Torchwood Miracle Day, Episode Ten: Second-guessing the Blessing?

September 16, 2011
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Finally the Blessing (almost) reveals its secrets. This series has played a long game with audiences, continually deferring vital information, and in this closing instalment we get some answers but perhaps not as many as may have been hoped for. Showrunner Russell T. Davies seems intent on second-guessing audience expectations – for example, laughter greets Captain Jack’s showdown plan to reset the Blessing; the “symbiotic” force deep within the Earth is never identified since Jack doesn’t have a clue what it is; and we get an apparent reformatting of the whole show in Miracle Day‘s last gasp.

Taking these moments in turn: the sense that Jack’s plan is laughable, and that he’s failed to consider the bipolar nature of the Blessing, represents an intriguing piece of plotting. It makes solid use of the entire Torchwood team, here pretty much divided into its old school and new American contingents, with Oswald being the odd man out. The solution to the Families’ plot proves to be something that a lone hero could never achieve: this narrative requires bilateral action rather than singular agency. As such, this deliberately binary conclusion (Shanghai/Buenos Aires) challenges individual heroism – Jack cannot be in two places at once; by definition, no individual could defeat the Families’ scheme. And so Russell T. Davies and co-writer Jane Espenson avoid there being a big ‘reset button’ by entering into a game of reset inflation. Instead there are two reset buttons that basically need to be pressed at the same time.

A bipolar threat requiring two climactic stand-offs also helps to generate narrative guessing games – will both Jack and Rex die? Will Gwen go ahead and shoot Jack for the greater good? What of Esther’s fate? Audiences are made to compare Gwen and Jack’s decisions with the actions of Esther and Rex, as a UK/US binary is created and exploited. Ultimately, it is the American wing of Torchwood which saves the day by injecting new blood into proceedings – without the US newbies, Torchwood would have been so much matchwood.

If ‘reset buttons’ are multiplied to create a novel, bi-reset narrative structure, then ‘The Blood Line’ also takes a new stance on any sort of deus ex machina ending. Because here the morphic-field-generating ‘god’ is in the Earth rather than in any ‘machine’. As Gwen says: “we’re so used to these things being extraterrestrial, but this might be the most terrestrial thing of them all”. Just as the bipolar ending deconstructs rugged individualism – with an ensemble show getting an ensemble resolution – then the Blessing likewise deconstructs the ‘human versus alien’ binary. This is a tale which takes Torchwood‘s prior typical reliance on SF threats, teases the audience by with-holding alien baddies, and finally argues that we are alien, bound together by a morphic field which makes planet Earth itself a fantastical, science-fictional entity. Existing in symbiosis with humanity, the Blessing ultimately represents a sort of Gaia Agenda, but it remains outside Jack’s knowledge, with Davies throwing in a jumble of Doctor Who Racnoss/Silurian references to maintain the Blessing’s mysteries. If it could simply be named in SF terms – “oh, it’s a Bleb, they live inside planets” – then the Blessing would be too pinned down, too classified, to provoke fan speculation. Instead, it remains unexplained, an ineffable narrative gap that is itself “the gap in between”, as Jack notes.

But the Blessing’s revelation of Gwen, Jack and Oswald’s souls to them – after all the build-up – amounts to precious little: each character simply shrugs off the experience and carries on regardless. In fact, the whole idea of people seeing their own true selves proves to be a rampant red herring since it fails to form any significant part of ‘The Blood Line’. It could perhaps be suggested that Oswald’s self-sacrifice is, in part, fuelled by his having gazed into the Blessing. Yet his narrative role remains extremely awkward. In structural terms he is redeemed – blowing himself up to allow Torchwood’s escape while burying the site – but redeeming such a “monster” seems absurd, so at the same time Oswald dies while screaming out to his child victim, Suzie, to “run faster”. Danes’ story is thus neatly book-ended, referring back to his villainous words from the very opening of Miracle Day. But despite this writerly trick, his fate remains uneasily and queasily ambivalent: he performs the narrative role of a “self-sacrificing hero”, but in a defiantly monstrous way. Beyond Good and Evil? Perhaps Miracle Day attains Nietzschean resonance after all. Amid big explosions and lipstick-smearing fights.

Then there’s that final scene. Having enacted a story about the necessary failure of individual heroics, it makes sense that Jack’s “fixed point” would be doubled. It’s still a rather curious gesture, though, implying that Torchwood is now definitively a US-UK coupling, as well as potentially allowing the show to continue without Captain Harkness. It’s a final jolt meant to provoke yet more guessing games, but one that can also be readily ignored if Torchwood‘s future requires it. Children of Earth Day Five felt like an ending: this closing twist feels like a shout-out to Starz executives: look, we gave the CIA guy a co-starring role, just think of all the story possibilities offered by immortal-espionage-a-go-go!

Miracle Day‘s behind-the-scenes publicity hasn’t had anything much to say about series one and two’s head writer Chris Chibnall, being largely focused pre-transmission on Russell T. Davies, and on Jane Espenson across transmision. But “with thanks to Chris Chibnall” appears in the closing credits here, suggesting that Chibnall has been hidden at the core of this storyline all along, mysteriously concealed in the gaps between production credits, and secretly infiltrating the writers’ room. It’s a final reveal of sorts, though we don’t yet know exactly what Chibnall’s involvement was, nor whether Torchwood will continue under either of its two showrunners. Say what you will about the Blessing, the guessing isn’t over yet…

This column is, however, so I hope all those who’ve followed it, or dipped in over the weeks, have found something of interest. All together: press those reset buttons…. now.



9 Responses to “ Torchwood Miracle Day, Episode Ten: Second-guessing the Blessing? ”

  1. theoncominghope on September 16, 2011 at 4:02 AM

    This season was so disappointing that part of me wishes that the show would die a merciful death.

    But if it doesn’t, here are my 5 wishes for any future series:

    • Matt Hills on September 17, 2011 at 4:02 AM

      Interesting — I agree with a number of your points. The main thing that’s striking, for me, is just how much Jack is reworked as a character in ‘Miracle Day’. He becomes almost a cipher in places, rarely or never discussing his history/background with others. And any notion of him being omnisexual is completely lost, as you note. Instead he becomes the butt of Rex’s gay jokes, and a whole layer of complexity in relation to sexual politics just completely disappears from the show. Compare this with series one, for example. It’s all highly problematic!

  2. icerose on September 16, 2011 at 5:26 AM

    Reset-Reset-Reset MD was just one big dissapointment from episode to episode-they even managed to turn into a ranting warrior women who seemed incapable of intelligent reactios or subtlety–the only subsiuary charactor who remotely interested me was Q -although Verawas okay-but basically it was poorly scripted ,overblown and at times just cheesy without the benefit of camp or wit

    • Matt Hills on September 17, 2011 at 3:46 AM

      Given that Shapiro had relatively little to do, John de Lancie certainly made him a compelling character! And he was the beneficiary of what I assume was Russell T. Davies’s desire in the final episode to prove that the f-word could be appropriate to Torchwood’s voice after all, rather than jarring badly as it had previously done in ‘Everything Changes’.

  3. Bettina on September 16, 2011 at 8:12 AM

    I remember Jane Espenson saying in an interview that Chris Chibnall was involved in the early planning states when she first met up with RTD to talk about the concept of the series. Apparently Chibnall didn’t have the time to get involved later on but contributed some ideas to the overall concept and probably to the resolution too.

    Matt, thanks for your insightful reviews over the last 10 weeks. I thoroughly enjoyed the input of a “fan-professional” as a nice contrast to the usual fan reviews. I loved your “Triumph of a Time Lord” and can’t wait to read your Torchwood book when it comes out next year.

    • Matt Hills on September 17, 2011 at 3:51 AM

      Thanks, Bettina, I’m glad you’ve enjoyed these pieces. And thanks for the Chris Chibnall information too — hopefully more detail will emerge on this over time. In marked contrast to Doctor Who there seems to be far less production information typically available on Torchwood, although Jane Espenson’s livetweeting and After Elton columns helped a bit with that this time round!

  4. Matthew Kilburn on September 16, 2011 at 8:20 AM

    How many viewers laughed when they saw Chris Chibnall thanked in the credits? Metatext, intertext and paratext in a circle dance…

    • Matt Hills on September 17, 2011 at 3:55 AM

      It was an intriguing surprise! I, for one, wish that Chibnall could have been more involved. It would have been extremely interesting to see how he approached writing for post-CoE Torchwood.

  5. andrew pickmere on September 18, 2011 at 5:46 AM

    I have really enjoyed reading your excellent articles. MD was a great concept, perhaps it could have been better executed but it’s surely not as bad as most of the reviews have suggested. The last two episodes seemed weaker as though the writers were struggling with an ending. Will certainly watch out for your book. Thanks again for a good read.