Thursday, October 18, 2012

Dark Angel, Season 1, Episode 17: Pollo Loco

Max and Cindy are happily cohabiting still – with Max bringing home a live chicken. Cindy’s not sure what for and is squeamish when Max says “dinner” especially when she kills it there without hesitating or any thought for its “cute little chicken face”, cooks it and eats some – Cindy does squicked well (but she does help herself to a bite when Max is gone). And so begins the theme for the episode – X5s are natural born killers.

Which takes us to Logan who has a lead for Max. His contact in the coroner’s office, Dr. Shankar, has a body that has come in – a murder victim with a tattoo on his back. She sends the picture and Max recognises it as X5493 – Ben, her brother. Max goes to see the body to pay her respects and learns that the man was running for his life, was posed with his left arm broken and pulled behind him – and all his teeth were removed – things she recognises from Mantecore. The draw opens and she sees an Asian man. Ben wasn’t Asian and the tattoo is fresh, still healing – this isn’t Ben. He also has a line around his neck that suggests a necklace was ripped off him. It’s at this point that Lydecker and his men arrive to claim the body.

Logan has questions but Max blocks him as best she can and goes to the woods where the body was found. There she finds a necklace of the Virgin Mary hanging on a tree near the site

We move to Ben, who is alive and has someone imprisoned He gives the man a Virgin Mary necklace and sends them out into the woods with a crosswbow and a gun. After letting him run for some time, ben hunts him down. The man manages to fire the crossbow at Ben – but Ben just catches the arrow and then breaks the man’s neck with one hand.

Logan gets news of this new body with the same tattoo and asks Max about it. He presses Max and she says she’s “not sure” if the bodies are Ben. He keeps pressing and she keeps evading before finally admitting that neither of them are Ben – Ben killed them both. And she’ll handle it, alone. Logan protests, he has a paper trail showing Ben has killed maybe dozens of people in different cities. Max is insistant, she will deal with it.

Throughout this we get some really good flashbacks of Max and the other X5s back in Mantecore as children. Ben was an imaginative child, who made shadow puppets against the walls and told stories to try and make sense of their very limited, very simple world. Good Soldiers went to a Good place. Bad Soldiers were disappeared. If you’re a Bad Soldier you get opened up and fed to the “Nomlies” (we’ve heard of Lydecker disposing of Anomalies – transgenic soldiers who didn’t work out). Walking through Mantecore they go past the cells where the feral X2s were kept, past failed experiments.

When Jack, one of their brothers, has a seizure (like the ones Matt is prone to) and they try to hide it since it will result in Jack being “given to the Nomlies”. One of the janitors gives him a picture of the Virgin Mary and tells him to pray to her. The X5 children are fascinated by it and Ben calls her the Blue Lady who will look after them and make them strong. They develop their own little religion round it, with Ben taking them to “the High Place” (on top of the building) where they make their own shrine to the picture – with offerings of stones and leaves and teeth from the men they have to hunt down in training.

But Jack’s seizures are noticed – and he is taken away and disappeared. Ben climbs to the top of the building and cries and yells, asking why and what they have to do.

In the present, Max goes to a Catholic church and approaches the statue of the Virgin Mary. At the base she finds a cloth bundle full of teeth – Ben’s tribute. After talking to the priest, revealing that she’s both troubled and not inclined to share, Ben shows up. Max asks him why he’s doing what he’s doing – he says she knows why and disappears in a blur of X5 speed.

Later Ben returns to the church and goes to confession with the priest the same priest who tried to comfort Max. In the confessional he confesses to murder, to being a soldier and he worries that the Lady has abandoned him. Naturally assuming Ben is talking about Mary, the Priest says the lady is always at his side and always protects him – so Ben kidnaps him. If the priest believes in her he’ll make him ready to be a sacrifice to her. If the priest says he doesn’t believe then Ben will set him free – the priest says nothing. Ben gives him a gun but the priest says he won’t fight – Ben points out he’ll just kill the priest and go on and kill other people. The priest tries to shoot Ben, but Ben uses super speed to disarm him and knock him unconscious – then tattoo the back of his neck with Ben’s barcode.

Max quickly discovers that the priest has been kidnapped and, remembering Ben talking about “The High Place” in Mantecore, she finds him in the derelict Space Needle. There she ambushes him and handcuffs him to try and find out where the priest is. She also has a quandary, what will she do with him? Give him to the police and risk exposure? Give him to Lydecker, her own brother? Ben also tries to get under her skin – he doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with him, he’s just doing what he was made for – to hunt and kill, reminding Max of a day when they hunted in the woods at Mantecore.

Back then, Lydecker had found a prisoner on death row, he was given a gun and a knife and told to run for the fence with the X5 kids chasing him. If he made it, he went free, if not back to the cell. He ran and shortly after the kids chased him down, easily disarming him and knocking him down. But they see a tattoo on his chest of a heart with a dagger in it and Ben declares the man to be a Nomlie. The X5 kids kill him – with their hands, feet and teeth. Ben thinks they even scared Lydecker that day. He tells Max that their instinct is to hunt, fight and kill – and Max is just repressing it.

Max has her own insightful come back: Ben is giving his victims his barcode before he kills them. He is trying to kill himself. She goes on to mock the idea of the Blue Lady – a fantasy from when they were kids – which angers Ben. Max asks where the Blue Lady was when Jack was taken, when Eva was killed and points out that Ben, with his serial killing ways, would certainly be called a Nomliem, which hits home. Ben regrets ever leaving Mantecore – it was simpler and everything made sense there. In the wake of these impacts, Ben agrees to take Max to go see where the priest is being held

Ben takes her and shows her the room he keeps the priest in in an abandoned factory in the woods. He has covered the warehouse walls with Mantecore style slogans “discipline” “duty” etc etc. Looking at them he snaps again and pushes Max into the locked room, pulling the priest out.

Meanwhile Logan contacts Sebastian his conspiracy theory expert to get a hold of Lydecker and set up a mettering. Lydecker isn’t very open to the idea – until he gets a visit from his Boss. She’s not happy with him or the Mantecore procedure, especially since X5493 – Ben – is escalating in his killing. Lydecker calls him “an anomaly” and none of the rest of the group have shown the same pathology. The boss points out that they’ve been on the run for years and he has no reason to know this – Ben didn’t show any signs when he was in Mantecore, all the X5s who escaped could be piling up bodies for all he knows. She mentions that Lydecker’s “kids” can be messy when they implode and references the X2s which all had to be killed except 4 kept on lockdown for observation. More “anomalies.” 

Under pressure from her, he agrees to Logan’s meeting and by computer they talk. Logan threatens to expose Mantecore if Lydecker doesn’t stop Ben rather than just cover up after him, Lydecker calls it a bluff and points out he knows Logan is helping Max. He goes on to tell Logan that no matter how nice Max is, how pretty she is, she is a killer – a trained, born killer taught to kill cleanly, coldly and with pleasure and it’s only a matter of time until she’s triggered.

Max escapes from her cage and starts looking in the surrounding woods for Ben. At the same time Dr. Shankar finds chemicals under the victim’s fingernails that tells her they were held in this abandoned factory – passing the information to Logan and Lydecker. Lydecker and his goons swoop in and start searching the surrounding forest.

Max finds Ben and the priest and knocks Ben back, telling the priest to run. Time for a blurry, dramatic, not badly done X5 battle – until Max manages to break Ben’s leg. Then they hear the helicopters signalling Mantecore has arrived. Ben begs Max not to leave him to them – but she says she can’t get him away with his broken leg. He says he knows – and that they’ll put him with the Nomlies, anything’s better than going back to that. Near tears, she asks Ben to tell her about the Good Place again. They talk about the place where Good Soldiers go, where no-one gets punished and no-one gets yelled at and nobody disappears… and Max breaks his neck and sobs over his body. When Lydecker and crew arrive, they just find Ben’s corpse.

In the aftermath Logan receives a package through the Eyes Only net – pictures of the mangled body of the prisoner from Mantecore – and a picture of the X5s as children, including Max with blood on her lips. While he’s looking at them and looking at Max Lydecker provides a voice over of how they were designed to kill

This episode was just powerful and emotion laden from start to finish – and I don’t think anything we’ve seen so far really brings home how horrific Mantecore was so much as this episode.

Yes, we’ve seen them be shocked by a red balloon because they’d never seen one before and never seen colours that bright. We’ve seen them bemused by houses that were small and warm. We’ve seen them be dissected for medical experiments and we knew they were taken away when their Mantecore DNA caused too many problems and we knew they were indoctrinated to follow orders, to not ask questions and never had their world explained – but never really did they bring together as one whole as this.

Not only the horrendous things they endured – but the complete lack of understanding of the world around them. Obey without question, nothing explained, no idea of how or why – and their desperate, ignorant, childish ways to try and make sense of it all, to try and put the pieces together somehow even though they had no information. And how that deeply stunted growth was just too much for Ben and how unable he is to fit the real, complicated, difficult world into his simplistic little rules built in Mantecore.

I think the most powerful moment was Ben’s description of the Good Place (even more so than his tearful death). A place where there’s “no punishment, no-one gets yelled at and no-one disappears.” Their Good Place, their heaven, is a place where the bad things don’t happen – and the closest thing they even had to a Good Thing was being able to sleep in.