Sunday, July 15, 2012

Dark Angel Season 1, Episode 3: Flushed

This episode we confirm what has been often hinted at before – Max, as a heavily genetically modified super soldier, was made as much as she was born. And since she was made, human error kicked in, leaving her with problems to match her super abilities. In particular, severe seizures  and weakness that are only prevented by taking tryptophan; which supplements the serotonin her brain isn’t making.

We see this with Max dropping in on Logan for lunch, as the power goes out. They share “where were you when the pulse hit” stories (Max was in an abusive foster home, trying to fit in as a normal child even though her foster father was violent to her and her foster sister, and left when the pulse hit).  Before her shaking draws Logan’s attention to Max having a rough spot with her seizures.

Back at her home, Walter is waiting for his usual bribe to ignore them squatting. But Max has already taken the money and spent it on her medicine; he’s early and she didn’t have chance to replace it yet – she stares him down and promises payment the next day. Kendra, however, is less easily brushed off, but Max snaps at her as well.

She arrives at work, late, poking Normal (which they all do anyway because poking Normal is fun), but Original Cindy is also not pleased – Max arranged to meet with her the night before and didn’t show up or call. She also has no money to lend Max to help make up the shortfall. Again, Max is snappish and angry.

She does find some money out on the street though – in corrupt and dystopian Seattle, Max finds some men running a protection racket with a very shiny car – which she promptly steals after beating up the driver and takes it to sell – though she won’t get the money until the next morning.

Before that she has to deal with her friends – Kendra and Original Cindy are concerned with her behaviour and assume she’s doing drugs – so they’ve set up an intervention for her. Worse, they’ve flushed her pills. In desperation Max returns to her supplier to get more pills on credit –but even she’s out. With threats, Max convinces her to spill her supply – an orderly in a hospital supplies her.

So to the hospital it is. Normally robbing a hospital and getting away untouched would be easy – but normally Max isn’t shaking and weak from her seizures, security brings her down and she’s shipped off to be processed in the police station where she makes a friend (Break, who is several kinds of fun – and, despite being a repeat offender for protesting which is strictly illegal, has his own in with the guards) and the corrupt cops who think she’s an addict rob her. She’s showved into holding cells – which is really just all the cells left open with the cell block sealed, without even an attempt at any kind of facilities.

Max decides it’s time to leave, bolstered by some milk (which contains tryptophan) rustled up by Break, she plans to escape, using Break as a diversion – by singing opera (it is my eternal regret that Break did not become a regular character). Yet again, her seizures and weakness prevent her from escaping and she ends up back in the guard’s hands – this time in the hands of the warder who notices how beautiful she is.

She wakes in the warden’s house to find Maria – orphaned, her mother died in the prison and she was taken in by the warden and his wife to cook and clean for them. And to be molested by the warden – which wakes Max’s memories of the abusive foster home she was in, her regrets for not saving her foster-sister, especially as she begins to hallucinate as her seizures get worse.

Unfortunately, with Max in prison, there’s no-one to pay off Walter and Kendra and her whole floor of squatters are evicted. Logan, meanwhile, goes looking for Max and finds the awesome Original Cindy who thinks he’s Max’s dealer and is less than pleased with him. This gives Logan the chance to explain what’s really wrong with Max and use his Eyes Only contacts to find Max.

Logan has a much better plan for getting to max. Using his contact Detective Matt Sung, he gets hold of Max’s pills from the evidence locker – then uses Matt to sneak Original Cindy into the prison on a charge of prostitution with the drugs hidden in her hair (it would take a braver man than the corrupt police to risk touching Cindy’s hair). Cindy ends up in the cell block – and runs into Break who has her sent to the Warden’s house on work detail.

Max has been photographed and her information entered into the system. Worse, one of the guards has contacted detective Vogelsang to tell him about a girl with a barcode on the back of her neck – and he passes the information on to Lydecker. Mantecore swarms over the prison cell block, checking the female prisoners for barcodes.

The warden rushes to Max to send her back – wanting nothing to do with Mantecore. But Cindy got Max her pills – and she’s no longer helpless and nearly strangles him one handed, much to Cindy’s surprise. They use the warden to escape – Maria and Max in the boot of his car, Cindy in the front seat with a gun pressed against the warden. Some fighting later, the warden ends up dead or injured in a ditch and several guards are mangled – and they make good their escape.

Lydecker tries to check the prison database – but Logan has already cleared it out, much to his frustration.

Conclusion – Maria is saved and placed by Logan in a good home. Kendra, Cindy and Max have a bonding moment, though they recognise Max has a major secret she’s not sharing. And Kendra has paid the bribe to allow the squatters back into their home – recorded by Logan and Eyes Only who then uses the footage as blackmail to stop him shaking them down.

I have to say again how very good Dark Angel is at presenting the world just with the background images – the poverty, the corruption, the repressive police state – the way so many shops and stalls rely on corruption or theft to get any supplies at all. And in that it also carries a lot of messages about class – this stark world makes the haves and have nots very clear, Logan in his penthouse, Max in her squat and the constant reminder of who are the victims in the city. There’s also a great storyline with Max needing her medicine- one that is handed out easily in a hospital but to her, who needs it to save her life, it’s out of reach, and the extreme steps she has to take to get her hands on them.

While Max isn’t a drug addict, many people in this episode believes she is – and treats her with contempt through it; and that doesn’t take a dystopian. It’s another powerful message from the show without belabouring the point.

As before, this series is wonderfully diverse – and not just in the crowd scenes. In terms of race, we have at about as many POC as we have white people, both in terms of regular characters and background. In terms of sexuality we have Original Cindy (who is always awesome, albeit not free from stereotype) and Break – who was also awesome but also, sadly, a GBF (Gay Best Friend). He barely knows Max but already works for her and takes a beating for her (and risks more).

Unlike last episode with the gratuitous heat, this episode does a far better job of explaining the downsides of Max’s genetics – with an actual side effect that was actually debilitating rather than titillating.