Torchwood series 4 episode 6 review “The Middle Men”

Posted: 21 August 2011 in television
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Torchwood - The Middle Men“If the schemes and conspiracies are being plotted, then they must be seen only as patterns, waves…shifts that are either too small or too vast to be perceived. Someone is playing the system, right across planet Earth, with infinite grace beyond any one person’s sight. No, I’m sorry, Captain, but PhiCorp isn’t controlling this. Profiting, yes, but this is part of a much larger design, way beyond any of us.”

Despite its best efforts “The Middle Men” is the weakest episode of the series so far. With the absence of Oswald Danes and Jill Kitzinger (wasn’t there enough money in the pot to hire Bill Pullman for all 10 episodes?), and the suspension of their story arc, this felt like a “filler” episode. New mysteries are posed with references to “The Blessing” and Shanghai Centre, but questions in play since the commencement of “Miracle Day”, such as who the hell is behind it all, remain only partially answered and intriguing premises not followed up on.

A fascinating concept not developed, when it could easily have sustained more screen time than a single reference, was the “45 Club”. With suicide now impossible, elements of the population were trying to find ways to get as close to death as possible. By jumping from the 45th floor, or above, of a building the permanent lose of consciousness is guaranteed. The concept seemed to have been set up simply to allow for a scene where PhiCorp operative Zheng Yibao threw himself from a skyscraper in Shanghai rather than divulge the information he had learnt acting of behalf of Stuart Owens, Chief Operating Officer of PhiCorp Industries in Los Angeles. Something nefarious has happened on a parcel of land near Shanghai Centre that was purchased by a division of PhiCorp in 1999. But the answer to this new mystery is likely to drag out until the conclusion of the series…

You think I’m the epitome of evil, the devil in a three-piece suit

At the heart of the episode was the sit-down chat between Captain Jack Harkness and Stuart Owens that advanced the storyline far more than all the antics in the Overflow Camps. With solid performances by John Barrowman and Ernie Hudson (shame the line “Who you going to call?” couldn’t have been worked in as a homage to “Ghostbusters”) it was akin to the almost-mandatory scene in a 007 film where the villain explains his scheme for world domination whilst wining and dining James Bond.

Only in this instance Owens and PhiCorp are not the SPECTRE of the piece. Whilst PhiCorp has profited from the events of Miracle Day and knew it was coming, the organisation did not orchestrate the momentous change that befell the human race. Since The Miracle occurred Owens had detailed agents to follow global paper trails in an attempt to understand the scale of PhiCorp’s involvement. But like Torchwood he only encountered dead ends. The only clues that he was able to impart to Jack was a phrase dating back to the mid-90s” The Blessing” (the reference was later erased by unknown parties) and a document that originated from Italy from a source (now deceased) inside in the Council of Ministers. It simply stated “They have found the Blessing”.

“The Blessing” evokes thoughts of the Catholic Church and elements of Christianity. Previous talk of “The Families”, and now implicit references to Italy, puts one in mind of the Cosa Nostra and related organisations. Is the answer to the identity of the architects of Miracle Day to be found in “The Godfather” trilogy? Is Marlon Brando the Blofeld/Moriarty/Master of this tale?

Whilst Jack is getting inside PhiCorp, and gay-flirting with yet another person – come on he’s “omnisexual” not simply “homosexual”, have him flirting with some females for a change, maybe a gorilla – Rex/Esther and Gwen/Rhys spent another episode running around the San Pedro and Cowbridge Overflow Camps respectively:

Category Ones are dead. That’s the law. Under the emergency rulings, for the sake of public health, dead bodies can be incinerated en masse.

Rex might have finally accepted that he is part of Torchwood but his attempt to escape from the camp was pretty inept given that he’s an experienced CIA field agent. Plus, he came across as pretty thick for not even seeming to consider that the camp administrator might be the one behind the death of Vera. Given that Maloney had access to all areas of the camp he’d have gone straight to the top of Miss Marple’s list of suspects. Thankfully Esther went from being desk-bound timid computer girl to fully-fledged agent prepared to do what it takes to complete the mission – even snapping a neck. Ralph succumbing to his guilt and helping Rex and Esther by shooting Maloney was rather straight out of the book-of-cliched-writing.

Overall Gwen and Rhys had a far more successful time over in night-time Wales. Odd seeing the contrast between this camp and the one on San Pedro with the latter basked in blazing sunshine and the former having portable heaters going 24/7. One of the great successes of “Torchwood” since its inception is the relationship between Gwen and Rhys, given full and fantastic life by Eve Myles and Kai Owen. Hard to believe that the original plan for Series 1 had Rhys being killed off at the conclusion. Thankfully this was changed as it was decided that he gave Gwen an anchor to the real world in the midst of all the fantastical events she experienced. Myles and Owen has a brilliant chemistry that comes to the fore in every scene that they share. Favourite in this episode was Gwen’s insistence on a goodbye kiss even though she and Rhys had armed military personnel bearing down on them as they rescued her father.

This is the truth for the whole world to see. We let our governments build concentration camps. They built ovens for people in our names. Now I don’t care if the whole of society bends over and takes this like a dog, I’m saying, “No”.

Eve Myles once again proved that she and Gwen Cooper can never be written out of “Torchwood” (especially as the role was created specifically for her by Russell T Davies). She is the fiery human heart of the show. From her berating of a doctor for invoking the age-old excuse of “only following orders” and supporting institutional murder, labelling Cowbridge a concentration camp not a hospital, and blowing the facility’s Modules to pieces, Myles is never less than awesome – especially in her “Terminator” moment astride a motorbike watching evil consumed in an inferno.

Ultimately this is an episode about human weakness and greed and how different people react to extraordinary changes in society. History is replete with middle men who step forward but in the end the true face of evil is the system itself.

With “Torchwood: Miracle Day” now 60% complete there’s a lot to be dealt with in the final 4 episodes. Overall it’s not been as dramatic, compelling or heartbreaking as “Children of Earth” (the standard by which all “Torchwood” stories now have to be compared) and Ianto Jones continues to be sorely missed. He so would have loved America and I get the impression Gareth David-Lloyd is much missed by Barrowman and Myles,

A problem with pacing that could easily be fixed is that John Barrowman often seems to be a guest star in a series that was pretty much created for him. “The Middle Men” was 1/3 over before Jack made an appearance. The antics of Jack in America and Gwen in Wales highlight another major problem with this new style of “Torchwood” – there are not nearly enough scenes with John Barrowman, Eve Myles and Kai Owen together. Unless this trio are interacting there is a vital element of the series missing. When Rhys asks why Gwen is returning to America you almost expect Eve Myles to reply “because it’s a co-production with America and there are 4 episodes left”. If “Torchwood” goes to a 5th Series then it’s likely that the Welsh locations will be left behind and it’ll become based in America. For an organisation that was founded by Queen Victoria this doesn’t seem quite right…

  1. Jim says:

    Jack flirts with Owens’s secretary. He also still clearly holds a torch for Gwen. I don’t see this “Jack is only homosexual in Miracle Day” thing that others see. I loved this episode for highlighting the moral ambiguity of middle men, and the true problem being the system.

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