Timestamp #TW36: The Categories of Life

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Torchwood: The Categories of Life
(1 episode, s04e05, 2011)

Timestamp TW36 The Categories of Life

Miracles breed atrocities.

In Washington, D.C., Vera Juarez is told that the medical panels have ended. A report has been submitted to Congress and the new categories of life have been enacted. People in Categories 1 and 2 are sent to the new overflow camps. Vera is upset about these three categories and the government’s control, so she calls Rex and declares that she is part of his investigation efforts.

Gwen returns to the United Kingdom under the alias of Yvonne Pallister. She reunites with her family and finds her mother tracking her father’s whereabouts. He’s located at the Cowbridge Camp in an abandoned army barracks, and Gwen travels with Rhys and Andy Davidson to the site. The area is flooded with people demanding the release of their loved ones. Gwen is directed to the admin building where she gets roadblocked by military officer in charge. The site is under lockdown while all of the occupants are sorted into categories. Gwen storms out, intent on breaking her father out that night.

Back in Venice Beach, Esther confides her feelings of inadequacy to Jack. Their discussion is interrupted by a text from Rex summoning them back. They meet Vera and get her settled. Soon after, the team converges in the makeshift “hub” to review their data. Jack officially welcomes Vera to Torchwood and then introduces the categories.

Category 1 consists of people who should have died before the Miracle. Category 3 is all of the perfectly healthy people. Category 2 the wide swath of people in the middle. The world governments now have the ability to determine who is alive or “dead”, and PhiCorp is behind it. Esther reveals her research into the PhiCorp camps and the possibility that PhiCorp is doing something horrific to the Category 1s.

Gwen goes undercover at Cowbridge as a nurse. Vera and Esther join the staff at San Pedro and Rex volunteers to be taken away as a patient. The “fragile mortal man” Jack is left behind, so he decides to attend the Oswald Danes rally in Los Angeles.

At the San Pedro camp, Rex is designated as Category 2. Vera and Esther settle into their undercover positions, including a hefty dose of overt sexism from camp supervisor Colin Maloney. As Vera begins her inspection, Esther reclassifies Rex as Category 1 and smuggles a camera to him. Rex is moved to the appropriate module where he discovers it to be a dark and cold space with patients stacked on metal racks. He finds some clothes and leaves the module.

Vera breaks away from the normal tour route to find a building full of patients without insurance. They are living in filth and squalor, and one of the patients has been wrongly categorized. Vera threatens to prosecute Maloney. He retaliates by stealing his military escort’s sidearm and shooting Vera twice. The two men take Vera to a Category 1 module and leave her barely conscious on the floor.

At the Cowbridge camp, Rhys and Gwen begin their quest to find Gwen’s father. Gwen finds her father and tries to extract him, but he collapses just before reaching the truck. When Gwen calls for help, her father ends up being reclassified as Category 1 because he fell unconscious.

At the Miracle Rally, Jack lures Oswald away. When Oswald can’t find Jack, he returns to the staging area before the rally begins. Jilly meets a mysterious stranger who tells her that she’s doing well and getting noticed by important people. Jack eventually confronts Oswald, tempting him to become the hero of the story instead of a PhiCorp mascot. Jack presents Oswald with a new speech that will expose the truth. In exchange, Jack offers Oswald an end to the Miracle and a pathway to death.

Oswald takes the stage and follows his heart instead of the scripts. He declares that those who have survived the Miracle are the first angels on Earth. His revelation, an endorsement of PhiCorp, is greeted by an arena of cheering fans.

Rex notes that the Category 1 area is only three small modules, and therefore is unable to house all of the appropriate patients. While Rex watches, Vera wakes up and Maloney starts a process that seals the building. Each module is a crematorium. Rex watches as Vera is burned alive, reduced to ashes.

Rhys and Gwen make a similar discovery in Wales. Gwen can only look on in horror.

In a brutal upswing from the previous episode, this entry was tense and thrilling. It leveraged each character’s strengths and circumstances to drive further into the heart of the plot. It also uncovered barbaric horrors and was unflinching in its portrayal.

It was disturbing but engaging.

What is particularly interesting is the apparent recycling of circumstances from the previous season. Vera’s fate parallels that of Owen Harper, another medical professional. Both were locked into a state between life and death, though Owen was undead while Vera was undying. Both were suffering from gunshot wounds and both were disintegrated while trying to save innocent people. Both of them also had love interests — Rex and Tosh — each with mortal chest wounds who witnessed their deaths through the lens of electronic devices.

The major differences were that Rex survived the encounter and Tosh wasn’t physically present at Owen’s death.

This recycling aside, which I found to be more fascinating than distracting, this hour of television was good.

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

UP NEXT – Torchwood: The Middle Men


The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

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