Ginormous disclaimer: As I've said before, I'm not familiar with the first two seasons of Torchwood or its spin-on Doctor Who, so if I missed something huge, that's my bad. But I'm assuming that several viewers are in the same boat as me, and so I'm writing this from that perspective. Okay, carry on.
Well that was interesting, wasn't it? The world is collapsing under the weight of the undying, the whistle's been blown on a government cover-up, the team is coming back together after a few episodes apart, there are four episodes left to wrap things up, and Torchwood: Miracle Day just handed us a flashback episode about the adventures of Captain Jack in the Roarin' '20s. Eek.
I'm all for flashback episodes shedding light on the greater story. Fringe used them spectacularly last season when it jumped back to the '80s, and Lost's "Ab Aeterno" was a highlight of that series. But Torchwood: Miracle Day's "Immortal Sins" just didn't work. When young Peter Bishop met young Olivia Dunham on Fringe, it was great because we had a frame of reference. We knew Peter and Olivia in the present time, and we understoodd why these two kids would feel a strong bond with one another. When we learned how Lost's Richard Alpert came to be the never-aging guru of a certain island with a nougat-y center of light, we got answers to questions that had pestered us for six years. But "Immortal Sins" expected us to immediately get weepy over a love story featuring a character we'd never met. [Whoopee cushion sound.]
"Immortal Sins" brought Torchwood: Miracle Day's momentum to a screeching halt, and that's coming off an episode that I deemed "skippable," as last week's installment barely addressed the overall mystery we've been salivating over. I feel even sorrier for those who eventually fire up a DVD marathon of Torchwood: Miracle Day; the disappointment will be even greater.
That's the overall problem with how Torchwood: Miracle Day is set up. With its accelerated pacing and deliberately slow unveiling of the series' strong point ("What is Miracle Day?"), there's no time to stop for a picnic. This show needs to be a Bugatti from start to finish.
I will give it credit for trying something daring, though, and perhaps "Immortal Sins" could have worked if the love story had been more believable. (My skepticism has nothing to do with the fact that it was a gay love story, so let's not even go there. Thanks.) I understand that Jack is a man of strong appetites, and I love that about him. He'll walk into a bar and bed the first man he finds with a chiseled jaw and abs a'plenty. But with "Immortal Sins," the writers (one of sci-fi's most respected, Jane Espenson, is credited) tried to sell Jack and Angelo as a love story, when all they gave us was a lust story. Had the episode tugged at our heartstrings, it could have worked. But as far as a "love for the ages" emotional bond between the pair, I didn't pick up on it beyond what were were told. For a love story to work, I need to feel it, not just see two characters talking about it.
When we weren't back in the sepia-toned '20s, we saw present-day Gwen take Jack hostage under orders from mysterious people who familynapped the Williams/Coopers clan. Gwen's devotion to her family is borderline obsessive, but would she really have resorted to tazing and tying up Jack over working with him to get her family back? It was a bit of a leap to believe that, but I warmed up to it after Gwen and Jack's incredible discussion in the car:
Gwen: "That's what I'm saying, have you got what I'm saying to you, Jack? What I'm saying is 'no more.' Because I know exactly what you're thinking, Jack Harkness. I know it. 'She won't do this, not really. Not my Gwen. Oh Gwen, she can't hurt me. Gwen loves me, she'd never hand me in.' Well this is about my daughter, and I swear, for her sake, I will see you killed like a dog right in front of me if it means her back in my arms. Understood?"
Jack: "Understood. And let me tell you, now that I'm mortal, I'm going to hang on to this with everything that I've got. I love you Gwen Cooper, but I will rip your skin from your skull before I let you take this away from me. Understood?"
F'ing bad f'ing ass. Those two just laid it out there! I really can't say enough about how wonderful that scene was. From the dialogue to the acting, it was incredible. It was a very bright spot in an otherwise dim episode.
In the end, with Jack about to be handed over to a mysterious new group, Rex and Esther saved the day in what I consider a convenient cop-out. I don't know how they knew where Gwen's family was or how they were able to secure a SWAT team to save them, but whatever. Sometimes on Torchwood: Miracle Day, you simply have to look the other way.
The goal of "Immortal Sins" was to get us from point A (not knowing someone who knows about Miracle Day) to point B (knowing someone who knows about Miracle Day), but that could have been handled in a way that fits the season's tone a little better. Where was the fun that has become its trademark?
... What kind of people would repeatedly try to kill a man who couldn't die? What is wrong with those people!?!? Let the miracle speak for itself once or twice; there was no need to tie Jack up in a basement and let everyone get all stabby.
... What did you all think of the Doctor Who name-drop and the Trickster's Brigade reference?
... What's your favorite flashback episode of television, ever?
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom