Torchwood series 4 episode 9 review “The Gathering”

Posted: 22 September 2011 in television
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Torchwood - The Gathering“Once upon a time there were three wise families and they went out into the world. One family took politics, one family took finance and one family took media. But that’s all in the past. The stories yet to come, they’re the best.”

It was apt that Russell T Davies, the true architect of Miracle Day, got to fill in the plot with a cameo as the radio newsreader. The world was in Day 61 of the Great Depression. The Western World was on the verge of going bust. China had closed its border and the USA was about the follow. Dictatorships were imminent but it was not clear yet whether the real dictators would be governments or other organisations. Credit to RTD for using science fiction the way it ought to be used – capturing the zeitgeist of current times. The scenario of global recession, xenophobia, and failing governments, is all too pervasive in the real world.

The fiery Welshness of Gwen, Rhys and Mary was at the heart of this episode with their efforts to save Geraint from the reopened Overflow Camps. Their ultimately unsuccessful attempts to conceal him from the authorities once again drew a parallel with the era of Nazi Germany and the hunting down of fugitive Jews. It is doubtful there will be a more heartbreaking moment of television in the near future to match the scene where Gwen begged for her father to be spared. Once more Eve Myles proved herself to be the emotional heart of the series. Truly amazing how she can go from making the audience cry like babies to righteous fury in the blink of an eye.

It is a testament to the acting of Bill Pullman that sympathy is felt for the monstrous Oswald Danes each and every time misfortune befalls him. He fully deserved to get the crap knocked out of him by a saucepan-wielding Gwen after inveigling himself into the Cooper house and cuddling Anwen. Yet it was impossible not to pity him as he sat bloodied and handcuffed in the kitchen. Particularly enjoyable was to see the brief double act between Bill Pullman and Kai Owen, the Hollywood film star and the Welsh TV actor, as Oswald used logic to extract himself from the murderous presence of Rhys with the deadpan of “you delightful man”.

In “The Gathering Kai Owen’s Rhys was finally able to make a long overdue contribution to the plot of Miracle Day. Even more than Gwen it is Rhys’ humanity and simple thinking that made the complexity of the plot clearer. He was able to see that the reopened camps and the global recession as part of an overall plan to bring down humanity. Rhys was also the to see the connection of Shanghai and Buenos Aries as global antipodes…

Everywhere we turn this conspiracy spans the 20th century.

As well as the plot narrative having moved up a couple of gears during the one week/two months away, so had the new characters on the block. As observed by Jack, Esther was no longer the shy bumbling little thing that he first encountered in the CIA archives way back in “The New World”. With Jack wounded and the two of them on the run Esther was forced to become the stronger of the two and she rose to the challenge. The character had been rather annoying up to this point but with “The Gathering” she found her feet. When there is the opportunity to watch “Miracle Day” in a single sitting as a complete story Esther is likely to come across much better than she has on a weekly episodic basis.

The biggest leap in characterisation was surely that of Rex. No longer a pompous arse but a professional, intelligent and competent agent of the Central Intelligence Agency fully focused on locating any trace of The Families in history. Being back in the fold in Langley clearly did him good. Having John de Lancie’s chain-smoking Allen Shapiro to bounce his dialogue off certainly did Mekhi Phifer no harm. It would be interesting to have Shapiro connected with a resurrected Torchwood Institute if the series is given another run.

With all records of the Alblemarch, Costerdane, and Frines families erased from history, an impossible paper trail to riffle through, and 6 million potential descendants from the population of 1928 New York to trace and interview, it was interesting to see Rex try an off-the-wall Torchwood-style approach. He concentrated on fiction and ignored facts. Within the pages of a pulp horror story entitled “The Devil Within” he managed to locate enough points of references to the multiple killings of Jack to convince him that the writer had been in the cellar. Good to see proper intelligent detective work on show for once.

Well now. Can’t say I’ve been to China before, so I’m not well versed in their customs. But I’ve got to say…i never knew about that.

In “Rendition” it took the entire episode to get Jack and Gwen from Wales to the USA. Now that the narrative was on a roll to the finish line it only took Jack, Gwen and Oswald a jump from one scene to the next to arrive in Shanghai via arms dealers now using one of the old Torchwood routes into China. Perhaps a missed opportunity to have intense scenes between Jack and Oswald over their respective killing of children. John Barrowman and Bill Pullman had previously proved themselves more than capable of going head-to-head in such a manner.

Thanks to a laptop stolen by Oswald, Esther was able to deduce that Jilly had spent the last two months overseeing the mistranslation of media reports emerging from Shanghai to conceal all references to The Blessing. So The Blessing was located in that gargantuan Chinese population centre…

We say the Blessing shows you to yourself.

After weeks of anticipation the nature of The Blessing was revealed: a vast rift running completely through the centre of the Earth with emergence points in Shanghai and Buenos Aries. Two massive population centres balanced on either side of the planet. Somehow blood is involved with The Blessing and how The Miracle was enacted. The Families went to great lengths to ensure the destruction of blood banks in Shanghai and Buenos Aries in the days leading up to Miracle Day. Jack’s blood is being drawn to the sites where the rift emerges at the opposite sides of the world – and it is killing him in the process.

Taken to Shanghai to meet The Families and see The Blessing, the strutting, self-assured, flame red confidence of Jilly Kitzinger came into full view. She was totally confident that she was right about everything that she had done. The reveal of The Blessing was done well with the focus on Jilly’s awestruck reaction before the pan around to reveal the vast set and the cavernous opening to the rift running all the way to the other side of the world. Kudos to the writers for having foreshadowed the nature of The Blessing throughout the series with the PhiCorp logo: the letter Phi with a line through it paralleled The Blessing running through the centre of the Earth.

With Jack, Gwen and Oswald converging on The Blessing in China and Rex and Esther tackling the Argentinian end of matters the stage is set for a final confrontation between Torchwood and The Families. The promise beforehand of “Torchwood” going global and being bigger and better was certainly fulfilled with a dramatic hour of television encompassing locations in Scotland, Wales, USA, China and Argentina.

More importantly the edge-of-the-seat storytelling and powerful acting that were so much a part of the highly-acclaimed “Children of Earth” finally made a return. With a long overdue return to its Welsh roots, “Torchwood” set itself up for what will hopefully be an awesome series finale. In “The Gathering” the uniqueness of the format once again came to the fore and eclipsed the poorer aspects of the preceding episodes. If “The Blood Line” can maintain the inventive drive and provide a satisfyingly awesome and well-rounded finale then “Torchwood” will fully deserve a 5th series.

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