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Dark Angel (2000-1)
Created by James Cameron and Charles H. Eglee

review by Debbie Moon

The near future: a secret military base is at full alert, as maverick officer Lydecker attempts to prevent the escape of his latest genetic experiments. Enhanced humans called X5s, both bred and trained to be the ultimate soldier. And they're all tiny children.
   Years later. A terrorist attack has wounded America so badly that it's degenerated into a police state (how prescient...) Downtown Seattle is a third-world economy of squatters, bent cops, and street people. The beautiful Max (Jessica Alba) survives as a bicycle messenger - but she needs more money, to pay the P.I. she has tracking down her missing 'siblings'.
   Her inhumanly athletic cat burglary brings her into contact with the hacker-journalist known as Eyes Only, who piggybacks expos�s of official corruption onto TV broadcasts. He turns out to be roguishly handsome rich kid Logan (Michael Weatherly), who's soon showing more than a professional interest in her - and the barcode on the back of her neck...
   Max isn't interested in saving the world, but what Logan's offering in return for her help is irresistible - a way to track down the other 11 kids who escaped from Project Manticore. But even when their search bears fruit, the reunions are not always what Max expects. Her feelings for Logan complicate matters still further - and Lydecker is still out there, hunting them down, becoming increasingly dangerous as his failures earn him enemies among his own people. Perhaps the only way the X5s can ever be free is to band together against Manticore, and make a final stand...
   Dark Angel starts with a real splash: co-written by Cameron and directed by genre favourite David Nutter, the pilot episode is slick, funny, and hard-hitting. After all, few sci-fi series have the nerve to put their romantic hero in a wheelchair before the end of the first episode...
   Alba and Weatherly display genuine chemistry from their first scenes together, enjoying a mild role-reversal or two: she is aloof, strong and silent, while he prepares candlelit dinners, nurses her through illness, and forgives her infidelities. Their relationship is what holds this sprawling drama together, and is one of the series greatest strengths.
   The supporting characters aren't always as well drawn. Max's fellow couriers are painfully hip caricatures, right down to the 'TV lesbian'; you know, the one who's always wittily lusting after girls, but never actually has sex. John Savage, as Lydecker, gets better material; a stock nemesis in early episodes, he rises to the challenge, as Lydecker grows dangerously unstable, torn between his affection for his 'kids' and the need to hunt them down before his own people brand him a failure.
   The early part of the series contains some of the best episodes, as Max slowly unravels her past, and comes to terms with her present. Her genetic legacy has its drawbacks; she's dependent on homeopathic remedies to prevent seizures, and feline DNA means she goes into heat three times a year. This leads to her being saddled with an unlikely one-night stand while trying to track down the woman who saved her life during her escape from Manticore, in the excellent episode Heat. In Flushed, her well-meaning friends mistake her remedies for hard drugs and throw them out for her own good, starting a chain of events that leaves Max weakened and in prison, with Lydecker closing in.
   411 on the DL gives us our first glimpse of another X5, Zack (William Gregory Lee), the kids' former commander and self-styled protector. Escaped from Manticore but still very much a soldier, treating the world as 'enemy territory', he's a great contrast to Max, and soon becomes a recurring character. Soon X5s are popping out of the woodwork; notably in the fine episode Prodigy, which forces Zack and Max into an uneasy partnership with Lydecker - and not for the last time...
   However, things are about to get more complicated. Lydecker acquires a rival in the form of Dr Renfro, often known as Madame X - DS9 veteran Nana Visitor, taking her cue from that and camping it up quite deliciously. As if that wasn't silly enough, the world is suddenly teeming with superhumans. The Reds, employees of a foreign power, who have implants in their heads; the X7s; rogue and reprogrammed X5s, and the children of X5s. Things are getting too complex, too fast, and these later episodes seem to consist entirely of characters getting captured and recaptured by their many confusing enemies.    Still, the series finale gets everything back on track. ...And Jesus Brought A Casserole is a strong action episode with great character moments, notably for Lydecker, and a couple of terrific twists. The surviving X5s decide their only hope is to destroy Manticore's base - and the gene pool it contains - and hope the political repercussions will finish off Madame X and friends. Lydecker's already on the run and ready to help them, Logan and Max have finally accepted how they feel about each other, and a happy ending seems inevitable - or is it?
   If the series has an overall failing, it's that it doesn't live up to its own political ambitions. Logan talks a lot about government repression, but actually spends his time busting mafia hoods and beat officers on the take. Agencies like Manticore are an easy target for writers, an obvious evil. But if this future America is half as bad as our heroes are always saying, it needs not vigilantes, but revolutionaries - and the series simply isn't prepared to face up to that.
   This six-disc DVD release also loses points for lack of extras. A few minutes of interviews with the co-creators and stars tell you nothing you won't learn from watching the episodes - and listing an advertisement for a video game as a special feature is just taking the mickey... That aside, this is a enjoyable first season of lightweight sci-fi action, with great performances all round, and some decent writing. Its self-conscious hipness can be irritating, but it looks great, and delivers enough excitement and evil machinations to keep us watching. Definitely worth catching up with!
Dark Angel

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DARK ANGEL
Season one -
episode listing:

Pilot

Heat

Flushed

C.R.E.A.M.

411 On The DL

Prodigy

Cold Comfort

Blah Blah Woof Woof

Out

Red

Art Attack

Rising

The Kidz Are Aiight

Female Trouble

Haven

Shorties In Love

Pollo Loco

I And I Am A Camera

Hit A Sista Back

Meow

...And Jesus Bought
A Casserole


click to enlarge Jessica Alba stars in
Dark Angel, as
Max Guevera, X5-452

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