Outside the Government: Rendition

(20 comments)

It’s July 15th, 2011. LMFAO are at number one with “Party Rock Anthem.” In news, South Sudan becomes independent, and that’s about it. While on television, “Rendition.” And I should note, I did say posts would be short sometimes. 

One suspects that this, more than any other episode, is responsible for Miracle Day going down poorly. An opening episode with rough edges can be forgiven, but the obvious critique of “Rendition” - that it is an hour of people on a plane - is relatively solid. Sure, lots of other things go on, with Oswald, Esther, and Vera all getting meaty (if not entirely functional) plots, but the character that “The New World” established as the new lead and the two familiar characters are, indeed, on a plane all episode, dealing with a deeply silly plot. And the result is an episode that is spinning its wheels visibly.

There are structural reasons. A broad look at Miracle Day reveals that it is basically the structure of Children of Earth slowed down such that it’s a series of five two-parters. Each pair of episodes constitutes a distinct phase of the operation and take on the story, leading to a cliffhanger that moves to something else. On the whole, the degree to which this works generally increases over the course of the season - the episode five/six pair and the episode seven/eight pair are actually both very sharp. The problem really is early on, when it means that Miracle Day spends two hours getting to the point where its main cast is actually assembled and ready to start engaging with the plot. It’s a bad structural gaffe that in no way erases the later, more interesting things that Miracle Day, but that does get the entire thing off to a kind of rotten start.

Under the surface, however, there’s some genuinely interesting stuff going on. Or, at least, trying to. Esther may not be on a plane, but she ultimately spends all episode waiting for one to land. And Oswald is still misfiring badly. Most - indeed arguably all - of what works about “Rendition” are the scenes built around Vera Juarez, the one character who actually gets to explore the idea of the Miracle in a meaningful way. The scene in which she quickly and on the fly reworks the hospital’s triage system is absolutely wonderful, as is the image of a completely ad hoc team of people coming together chaotically to figure out how the world works now. On top of that, Vera is marvelously played by Arlene Tur, who unproblematically plays a hyper-competent badass while also feeling like an ordinary person thrust into extraordinary circumstances. She’s very much the season’s breakout character, and this episode, where she gets essentially all of the good plots, is a lot of why. How Tur hasn’t had a meaningful role in anything since this is completely beyond me. 


The problem, of course, is that this isn’t really the stuff that Torchwood is interested in. There’s lip service paid to it, and many of the right words are mentioned (although “singularity” is weirdly out of place), but ultimately, this isn’t Battlestar Galactica, and Davies isn’t interested in a procedural about the world reacting to a massive and fundamental shift in its nature. That’s not the sort of story Davies writes. Unfortunately, at this point in Miracle Day it’s a hell of a lot more interesting than the story Davies is writing. And that ends up, at least in the popular consciousness, doing considerable damage to the story that isn’t easily fixed just by having better episodes down the line.

Comments

Daru 3 years, 1 month ago

It's a shame they put this in as the second episode, as the show really could have done with a speedier episode here. Could have skipped the whole plane section and moved from seeing them getting picked up, then just arriving in the US. Overall the whole plot would have been moved on quicker. Best part though was the twisted head scene, just for surrealness of it.

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mengu 3 years, 1 month ago

What I remember of this episode: "I'm Welsh."
They cure arsenic poisoning by deconstructing a plane.

Didn't remember the hospital system stuff being the same episode, but now I remember it. Isn't her adaptation of it basically the foundation of the category system later?

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Spacewarp 3 years, 1 month ago

I think that the majority of "bad" or below par TV can probably be laid a the feet of bad timing or pacing. I found the premise of Miracle Day to be fascinating, typically RTD, and with such potential, but as the weeks went by I found myself simply not enjoying it as much as I should. We've got flashes of the brilliance of Children of Earth in there - the examination of the burnt marine in episode 1, Vera's exposition of the medical ramifications of no-one dying again ever, the twisty head bit, the logical way that incineration is arrived at as the only solution, even Jack being tortured for his blood. All these are great moments in what should have been a great series, but in between each of these great moments...it all sags. Each adrenaline-drenched scene just halts as we jump from one location to another, with a corresponding drop in pace. It's like all the cliffhangers and climaxes that should have been at the end of each episode are just randomly dotted through the narrative. I've seen this a few times before. "Daleks in Manhattan" suffered from it, and so did "Aliens v Predator - Requiem". Programmes that should have been good, but weren't. Because of pacing.

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Anton B 3 years, 1 month ago

The problem, of course is that this isn’t really the stuff that Torchwood is interested in... That's not the sort of story Davies writes... Unfortunately, at this point in Miracle Day it’s a hell of a lot more interesting than the story Davies is writing.

It occurs to me that the problem Torchwoodhad was exactly that, often, the worst thing about Torchwood was the Torchwood concept itself.
Children of Earth for instance, would lose none of its power divested of Captain Jack et al. Yes I know Jack has to sacrifice his grandson but that conflict could have been accomplished with any character as his 'immortality' is not really an issue here. The death of Ianto is also extraneous to the more important themes of subverting Spielbergian 'ET encounters' mythology and exploring the tangled morality of collaboration and easy descent to fascism narratives.
Which brings us to Miracle Day which would probably have been an adequate high concept mini series that didn't get picked up along the, lines of Flash Forward for example. Except...RTD hampers its every move with an insistence he should have known to resist (*cough* Doctor Who The Movie *cough*) of inserting misjudged and mispercieved Torchwood fanservice at every opportunity; sometimes twisting the plot to the detriment of sense to accommodate it. This is Davies in his imperial phase, seriously believing that just plonking 'Johnny' Barrowman in a scene or having Eve Myles shouting "I'm Welsh!" Might be enough to have everyone fall in love with Torchwood. It wasn't.

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Jesse 3 years, 1 month ago

And Oswald is still misfiring badly.

I have a feeling we might see this sentence a few more times before this series of posts is through.

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UrsulaL 3 years, 1 month ago

"Davies isn't interested in a procedural about the world reacting to a massive and fundamental shift in its nature."

This is a significant problem. If you're going to have a massive and fundamental shift in the nature of the world, it needs to be engaged with.

This misfire feels a lot like what Fred Clark at Slacktivist has to say about the "Left Behind" series, which he's spent years gradually working through and deconstructing. (Link to the first section of the index here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2011/08/07/left-behind-index-i-posts-1-50/ )

The series starts with the "rapture" a strange event where all the Real True Christians and all of the children in the world disappear. Yet everyone seems to forget the missing children almost immediately. The result is a strange series of books, more concerned with the complications to travel logistics resulting from the event than the empty schools and playgrounds.

The events of "Miracle Day" are more gradual, but the way the story engages with this event is oddly disconnected. The way Gwen's father is treated in the hospital makes no sense - he was conscious, and wanting to go home, and why the heck wasn't he just sent home into the care of his family, rather than first being kept hospitalized against his will and then later put in an internment camp? They wanted camps and crematoriums, so they put them in the story, but they lost track of the fact that the vast majority of the not-dead would have families who would at least try to provide care.

The story looses track of the human nature of the problem. The pain of the dying -but-can't-die is played for shock, not empathy. The problem becomes political too fast - people rounded up in camps, not families making individual decisions and having to care for their loved ones.

It started with that potential, with Gwen's family having to care for her father. But rather than growing outward from that crisis organically, it jumps around and leaves that story behind.

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Alan 3 years, 1 month ago

Ah, Flashforward. What a great, underappreciated show. My final decision to cancel my cable subscription was largely the result of Flashforward getting cancelled with a cliffhanger and fucking V getting another season. "

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Pen Name Pending 3 years, 1 month ago

I know this might have been more appropriate on Monday with the discussion of American premium TV, but yesterday it was announced that the American Gods adaptation was picked up by Starz.

Bit of a disappointment for me because I was hoping I'd get to watch it live, but then again it would have to be very censored on network or cable.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 1 month ago

I think AVP Requiem suffered from a lot more than pacing: http://aaeblog.com/2012/06/24/for-whom-an-alien-heat-makes-festival-part-4-alien-vs-predator-and-aliens-vs-predator-requiem

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BerserkRL 3 years, 1 month ago

I actually liked the sequence on the plane.

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Leslie Lozada 3 years, 1 month ago

I agree with you on Flashfoward. V, well, on the one hand, season 2 didn't get to me for every episode, and not having the actress Laura Vander.. something free to do more episodes for Smallville's final season.

But it wasn't terrible, and that finale made me wish that there was at least a tv movie to finish it.

The Welsh line was the only thing I remembered from this episode, seeing as the Jack subplot can't have him die, if he's really the Face of Boe.

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John 3 years, 1 month ago

It was previously going to be on HBO. I don't think there was ever any point where it was going to be on network or basic cable.

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Chicanery 3 years, 1 month ago

Well, Hannibal can get away with being on network so I don't think American Gods would be all that censored. Maybe the unbirthing scene.

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Pen Name Pending 3 years, 1 month ago

Ah, I haven't seen that. I was thinking more of the language and sex. American TV allows more violence than those two.

As such, it does make sense that Torchwood ended up on Starz...I think BBC America is one of the few not-premium channels that doesn't censor as much, though.

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Kit 3 years, 1 month ago

This is Davies in his imperial phase, seriously believing that just plonking 'Johnny' Barrowman in a scene or having Eve Myles shouting "I'm Welsh!" Might be enough to have everyone fall in love with Torchwood. It wasn't.

The PSB didn't hire Julian Mendelsohn to put orch stabs on every track they put out over that two-year period (or, say, book Ian Levine to do a remix for the 12"...)

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Spacewarp 3 years, 1 month ago

Oh yes I agree (great reviews by the way, thanks for that), but I'm not looking at the content so much as the execution. The first AVP film isn't a great film by any means, if you're looking at characterisation and story, but it's a pretty fun watch. AVPR isn't a fun watch at all. It should be, because all the elements are there. Creepy facehuggers stalking the kid and his dad in the woods...the "monsters aren't real" scene in front of the window...aliens and predators in the bookshop... The trailer looks superb, because the trailer is paced correctly. But the film isn't. I'd contend that there is a very good Directors Cut of AVPR in there somewhere. Just as there's probably a good Directors Cut of "Miracle Day".

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Spacewarp 3 years, 1 month ago

For me, Oswald fails because he's clearly written as an über-convict much in the vein of Hannibal Lector, but as such he needs to be placed diametrically opposite a protagonist of similar power, and he isn't. He oscillates between an almost messiah-like confidence in the correctness of his crimes, and snivelling cowardice, and for most of the series he's mostly ignored by the rest of the cast. When they do notice him they treat him as an annoyance they can't seem to rid themselves of. You could excise him from the plot with no trouble. The first time we get a scene between him and Jack (the alleged hero of the piece) it's a terribly weak one, far from the Bond-Blofeld confrontation his character seems to demand.

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reservoirdogs 3 years, 1 month ago

Wait, wasn't Flashforward on ABC?

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LC 3 years, 1 month ago

Spacewarp, I had a similar reaction to Miracle Day. I thought the premise was interesting, but it just never managed to become enjoyable. I don't even really remember it getting better episodes down the line, as Dr Sandifer says, but I'll see how the recaps go and maybe I'll remember.

I just recall it kind of being a damp squib of wasted potential.

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LC 3 years, 1 month ago

UrsulaL, I agree with this, although I can't remember the details right now. I do recall being deeply unimpressed by how they engaged with the shift in the world. (They do engage with it, to be fair, but it did always seem disconnected.)

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