So, the other day (I started this post awhile back) I gave myself an hour of indulgence and re-watched FREAK NATION, the Season 2 climactic episode (and series conclusion, it turned out) of Dark Angel.
It is amazing how much that episode still affects me, even though it has no surprises for me because I remember it well from previous viewings. At the same time, now that I’ve seen it several times its flaws, and specifically the flaws of the entire show, stand out to me a bit more. Some of these flaws might simply be the medium and the need for an audience in a certain demographic. Some of these flaws might appear to me because I’m overly sensitive, especially after listening to some atrocious moralisms in the DVD commentary, and learning more about James Cameron in general.
Before I go any further, perhaps I should quickly summarize the two seasons. Dark Angel’s pilot episode aired October 3, 2000 and its final one on May 3, 2002.
Season 1 set up the basic framework and stuck with it except for hints that were meant to prepare the way for Season 2. (They didn’t do a good enough job. I felt like the transition should have been drawn out more. Season 2 is a strange world and only after the fact was I able to get used to it. I suspect this may have hurt ratings. Of course, it is also difficult to hold back on new developments since I would guess you might fear audience boredom.) The basic set up has three pieces:
- A highly secret and powerful black ops bio-weapons development lab (“Manticore”) that engineers and trains transgenics humans to be supersoldier slaves. At some point, a group of children escaped and some have survived to live on the outside. Max, played by Jessica Alba, is one of those fugitive escapees, trying to survive and pass as normal, despite an ever-resurfacing bar code tattoo on the back of her neck. This lab, Manticore, has a unit devoting to recapturing or destroying those escapees, even a decade after their escape.
- After the escape, terrorists set off a nuclear bomb in the air that released a pulse destroying all computer systems and causing an economic implosion in the United States. In the crisis, the government transformed itself to a banana republic police state. So Max lives as a “squatter” in an abandoned building in a Depression Seattle where hover drones roam the city, spying on everyone. The nation is burdened by a government that is both totalitarian and corrupt, that has parceled the country into regions. (One episode was devoted to an American business owner trying to convince an Indian [as in Asia] investor to buy into his business.)
- There is a kind of resistance movement that attempts to push back against the corruption. One of its major personalities is a computer hacker known as “Eyes Only” who can push sixty-second broadcasts into the TV Networks.
(It seems relevant to me to mention that episode 16 is devoted to getting justice for an Middle-Eastern-looking husband and wife who were abused and murdered just after “The Pulse” because the townspeople thought the “A-rabs did it,” and that they must have had foreknowledge.)
Max is a bike courier by day and a thief by night (she doesn’t need sleep) who ends up recruited by “Eyes Only” (played by Michael Weatherly) to help in various projects and problems he is dealing with. She plays the stereotypical anti-idealist and undergoes the stereotypical do-gooder transformation throughout the season. (I have to admit I thought some of her early condemnations of “Eyes Only” as someone who was making promises he couldn’t always keep and getting people who trusted him killed made more sense than the writers intended.) Other than the influence of Eyes Only, her major objectives are 1. Survival, 2. Remaining in her adopted “home” in Seattle, and 3. Finding her “siblings” who also escaped from Manticore.
Season 2 adds two new dimensions.
- Max destroys the Manticore complex and releases all the prisoners, which involves not only the superhuman transgenics, but the half-baked early and experimental transgenics. Since the science involved splicing animal DNA with human, the season has a kind of millennial “Kingdom of the Beasts” feel. Since Max feels responsibility to protect them all, the vestiges of her more selfish habits fall away.
- It is revealed that Manticore was originally founded by a traitor to an ancient eugenics cult planning to destroy the majority of the human race and inherit the earth as the superior, evolved species. They have infiltrated most areas of human government in order to bring about this vast design at the right time. Somehow one of their own had started a lab that used the principles in the opposite way (crossing animal DNA was an abomination to the cult) and engineered something into Max that would in some way save humanity. So this cult is working to destroy her and all the transgenics.
(I have this vague memory that it was revealed that the ancient eugenics cult were behind the terrorist attack that cause the American regime change, but I may be mixed up. If that is true, then it means that the eugenics cult, by arranging the Pulse, got normal human beings to turn on one another and kill each other as mentioned above in S1E16.)
TO BE CONTINUED