Episode 4 - Escape to LA

456 Classification - No sensitive information revealed

So then, what have the newly minted Torchwood crew been up to this week? Well, Escape to LA briskly continue the pace set last week, delivering more espionage action and solid plot developments. And like the previous episode we have another US genre TV alumni on script duties, this time John Shiban, veteran of The X Files, Supernatural, Breaking Bad and many more, at the helm and with co-writer Jim Gray turning in a solid episode.

Now it's not exactly a stellar instalment, and by that I mean there's no huge turning point revelations in the plot or massive chunks of the series' budget blown out on big fireworks set-pieces. However it goes a cracking job of moving the story onwards, and that's no bad thing at all. It's tight, fun and intriguing, unfolding with a confident stride and largely free of the info dumps that have irritated in the preceding three episodes. Yes, there's plenty of exposition flying about but it's far more artfully executed in proper dramatic scenes rather than the previous over reliance on anonymous talking heads in meetings and on TV news inserts. And it does solid work in raising the stakes with the mysterious threat behind the Miracle beginning to emerge from the shadows, but more importantly consolidating what has gone before.

With the machinations of PhiCorp taking centre stage this week, the decision to focus so heavily on the effects of Miracle Day in Dr Vera's hospital at the expense of showing us the wider ranging impact on the rest of society is now making more sense. I still feel that the focus in the early episodes was not always centring on the most effective targets but as the shape and thrust of the story is becoming clearer, I can appreciate the narrative decisions somewhat better. Of course this doesn't exactly clear the charges of heavy handed exposition and this week's script does highlight the instances of clumsy writing in the early episodes but now in hindsight we can see plot threads laid out that are being pulled together this week.

Now aside for the bigger picture, this episode we have the team embarking on a major operation that doesn't exactly go to plan... not a great result for our heroes but excellent fun for the viewers at home. But as well as some good old fashioned covert spookshow action, we have some interesting character developments - we get a brief glimspse of another side to media manipulator Jilly Kitzinger (Lauren Ambrose) and at last we get an insight into Rex, revealing more there's more going on beneath the shouty brash exterior and possibly giving us a key to understanding why plays hardball so much.

The introduction of a new character, the Palinesque Ellis Hartley Monroe (Mare Winningham) gives us a welcome dose of social satire. The script and Winningham wisely underplay the character without descending in cheap caricature; capturing perfectly the all too familiar friendly face of sociopathy that too many politicians are sporting these days i.e. trying to appear thoroughly respectable, ordinary and decent yet actually proposing heartless draconian measures. However this episode's real star turn comes from C. Thomas Howell. I can't say much about what his role involves, but let's just say you'll never see Soul Man in the same way again!

Bill Pullman's Oswald Danes continues to impress. However again I have to question the plausibility of a child rapist and murderer being embraced as a spokesperson for a major pharmaceutical company. Yes, PhiCorp appear to be a front for mysterious and nefarious agencies, but still their public face is one of smiling benevolence. And although there may well be a public fascination with him, as we saw demonstrated in a very physical fashion last week, many ordinary folk still revile him - he is, in modern parlance, a toxic brand, that no business, no matter how shadowy and powerful would want to be associated with. Just ask the Murdochs...

Now other plot implausibilies such as non-narcotic painkillers not being anything new or revolutionary in the real world, or questions such as where are all the other big pharma companies are in all of this (has PhiCorp swallowed them all?) I can overlook for the sake of the narrative. However I do wonder about the reasoning behind making Danes a murdering child molester; it seems to serve no other purpose at present than to flash the show's 'adult' credentials. However rather than giving this incarnation of Torchwood a hard, gritty edge, it's actually undermining the believability of the plot.

Obviously I'm prejudging this matter at before the halfway mark, however I am beginning to think that the plot would have been better served if Danes had been a more run-of-the-mill killer, one sentenced to death for murdering several adult women but who had always protested his innocence (in the same way as Ted Bundy did). That we could have had a character that credibly could win public favour, playing on the doubts he was wrongfully convicted, and providing a more chilling contrast between his newly forged media image and the private face he revealed to Captain Jack.

But while I still have such niggles, it has to be said that in this episode they are more legacy issues than elements in the script by Messers Gray and Shiban. And I'd have to stress that overall I am enjoying this new series of Torchwood, and this latest episode, while not the flashiest, is certainly the most accomplished in many respects. It confidently balances plot and character and delivers some rather neat action. And there's several particular lines in this episode that are highly tantalizing - brief sentences that are typically cryptic but massively intriguing as to who or what is behind the Miracle. It looks like at long last we're over the steep set-up hump at last.

And while it's safe to say that Miracle Day is not going to achieve the heights of Children of Earth, it is delivering intrigue and entertainment in equal measure and seemingly becoming more sure footed with each passing week.  So while this series has had a somewhat plodding start - Miracle Day may well appear in next year's dictionary under 'slow burn' - I suspect the second half of the series may well prove stronger than the first...

Further reports to follow. And as next week we'll be hitting the mid point, the spoiler gloves may have to come off for a half time report.

Click here to go to the report for Episode 5 - Categories of Life

JIM MOON, 4th August 2011