Torchwood series 4 episode 10 review “The Blood Line”

Posted: 14 October 2011 in television
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Torchwood - The Blood LineIn a pit in Old Shanghai, I brought death back to the world. They said it was like a breath…the breath that went around the whole wide world. The last breath. And then no more. We said goodbye to them then…the dads and the mums, the sick and the old, the friends and the neighbours. And the people we once met, and the people whose names we never knew. We said goodbye to them all on the day that death came back.

“Torchwood: Miracle Day” reached its finale and expired in a flurry of expositions, explosions, and exterminations. The momentum of urgency developed through “The Gathering” thankfully continued into “The Blood Line” with an almost real-time fight by the ragtag Torchwood team to halt the machinations of The Families.

In amongst all the words and action the most affecting scene came without a single syllable spoken by any of those involved. In the Cowbridge Overflow Camp, Rhys sat with grief pouring out of every inch of his body as the Miracle ended and Gwen’s father finally succumbed to the dignified death that had been denied to him for so long. Sergeant Andy held the hand of a girl that no one knew the name of and comforted her as she passed into the undiscovered country. Through the brilliant performances of two actors whose characters have been cruelly overlooked through most of this series, the central message of “Torchwood: Miracle Day” came shining through. Death is a natural part of life and must happen in order for society to continue.

No aliens or time-travellers, no ghosts or demons – for the past ten weeks Torchwood had not been fighting an unnatural forces from beyond the Earth but the misguided attempt of an organisation to impose their own definition of order upon the world and its varied cultures. The Families had torn down the walls of society in order to rebuild a new world of order and strength. The parallels with the era of Nazi Germany surfaced once again, but there were also frightening reflections with the current state of where American society could end up if the Republicans are allowed to run the country after the 2012 elections. A great nation where the poor and the weak will be ethnically cleansed in favour of the wealthy and powerful.

In common with the worst aspects of extreme conservative and fascist politicians and organisations throughout the world of the 21st century, The Families were content to rape and disrupt nature in order to achieve their objectives…

Well, we had to wait until the world grew up, until the information age became fast enough, so we could crunch the numbers on a massive scale. Facts became visible that were never visible before, such as a tiny little statistic, hidden in the heart of Shanghai Old Town. The average life expectancy of those living within a two-mile radius of this point was exactly equal to the average life expectancy of the world. And it always had been. Say in 1998, the average life expectancy from birth on this planet was 66 years, 5 months and 33 days. In this area in Shanghai, it was 66 years, 5 months and 33 days exactly. Try going back a hundred years to 1898. The average life expectancy was 49 years, 9 months and five days. Shanghai – 49 years, 9 months and five days. It was as if something on this spot was calibrating a matrix, subsisting alongside humankind in harmony.

Whilst it took a long time (too long?) to reveal the nature of The Blessing, there can be no denying that when finally unveiled, and explained, it was a breathtakingly clever concept. An entity that had existed for an unknown period of time in a symbiotic relationship with the human race, binding us together through a morphic field and calibrating life expectancy. As though the Earth itself was in control of the evolved apes roaming upon its surface…a living 2001-style monolith running through the planet like the lettering on Blackpool rock…

Immortality for the human race occurred because the villains of the piece screwed around with a wonder of nature for their own insidious ends. The introduction of Jack’s blood into The Blessing caused the nature of life and death for humanity to be reset: all mortal humans became immortal and all immortal humans became mortal. The fact that Jack’s blood could upset the whole plan answered the mystery of who transmitted the message about Torchwood way, way back in first episode “The New World”. The Families needed to draw Jack, the only mortal man, into the open so that they could eliminate him and his supply of blood.

Rex managed to continue the run of intelligence that had settled upon him in the previous episode. It was certainly a clever move to have a quantity of Jack’s blood transfused into himself as a back-up plan – a plan which had to come into operation when an Argentinian suicide bomber took out the main supply of blood that had been transported to Buenos Aries. Throughout the whole crisis Rex’s behaviour can be generously classed as “arrogant” and as events came to a climax part of his raison d’être was shown to be partially rooted in his fear that when the immortality ended he would die as a result of the injuries he sustained on Miracle Day. However when faced with the choice between his own continued existence and the restoration of death to the human race he did the right thing.

Oh, you are magnificent!

Oswald’s admiration of Gwen and her “fuck you” attitude was a perfect reflection of the admiration that the entire audience have for the character and the actress that portrays her. Eve Myles absolutely loves every minute of being in the series and with such material to perform who can blame her. From the opening monologue where she acknowledged her actions that day would kill her father, through the scenes of compassion and humanity with the old Chinese lady, and onto the final scenes where she berates Jilly for wearing too much lipstick as hell erupted around them.

As mentioned before, the Jack/Gwen relationship, brought to life so magnificently by John Barrowman and Eve Myles, is the foundation stone of “Torchwood” without whom the whole enterprise would collapse. Within the Shanghai base the characters perfectly displayed their love for each other – and their ability to banter in the face of any crisis. Great comedy arrived when Gwen realised that Jack’s ramblings about the Doctor, the Racnoss, and Silurian mythology were complete bullshit to cover up his complete lack of knowledge about how such a wondrous phenomena could exist.

Through “Miracle Day” John Barrowman had played Jack as a more fragile and retrospective character than the one seen previously. For the first time in centuries he had faced mortality and it taught him just how frivolous about life he had become. In the two-handed scene with Oswald he beautifully conveyed the wonder of all that he had seen throughout time and space, and also silently accepted that his time might well have come to an end. A clear demonstration of his role as humanity’s champion in the stead of the Last of the Time Lords came with his preparedness to die in a pit in Old Shanghai, his sacrifice known to only a few.

I spent a long time in prison, and I know the smile of a man who’s done terrible things. And your friends. I’ve been watching them. Sometimes they like you, sometimes they love you and sometimes, just once or twice, glittering away in those tiny little gaps…they fear you.

One important aspect of “Torchwood” throughout has been the preparedness to acknowledge that fighting the monsters of the Earth and beyond often comes at great cost. At the end of series 2 Owen and Tosh fell into death. Ianto paid the ultimate price fighting the 456 alongside his friend, lover and commander Captain Jack Harkness in “Children of Earth”. And in “Miracle Day” Rex was forced to watch his lover Vera burn inside one of the obscene Modules. But the death toll wasn’t completed until the closing minutes: once more the Torchwood team lost one of their own in battle. Esther was fatally shot in an attempt to prevent Rex introducing Jack’s blood into The Blessing as she would be destined to die the moment she became mortal. Rex nearly wavered in his resolution but once again the beating heart of the team was there to urge everyone on.

If the death of Esther came as a surprise at the conclusion then at the other extreme it should be been glaringly obvious that Oswald Danes would not survive into any follow-up series. His crimes were too great, his existence intolerable to a post-Miracle world. Oswald himself knew that his useful time on the planet was over even before he entered The Families’ Shanghai base of operations with laden with explosives.

One of the major successes of this American-orientated “Torchwood” was the snagging of “Mr President” Bill Pullman to play a character that horrified and evoked sympathy within the same scene, often within a single sentence. Pullman more or less dominated every moment he appeared and certainly made the most of his final scenes as the child-molesting monster. Taking centre stage ahead of Jack and Gwen, being a somebody for the final time – and actually looking forward to going to hell as that’s where all the bad little girls went – as he blew the Shanghai facility (and doubtless a nice portion of the episode’s budget) sky high.

You, World War II, What the hell did you do to me?

What now for “Torchwood”? The decision on a further series will be taken by the production teams in November and renewal is dependent on those ever-important viewing figures. Whilst by no means disastrous, the ratings showed a consistent decrease across the series and critical acclaim was certainly far less than the case had been for “Children of Earth”, which remains the high point for “Torchwood”. At 10 episodes “Miracle Day” had twice as much screen time as its immediate predecessor yet told a tale that could have been done in half the minutes.
Unlike “Children of Earth”, which wrapped up all the dangling plot threads and could have acted as a conclusion for “Torchwood” as a whole, “Miracle Day” ended with elements that can be continued into a 5th series…Rex’s new-found immortality for starters, which to be honest was a naff and unnecessary revelation – Jack should have remained unique…

The continued existence of The Families provides a far more satisfying storyline for the future. With their minion Jilly Kitzinger and “Plan B”, are an ideal SPECTRE-like foe for the Torchwood Institute to go head-to-head with. Two organisations with their roots in the distant past joined in battle for the ancient, modern, and extraterrestrial tools that can either destroy or preserve the planet Earth…

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