'Torchwood' season finale: Blood is thicker than logic, or 'Death Wish V: The Face of Death'

Torchwood

Image Credit: Starz Original/BBC Worldwide Limited

Based on that globetrotting, apocalypse-flirting season finale of Torchwood, it’s hard to believe that this series began as just a Doctor Who spinoff on BBC Three about a black ops unit fighting aliens in apparently extraterrestrial-packed Cardiff, Wales. No, it still hasn’t come close to fulfilling its original mandate to give a more “adult” spin to the Who formula. Not by a mile. But what Torchwood still lacks in maturity it almost makes up with sheer expansiveness.

Take Series Four, subtitled “Miracle Day,” which wrapped up last night. It was in some respects a season-long deconstruction of most television series’ biggest conceit: that your main characters are never going to die, or at least have a much, much lower mortality rate than the general population. On the titular Miracle Day, not a single human being on the planet died. But then, none died on the day after, or the day after that, and so on, like some cancerous antipode to Children of Men’s sterility epidemic. After that non-Apocalypse Apocalypse, humanity became an immortal race of gods subjected to an increasingly crowded planet—except for those “Category One” individuals who should have died but haven’t and now linger on in some kind of limbo.

In a neat reversal, Capt. Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), himself a formerly immortal time traveler from the 51st century, now found he was not only mortal, but the only mortal man on the planet. The ten-episode arc was in itself a big question mark about storytelling: what kind of dramatic stakes exist when a character is no longer subject to mortality?  Or rather, and perhaps more importantly, knowledge of his or her own mortality? Just as a life is made precious by our awareness of death, wouldn’t any story about characters never touched by the reality of death lack meaning? These are the kind of existential questions that I’m not sure Torchwood’s makers could have wrapped their geeky, pop-culture-soaked brains around in an earlier season.

And during “The Blood Line,” last night’s finale, Torchwood seemed on the verge of merging the epic and the intimate in a way no sci-fi series has accomplished since Lost. It opened with a long close-up of Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) as she recounted a childhood memory of playing with her dad—now a comatose Category One—after he’d just been fired for stealing. “That’s my father,” she said. “The nicest man in the world. And today, I’m going to kill him.” That’s how you give your high-concept plot a human face!

Warning: Major Spoilers ahead!

Oh, if only more heartrending, character-driven moments like that had been on display last night. Torchwood’s always been pulled between smart sci-fi and snark sci-fi, and after that promising opening, “The Blood Line” seemed more interested in getting geeks to drool than think. As Jack, Gwen, and Rex tracked down The Blessings, two fleshy orifices—one in Buenos Aires, the other in Shanghai—that are the source of the immortality epidemic, and two of the worst special-effects set-pieces TV’s seen since Vaal on the original Star Trek (or at least that glowing, waterfall cave on Lost), any philosophical inklings vanished. Instead, a parade of geeky casting choices (Bill Pullman! John de Lancie! Francis Fisher!) and a subplot about a mole in a cocktail dress a la 24 took its place. Not to mention impenetrable technobabble. My favorite line? “It was as if something on this spot was calibrating a matrix subsisting alongside humankind….in harmony.”

I liked the idea that Harkness would have to die and give up all his blood to The Blessing in order to make people mortal again, though, and that dying would literally be the way for him to become immortal again. That led to one of the best moments of the finale, when Capt. Jack confronted Bill Pullman’s killer, Oswald, about how he’d deliberately made his life “small.” But instead of that being the climax, Harkness and Mekhi Pfifer’s Rex had to gush gobs of CGI blood to make mankind mortal again. Good sci-fi should be about inner space more than outer space…but not this kind of inner space. Still, it’s a bold series that builds a major arc not around saving lives but preserving the right to die.

PopWatchers, did you catch last night’s finale, and were you also a bit disappointed? Especially since Starz is not likely to renew it soon?

Comments (143 total) Add your comment
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  • Templar

    I didn’t read the article but anyone who watches this should commit suicide.

    • James Freud

      Just what we need…a guy that bangs guys in a sci fi tv show. Fantastic idea.

      • sam

        Jack is a fantastic character.

      • Douglas

        A guy that bangs guys is what we need in EVERY type of TV show. Why does it threaten you?

      • Brock

        Agreed. No need for this garbage.

      • Jennifer

        Better then having to watch crap like so called “reality” shows where people are bedhopping, competing to see who can be the most obnoxious and show the least class.

      • Carlos

        @James; get over it dude. Guys will continue to bang other guys on earth as long as mankind exists. The same goes for women banging other women. Why are you worried or care about what other adults do? Get over yourself and prejudices.

      • annilee

        <3 for Carlos…

      • Carlos

        @James; that sounds hot. I would love to bang John Barrowman.

    • me

      You can’t commit suicide. No one can die. That’s the point

    • REALLY

      Once again another cry baby bit*h commenter who hates EW, hates, Torchwood, but yet here they are posting as always about something they never saw. Aghhh smell the tardness…

    • Shea

      that is one of the meanest things i have ever read. you should be ashamed of yourself.

      • Kumar

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    • Barry

      You should lead the charge with your idiotic premise, while the rest of us can watch the show just fine.

    • andy

      what an a-hole u r

  • Sucka

    FIRST! And maybe last, given the ratings.

    • Sucka

      Crap! Make that SECOND!

      • Javadude54

        Stay in school, Sucka. Learn how to count. It will come in handy when you grow up.

    • piper

      ratings has been pretty good from what I’ve read…so see ya’, it’s up to the show’s creator and exec whether he wants to do another seaon since his hands full with other projects, and starz has to negotiate.

  • Russ

    I struggle this season to pay attention but this episode was great. Although I wish Rex had died instead of Esther, but the whole Rex coming back to life thing will be interesting. I did love Jilly and hopes she joins the Torchwood teach somehow that would be amazing.

    • darclyte

      Jilly is selfish and joined “The Families.” She would never join Torchwood, nor would they want her.

      • Flip

        Jilly was the best thing about this season.

      • Jae

        She turned out to be a pointless character. Why was she there???

      • Dee

        To annoy you perhaps, and to entertain the rest of us?

    • Brett

      Lauren Ambrose usually does pretty solid work, but her overacting in this series was ridiculous. The series could have been wrapped up in three ninety minute episodes instead of ten hour long episodes. There was a lot of dragging until this very fast-paced final episode.

      • Fingerlakes Dave

        There was also a lot of thinking about the issues.
        SiFi isn’t all death rays and space ships.

      • steverino

        Disagree with most of this but totally agree about Lauren Ambrose. One note throughout, very tiresome.

      • Flip

        Overacting? Hell no! She gave the best performance of the season. You wanna talk bad acting? Let’s talk Alexa Havins!

      • steverino

        One mood and tone for every scene, with no character change or development – not even a facial change – is bad acting.

    • Javadude54

      Jilly was one of the best reasons to watch this season of Torchwood. Lauren Ambrose and Bill Pullman brought their A game to the show. We won’t be seeing Pullman again but I hope Ambrose returns. Miracle day was so ridiculous that if Torchwood returns it will only be to enjoy the performances of the guest stars.

    • allie8

      Jilly is a perfect example of what was wrong with this entire season. Interesting potential, great actress, wasted opportunity.

    • forrest

      This just had ‘replacement lead’ written all over it. Brits go home – Rex has his U.S. series all tied up.

    • Carlos

      Jilly can always go back an join ‘Six Feet Under’.

  • J.R/

    Never could find new Season of Torchwood on Hulu, or even on Comcast On Demand. Shame too! BBC makes such GREAT sci fi shows.

    When will the BBC to a reboot of their classic ‘The Tripods”?

    • Carlos

      ‘Torchwood’ is on Comcast Demand. I watched last night’s episode on Demand tonight.

    • KFed

      Hasn’t The Tripods been rebooted – without any credit – as Falling Skies? Steven Spielberg EPs FS and owns the rights to Tripods and they’re rather similar in a lot of ways.

    • ActingCrazy

      I watched the entire 10 episodes in the last few days on Verizon FiOS On-Demand. I have only seen bits and pieces of “Torchwood” in the past, and maybe I should have been more familiar with the “Torchwood” universe. But I did like it as a sci-fi fan of many different shows over the years.

      Was I offended by the graphic sex scenes with Capt. Jack and his two lovers? Uncomfortable, maybe, but open-minded enough to not be offended. The entire story was different in many ways, and that is partly due to the characters and good acting by Pullman, Phifer and regulars Barrowman and Myles in particular. I’m sure the appearances by “Star Trek” vets DeLancie & Nana Visitor were nods to the American audience, though they brought little to the table.

      I’ll have to go back and find the original “Torchwood” episodes to really learn what the series was about. I found it interesting enough to do that. And very brave with such a sexually-controversial character like Jack Harkness at its center.

      • Charlene

        Jul01 DW relaunched a coulpe of years ago with Christopher Eccleston in the lead role, new producers, new writers; really gave the show a whole new lease of life. Eccleston quit after 1 series because he’s a sadist and was replaced by David Tennant. Tennant’s good I like him but the stories in the second series featured his companion Rose too much and tried to add some sort of emotional context to every bloody thing imaginable (look, a tea cup, just like the one Mickey used to drink from, sniff, sob). The result has been a bit of a disappointment. However, Rose is leaving within the next two weeks so there’s hope for the next series.Dave Allen is still at large in whichever cemetary they buried him in last year.

  • JSittler

    I have watched Torchwood from the beginning on BBC America. This was the worst. I hope that BBC takes it back and we get a great series again.

    • psyche

      I gave up after 4 episodes. This (and CoE) are not my Torchwood. Where is the cheeky alien hunting fun?

      • Pat Miller

        It grew up -

    • Gerry

      This whole series was a huge disappointment. Lots of great, interesting ideas, but it was all executed in a sloppy, dull manner. Plot lines were dropped, characters never amounted to anything, etc. Most of the episodes were ultimately pointless in a narrative sense. The poor writing really did this show in.

      And Oswald Danes – Bill Pullman was great – but he was ultimately an ill-conceived character who – in a show with time travel, aliens, people not dying, etc. – was the least believable thing in it. Everything about him made no logical sense.

      So this show, while not without its moments, turned out to be pretty much a dud.

      • Jen

        I agree, AND I think the series came off the rails when they started burning category one people. Burning them was comparable to killing them, taking the teeth from the very concept of no one dies. So they create death in a storyline that hinges on no one dying. I love Torchwood and Russelll T, but this series wasn’t even a glorious mess. It was just overlong, poorly constructed and sloppy. Meh.

    • allie8

      agreed. this could have been wrapped up in 3 episodes. Good idea – poor execution.

  • Angel

    I loved it!!!

  • Juan

    I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t like it very much either. I mean did we really need 10 episodes for this? It wasn’t satisfying. And I really would rather have Rex died and Esther lived. Maybe even give the immortality to Esther. I loved Esther. But the only reason I’m interested to watch more is because Rex is immortal and apparently there’s a plan B for the family. So if they do renew it, I hope it’s not overly drawn out like this one and they do it better. Mekhi Phifer was bad at first and then got better, but he wasn’t that great in the finale though.
    Honestly, it’s probably best if they have Rex and Jack and Gwen come back for Doctor Who for the 50th anniversary or something if they don’t renew it or whatever.

  • sam

    I really liked this last episode as it was more like Torchwood used to be, but overall the series was too long and too boring. Many of us watch the show for Jack and there were entire episodes with very little of him, focused on the politics of health care. Torchwood is supposed to be fun and exciting, not preaching. And Rex and Esther were extremely uninteresting characters. If there is another, keep it Torchwood.

  • Michael

    My wife and I loved the series, loved last nights episode and hope Starz does renew it for next year.

    I was very disapointed in Esther had to die.

    • Benton

      Very disappointed too. Fate is fickle, and so is the script writer.

    • Jeremy W.

      Ending was pretty good, but Russell T. missed a HUGE opportunity. Here’s what should have happened – distraught over Esther’s death, blaming Jack and Gwen for it, Rex blows his own brains out when he realizes that Torchwood has cost him everyone he ever cared for. The camera slowly hovers over Rex’s corpse for a few moments, before – Boom! Rex wakes up gasping and frantic, discovering his new immortality, and swearing revenge on Jack, Gwen, and Torchwood so they will suffer as he has.

      I think the Rex character was in a much better position to become the next villain instead of a future ally. The mysterious “Three Families” aren’t really scary because that’s already how the world REALLY works. I love Torchwood, and will watch regardless because of the relationship between the Jack and Gwen characters, but I hope we never see the “Three Families” again, because they aren’t menacing enough.

  • bkwrm

    This episode was so awesome! It totally made up for the last four “ok” episodes. I really, really hope that we get a chance to see what happens next. I am sad that Esther died, but I like the reversal of it. I spent the whole series thinking that Rex would die in the finale. I enjoyed the whole series, in spite of the just ok episodes.

  • darclyte

    It was flawed, but better than a lot of crap on tv, especially sci-fi tv. I’m glad that they didn’t avoid the history of the show and the characters. Mentioning Ianto and The Doctor, as well as Jack divulging that he’s from the future…all nice touches that weren’t “necessary” for the storyline but they did enhance it.

  • Sheila G

    Loved Torchwood on BBC and hated this version – the American charachters were totally overblown and Mekhi Pfifer was absolutely awful. I watched to see Jack and Gwen. I’m dropping Starz today. Time to switch to Showtime for Dexter.

    • Jason H

      I am glad someone has the same opinion as me. The American characters were overblown stereotypes and so many times I hated Rex and Mehki’s overacting. The American version lost the intimate feeling that the British version had and sometimes just wasn’t fun to watch.

  • Chris G

    I thought it was fun! It’s summer sci-fi and I liked the characters, especially Gwen and Vera. RIP Vera.

  • Steverino

    The core themes of this show seem to be lost on mamy people. This plot was mainly driven by politics, not sci-fi. We already know that the big pharma companies run this country behind the scenes. What if they gained even more control, and were controlled by Tea Party extremists who then gained control over who lives and who dies? The premise, the message of this story was to take right wing politics to its worst, scary conclusion as a warning to us all about where things are headed. This was very much in the tone of George Orwell, far above and beyond any silly trappings of simple sci-fi like Dr. Who. The fact that this central premise of the show has been missed by so many people makes me very afraid that we really are in danger of this type of thing happening. The extremists and the pharma companies really can gain control over our lives easily because most people aren’t paying attention.

    • dee123

      This is EW not Deadline! Trust me most people here will look at your post & think “Too long”.

      • ikagirl

        I was thinking “needs meds”, but “too long” works as well.

      • steverino

        For those with too short an attention span, I’ll survive without them. I’d much rather discuss with two or three folks whose brains can handle more than ome sentence.

      • Kensuke

        Dave Allen is still at large in whichever ceatemry they buried him in last year.Man that sucks ass. That guy with half a finger was one of the funniest Brits I have ever seen (watched). Monty Python was good, but Mr. Allen was real. R.I.P. Did he ever do anything after that show or just smoke and drink himself into oblivion? on his stool .

    • sam

      We got the theme–it just doesn’t belong in Torchwood.

    • Greg

      I get what they were doing — however it doesn’t mean that it worked. It didn’t work.

      • Matt

        For you it didn’t work, for me it was brilliant

      • Fingerlakes Dave

        Your opinion.
        “Opinions are like…..”

    • Fingerlakes Dave

      Nice post. In no way “too long”. It’s too long only for the ADHD set.
      They wouldn’t know a good storyline if it bit them!

      • steverino

        haha maybe too long for those needing some Ritalin from PhiCorp!

    • Adriawynne

      Seth, I think you hit it dead on….pharma companies and government controls..it truly was much, much more than Friday night entertainment. I’ve never seen Torchwood before Miracle Day, so there wasn’t a way to compare it to another season. I enjoyed every episode! I’m a huge Fringe fan, and looking forward to Awake. All shows that keep us thinking beyond the borders are worth a look. Torchwood was fun and I am hoping for it’s renewal!

    • Ray

      Really?? Tea Party extremists?? I would say this is much more like Obamacare with complete control of who gets the medicine and who lives and dies.

      I was Ok with the political message even if it was overly drawn out and predictable. But after being a Torchwood fan since the first season, this was too slow to sustain the whole season. They could have run this story for a few episodes if they had given us some traditional episodes at the beginning of the season.

      Steverino, just because someone doesn’t agree with you doesn’t make them stupid. It just makes you a jerk to try to demean them for not agreeing with you.

  • Rob

    “And during “The Blood Line,” last night’s finale, Torchwood seemed on the verge of merging the epic and the intimate in a way no sci-fi series has accomplished since Lost.”

    Fringe accomplishes this on a weekly basis.

    • Seth

      Well played sir. Fringe absolutely does. As for this season of Torchwood, I enjoyed it for what it was but it just doesn’t compare to seasons 1&2 to me. It is great in its own right, but I just think i miss the characters from seasons 1 & 2…along with the plots that occurred on a per-episode basis with a strand running unassumingly through it. Of course, lots of shows take this course…I could say the same thing about Fringe…Regardless, these are two of my 3 favorite shows on tv, and I cant wait for new seasons of both!

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