reference to the multinationals, and indeed it is assumed that their wellbeing is our wellbeing.

Dr Sian Sullivan puts the relationship between crisis and capitalism rather well, “This is its engine of innovation and creativity. As with the Kafkaesque derivatives markets that in part have pushed the international finance market into such recent toxicity, capitalism makes a virtue of crisis. If the risk of loss or hazard can be priced, and this financial value captured via trade and speculation, then economic growth – the unassailable good of capitalist ‘culture’ – will be maintained, to the presumed benefit of everyone.

Capitalism goes hand in hand with, in fact depends on, consumerist “growth” and this in turn is what has helped create the crises that we are experiencing now. Indeed the looting of the last few days must be partly the result of decades of consumerist brainwashing. Unregulated consumerism if you will? Our society is built on acquiring things as cheaply as possible and all other values seem to have been subordinated. When Vera Juarez berates Colin Malony, the man administrating one of the overflow camps, for the inhumane conditions that conscious Category 1 patients are suffering is immediate defense is, “…I came in under budget!”

But as the Torchwood – Miracle Day series unfolds we see it suggested that, not only does Capitalism thrive on crisis, it positively (or should that actually be negatively) promotes them.  PhiCorp, like some dry rot fungus, has tendrils permeating and feeding every level of the crises; implementing a plan that has obviously been established well in advance. Those secret modules weren’t just put up overnight. All of this corresponds unsettling to what William Bowles suggests, that, “… capitalism thrives on crisis, how else can it justify the impoverishment of its populations, both material and spiritual, and the rest of the planet unless it uses/creates a crisis of one kind or another as a justification for the use of force and extermination?”

Categories of Life is a tour de force of writing by Jane Espenson (coming from a background of writing for Buffy the Vampire Slayer ) and direction Guy Ferland and reaches the final solution of what to do with the undead that has been hinted at in previous episodes. While the charismatic Oswald Danes (reminiscent of Adolf Hitler) makes a speech to a rapturous crowd describing the post-miracle human beings as “Angels” the incinerators in the camps are turned on suggesting the very opposite. The series hardly needs any alien monsters, humanity is monstrous enough, but this is Torchwood and there have to be aliens in Torchwood. Besides, something like the miracle would be beyond even a powerful organisation like Phicorp, wouldn’t it?

Written by Peter Grehan

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Torchwood: Escape to LA

 

After last week’s rather ‘quick, quick, slow’ episode Escape to L.A. (directed by Billy Gierhart and written by Jim Gray & John Shiban) gets the series back up to full speed and into the fast lane once more. Making the programme exciting did nothing to reduce the continuing analytical extrapolation of the consequences of the basic premise that “nobody dies”. With each episode of this series it becomes clearer that, for human beings, immortality is a horrifying prospect.

Mirroring this quality of science fiction writing is the social commentary that gives us a new perspective on some of the unsavoury social trends of Neoliberalism. To quote Tarak Barkawi, in his article The biggest threat to Western values , “…the ways in which the great professional vocations of the West – lawyers, journalists, academics, doctors – have been co-opted and corrupted by bottom line thinking. Money and “efficiency” are the values by which we stand, not law, truth or health. Students are imagined as “customers”, citizens as “stakeholders”. Professional associations worry about the risk to their bottom line rather than furthering the values they exist to represent.”

All of this seems to echo the conspiratorial machinations of the corporates, media, politicians and health professionals in the series. People and a commodity to be exploited and profited from, either for financial or political gain (which amounts to the same thing really) and we see plenty of this going on in Miracle Day. This is exemplified by P. R. Consultant Jilly Kitzinger happily working for Oswald Danes despite privately reviling him. In particular though it is the example of  Mayor Ellis Hartley Monroe, member of the Tea Party and an example of  what Naomi Wolf would call one of  America’s reactionary feminists starting a campaign called “Dead is Dead”, the stated objective of which is to segregate the undying (whilst no doubt enhancing here own political status). Within this context we see parallels with the sort of persecution of minority groups that allowed the likes of Hitler to rise to power.

To quote Wolf, “…demagogues in the US embrace similar tactics to fuel their rise to visibility and power. They use emotive rhetoric. They often invent shadowy networks of “elite” forces ranged against the ordinary, decent American. They create an “us versus them” scenario. And they ask their listeners to believe that they alone will restore American dignity and articulate the wishes of the unheard.”

Unfortunately for Monroe she is an unnecessary distraction for the shadowy PhiCorp, as they already have their media figurehead in Oswald Danes and so arrange for a fate worse than death for her, crushed in the compactor. A truly horrifying consequence of the curse of immortality. It does leave me wondering, what next?

Written by Peter Grehan

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Torchwood: Dead of Night

Written by Peter Grehan

The third episode of series bumped along quite nicely, the various characters beginning to mesh into a recognisable Torchwood unit. The internal tensions within the group abrade nicely while the plot moves forward and the villainous corporation behind a lot of what is going on, Phicorp, is identified. Phicorp, it seems, has infiltrated into all branches of the U.S. (and probably foreign) Government machinery. In today’s paranoid society, where we seem unable to trust any form of authority, this covers the bases nicely.  Actually most people probably believe that Multinational corporations have far too much power and influence on governments and this often seem to reflect in policies that focus of the wellbeing of capitalistic systems rather than what’s actually good for the people. They also have control excessive influence of the media, especially in the U.S. This is illustrated when Phicorp turn the paedophile murderer, Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman), into a Messiah. So, using this parable, corporate machinations, media manipulations and the populace’s religious proclivity are criticised in one neat swipe.

And then we have the gratuitous sex scenes. Captain Jack’s, I suppose, illustrated that he is a sex addict (we already knew that) and his emotional insecurity is revealed when he phones Gwen Cooper ( Eve Myles ) from the bed afterwards, but you can’t tell me that the including the graphic detail (apparently more was shown in the U.S.) helped move the plot or develop the characters at all. This and the straight sex scene featuring Rex and Vera (Mekhi Phifer and Arlene Tur), were surely there just to boast ratings and John Barrowman’s assertion that they weren’t gratuitous don’t make it so. The straight sex scene was in many ways even more gratuitous, because there had been no developing relationship between Rex and Vera beforehand. It really did feel contrived and adolescent making the flow of the story come to a grinding (no pun intended) halt.

Still, there was more than enough good stuff in this episode to keep me watching.

Note: The Torchwood episode was directed by Billy Gierhart, and written by Jane Espenson

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Torchwood: Miracle Day

Written by Peter Grehan

So the new Series of Torchwood, is up and running with the first two episodes, The New World and Rendition, of Miracle Day now aired in the UK. Anyone who hasn’t seen the previous Torchwood, Children of Earth, might wonder what the world seems to have against its members, but the information needed, i.e. that most of them are dead and the survivors had been forced underground (in the figurative rather than the literal, Hub, sense) is all we need to know for this story. There is an odd sort of meshing between the two locations for the stories, rural and urban Wales on the one hand (I suspect the Old Rectory at Rhossili will soon become a Mecca for fans of the series) and high octane locations in the United States.

The fundamental idea of the human race become immortal, but not in a good way, is interesting. Obviously the series writers have given some careful thought to the consequences of this most unnatural of human conditions. Rather like the characters in Death Becomes Her, being immortal doesn’t prevent any physical harm taking place to the body, which is to say the least – inconvenient. This was ghoulishly illustrated when the suicide bomber’s shattered remains continued to live on the autopsy table and rather reminded me of a multitude of Zombie movies I’ve seen. In addition to the obvious issues of overpopulation versus limited resources some interesting ideas are coming out of the series. In episode 2 for example, Rendition (director Billy Gierhart, writer Doris Egan) it emerges that the diseased “Undead” will provide a perfect incubation ground for a new generation of superbugs. That’s good science fiction writing to my mind. Another revelation from episode 2 is that the “immortal” will continue to age. This raises the spectre of people cursed with immortality enduring for evermore the pain, infirmity and degradation of old age as illustrated  by Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels  when Gulliver travels to Luggnagg and encounters the struldbrugs, unfortunates who are immortal, but continue to age.

The first episode gave me some moments where I couldn’t help but smile, like when Gwen and Rhys’ cottage is attacked, she holds the baby in one arm while engaging in a fire-fight with a horribly beweaponed helicopter. Maybe it’s just me, but I think my first priority would be to get the baby under cover. That aside it’s a very promising start to the new series.

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