TW: Miracle Day Episode Four: Dead is Dead!”
Previously on Jane’s Take... I’ve been providing my thoughts on each week’s episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day as a viewer and as a writer. It’s a sort of DVD commentary in which you can’t actually see what it is that I’m talking about.
This week … “Escape to L.A.” written by Jim Gray and John Shiban.
This time, I genuinely watched this along with all of you – I had not seen this episode before it aired, although I had seen some dailies and had read the script. I’m always amazed by moments that pop on the page versus moments that pop on the screen. The eye! I’m talking about the eye. Oh dear god the eye!
But we’re not there yet…
We start with some gorgeous acting when Esther goes to visit her sister. This is one of those scenes that we talked about in the writers’ room at length. The existence of Ellis Hartley Monroe, for contrast, was developed late. But this little scene was always there, and this is such a beautiful realization of it.
By the way, when we originally developed the characters, Esther’s last name was going to be Katusi. And the sister was briefly named Lucy, until we realized that we’d just named her Lucy Katusi. The sister is now named Sarah Drummond.
Dramatically, I love that Esther calls social services. This is one of those hard choices where it’s so tempting for a writer to try to keep the character maximally likeable by making the choice clearer. But here the choice is kept as difficult as possible. She puts the kids first, at the cost of informing on her own sister. So painful.
That is the amazing Mare Winningham as Ellis Hartley Monroe. I first became aware of her in an episode of Starsky and Hutch when she and I were both girls – I never met her or worked with her, but in a way I’ve always felt like we grew up together.
Ooh, look at Venice Beach – so beautiful.
And look at this scene with Gwen on the phone. The ache of Gwen missing home. Her sense of guilt vs responsibility. The humorous realistic touches of not wanting to wake the baby. The “it’s already tonight” that is actually the end of many U.S.-UK phone calls. And then on top of that – she’s being watched. Russell T Davies often told us to write scenes in which “everything is happening at once.” This scene is a great example of that.
Next – Jack references a complicated analogy – the idea of the flame viewed through scratches on metal. I’m blown away by the image, but also by the economy of expression here. Count the words Jack uses to get this picture across. Amazing.
And for another jaw-dropping analogy, watch Oswald comparing corporate online evasion to pedophile online evasion.
Ooh – Rex is evasive about his Los Angeles family. I bet that’s coming back later. Let’s see!
I believe that Ellis was not a character we discussed in the room – she was a later addition to the story, but I love the addition. The idea that people would find a new way to be discriminatory – yes, of course they would. And Dead is Dead is the perfect slogan – one of those slogans that seems so obvious that it seems as if it has to be true. And I find that for the first time in the season, I’m thinking about zombies, about the way that people are starting to look at each other edgeways and pin labels on each other.
Hey, Ernie Hudson! And we get some vulnerability from Rex. Wow. I have always loved the idea that all understood is all forgiven – we see where Rex came from, and suddenly everything else about him is put in perspective. Actually, I think “all understood is all forgiven” is the key to a huge amount of writing.
And our Mission Impossible action starts. I love that our solution to getting information off a server is to take the whole server. It turns a fiddly little info theft into a physical-object theft, which I think is so much more visual and interesting.
Gwen’s American accent! Hilarious. And then, “I’m mortified. Absolutely mortified.” When I worked on the sitcom Ellen, we did an episode in which Emma Thompson guest starred, and we had her do an American accent for the episode. I’m not sure I’ve laughed so hard until I heard Eve Myles doing this.
Note the screen full of crying baby. This is a shot that is often surprisingly hard to capture on camera since you’re not allowed to poke them.
The most chilling phrase ever: “Don’t worry, no one dies.” Scenes of violence mean something different in our series. They’re MORE horrific. I don’t think you want to hear “no one dies,” when you’re about to have pieces of your body removed.
And then, again, we have scenes of everything happening all at once – the family crises erupt in the middle of the action. That might really be the signature of this episode – when a crisis like Miracle Day happens, it affects the personal lives of our characters as well as their professional Torchwoody lives. This is something we never see enough of in most action movies – the hero having personal stakes that aren’t just driving them to perform the mission, but that are ALSO complicating the mission by splitting their focus.
Also during the mission, we get an amazing shot that can really only happen with this special Torchwood technology – seeing someone sneaking up on Jack through the lenses in Gwen’s eyes.
This guy — this sort of gentlemanly menace — he is positively bristling with clues. Jack gave someone something? People are searching for geography? “They once had names and those names—” Then, an act of heroism that makes this all so much harder.
Ellis’s death – and the eye. The EYE! There it is! I can’t. I just can’t. Jesus.
Next week, “Categories of Life” – another one of mine. I hope you like!
In addition to Torchwood: Miracle Day, Jane Espenson has written for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica, Game of Thrones and other shows including the upcoming Once Upon a Time and Husbands.