Torchwood series 4 episode 4 review “Escape To LA”

Posted: 10 August 2011 in television
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Torchwood - Escape To LA“We are everywhere…We are always…We are no one…and soon the Families will rise”. Originating from a currently unknown encounter in the past of the previously immortal Captain Jack Harkness, the architects of Miracle Day have begun to reveal themselves…and their intentions for the human race…

The emergence of “The Families” ties into one of the major themes of this episode: familial relationships and how they affect the new Torchwood team in different ways. There are also subtle, and not so subtle, allusions to religious cults with messianic leaders who you wouldn’t trust around your children (no one said Catholic. Yet.) and the state of healthcare systems, particularly in the USA.

Rex was clearly a heartless bastard even before his chest was impaled on Miracle Day. He’s constantly on everyone’s case. He considers Jack and Gwen to be playing games rather than acting professionally; belittles Esther for her stupidity in visiting her sister and nieces whilst on the run for treason (though he has a point); and treats Vera as his own personal drug pusher. His “fuck-you” attitude has been inherited from his father as there is no love there.

Jack’s relationships with his colleagues have a sibling air to them. He is protective of Esther in the way he used to be with Ianto and sees her as the new Q for the team, inheriting Tosh’s role. He and Rex butt testosterone egos in the manner of two aggressive brothers who can’t help but feel affection for each other. And although he and Gwen carry on like brother and sister it’s clear that beneath their banter and humour they feel more for each other than normal siblings should.

Many view Miracle Day as an opportunity for a new society and world order to be forged, but fear those that they perceive as the lesser members of society. Old unused hospitals have been converted into the “plague ships” of the 21st century and the extremely sick and old hidden away from the rest of humanity. Out of sight and out of mind as so many are in our real world.

Chief amongst the advocates of the policy of separation (and coming across like a bastard hybrid of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann) is Ellis Hartley Monroe, a small town mayor and a darling of the Tea Party. She is the instigator of the “Dead Is Dead” campaign, which believes that those who should have died without the intervention of The Miracle have merely had their passage to the afterlife paused and should be treated as though they are in fact deceased. The call to partition these “undead” recalls the policy of Apartheid in South Africa and the persecution of the Jews during the regime of Nazi Germany…

Oswald is not willing to allow his media profile to be eclipsed by Monroe as it would mean a return to normality and a vulnerability to the public who want him to suffer for his crimes. In a brilliantly manipulative, yet somehow perversely admirable, fashion he enters the “plague ship” hospital that Vera is helping to run and wins the patients and media over with his presence and almost messianic manner, with declarations of “Life Is Life” and “I have risen with unending life”. Oswald is creating a cult of personality in the same manner as Adolf Hitler and religious cult leaders. Despite what his friends may think Jack is likely to be proved right in considering Oswald a threat and at the centre of matters.

PhiCorp subsequent removal of Monroe from the public scene, motivated by her near pre-emption of their own plans for humanity, is a lovely homage to “Goldfinger” with her being crushed inside her car in a junkyard. A single undying eye is all that remains visible…

Jilly is emerging as perhaps the most human of the new characters with her conflicting views of Oswald. On the one hand she has a clear admiration of his ability to mould the media to his will and the messages of PhiCorp. On the other hand, she is truly repulsed by Oswald’s crimes and is unable to look at his hands because there are a constant reminder of what he did to a 12 year old girl…It wouldn’t be a surprise if a few episodes down the way she allied herself to Torchwood due to her repulsion outweighing her desire to succeed in her job. It’s a bizarre double act that Bill Pullman and Lauren Ambrose pull off beautifully.

At the heart of the episode is a “Mission: Impossible” caper with Torchwood breaking into PhiCorp’s HQ in Los Angeles to steal the contents of Server 113. Gwen dolled up just looks all wrong – and doesn’t she know it. To her anyone who wears high heels to work is “heroic”. She looks so so much better in tight trousers, boots and firing off large calibre weaponry.

Lurking in the background of the whole narrative, with a lovely cultured performance from C Thomas Howell, is one of the most charming and well-spoken assassins seen on screen in many a long year. He apologises when removing biometric data from the PhiCorp technician with the aid of a rather sharp knife; is rueful about The Miracle being bad for those in his line of work; and displays understandable curiosity about Jack’s mortality – which overcomes his task to kill “the only true human”. Though he ends up bleeding from multiple bullet wounds against a wall after an encounter with Rex (who tackled 66 flights of stairs at a lick with a ruptured chest) it’s to be hoped that he can make a comeback in one of the episodes yet to come.

The potential for the segregation of humanity takes on a more chilling turn at episode’s end with the discovery about the contents of Server 113. In conjunction with the UN (bet no one has mentioned the scheme to UNIT), PhiCorp are setting up “Overflow Camps” to relieve the pressure on medical facilities around the world. The Torchwood team don’t like the look of these camps…and Gwen’s dad has just been sent on his way to the one located in South Wales…

The parallel between the “Overflow Camps” and Nazi concentration camps is all too obvious…“The Families” appear to have a plan underway to move the most “decayed” aspects of humanity into specially built and contained facilities. But for what purpose? Is there a harvesting of the human race afoot in the way there was in “Quatermass” (aka “Quatermass IV / The Quatermass Conclusion)?

An interesting aspect to The Families may have been teased. Oswald has been attempting to learn about PhiCorp and the company’s masters online but he can find nothing tangible as their online presence has been hidden on a worldwide scale. Is it worth remembering that the Torchwood Institute have software that is capable of removing all references to specific subjects from the worldwide web? And way back in the 5th episode (“World War Three”) of the revived “Doctor Who”, Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor offered Mickey software that would remove all traces of “the Doctor” from the worldwide web…

“They are everywhere…They are always…They are no one…They have been waiting for such a long time…Searching the world for specific geography”.

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