Thursday, October 25, 2012

Dark Angel, Season 1, Episode 18: I and I am Camera

It’s social time for Max, spending some time with Sketchy, Original Cindy, Herbal – and Herbal’s ex-cell mate, Snuffy. They’re having fun until Max decides she needs to drag Sketchy’s drunk and incapable self home

As they leave the bar, we see an over-dramatic man in a long coat have an epic rant at someone because of littering, taking a photograph of them in the process with the camera built into his hat. But hanging around he does see Max and Sketchy get mugged by 3 very unfortunate robbers. After they knock Sketchy out, Max gets to tear them to little pieces – while the observer takes photographs of her super-human moves. Towards the end, he kicks one of her attackers and leaves with a distinct robotic whirring sound – and disappears when Max looks to check on Sketchy.

The next day at work Sketchy tells a very edited version that doesn’t make him look so incapable (no-one believes him) and he puts the credit on the shoulders of the vigilante – which Max is more than happy to go along with. Normal comes by with a job to deliver a package to the middle of gang war territory which only max is brave enough to take (to squash Normal’s lectures and praising of Reagan). She bikes to the war zone and runs into the vigilante – the package is for her, it’s a note with the word “Destiny” written on it. He begins a dramatic super hero speech and asks about her super-abilities which she doesn’t have time for. When she’s distracted by a gun fight down the hall, he disappears again.

But back at work, Herbal is grieving. His friend, Snuffy, is dead – murdered. Even Normal (to everyone’s shock) offers sympathy. Max goes to check this with Logan and discovers that Snuffy was in prison for 6 years for forging a sector pass and that he was shot multiple times in the chest – and there were no witnesses. Also, 6 other recent parolees have also died under exactly the same situations. A pattern, bigods! They need a list of people soon to be paroled, but Logan can’t hack the database due to constant black outs – time for Max to get it the old fashioned way. Throughout this Logan is distracted and dodges Max suggestion of a date – when she’s gone he returns to thinking on her photo Lydecker sent him.

Max gets the files quite easily – but before she can deal with a guard the vigilante arrives again – kicking the guard and jumping a high fence in a single bound, just like she can. When she returns to her bike she finds a photograph of her leaping through the air with “You need to talk to me or bad things will happen” written on the back

Logan, meanwhile, has been doing some thinking and he finds it unlikely that 6 people could be murdered and no hover drone have picked up any footage at all, that is, after all, the point of them. He suspects, since the deaths are all parolees, some kind of police death squad or the police covering up the evidence of vigilantes “cleaning up the streets.” He decides to talk to his uncle Jonas who runs the company that makes the hoverdrones to see if there’s any missing footage. Max is sceptical, since Jonas is a right winger and fully in favour of killing prisoners but Logan is confidence Jonas won’t tolerate a scandal that could cost him money. Again, Max tries to go with him but Logan distances himself. Max makes a joke about killing her vigilante stalker if he gets out of hand – which Logan takes a little to seriously.

Max goes home to Cindy and spills her woes about Logan, her stalker and the pictures he took and Max decides it’s time to get some infor on the Stalker.

Logan does go to his uncle with his rogue police death-squad theory and Jonas is sceptical and down plays things. Still, Logan’s suggestion of a scandal makes Jonas agree to check the cameras – he also gives Logan his cheque from the Cale trust and delivers the excellent and cutting line “on a clear day you must really see that class struggle from that penthouse of yours.”

Mas tracks down and checks out her stalker – finding his room full of newspaper clippings on crimes, a large, trouser-shaped metal container stamped with the Department of Defence, newspapers clippings on the dead parolees – and their pictures, 6 of them with a cross through them. And a 7th without. She quickly contacts Logan for an address and hurries off to save the man from the vigilante’s attack. When she gets there she tackles him against a wall, but he protests that he isn’t the killer – the hover drone outside the window is. A red light traces a grid over the parolee’s face and the vigilante runs into the room just pulling him out of the way as the twin guns mounted on the hover drone fire.

They both return to Logan and we have the cringeworthy geekiness of the vigilante’s superhero obsession, including love of origin stories, powers and wanting Max’s superhero name. He reveals his own assets come from a mechanical exo-skeleton on his legs that he got after the Department of Defence mothballed them after the Pulse. Logan is still confused by the use of hover drones – a police death squad would be far easier than modifying a hover drone so why do it? They need evidence – thankfully the vigilante, Phil, has the pictures from his hat.

Logan returns to his uncle Jonas and tells him about the hover drones with guns – suggesting that someone I buying their custom models and altering them. This would be a disaster for the company since the drones are sold as protecting people – Jonas warns him that it would ruin him as well, and demands Logan present him with evidence which he will follow up on.

Logan goes away happy to wait for the pictures – and Jonas calls him and says he has something – and arranges to meet him somewhere. He turns to his partner, Gil and we see it’s a wild goose chase and Jonas warns Gil that there’s no way that Logan will stop looking. We quickly see that Jonas and Gil are behind the shootings to test the prototype – stealth tech that can kill anyone anywhere with just a picture for the facial recognition software. This is when we see the drone out of the window – that targets Jonas. As he leaves, Gil takes a picture of Logan off the mantelpiece.

Max and Phil return to his room and we learn Phil’s story. When he was 13 his house was robbed. His sister, who was developmentally disabled, started screaming and panicking and couldn’t be quieted – until one of the thieves hit her and killed her. Phil blamed himself for the death and ended up running away from his mother at 15 as a result – Max expresses sympathy for him, and for his mother for losing them both. Unfortunately the evidence they came to collect isn’t there – because Phil broke his camera when Max hit him. But he does know where the drones go to refuel – which he didn’t share because no-one asked

Max and Phil head off and after one incompetent side-track, they break in and shut the place down – but find a drone has already been dispatched and cannot be recalled. And it’s targeting Logan.

Time for dramatic intervention! Car chases, ducking bullets, flips, explosions and lots of camera work later and Max puts a metal bar through the hover drone, destroying it. But in the process, Phil takes a bullet to the exo-skeleton, damaging it.

At the penthouse, Max and Logan discuss Jonas’s death – Logan somewhat stunned that Jonas was involved and lied to his face. He worries about not revealing the whole story since his cronies could still benefit – and sell the weaponised hover drone. But if he does the government will step in in a show of outrage and seize all the assets  - including the trust that makes up Logan’s income and the bulk of his net worth. Max says to let this one go – doing the right thing doesn’t mean you have to take a vow of poverty. Logan, however, is seeing it as an eye opener, his opulent lifestyle is paid for by the police surveillance he rails against, he’s living a lie. Max counters that he needs the money to run Eyes Only and “Only a bored, rich, liberal, white guy would piss away a fortune to prove he isn’t a bored rich liberal white guy.” One of the better lines of the night.

Max leaves Logan and goes to see Phil onto a train where she has convinced him to go see his mother. While she is there she sees a Streaming Freedom Broadcast from Eyes Only – exposing Cale industries and the lethal hover drones.

Back for the post-aftermath conversation. Max reflects that you can never underestimate what people will do to each other and Logan sees that for all his privilege, Jonas was evil. And, even with the terrible darkness in max’s past, she’s spent her life running from it. When Max leaves, he shreds the pictures from Lydecker.

Gil, meanwhile, is planning to leave the country as fast as he can – so is selling the hover drone technology to Renfro, the head of Mantecore. She agrees to his price and, as he leaves, takes a photograph of him on the CCTV… after establishing that it’s all you need to target someone with the prototype

And at Logan’s Bling delivers a package – Phil’s military legs exosekeleton

Logan now has the broken exo-skeleton to fix up. I want to give Dark Angel points for having a major disabled character, for having a good, supporting disabled character and for having a main character who has seizures – but throwing cures at Logan really does undermine that, especially since he and Max seem incapable of taking their relationship to the next level unless Logan is on his feet.

One thing I like about Dark Angel is the way Max and Logan’s morality is treated. Max is very practical, not averse to some “ends justifies the means” and very much into concrete helping actual living people here and now rather than seeking justice, revenge, abstract concepts or saving things that aren’t people (like culture, art etc).  Logan, by contrast, is more concerned with causes, justice, getting the bad guy, solving the system and maintaining his principles (largely). It shows very much where they both come from and the privilege Logan has – being able to look at the bigger picture and being able to hope for more and being able to avoid the personal nature of the injustice and the suffering because he’s divorced from it. While Max lives among people who live in rime ridden, gang territory, oppressed by the Sector police, paying protection money, living in squats and trying to make enough money to get by day by day.

At the same time it doesn’t just reduce things to “ivory tower liberal” and “real, on the ground warrior” because Logan’s causes do have merit and shouldn’t be ignored - and there’s frequent intersect between their two spheres. And while Logan may not be practical, letting the gun-mounted hover drones be mass produced by Cale industries, no matter how much money that nets him, isn’t really laudable by any standards. Max is more effective on a personal level and has stronger priorities, but she’s also largely aimed at the symptom (goon killing/kidnapping people) than the disease (criminal and corrupt organisations). There’s nuance there and a lot of depth.

Oh and suspension of disbelief nit-pic: Phil walks around in the exo-suit making constant buzzing sounds. How does he keep disappearing on super-senses Max?

I do like that it’s parolees that Max and Phil set out to save. Prisoners and criminals are very expendable in both real life and fiction, it’s good to see the counter depictions that show them as having lives worth saving and worth fighting for.