Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dark Angel, Season 1, Episode 21: And Jesus Brought a Casserole

We open where we left off – with Max cradling Tinga’s body, surrounded by Lydecker and Mantecore soldiers.  When Lydecker steps forward – disturbed and upset by Tinga’s death, Max launches herself at him in a rage and is shot by multiple tasers.

At Renfro’s orders, her Mantecore goons approach Lydecker and his Mantecore goons and try to get him out of the facility and arrest him for murdering Sandoval (which, technically, he did –but then Sandoval was trying to murder him at the time). Lydecker clears out most his goons except for a loyal few – then shoots Renfro’s goons. He tells his loyal followers that he’s going to find out what’s going on and gives them an option to leave if they want – they don’t take it and they all leave with Max under sedation.

Renfro lies to Brin about what caused Tinga’s death, orders the Red equipment to be commandeered and gives Brin orders to bring in Max alive and Lydecker dead. Lydecker checks into a motel and calls Renfro – and she mocks him and makes it clear everything she’s done will be blamed on him. He sits down in the motel room and, the former-alcoholic Lydecker, opens a bottle of whisky and starts drinking it.

Groggy and hallucinating, he doesn’t realise max is awake. He talks about how he sat up with her in the infirmary, how he showed favouritism to her and how very special Max was. He decides the only way out is to kill her then shoot himself, he reaches for a gun – and Max kicks him. After much babbling and snarling, Lydecker explains the situation. As Mantecore approaches, Lydecker succumbs to fatalism and Max asks him to let her go so she has a chance.

Meanwhile, after angsting with Logan for a little while, Zack has brought in reinforcements – Krit and Syl, 2 more X5s. Which is when Max arrives – with Lydecker. Because during his drunken ramblings Lydecker mentioned he could bring down mantecore on Renfro’s head with just a few perfect soldiers – how does 4 X5 sound?

Time for an argument with Zack who wants to keep running and hiding, but even he said that Mantecore is going to just hunt them down one by one. Lydecker encourages them to remember his teaching “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” (which is a really shoddy lesson since there’s nothing stopping them ALSO being an enemy) to urge them to trust him, along with all the insider knowledge he has about Mantecore. He suggests they take out the DNA lab, stop them making new soldiers and, from that destroy Mantecore as it was almost destroyed when they escaped in the first place. Finally they agree but if Lydecker double crosses them, there are 4 of them to take him out (Logan says 5 – oh Logan, you tried, bless).

Plans advance, they get the Red’s truck quite easily and then they have to find an old friend of Lydecker’s to get them in. Which is when Max and Lydecker confront his gooey sentiments of how much he cares for her. He isn’t, as Max fears, her father – his genes aren’t good enough. But his wife, who he considered perfect, has part of her in Max. She has her eyes. This freaks Max out more than a little and she chokes him. They’re interrupted by Lydecker’s friend arriving – Lydecker knocks him out then does something involving a spoon and a plastic container.

We have a random Mantecore flashback to bring home the weight of what they’re facing and max and Logan have a heart to heart on the space needle. And we’re definitely into relationship mode as is made extra clear when they move out and Max says she would kiss Logan except she needs to keep her head in the game.

Lots of dramatic infiltration follows – and they use Lydecker’s friend’s extracted eye (see, that’s what he was doing with the spoon. Uckies uckies uckies) to get past the retina scans.  Speaking of the poor guy without an eye, he is being questioned by an angry Renfro who is withholding pain medication when she realises someone has scanned into the DNA lab using his eye. She announces an intruder and orders them to deploy the X7s.

Logan protests they’re just kids but Lydecker says the X7s are stronger and faster – and they’re designed with hive minds – and they start working together with eerie efficiency. Meanwhile Renfro realises that max and Zach have left charges in the DNA lab – and sends Brin to stop it in near panic. When Max hears that Brin has been sent to the bomb she sends Zach on but insists on going back for her. She ambushes Brin and chains her up – and makes a desperate plea for Brin to join them. She refuses.

Dramatic escape time! Lydecker hesitates about blowing up the DNA lab – and Mantecore itself – but Logan points a gun at him and he pushes the button. The lab explodes. Renfro watches through the CCTV in horror (what, Mantecore has no backups in another room? In another location? Sloppy sloppy).

On the run, Max runs into a younger version of herself – who shoots her. But not really, it’s an annoying camera trip. After what I assume would be an advert break, Max kicks the gun out of her hand and she has a dramatic fight with her X7 self (X7452?). When Zack distracts them, Max manages to break her younger self’s arm. ESCAPE.

And cut to celebrating in Crash with Cindy, Sketchy, Herbal and the gang. She and Zack discuss not having to run and Zach gives his OK for Logan. She and Logan go back to his place – and finally, finally have sex.

Oops, no – flashback. All that was a hallucination – younger Max DID shoot older Max. She falls and goes silent. Logan hurries to her severely injured form and she tries to say something to him as she – passes out. Lydecker arrives and says they have to go – Mantecore can fix her – and drags Logan away. They have to leave. He tells the others she was killed in action.

Max is taken into Mantecore to heal and starts crashing. Zack is brought in behind her. Her pulse stops, she needs a new heart – Zack gets free and kills one of the guards, taking his gun and holding Renfro hostage. He demands they transplant her but the doctor protests they have no donor. Renfro says she needs an X5 heart – and Zack shoots himself in the head.

Max wakes up, tied to a bed with Renfro stood over her. Renfro taunts her with Zack’s heart in her chest.

We end with Logan giving the voiceover that closes the episode – and the season.

Ok the season finale! And could it end on a bigger downer? Writers – stop doing this! What if your show doesn’t get renewed? You end up with the same situation as Alcatraz where the seasons ends extremely unsatisfactorily. I know you want to give people a reason to tune in to the next season – so leave them triumphant – not unhappy and worried, still waiting for a resolve!

I have to say I’m annoyed by Krit and Syl. All throughout this season we have wanted to know more about the X5s. It was exciting when we learned about Tinga and Brin – and then we just have Krit and Syl dropped in, no background, no nothing? I think this whole episode was almost rushed – it could have been built up over a couple of episodes better (and removed the damn Heat episodes)

Still it was dramatic, well choreographed, fun and epic – even if the ending was a major depressor.

As to the season.

Dark Angel aired in 2000 and it got so much right.

Max was a strong female character in so many ways. She had strong female friendships with Cindy and Kendra which didn’t revolve around talking about men. She had good friends in general and frequently challenged sexist and patronising behaviour. It was, conversely, unfortunate  that there was a lot of sexualisation of Max – both in her ubiquitous tight black leather and in the ridiculous “Heat” episodes that existed just for gratuitous sexy moments.

In terms of raced the X5s were pretty diverse. Jondy and Tinga were Black. Brin Asian. Max and Krit were Latina and Latino. Only Zack, Ben and Syl were White (and while Zack was a leader he was also repeatedly wrong wrong wrong and corrected by Max and Tinga). Max’s friends and circles were also diverse – not just with Herbal and Original Cindy – but even Bling, Theo and Matt Sung. There was also a general background presence of POC as well and never a sense that the city was anything less than diverse. Nor were POC largely consigned to villains either – and there was a mix of POC and white villains.

Original Cindy. I’m always torn on her. On the one side I love her. She is awesome in so many awesome ways. But she’s also the ULTIMATE Sassy Black friend. And while I love that Cindy is a lesbian and the closest of all Max’s friends, the only one who gets in on the big secret, I’m also frustrated that she is the only one of all of them –Max, Kendra, Herbal, Sketchy – who ends up single (with her lover killed).

Dark Angel also had several disabled characters – with Max herself prone to seizures. We had Sebastian, the expert, be quadriplegic which is very uncommon on TV – and, of course, Logan was in a wheelchair. And while it handled a lot of that very well, his frustrations, need for accommodations and dealing with going from able bodied to disabled, there were also problems. Logan is eternally fixed on finding a cure – and he finds them too.  He is never adapted into the story as a disabled character because he is constantly in the position of becoming able bodied and it’s telling that his relationship with Max continually heats up when he’s on his feet. When he’s back in the chair it cools down again.

Dark Angels covers a lot of issues well – class, the wealth divide, the nature of an authoritarian state, how people survive in a dystopian, issues of racism and ableism and all without having to resort to clumsy storylines or clumsier PSAs. It shows how well all of this can be done and conveyed. And to add to that it has an excellent, tight storyline, some awesome characters (though I do think Max’s friends fall more and more by the wayside as the series progresses) great meta and constant, well maintained development throughout the season.