Below is a review by Grey Wolf of the 2011 series of the BBC science-fiction drama Torchwood, starring John Barrowman and Bill Pullman. All statements and impressions are entirely the opinion of the author.
A 10-episode story-arc, a mini-series in the old tradition, self-contained and consisting of a healthy dose of mystery mixed with battling against increasingly brutal authority and a latent evil in the breast of every man. As such it had echoes of the original V, or of Knights of God, survival epics from the 1980s that set the framework for the genre.
Oswald Danes, a murderer who raped and murdered a 12 year old girl, sentenced to die...but not dying. A high-profile first instance of the disappearance of death. At first we see the twin strands of the question - what is his legal status, and how will the disappearance of death affect the lives of everyone? Danes is freed - he was sentenced to be executed and sentence has been carried out, that he did not die is immaterial.
But what becomes the greater question for the rest of the show is how the absence of death will soon plunge the world into calamity. People are still being born, but nobody is dying. Shortages come quickly, and ethical dilemmas - people who should have died but survive can now live on, in pain but functional. One of these is a CIA agent who will become central to the plot, as will all the CIA in their various in-fighting nastiness.
And gradually in the background is revealed a shadowy group who are manipulating events, and maybe were the cause, in some way, of the disappearance of death.
But while we track them down we get to see the increasingly dark side of man. The only way to kill people is to vaporise them, so once again the gas ovens as of Nazi times come into their own. Hospitals triage their patients, and those with the lowest category, non-functional and who would be dead were it not for the absence of death, are sent to the ovens and incinerated. This is humanity's response to eternal life.
Whilst character-driven, the plot is often a vehicle for the unravelling of more and more of society. A promising female cast member dies in an oven, the man in charge of the camp is shown to have begun as a decent man trying to do his job in difficult circumstances, descending into Hell as things get on top of him - an interesting moment of humanity that would be well applied to a fair number of those caught up in the commission of Nazi atrocities.
Torchwood become the resistance with Danes somewhere between an unwilling accomplice and an unwelcome one. We see all the hysteria about paedophiles when Rhys wants to kill Danes, despite the government committing horrendous acts all around them. It is playing to the gallery time for a while until Jack gets him under control. However despicable Danes is, he is useful and necessary now, and hardly a threat.
The first 8 episodes are excellent, and become blacker and bleaker. We begin to approach the shadowy figures through Jack's memories of the inter-war years, but we are for a while side-tracked by his gay lover, still improbably clinging to life in extreme old age, and for a while everyone is convinced he is mixed up what is going on, but he is not. He was mixed up in the past, in the beating Jack took, the murders he was subjected to, and the blood that was taken.
At this point we are sure that what is happening is some result of Jack's blood of eternal life, and a shadowy group who have been using it. But...no
At this point the mini-series skews staggeringly off-track, and down the road labelled The Blessing. Even up to here, it could have been something grown with Jack's blood and brought to sentience; that would still have made a kind of sense. Instead we get some sort of THING that lives in, or is alive whilst being, a tunnel between Shanghai and Buenos Aires through the centre of the Earth...
Cue "Huh?!" all round, and wait for the denoument. Somehow this thing has decided that eternal life should be the norm and has...somehow banished death from the world. Our heroes have to convince it to change its mind back. To be honest it makes even less sense writing about it, than it did watching it.
The only good thing about the end was that the producers were brave enough to allow Danes (played by Bill Pullman) to have some sort of meaningful death. In terms of after-effects it was meaningless, but in his own terms it was a death for a cause, a tick-mark on his heavily F-graded scorecard as he goes to face his Judgement.
One is not certain whether this was an excellent story written up as the writing team went along and then finding that they had no idea of how to tie things up, so went for this abomination, or if this Blessing had been the end-point all along and the journey had just been far more interesting and far far better done than the final arrival.
All in all, the season finale was simply a sense of "You what?!" which after the excellence of four-fifths of the season cast a dampener on everything that had gone before.
RATING: 7 out of 10