Sunday, July 29, 2012

Dark Angel, Season 1, Episode 4: 411 on the DLL

Max is enjoying a wonderful ride through the night streets of Seattle, reminding us that she doesn’t have to sleep – and she’s pulled over by corrupt cops who break her lights in order to impound her bike. A great little reminder of both Max’s super powers, what she does for fun – and the corruption of the dystopian world.

And it’s going to cost her $3,000 to get her bike back from the impound yard. Poor Max – and Cindy and Herbal can’t cheer her up about the loss (and Herbal discusses his own relationship tension). There’s also a new worker at Jam Pony, Sam, hired because he’s willing to creep to Normal and call him “sir”. Which is good timing because he fires Herbal for smoking cannabis – much to the fury of the rest of the workplace, since Herbal is both  a friend and a Rastafarian and, they point out, cannabis is a sacrament to him. Between his partner’s old lover staying with him and losing his job, Herbal is not having an easy time. Of course, Sam’s first day on the job with the collected hostility of the staff isn’t fun either

Logan also has a visitor – Val, his ex-wife, an alcoholic who is now sober and is on her apology tour for all the people she hurt. She begins to become part of Logan’s life again, and Max shows both curiosity – and, yes, the inevitable jealousy.

Max’s mind is taken off the drama of her bike by looking through the classifieds – and seeing her barcode in print with a time and a place to meet. It could be Lydecker – or it could be one of the other Mantecore kids.

Of course, it turns out to be neither, it’s Vogelsang, the private detective she once hired who was compromised by Lydecker. He wants $15,000 to give her information about Project Mantecore – something he’s not supposed to know. And that he knows there’s another X5 in Seattle. On a deadline, Max goes to Logan for the money (while he is continuing to spend time with his ex-wife) and he refuses – he’s convinced it’s a trap and he won’t help her walking into it.

Time to pay a visit to the place where her bike has been kept. Being an X5 makes for easy stealing and safe cracking. In one easy visit she has the money she needs and her bike back.

Work continues at a slow pace much to Normal’s annoyance, with his workers moving as slowly as possible in protest of him firing Herbal, and Sam not actually knowing his way around the city. And poor Sam is not finding it easy to make friends with Max and her hostile co-workers.

Vogelsang arranges to meet Max by phone – and to convince her he has information she wants, he tells her about a man having a barcode tattoo removed from the back of his neck – and the number is Zack’s, one of the X5s who escaped with her from Mantecore, the leader. Lydecker is also onto him, though, having an implant placed in Vogelsang’s ear so even though he took precautions they could hear what he said (albeit very muffled). When Max arrives at the meeting with Vogelsang, there’s already a crowd, he has been shot and killed. And, as Max watches, Lydecker arrives.

Logan is more doubtful – if Lydecker found Vogelsang he would have tortured information out of him, not killed him. And if he had tortured Vogelsang, he would know Max was on her way and would be lying in wait. Either way, Max is worried about Zack and demands Logan help her track him through the tattoo parlour.

At his home she finds the classified with her number ringed, a flier for Jam Pony, a bottle of tryptophan (which X5s use to keep their seizures at bay) and… Sam, the new guy at Jam Pony who is, of course, Zack. Then Mantecore arrives in force – to face 2 X5s who easily escape working together.

But their touching reunion is spoiled by Zack. He plans for them to leave the city – and split up. He’s still in the mentality of running from Mantecore, still following his training as a soldier, still working to keep everyone safe, but not having any kind of life. Max refuses to leave with him because, in his head, Zack is still in Mantecore, still stuck in his training, still trapped by the rules and conditioning they set out.

At work it seems that Sam/Zack didn’t deliver any packages and, of course, has disappeared so Logan was forced to give Herbal his job back. Herbal has also gone on to push out his girlfriend’s ex, because there’s a limit to even his tolerance.

In Logan drama, when asking for money from Logan, Max noticed Val had a tan line around her ring finger, follows her and finds a husband. A husband who needs money and is urging her to get it from Logan. The reconciliation is a sham for her to get more money out of Logan. Upset and hurt – Logan gives her money and asks her to leave. Blain convinces Max to go comfort him, since Logan will be feeling very alone.

She and Logan close with mutual discussion of their disappointing relationships.

One thing I love about Dark Angel is that it never loses sight of the severity of its dystopia and the class issues that are magnified by it. We never forget the corruption, the check points, the severe security. And even when looking at Val as someone manipulating Logan, we’re still reminded that times are hard and there isn’t a lot of money out there.

I’m glad this episode also spent some time building up some of the back characters and Jam Pony, since they’ve been around for a while and need their personalities adding to beyond “what trouble has Sketch got into this week”.

I think there’s also a lot of depth in the Zack storyline. It’s interesting to think that Max hasn’t met her fellow X5s since she was a child and has no idea the kind of people they have grown into. It’s also important to see what the lasting effects of Mantecore can be – in Max she has the physical along with her paranoia and fear and desperate urge to connect. But max found a life, a support net, good friends to help. Zack is showing a different level of consequences from the long term conditioning that was forced on them, conditioning he had never escaped.

Another much smaller point but it’s still there is seeing Logan adapt to the wheelchair. Every now and then they will just show us something Logan tries to do and finds he can’t, finds he needs help or needs more accommodation – like this episode when he needs to use a French stick to push the lift buttons – because the button for his penthouse apartment is too high for him to reach.