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.